I consider myself to be a fortunately sheltered person. In the greater scheme of things, relatively few truly horrible things have come into my life, or those I love. I have known but one person, many years after our acquaintance in college, who was found murdered. I’ve known a few young people who had passed far too soon and too young, but through natural causes. I’ve never had to identify the remains of someone I knew or cared for or loved nor have I ever had to process the death of someone I’ve known who had died from accident or manslaughter or suicide.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, among adolescents suicide is the third leading cause of death for people between the ages of 15 and 24 in the United States, a rate of 6.9 suicides per 100,000 people in that demographic and it is by far more common among young men than young women. A sadly not-uncommon occurrence, but a devastating one for those left in its wake.
And so it was that this past weekend an apparently popular and athletically gifted young man made that choice.
I had never met him and knew him only by extension and yet I am greatly saddened by this – I’ve met his brother, an apparently fine young man himself, and am told his parents are some of the most wonderful people you would want to meet. I am told that by my teenage daughter, a fine young woman in her own right and one whose impressions hold great credibility with me – any family warranting her approval is one to be approved. Yet, somehow this young man decided that there was but one way out of his pain.
It breaks my heart to believe someone so young with so much greatness in his future made this decision. It breaks my heart that he would leave his family and community at such a loss, and that he could be so tormented inside as to do the unspeakable. To the outside, he left no apparent signs that he was troubled – always seen with a smile on his face. My mind races to so many places considering him: the despair, anguish and helplessness his parents must be feeling; how his brothers are feeling; how his loss will affect those closest and those near to him.
Consider, in his family’s faith, suicide is an unpardonable sin: “He who commits suicide by throttling shall keep on throttling himself in the Hell Fire (forever) and he who commits suicide by stabbing himself shall keep on stabbing himself in the Hell-Fire.” Imagine then to a family of faith countenancing a beloved son facing an eternity in hell, never to be joined with them in the heaven of their faith.
There is so much to fear when children begin their adolescent journey, and as a parent, so many opportunities to look back and wish for that “do over” – how many times have I replayed situations in my head and wished I had made better parenting decisions. I want so desperately to be a good father and I worry so much whether I have been and whether I’ve made the right choices along the way. I can’t imagine the journey these apparently “nicest people you’d ever want to meet” must be making right now. At the start of the weekend, they were parents to several star athletes and gifted students with so much promise in their future – at the end of the weekend, they had lost a child to his own hand. The anguish must be immeasurable and is unfathomable to those of us who have never made that journey.
On Sunday afternoon, the High School had been opened for students to meet with grief counselors – and many took the opportunity. It saddens me to know that they had to do that. With those of us who are older, we can be angry for the selfishness involved in a suicide – it’s hard to be angry with an adolescent for that; adolescents don’t often have fully developed critical reasoning capacities – often its in their nature to be selfish. My heart breaks for his family, and my heart breaks for his community. So many unanswered questions and so many young lives left to process the unfathomable.
I hope I’ve built a relationship with my daughter that includes an ability to talk to me about anything – I don’t know that I have, and that scares me. I feel such sadness thinking about the guilt and anguish his parents must be feeling, and how the lives of his brothers – and those around him – have changed.
I do know this – I will never miss the opportunity to tell my children that I love them. Life can do great damage to you if you don’t believe you are loved or lovable. Suicide is not painless.