As other mothers sent their kiddos off to the first day of school today, I made my way to the place where my son died. I haven’t been there since Mason took his own life. I couldn’t go, couldn’t be there, couldn’t see where our lives ended. Until today.
My friend’s belongings are packed and the house is almost empty. She’s moving in the next couple of days and soon another family will move in. I knew if there was ever a chance for me to walk through Mason’s final moments on earth, this was it. It had to be now. I didn’t realize when I made arrangements to do this that I would be doing it on the first day of school. The barrage of pictures of happy faces and cool new clothes and cute backpacks hit me full force today. I gritted my teeth, steeled my gut, and waded through them, liking as many as I saw. I commented on a couple and celebrated with other moms. I cheered on some students and even prayed for a few. For them, this is the start of a new year full of hope and promise. For me, it is the day of reckoning.
Last week, I was invited to a Freshman BBQ at a local high school and I spoke to the parents of the freshman Student Council. My organization is one of a few supported by this high school and the StuCo Advisor wanted the parents to hear an overview of how we work together to influence the culture on campus. When I speak to parents, one of two things happens. Parents reject the message that ‘all kids are at risk’ and they resist the possibility that their normal, healthy, overachieving, happy child could ever be at risk for self-harm or suicide. (I get it. I was that parent once.) The other reaction is huge buckets of empathy pour out all over me, the floor, the room… mostly from Mamas. These mothers hear my story and are shocked to their core. They respond to the death of my son in the only way they know how: with tears and love and fear.
Sometimes both reactions occur in the same person. It’s visible. The arms cross, the head tilts, and the mind races to place blame. They cling to the hope that I missed all of the signs and that somehow this mother who stands before them, telling them a story they never wanted to hear, is wrong. “All suicides are easily explained. There are always signs, right? Her kid must have been depressed. She just didn’t see it…” Then, as they continue to digest the story and hear the statistics and see pictures of Mason… as they hear his delightful voice on the aMg video, and learn about his personality, and hear the details of his last day, understanding sets in. Awareness is raised. Denial’s dim light fades and fear grips their Mama hearts. “If it could happen to him…” Their hearts know before their minds accept and the realization is palpable. I’ve seen it from the front of the room as I gently encourage them to imagine a moment that is too big for their child to handle. They know and the tears begin to flow.
My goal is not to extinguish hope and encourage fear… absolutely the opposite! My goal is to fan the flames of hope and to empower parents. I want them to start the conversation. I want them to add suicide and self-harm to their radars and understand that we can prevent this from happening. I don’t have any more kids, so what I say to parents doesn’t help me one bit. I have no kids left to save. But oh how I wish I had heard someone speak. I wish I had met a mother who had lost her precious boy. I wish someone had told me that even kings make mistakes. I never thought it possible. I believed what society had trained me to believe. Suicide was for the weak. Suicide only happens to depressed people. Only kids who were bullied ever take their own lives.
How misinformed I was…
I speak to students and parents and youth leaders and teachers because they still have lives to save. They can make a difference. They can look into a teenager’s eyes and tell them, “You matter. Your life has value. You are bigger than the moment you’re in. Push through and see what’s on the other side. A new moment is coming. Please stay to see it.” They can get in front of this epidemic and speak to every single teenager in their path. They can embed a sense of self-worth so strong that when that ‘moment’ comes, the teen remembers their words and chooses to stay.
If I could pack a lunch and send it to school with my boy, I’d tuck this note inside. If I could tape this inside every binder of every student, I would. If I could convince teens of anything, it is this: You matter more than you can imagine. You will have moments of insecurity, doubt, fear. You will also have moments of confidence, conviction, and courage. That’s just part of the human experience. You have a contribution to make. No one else can be you. You are irreplaceable. Walk in that knowledge. Let that be the song that plays in your head throughout the day. You are enough. The tough moments will pass. The good moments will come again & again. Push through and find the amazing life that is within your reach.
When you feel like you don’t belong, read this.
When you think no one cares, read this.
When you feel misunderstood, when you feel like a burden, when you want to just give up, READ THIS:
The truth is there will be people who don’t love you. There will be people who abandon you. There will be people who don’t understand you or try to control you or want to hurt you. Let them go. They are not for you. They are not FOR you. Let them go, take a deep breath, and read this. You absolutely matter. You are irreplaceable. You deserve to be here. You belong. Keep going.
In church circles, we say “Joy comes in the morning,” right? We say, “God works all things together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.” We have all kinds of quotes and verses we rattle off to encourage each other and ourselves. We cling to hope. Some say that makes us weak. Why believe in something you cannot prove? I say, WHY NOT? I have a choice every day to feel like I am nothing or to feel like I am everything. I can feel deficient or I can feel worthy. I can listen to the voices who try to tear me down or I can listen to voices who build me up. If hope carries me through until joy shows up, what is so wrong with that? Why do people who have no hope feel superior to those who do? Life is hard. It’s hope that gives us the ability to carry on and face the next moment. It’s hope that enables people to run into burning buildings and save lives. It’s hope that prompts us to invest in each other, encourage each other, and build a better future.
It’s the absence of Hope that kills our children.
It’s the absence of Hope that makes suicide a viable option. When people are tired of battling depression and they feel there is no hope for a better life, they end it. When students are bullied and cannot find an advocate, they end it. When beautiful, fun loving, healthy, happy kiddos get backed into a corner and cannot find a small thread of hope, they make a snap decision and end it all. Hope is essential to survival.
I speak to students and parents and teens and teachers to give them hope. I believe in them. I believe in our collective ability to change social norms and save lives. I have hope that we can get ahead of this and stop it. My son would be alive right now if he had seen past the immediate circumstances, if he had found that tiny thread of hope, if he had seen a way out.
Today, instead of taking pictures and laughing and smiling with my son on his first day of his Junior year of high school, I drove to the place where he took his own life. I hadn’t been there since it happened. I couldn’t stomach it. I cried the entire way there. I spoke to him, out loud, in my car and told him of my regrets. I spoke to God and asked to be forgiven…again. I don’t need to keep asking, but my heart cannot stop. I’ll probably say the same things every day for the rest of my life. I drove and cried and desperately tried to get a grip. I couldn’t breathe. It has been 812 days and I still cannot believe he is gone forever. I walked through my friend’s home and listened to her describe what she saw when she came home that day. She showed me where he was, described how she tried to save him, and we cried. I fought for breath. I struggled for control of my emotions. I do not have the words to accurately describe what happens to a mother when walking through her son’s last moments. I can only say that I hope each mother reading this NEVER, ever has to feel what I felt this morning. Or every morning since June 3, 2013.
Here is what I posted a few days ago for the students who follow me on social media:
“As summer comes to an end and students go back to school, there are bound to be mixed emotions to sort through. Excitement to see friends you have missed all summer. Anxiety over the AP classes you signed up for. Insecurities over what to wear and what people will think. Will your eyebrows be on fleek? Will your OOTD be snatched? Who will be there on Day 1? Who’s gonna be there til the end? Sooooo many pressures and many of them self-inflicted. Here’s the thing this olllllld mama has learned: You are aMazing just as you are. You are beautiful and gifted and strong. You are flawed, imperfect, maybe even scuffed up a little. Accept it. One does not negate the other.
You are beautiful and flawed.
You are gifted and imperfect.
You are strong and scuffed up a little.
When we are young, life seems so big and other people’s opinions seem to have so much weight. But as you grow and learn, you discover that life is what you make it and other people’s voices only carry weight if you let them. This year, let the pressures fade a little and focus on accepting yourself as is. You matter to me. You matter to this world. You are not less, you are not more or ‘extra’ – you are enough.”
If our kiddos hear anything we say, I hope it is this. Moments pass. You matter. Please stay.