**I must first warn you that this post is going to be emotional and raw…and you may want to skip it if you are faint of heart.**
There are no words that adequately describe how one feels after hearing about the loss of a loved one. Or about teen suicide.
The tragedy of a young person dying because of overwhelming hopelessness is devastating to family, friends, and community. It can be hard to remember how it felt to be a teen…to be caught in that gray area between childhood and adulthood. Sure, it’s a time of tremendous possibility…but it can also be a time of tremendous stress and worry - with pressure to fit in socially, to perform academically, and to act responsibly. Adolescence is also a time of sexual identity and forming relationships, and also need for independence that often conflicts with the rules and expectations set by others.
As hard as it is for me to talk about it, I wanted to share my thoughts and experience with you. Perhaps my words will help someone else during their time of grief…or perhaps help a parent to reopen that line of communication with their teen…or perhaps even reach a teen who is struggling. Please remember that these are just my thoughts and my actions – they are not directed at anyone or intended to capture how one should feel.
Below is my story.
I received a call from my mother late Tuesday night, and was barely able to decipher the message between her sobs – my cousin had killed himself. What?! My voracious, life-loving, joke-cracking, charismatic, heart of gold, handsome, athletic, FOURTEEN YEAR OLD cousin is dead? By his own hand? I was so…helpless. I was heartbroken, shocked, devastated, confused, and So. Very. Sad.
Then started the speculation – every scenario flicking through my head like an old movie reel: Was he depressed? Was he on drugs? Was it a girl? Was he gay? Was he stressed about school? Was it too much pressure in sports?
Next-up: Googling “What to say to parents of a child who committed suicide?” Yah, I’m that person…needing to see anything and everything that was out there. I wanted to know what was the RIGHT thing to say. What topics should I AVOID? What in the hell could I even say?
At this point, I’m hitting the 5 stages of grief faster than a 100 mph roller-coaster. 1) Denial. Are you sure it wasn’t an accident? The gun could have easily misfired! Are you sure no-one else was with him? Could it have been kids playing a stupid sick joke on each other – maybe Russian Roulette? 2) Anger. My God….to leave your family to be the ones to find you…to wonder why…to grieve. It was selfish. It was stupid. It was incomprehensible! Was it to avoid pain…to feel relief? Was it a misunderstanding? Then another level of anger - that he was just SO YOUNG. He had so much more to offer the world. Then more grief, disguised as anger – that my aunt and uncle and cousin would have to continue to live the rest of their lives with a huge hole in their hearts, forever missing the warmth and glow from his beautiful soul. 3) Bargaining. Here comes the “If Only…” train of thoughts. If only I had been a stronger part of his life… If only he had confessed to his priest… If only he had first tried talking to his parents… If only he had made one, single, tiny comment that would alert someone to his grief… 4) Depression. Yep – pretty much cried through most of Tuesday night…and the next morning. Tears welled in my eyes as I drove…in the airport…at home…and every time I opened up Facebook to read the sweet memories on his page. I thought I had cried the last of my tears before my husband came home from work. He simply walked in the door and gave me a bear hug. Asked if I wanted to talk about it. I said, “Not yet. But I’m ok.” Then as I turned to walk away, the tears welled up inside me again and I broke into a sob – BUT HE WAS JUST A KID – ONLY FOURTEEN!!! Would the hurt and sadness ever lift? 5) Acceptance. I thought I would be better when I woke up Thursday morning; then I opened up Facebook to see that my aunt and uncle had posted a message to his friends. It wasn’t until I had a long, hard cry that I decided to accept it…to move forward…and to share the message of communication and love.
Dear friends of Ryan,
This is a message from his heartbroken Mom and Dad. Today is one of the worst days of our lives. We will have a ceremony to say goodbye to our sweet baby boy. …Rea…ding through your posts, almost everyone talks about how much Ryan smiled and joked around. This is what makes this tragedy so much worse. He was full of love and laughter. We called him our”island child” because he was so easy-going and never seemed to worry about anything. He was so generous and quick to tell us he loved us. He loved animals, especially his two dogs Shorty and Bayley. He was one of the best sons a mother could ask for. He always treated us with respect and love. He was so, so, full of love. It will seem impossible to be without him here.
This message is now for all of you. If you want to honor Ryan, than promise to NEVER think there is a problem that can not be fixed. Everything can be worked out someway…everything. Never solve anything on your own. We just found out that Ryan panicked thinking he had made a terrible choice over a common teen pressure. His life ended for NO reason. There is nothing that Ryan could have done that would have made us no longer love him or help him. He just made an irrational decision. All he had to do is come hug us and tell us he had a problem. We could have worked through anything. Please know that you too can work through anything. Just talk to your family, friends, teachers, or preachers. Most of all, look out for each other. Do not pressure each other for things you are not ready for. If you are truly a friend, then want the best for each other. It is time to honor Ryan’s life by how you move forward in your own life. May our sweet baby rest in peace. We love him more than mere words could ever convey. Our life will never be the same.
Thanks again for your kind words, he loved many of you. I hope you will find peace too. I know he is smiling down on each of you.
It is all too tragic…my little cousin left this world at the tender age of 14. He was a follower of the Catholic faith. With radiant blue eyes and a flashing smile, his ebullience could fill a room and make you glad to be there with him. He was a showman at heart, cracking jokes on the fly, and was the only one who could make his mother laugh at any given moment. He was a freshman in high school - where he shared his passion for soccer. He was skilled beyond his years, moving nimbly on a tall, muscular frame. His father tried to keep up with him at CrossFit, which was their morning ritual. He was a kind and gentle soul who loved all of God’s creatures, aspiring to become a small animal veterinarian someday. Two of those creatures, dogs Shorty and Bayley, would curl up in bed with him every night. He had a voracious appetite for the printed word, gobbling up books faster than his mother could buy them. He also loved the outdoors, camping, kayaking, and fishing with his family – competing for best catch with his brother. He was a free spirit in the truest sense of the word – never restrained by convention – but always knew what really mattered in life: his family. His mother, father, and brother would keep him grounded, supporting and nurturing him along life’s path. His physical life’s path on Earth has now ended…but I believe his spiritual journey has just begun.
May he rest in peace…