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Teen suicide and our kids

Categories: Mommy Angst


[From the Blogger Formerly Known as Karen Murphy. Next week: why I changed my name!][Also: it hasn't escaped my notice that my last three posts all deal with death. What's up with that??]

Last week I received a brief emailed note from my son’s high school. A student ended his life last night. OMG. My heart ached for the student’s family, whoever they were. No names or identifying information were given. The next day I talked to my son on the phone. He’s 15.

How was your day?

Terrible. It was a really, really bad day. A terrible day.

Then I knew. They had been friends. Turns out they ran cross country and track together. The boy was one of the nicest people my son knows. Knew. They were friends. A friend of his was no longer alive. Forever gone in one moment. Just like that. Suicide. Why?

I tell myself that even if I was 3000 miles closer, there would have been nothing I could have done differently than what I did. I listened. Told him how sorry I was. Told him that he is loved. Let my tears for this tragedy and his loss show. Yes, I could have hugged him. I would have liked that. I hated that my little boy, now so much a man, has learned how to grieve.

He posted a moving tribute to his friend on his Facebook wall, a remembrance of the boy’s character and little moments they had shared. I have never felt so proud as when I read it, especially the last sentence: I love you, man. No, he’s not a boy any longer, my son. Those words were from a man.

The next day my daughter, 11, asked me what she could do to help her brother feel better. She knew he was hurting, and she felt it too. She wanted to show him that she was touched, that she cared. I heart my kids so, so hard.

The whole community was struck by this event, from what I can tell. The school seems vigilant in providing support. There was a memorial. I am grateful for that.

Kids grieve truly, I think. Openly. With their hearts. I wonder what we can learn from this. It feels wrong to teach my children to grieve the way adults do, carefully. I am a hospice volunteer and was taught a little about grief, that it’s a highly individual process. I wonder how this will unfold for my son. Surely every time he meets for track practice he will feel the loss of his friend. There will be reminders. And unanswered questions. We can sort of wrap our heads around accidents — they happen, right? — but it’s less understandable why someone would not want to be. To be here. We wonder what we could have done differently. How the story might still be unfolding, if only. If only.

I have adult friends whose lives were touched by suicide, so I know a little from that place. And when I was 14 a classmate hanged himself. I was friends with his older brother later, and he always held a bit of sadness that I imagined was the unexpected loss of his little brother. I know, I know, we all experience loss in our lives, but somehow this kind of loss seems so much more poignant to me. Things were just getting started for this boy. People loved him. And his pain was, perhaps, more than he could bear.

Words of wisdom? I’m fresh out.

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3 comments so far...

  • I just try to always remember how hard that time of life is - the hormones mixed with all the “stuff” that is always happening. When I was young, my parents used to tell me that I had it easy and things were going to be a lot harder in adulthood. That was not true! Not if you figure in the way teens feel things. I used to feel suicidal fairly often as a teen, but I had enough reasons not to take that step (mainly my love for my much younger siblings). Now I make it a point to let young people know that I know it’s hard, but it will get better - a lot better. One day they will wake up and wonder where all the pain went. I guess that’s the best I can do.

    SKL  |  February 2nd, 2011 at 1:52 pm

  • That’s beautiful, SLK. It’s good to remember how intense and raw things feel at that age. Thanks.

    Talyaa Liera  |  February 3rd, 2011 at 3:51 pm

  • SKL - you are so right. My parents used to tell me the same thing - that life gets harder as you get older. Imagine that?!?! I remember how hard being a teenager was and yes, looking back, the problems were minor compared to the problems that arise now BUT with maturity comes the ability to handle a larger load. Every little thing as a teenager is HUGE, as you get older, you learn to deal. So I cant imagine telling my son when he’s a teen and hormonal that life only gets harder and worse! I remember thinking myself, “If it sucks this much now, why would I want to live past 20 if it only gets harder?” I think that a lot of parents dismiss their teenagers feelings because they see the subject of their moodiness as so trivial that they dont realize that the emotion is very real to them. Whether or not you see their situation as horrible as they do, doesnt mean that their pain isnt real. Not all kids will take their lives, obviously, but just to give kids hope that they will pull out and things will get better is important. And I totally agree - life definitely gets better!

    Oceans Mom  |  February 7th, 2011 at 2:18 pm