Every week and sometimes daily, Facebooks algorythms decide that I need to see another post about a local teenager dying by suicide. Just this week our local community lost 5 teenagers. Five families that will never be the same, five sets of parents who will struggle the rest of their lives wondering what went wrong and what they could have done and what they should have said.
My son Ian died by suicide on May 8th, 2017. I have been writing about my grief and deep sadness for the last two years. It’s helped me to be transparent about my sadness. I have felt acknowledged for being able to stand in the unimaginable.
So I sit here this morning. Almost two years later, still wondering what I missed, what I could have done, and how can our story help parents. The story that I haven’t told.
Last night I shamefully raged online at an aquaintence for including Ian’s name to start a dialogue about teen suicide. I say shamefully, because even though I was using kind language I was also being honest with my feelings. Inside my head and heart I was a hot mess and angry as hell. I’m pretty sure I would have spit nails if I could. But it got me thinking, how am I using Ian’s name to dive deeper into his death that came before a diagnosis.
Ian’s suicide didn’t follow a long battle with mental illness. There weren’t prior attempts and the standard list of signs just werent there. There was never one thing that we could look back on and say “This right here. This is why”. There is however, a million little things that if I pieced them all together, you’ll see my broken Ian in his truest self.
And maybe, just maybe, if you see parts of Ian in your baby, you can be better. You can do more. You can have a different conversation with your teenager. As a storyteller, here is our Part I:
Fall of 2016 , Ian was 13 and in 8th grade at Evergreen Middle School. He was such a fun kid. He was active with baseball, his friends were everything and he was a pretty good student. When he was home with no plans he would head outside with his camera and hammock, or learn a new song on his guitar. He had mentioned more than once, enough for me to take notice, that he didn’t have friends. It was usually in response to me asking him who he was going to hang out with over the weekend. He’d text a few friends and they’d be busy. He’d give me this response with a little snort as if to say he was joking. But there was something there, some sort of truth for him that I couldn’t quite audit for myself.
I sent an e mail to his school counselor. Letting her know the occasions that Ian had said this and asked if she could just quietly observe him during the week and let me know what she saw. She came back to me with her observations that Ian at lunch is usually surrounded by 10-15 kids and he is always at the center of the laughter. His teachers were included in that observation and each one came back with a report of how Ian was in class. He’d participate fully, work great in team settings, not keep to himself and providing the entertainment at the most inappropriate of times. So, I put that “something there” aside and let it rest and without a second thought determined that it was just Ian being 13 and dramatic.
In the past two years, my grief has protecting me from all the should have’s, would have’s and could have’s. With the utmost transparency, I wish I had sat with him. I wish I had let him tell me about his connections rather than school counselors and teachers. I would listen to what set his soul on fire and heard what gave him goosebumps.
I imagine that if I gave him this space he would feel safe enough to be fully transparent and authentic with describing the dark blanket he found himself underneath. It wasn’t that Ian didn’t have friends, because he did. Amazing friends. He was trying to tell me that he felt alone, and I didn’t hear his truth whisper.
You see that true connection; human interaction cannot be discovered through FINSTA Feeds or Twitter Timelines. The space and silence that exists with living in the digital age is too dangerous for us and specifically for kids. Brene Brown says “The silence our kids find themselves in allows them to construct their own stories – stories that almost always cast them as alone and unworthy of real love and belonging and truth that becomes connection.”
This was the first of the million little things that Ian would use to dip his toe into transparency with me. My initial response was to find and list out for him all the examples to discredit his truth. I remember the exact moment he tried to tell me he felt alone. He was laying on his bed, watching his favorite vloggers on youtube. If I could travel back in time I would have laid down next to him. I would have asked more questions, I would have tried to understand. I would have believed him.