[T/W young adult suicide]
It is Tuesday morning. Two hundred of us stand around the large central foyer in a funeral home at the top of a mountain in Northern California. We are the early ones. The ones who filled the lot and began parking along the side of the long winding road. As others arrive, and three hundred more will come, the crowd will spill into the back hallway and down the side corridors and out into the misty Bay Area day that is unfolding.
We are gathered to mourn and celebrate a beautiful, brilliant, funny, and incredibly kind young man of twenty-two who has died by suicide. We are silent. We do not ask if we are in the right place or where to go. We await word that something will soon happen. In a time of chaos when the universe has folded in on itself and produced a day in which a young adult is no longer alive, it is so helpful for someone to simply be in charge and tell us what to do.
I arrived alone. I glance around at the clumps of masked people who belong to each other. I quickly realize that I hardly know any of them. That I am an outsider in this crowd. I stand toward the back and wear my arms folded across my chest like armor that holds my emotions inside of me. I am struck by the diversity of the crowd which speaks to me further about the magnificence of the one we've lost. That he touched everybody. And everybody is now here. A voice from way up at the front says that the chapel will open in a few minutes.
More than half of the crowd are in their late teens and early twenties. All wear black. Some are in suits. Others are in dresses, skirts, sweaters, shirts, long pants, wraps, capes. On their feet are Doc Martens, ankle boots, open toed high heels, velvet flats, oxfords, loafers, and the occasional sneaker. I watch them move toward one another with the ease of youth. I watch them come in for long hugs, hold the other by the shoulders, rub each other's back, these young who have been kept from each other for ten percent of their lives due to a pandemic. As they stand and wait their eyes are wide as if a wildfire is coming and they do not know if they will get out in time.
Standing at the back I am struck by the evidence of their youthfulness amid the evidence of their mortality. I think to myself This is wrong. They are too young for these clothes. Too young for the death of a peer. Too young for this not to be the first time.
It was my daughter who texted me last Wednesday from her college 3,000 miles away to ask, Have you heard? Then she got me on the phone and asked Are you in a place where you can sit down? After two minutes of listening to her news of the death of this tremendous young man whose story of struggle I know, whose story I put in my latest book, whose story I thought would continue on, it finally hit me. My sobs came up and out of me insistent like a jackhammer. My daughter was gentle. She didn't find it awkward that her mother was ugly crying. She held me over the phone like we were two women in grief not a mother and her twenty-year-old daughter. When I calmed a bit, I asked her how she was holding up, asked who could support her in this crisis since she is at college where nobody knows this young man's name. "I've got my friends, Mom." She reminds me. By which she means her friends from high school. She continues, "We know how to do this. We've been here before."
It breaks my fucking heart to know that there are young people in this much pain. The pain of depression that leads some to take their lives by suicide. The pain into the days and years after, when a friend or loved one has died by suicide.
This was not a lesson I wanted my daughter to learn. I never meant to offer my child a childhood where she could name the young people she knows who have died by suicide. But here in Silicon Valley, it has happened enough times for my daughter and her friends to know precisely how to be there for one another.
Each time a young person dies by suicide we wring our hands and point to genetic predisposition, and to the disease that is depression. I'm ready for us to also ask ourselves: What does it feel like to be a child in this place? Why do young people feel that life is not worth living? What are we going to do about it? One thing I know for sure is that we have to keep talking about it.
Suicide is the second-leading cause of death for people between the age of 10 and 34.
My friend Katie Hurley is a licensed clinical social worker. Her piece on how to spot signs of teen depression is here.
Katie's piece on recognizing and responding to suicidal thoughts/ideation in humans of all ages and how to get help is here.
The "Mental Health First Aid" organization believes we should train people to respond to mental health crises just as we train people in First Aid. If you want more to learn more about this training, their website is here.
Please share your thoughts in the comments. Please be kind to those you see there.
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*Disclaimer: I am not a physician, psychologist, or counselor, nor am I licensed to offer therapy or medical advice of any kind. What you get from me is a fellow human with a lot of thoughts and opinions based solely on my lived experience. If you are having an emergency or are in crisis please call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Line (800-273-8255) or text the Crisis Text Line at 741741.
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