My Friend’s Son Committed Suicide

His death left the community staggering with grief, helplessness, and one more gaping hole in our young generation.

This piece deals with suicide, which may be disturbing to some readers. Please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800–273–8255 if you are struggling with suicidal feelings.

Last week, the teenage son of one of my old friends took his life. His death left our entire community staggering.

My friend — his poor, poor mother — is still in shock; she was comforting everyone else filing through the visitation line at the funeral home two days ago. She’s thanking everyone inundating her Facebook profile with condolences. She’s hugging the openly sobbing acquaintances. “Thank you. Thank you. I know. Thank you.”

Perhaps that’s the inevitable first step in processing unspeakable, unfathomable grief for herself. I can’t say, because I haven’t experienced the death of a child.

Her son was a multi-talented honors student, and by all indications a well-adjusted and happy young man. The photo that ran with his obituary showed an unclouded, laughing smile.

He looked a lot like my own teenage boys, who went to school with him. I had a hard time picking my kids up from the high school without bursting into tears all over again.

I couldn’t talk about it with my teens for two more days — and when I finally did broach the subject, they eagerly told me they already knew. Everyone at school knew right away, mostly via Snapchat and word of mouth. They knew before I did.

In fact, they said, this was the second death among their peers that week. A 15-year-old had died of a suboxone overdose. He had been huffing aerosol cans for a long time, they said. They knew he was headed down a bad road.

Mothers of teenagers do not always see the anguish, even when they look for its traces on their children’s brows. You think you know what’s going on in their lives. But you don’t. And sometimes you can’t.

The kids in my sons’ generation are terribly familiar with loss. Many of their peers are orphans being fostered by relatives. This mountain landscape is riddled with psychic holes.

I recognize a large part of my own grief at my friend’s tragedy is wrapped up with the vulnerability of raising children. You see them flapping their wings at the edge of the nest, testing the breezes.

Then one day, all of a sudden, they take flight. And you feel helpless. Afraid. Exposed. It’s a sucker punch that takes your breath away.

The threat of suicide can be such a sphinx. Even when its warning signs are easy to recognize, its source can be difficult to understand.

And sometimes the warning signs slip by those closest to the person struggling.

Even in close-knit families, you may not know the darkness in your loved ones’ hearts. Mothers of teenagers do not always see the anguish, even when they look for its traces on their children’s brows. You think you know what’s going on in their lives. But you don’t. And sometimes you can’t.

Photo by Skitterphoto from Pixabay

I wanted to write this piece because while discussion of suicide largely remains taboo in our society, it is only becoming more common. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the suicide rate has risen 33 percent in the past two decades to reach the highest rate since World War II in 2017.

The truth is that most of us have either directly contemplated committing suicide, or we have been impacted by the suicide of someone else. The grief and the guilt can be unbearable in either situation.

And that riddle — why — haunts loved ones for the rest of their lives. Why did they do it? Why didn’t I see it? Why?

Suicidal thoughts can begin so fleetingly, then assume an almost gravitational force on your life.

Warning Signs

The Mayo Clinic lists symptoms of suicidal tendencies including talking about suicide, acquiring the means to carry out a suicide, social withdrawal, and mood swings.

Other warning signs can include “being preoccupied with death, dying or violence”; “feeling trapped or hopeless about a situation”; and “saying goodbye to people as if they won’t be seen again.”

The symptoms aren’t always obvious, and some people are better at hiding how they feel. Some people don’t have a lot of social engagement, and others keep their feelings a secret.

Risk factors

The Mayo Clinic also lists risk factors that might help identity situations in which a person develops suicidal thoughts.

These can include a stressful life event like a divorce, bankruptcy, or the death of a loved one; substance abuse problems; or “underlying psychiatric disorder, such as major depression, post-traumatic stress disorder or bipolar disorder”.

Often several of these factors interact to augment the feelings of despair.

Suicidal thoughts can begin so fleetingly, then assume an almost gravitational force on your life.

If you feel suicidal, there are a few things you should do right away:

Seek treatment.

If you have underlying depression or substance abuse issues feeding into suicidal thoughts, you need immediate medical help.

If you don’t have access to a doctor, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800–273–8255. Or just call 9–1–1.

Establish a support network.

Talk to the people you love about what is going on in your life, including in your head and heart. Tell your family and friends that you have been experiencing suicidal thoughts — even if that’s hard and they don’t fully understand.

The people who care about you need to know that you’re struggling. They will want to help.

Remember that your trials are temporary.

What can seem like a hopeless situation will pass. Despair is temporary. Suicide is permanent. Please don’t do anything impulsive.

The world needs you, even if it doesn’t feel like that right now. There is a place for you. There are people for you. You are so loved.

The world needs you, even if it doesn’t feel like that right now. There is a place for you. There are people for you. You are so loved.

A compassionate and opinionated human being. | Fiction author and visual artist in Central Appalachia. | Give my newsletter a try: https://bit.ly/2sZGM6n

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