A 17 year old teenager in the West Fargo School District committed suicide on Wednesday. West Fargo students were informed of the suicide yesterday. My daughter Cheyenne told me about it when she came home from school and after my initial shock my first question was, “Why?” Cheyenne did not know the answer to this question and thought it was a silly question to ask – she said, “obviously the family will keep that private.”
Cheyenne wanted to know the reason I wanted to know why and why it mattered to me. She thought my question arose out of being nosy. It wasn’t that I was being nosy, it was something else. I asked myself the questions Cheyenne posed, why did I want to know and why does knowing why this young man committed suicide matter to me? But inside my heart of hearts I knew the answers that I did not want to give voice to, the answers that I presume reside in the hearts of many.
The answers being:
How can I distance this young man’s death from my own reality as the parent of a teenager?
How can I find rationale that allows me to tell myself that my child would never make the same choice this young man did?
How can I protect my child from making this choice?
But even as I answer Cheyenne’s questions in my head, I know that the “Why?” is a placebo. This vulnerability is ever-present in society for people of all ages. I was horrified to read in The Forum that suicides have increased 70% over the past 10 years in the 15-23 year old age bracket in North Dakota. Suicide is now the leading cause of death in the teen/young adult age bracket. It is advised that signs of depression and suicidal tendencies always be taken seriously, but how easy is it to separate those signs from typical teen angst and drama? How are parents, who are living increasingly hectic lives, to ensure they are on top of all that is happening in their child’s life – to include interactions in peer groups or online? How do you know if what you are doing is the right thing, too much, or not enough? How do you protect your child from this choice – a choice that can happen in a singular moment of angst?
I cannot presume to know the extent of the grief the young man’s family is experiencing, but as a parent I know it must be crippling. All that can be done at this juncture is to hold them in our prayers and hope they eventually find a way to cope with this loss. Not that the wound will ever heal, suicide is such a complicated loss and can haunt the psyche of the living long after the permanence of the death has settled in.
I hope that in light of this tragic loss we will all think a bit more about the topic of suicide and the extent of its reach – through generations, experiences, income levels, family structures, etc. – the vulnerability is there for all of us and the people we hold dear. Instead of asking, “Why?”, we should seek to understand more about how suicide has become such a prevalent choice. And above all else, acknowledge that you cannot distance yourself from this young man’s death with the details of “Why?” – you have to understand that he could have been your son, brother, nephew, grandson, or friend. This tragedy could have been your tragedy – suicide is wildly indiscriminate.
Learn more about suicide (see the CDC) and stay alert for the signs that an individual is struggling. Psyches can be fragile – remember to handle those around you with care and extend that same level of care to yourself. Reach out to friends, family, and professionals if you need help. Suicide is not the way anyone’s life story should end.
Another day in the new forty – obla di obla da