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Essay | Too Soon: Tragedy In The Neighborhood

Jenn Mench has always loved reading, writing, and editing (her mom was an English teacher). She has held her Domestic Goddess title for the past ten years. Jenn is mainly focused on momming these days but still reads daily, writes when moved, and edits when asked. She spent the last twenty years moving all over, but has “settled” in the DC area, for now.

Elizabeth Wurtzel depression quote

Another tragedy. Close to home. Literally. A boy committed suicide.

But . . .

A boy. A boy with feelings. Decided it was better to be gone than here…forever. At the time, there was no way to know if he was trying to hurt himself but went too far. Or if he calculated just how much torque was needed to kill himself. In the months that followed, I learned he knew exactly what he was doing. He was ending his pain, while making sure others felt it.

My heart aches for his family. His younger brother found him. That boy can’t ever unsee that. He also leaves a sister and an older brother who struggle to understand. Why? What was so bad? Did I do something? Should I have done something? All kinds of thoughts no one, especially a kid, should ever have to struggle with.

For his parents. The woman I saw pacing outside her home, smoking a cigarette while the paramedics worked. Knowing she is in shock. That she grieves in her own way. Just like we all would. Knowing his parents struggle every moment to move forward. Only months later did I learn that the boy took a video of it. All. And his mother sits now, every day, replaying that video. Watching. And it makes me hollow thinking of the children she is ignoring while she watches . . . again.

For his friends. And his neighbors. And the people who barely knew him.

My heart breaks.

The trudged out banter is always the same: “This tragedy makes us all hug our kids tighter.” But do we?

I have a boy.

That my son happened to be at the house next door was just bad timing. That the kids watched with excitement as all the emergency vehicles arrived was a given. They’re nine. That’s cool stuff. When I drove up, to all the rolling lights, I freaked right the hell out. Then, logic kicked in and reminded me my friend would have called if it were our boys. As I worked my way to the house, I learned the reality. This young man I had never met, never seen really, had tried to kill himself. And I realized he was still in his home.

So we waited. I didn’t want to walk by with my kid when they brought him out. Couldn’t imagine getting in the way. Couldn’t imagine the questions.

And when the gurney left, it dawned on me that the room where we had relegated the kids had a window. From their perch, they watched the paramedics wheel him out. They saw the neck brace and the machine used to continue the CPR as he was wheeled to the ambulance.

And the questions began. We explained that we don’t really know what happened, and it isn’t fair to try to guess. What I could tell this nine-year-old inquiring mind was that the boy had hurt himself, badly, in his home, and the paramedics would try to save him.

A few more questions. Mostly with no answers.

The next morning, I told my kid the boy had died. More questions. Emails to the teacher and school counselor giving them a heads up.

After talking with his friend and hearing that the boy committed suicide, my kid asked what it meant that the boy “suicided himself.” Why would he do that? Where? How? All things I can only half answer. I’m sad that I have to.

At the bus stop the next morning, I quelled rumors the boy shot himself. I just said, “No. No gun.” It wasn’t my place to add to the noise.

I do hug my kid tighter. I answer his questions. I try not to give him more than he needs or can handle, but he’s a smart one and asks really hard questions. My husband and I have to explain suicide to our nine-year-old kid, so we start slow. Very basic and slightly vague.

When we were walking to the car after the ambulance drove away, I said, “He hurt himself very badly. Hopefully, they can make him better at the hospital.”

Later, I said, “He hurt himself badly enough that he died. I don’t know if that’s what he wanted. I just know he was so lost and sad that he wanted to hurt himself, and that ended up making him dead.”

We told him he could talk to his school counselor or us as much as he wanted, but also about how this isn’t anyone else’s business. We talked about how rumors hurt. Mostly, we tried to focus on how much we love him and what that means. “There are things you do that we don’t like, and there are times we don’t like your behavior, but there is never a second we stop loving you.”

We tell him no matter how horrible he thinks something is in his head, it’s almost never as bad once he has talked about it. He knows he can talk to us, especially when he’s scared of what we’ll think.

Several weeks after this suicide, the kid came home from school a little sad.

When I asked him why, he thought a long time and asked, “Is it okay to think about death? I mean . . . I don’t want to die, but I’ve been thinking about it. A lot.”

I looked into those sad eyes and said, “Yes. Death is all the time and everywhere. You can think about it all you’d like. But, don’t dwell on it. Don’t focus on it. Don’t let death run your life.”

He nodded and then we talked about death as long as he needed.

We told him how to help and not hurt. “When you see that kid who has been picked on, you have a choice. Do you support the bully who has knocked that kid down? Or do you go to the knocked-down kid and help him or her get up? It’s so hard. But who you are will come through in that choice.”

Elie Wiesel hope quote_600px

We talked about him relying on his friends more and more, for ideas, their opinions, their input.

We surround him with families who will help him make good choices.

And we listen. We hope to assure him that we are his safest place. We answer his questions, still. It’s been seven months. He still has questions, and he still remembers.

These aren’t questions I ever thought I’d have to answer for my nine-year-old. I wasn’t ready for this suicide thing. Not yet.

If you need help or if someone you know is struggling, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline here.

Photo credit: Creative Commons License Raindrops by Zoe Shuttleworth is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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