The past few weeks have been rough for my community. We lived through the frantic search for a missing 13-year old boy and unfortunately, had to deal with the tragic ending when he was found dead in a creek from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. The 4-day search for this boy named Cayman engulfed our town, from the pictures of his infectious smile lighting up every social media outlet, to the hundreds of volunteers who gathered for days to trek through 10” of snow covered fields to find him.
We all wanted a happy ending. I mean, there was no way this boy, who reportedly was distraught over an email from school about a bad grade, would take his own life, right? He was loved. He was popular. He was from a good family and sent to one of the premier schools in the area. It just was not possible! Well, this time it was…
This time it was YOUR kid…
Yes, this time it wasn’t the OTHER kid – This time it wasn’t the 13-year old, quiet, shy boy from our local public middle school who lived in an unstable home, with no friends to speak of. That wasn’t YOUR kid, who left his home one night in December and hung himself in the woods. There was no search party, no media blasts with his smiling face, and very little said after he was found. Why???? Because this boy named, Skyler wasn’t YOUR kid.
Oh no, this time it was the popular kid smiling at you in every Facebook post, the one from the stable family and the promising future ahead of him.
Yes, this time it was YOUR kid who decided to end it all, it scared you. The days and now weeks, following Cayman’s death have been filled with endless posts and blogs about how we as parents, need to stop over scheduling our kids and how we need to put an end to all the pressure they face in today’s world. Discussions about public vs private school pressures continue, but at the end of the day, Cayman’s death made you stop and think…”This easily could have been my kid”.
You know, they say that people don’t get involved in a cause until it hits close to home, and honestly what I have seen and read since Cayman’s body was found, is a whole lot of people who’ve just been slapped in the face – hard!
You see now that NO ONE IS SAFE FROM SUICIDE and it took Cayman’s death to realize that.
Some say I’m “jilted” but I’d rather call it “aware”. I’ve had to see my kids through some really tough times. Their father died of brain cancer when they were just 6 and 10 years of age and his death has lead us down a path of helping others cope, grieve and heal from the loss of their loved ones. Essentially, we’re around death a lot – all types of death.
I think reality really hit me though, back in 2011 when we appeared on Anderson Cooper’s talk show about grieving through the holidays. I was backstage at NBC studios in hair and makeup with another mom when I asked her why she was going to be on the show. She proceeded to tell me about her teenage son, Michael who died by suicide. She told me that Michael was distraught about a recent breakup and shot himself in the head one Sunday morning while she, her husband and their daughter were out to breakfast.
Michael decided to stay home that morning. He didn’t say why and didn’t give them any indication that he was suffering. His parents knew he wasn’t happy about the breakup, but never thought in a million years that they would come home to find his lifeless body just 2 hours later. He showed no signs of depression. By all accounts, Michael was a happy, well-adjusted, teenager who said he simply didn’t feel like going to breakfast that morning… Michael was Cayman.
My kids and I were on the show to talk about brain cancer, and how their dad’s death affected us all. The crazy thing is that, even though I knew we connected and helped so many viewers that day with our story of loss, what I actually took from that show, was the very-real notion of how a seemingly normal teenager could take his life in the matter of seconds. I’ll never forget the pain on the faces of Michael’s mother, father and sister as they talked about what a wonderful, loveable, kind person he was. The pain on his sister’s face I will never forget, and the way his mother described Michael will stay with me forever.
I KNEW AT THAT MOMENT THAT I WASN’T SAFE FROM SUICIDE…AND IT SCARED ME.
It forced me to think really hard about how I can help my kids.
You see, I am the quintessential “laid back” parent. I always have been. My kids aren’t overscheduled and I don’t put pressure on them to overachieve. They do their own homework, pick out their own outfits and now even do their own laundry! Part of why I am the way I am is that I spent a lot of my time managing their dad’s health and trying to financially support them. My time was limited and I did the best I could. Looking back though, I realized something…
They watched me fall and they watched me get back up. To them, I am human.
I didn’t intend it to be that way. I wanted to be their parent and ultimate protector, but shielding them from the death of their father was impossible. I couldn’t save them from that pain and I know I never will be able to take it away. I’m not Super Mom, I am their Mom and I am Human.
Once that hit me, I decided to change the way I parent. I let my kids see me as a person AND a mom because I want them to know that there are times I struggle and times that I am hurting. Yes, I talk to them about suicide, but I also want them to see that I have challenges to overcome and I want to share those stories with them. I don’t like telling, “When I was your age” tales because they won’t relate. I didn’t listen to the ones my parents told me, my kids won’t listen to mine, and someday their kids won’t listen to theirs.
I don’t tell them everything, of course. I choose what stories to tell based on what I think the lesson will be. Just a few weeks ago, I was at an advertising appointment with my business partner. She and I run a company that combines fitness with personal development. We make a good team because we are different and we celebrate those differences. She’s super high-energy, I’m the grounded one. She works out 7 days a week and I, well let’s just say I make an effort. Anyway, the 3-hour meeting went well except for the fact that the person we met with found every way possible to point out our size difference (can you tell I’m trying to be diplomatic, here?). I left feeling defeated and I was really upset that I let those words get to me.
The ride home felt like an eternity and I was having a lot of trouble shaking it off. My kids could tell something was wrong the minute I walked in the door. I could have brushed their questions off and said I was just tired from work, but I told them instead what had happened. I told them that although I am happy with the way I look, it was bothering me that someone else’s opinion was bringing me down.
What happened next was awesome. My kids started asking ME questions and offering ME advice on how to feel better. They started to tell me about times when they felt insecure and upset and how they handled it. We talked about how we can’t control what others say or do to us, but we can control our reactions. I thanked them for listening to me and told them that their advice was just what I needed. Little did they know, that during that conversation, I learned a lot about them and the struggles they have faced!
This didn’t happen overnight. It’s been evolving over time and each conversation we have gets better and continues to build that level of trust between us.
Being a mom and a person opens up the door for my kids to come to me and it’s just an extra step I consciously take to keep the communication flowing. Believe me, I don’t have all the answers and I still know that I am not safe from suicide, but I wish more posts and blogs would be about HOW to open those doors instead of the standard, TALK to your kids about suicide.
There is no right or wrong here – we simply have to trust and believe that the lessons we teach and instill are received. So many factors are involved with suicide and no two deaths are the same. I am simply offering another avenue in which to connect with our kids. It’s a piece that I find missing in a lot of the advice out there, and something that is definitely worth doing.
Because at the end of the day, we all want to be safe.