This week, I had to walk my daughter through something I prayed I never would – the suicide of a friend.
The news came as she was wrapping up practice. She came out to the car with big eyes and said, “One of my friends died.” It wasn’t a complete shock to me, as I had read the email sent by the principal just minutes before getting in the car to come pick her up. It had hit me hard, as I knew the name and knew it was a friend of hers.
The Heartbreak of Suicide
She repeated her words. “One of my friends died.” Only this time she added, “He killed himself, Mama.” We rode home in silence for several minutes as she (and I) struggled to wrap our heads around the news. “I just talked to him yesterday,” she said. “I didn’t even know…” she trailed off and stared out the window with tears streaming down her face.
We talked a lot that night about who he was, what kind of a friend he was, funny conversations they had, and all the people he knew. We talked about his family – his mom and dad and two older sisters. She kept repeating, “I just didn’t know, Mama.”
We cried a lot over the next 24 hours. Kids from the school gathered the next night for a vigil – releasing balloons, hugging each other, and crying more tears for their dear friend. It was breathtaking to see so many kids, rallied together, to mourn, grieve, and support each other.
Processing the Unimaginable
I struggled a lot as a mom to process all of this. I couldn’t help but think of his parents. Did they know he was struggling? Did they know he was in this place, mentally? Are they overcome with pain and guilt as I can only imagine I would be? My heart was breaking for them; aching for all they were going through. I didn’t know how to process my own feelings, let alone how to help my daughter through hers.
Funeral arrangements were set, and the night of the memorial and visitation arrived. My daughter was adamant about attending so we were there early. So many students and families had shown up in support of the boy’s family that my daughter and I both teared up immediately after walking into the church. The tears didn’t stop as my daughter insisted on making her way through the viewing line to see him one last time. The tears continued as the family came in and friends shared beautiful memories from his life. We left the church that night pained and deeply grieving.
My daughter insisted on going to her practice afterward. She said she needed the release. As soon as she was out of the car, I broke down. I sobbed all the way home for the life lost, for the unbelievable grief his family was suffering, and for the struggles that he must have endured prior to making his choice.
The funeral and burial took place the following day. The mass was a beautiful tribute to my daughter’s friend. He was a baseball player, and the team lined the church – in their uniforms – to say goodbye to him. The tears flowed as the priest acknowledged our confusion, our anger, our sadness, and our heartbreak. And as the family and friends said their goodbyes and laid flowers on his casket, I found myself wondering how I was ever to help my daughter process this tragedy. How do we help our kids get through this? And maybe most importantly – how do we keep this from happening again?
I don’t have these answers. All I know is our healing is coming day by day. I continue to keep the family in my thoughts and prayers, and I continue to talk with my daughter almost daily about her feelings, her fears, and her pain as she works through her grief. It’s not easy. It’s not comfortable. But it is important!
Talking about Suicide
According to the CDC, suicide is the second leading cause of death for people ages 10-34 and the 10th leading cause of death across all ages in the United States. 90% of people who die by suicide have experienced symptoms of a mental health condition. Our mental health matters and we need to be talking about it – with each other – and especially with our kids. We need to be having these serious conversations with our children – no matter how uncomfortable it may be.
I’ve spent the last week talking to my kids and their friends because that’s all I know to do. I’m letting them know that they matter, their struggles matter, their thoughts matter, their successes and failures matter. I’m trying to give them a safe space to vent, share, and just be quiet when they need it. I’ve tried to realize that what is important to them should be important to me. The small things matter, and I need to be listening. I want my kids to know that no matter the situation – we can face it…. together.
Mental Health is Important
Because it takes a village – parents, teachers, coaches, and friends. We need to be listening, supporting, and loving the children in our lives. Mental health needs to be talked about, taken seriously, and not hidden for fear of embarrassment or ridicule.
This week my heart was broken for the mental struggles my daughter’s friend endured, for his family that is forever changed, for friends whose lives will never be the same. But in all that heartbreak, I’ve found a mission – a ray of hope in the profound darkness of suicide. I won’t stand by as an onlooker, praying people know their value. I am on the hunt for opportunities to let the people in my life know their worth. I’m creating space for conversations. I’m looking for ways to celebrate, listen, and support. I do this for my daughter’s friend, his family – and for all affected by suicide.
Let’s step out of our comfort zone and be a ray of hope in someone’s life each day. You just never know the difference you can make.