By Jennifer Mulvey
Special to the Lake Okeechobee News
My first experience losing a family member to suicide was on Sept. 15, 1987, when I lost my aunt at the age of 28. I remembered feeling shocked and horribly saddened at the loss of my aunt. She was only 11 years older than me and I adored her. I remember my mom describing my aunt as selfish. She said that if she had loved her family that she would not have “committed suicide.” It would be years later that I would learn that the term “committed suicide” is an insult to those that have lost their lives to suicide.
Suicide is an unpleasant subject. It makes people uncomfortable. There is a stigma attached to suicide and to mental illness. It’s time to end that stigma. It’s also time to share my story in an attempt to help others, and I will admit, it’s hard. How do I share a story that is so painful? I’ve laid in bed many a night wondering how to share my story.
God has blessed me with a big family. On Aug. 8, 2002 I was blessed with my fifth child, a son. He was born a day before his due date and he was huge! He weighed 11 pounds and 7 ounces when he came into this world. Jacob was the happiest, laid back baby. As Jacob grew up, he loved to play outside. His back yard was 11 acres of land in Tennessee, complete with a creek and lots of woods to explore. Jacob’s jeans always had worn out knees and were covered in dirt from playing outside. Jacob got along with everyone and he was famous for his corny jokes. His smile could light up a room. He was an easy-going kid that loved hanging out with his granddad and doing odd jobs for him here or there to earn a few dollars.
The morning of Nov. 7, 2014 started out as the normal morning rush of trying to get everyone off to school. I remember Jacob coming down the stairs, on his way to catch the bus. He was wearing a green t-shirt, blue jeans and a black jacket. The rush out the door would be the last time I would every speak to him or see him again. Jacob was 12 years old and he was in the sixth grade. Twelve - my sweet boy, who never showed any signs of depression, took his life at the age of 12.
I do not know why Jacob decided to take his life. Jacob was not being bullied, and he was not the victim of a major traumatic event in his life. There were no signs of depression, and I think that’s the hardest part for me.
Life after the death of Jacob took on a whole new meaning. Part of me died the day that Jacob died, but I had six living children who still needed their mother. I went through the motions and leaned heavily on prayer and my church family. I attended a support group for those that have lost loved ones to suicide. I don’t think I really realized how many lives have been affected by the loss of a loved one to suicide, but then again suicide is still not talked about. If I had lost Jacob to cancer, then I could openly talk about his cause of death without fear of being judged as to how he died.
If cancer is not detected in time, then by the time it is diagnosed it may be too late. Depression has this in common with cancer. If we don’t recognize the symptoms, then sometimes the outcome can be fatal. It’s easy to blame the victim or even the loved ones of a victim. What many people don’t realize is that depression, like cancer, doesn’t care what you look like, how much money you make or how old you are. I cannot stress this enough, there is not a “look” to depression. Suicide affects every age group, every race, and every socio-economic bracket. Suicide is among the leading causes of death in the United States.
No two people are alike, including siblings. Aidan is Jacob’s younger brother. Jacob was my biggest baby, and Aidan was my smallest, weighing in at 7 pounds 1 ounce, born on May 7, 2004. Aidan was also a very easy-going child and he and Jacob were very close. Aidan was only 10 years old when he lost his brother and his friend. The loss of Jacob was a traumatic event for all of us, but Aidan held it in and he did not want to talk about it. Aidan was different than his brother though, because Aidan did show signs of depression and his journey through the battle was a lot different.
As Aidan went through puberty, he was going through the typical moody teenage years. He loved to play videos games and stay up late at night and he didn’t really want to go to school. Middle school was hard for him, especially eighth grade. Aidan had trouble sleeping and when he finally did get to sleep, he had to get up early in the morning to go to school. It was a battle every morning to get him out of bed to go to school. He refused to get up. He also got agitated very easily and was becoming increasingly more difficult to get along with. Aidan was 13 when he tried to take his life. He had no physical trauma to his body, but he was hospitalized for two weeks for inpatient psychiatric care. Aidan was diagnosed with bipolar depression. He was started on medication and had outpatient therapy set up for when he was released.
Aidan hated taking his medications and he hated talking to people even more. It was a struggle. He could not stand the therapist that he was set up to talk to, so that was a huge hurdle. I knew how important it was for Aidan to have a therapist, so I set out to find a new one. It’s hard enough to get teenagers to open up in the first place, so finding him someone that he trusted was important. Finding a therapist is hard. First, you have to find one that you think will be a good fit, and then you have to find out if they take your insurance, and finally you have to hope and pray that you can get an appointment. I think winning the lottery would be easier than having all of these components come together.
Being a caregiver to a loved one is hard. We live in a world where we can’t talk about depression, because of the stigma associated with it. It is extremely stressful and left me feeling isolated. My advice, surround yourself with those that will support you. That support may or may not come from family members. I learned that I had to distance myself from some family members for my own well-being.
Things seemed to be improving, and Aidan started high school. Aidan was excited about high school because he got to be part of JROTC. Aidan loved being part of JROTC, because his goal was to graduate and join the Army. It was nice to see him excited again, but as the year got started, he struggled in some of his classes and he got behind on his classwork. JROTC was the only class he wanted to be part of. Then the stomach aches began and the sleeping issues got worse.
Aidan lived in his room. He always assured me that this was a “teenager thing” and that this is what teens do. He knew I worried about him and he called me an overprotective mom. The struggle to get him out of bed and off to school started again. By December Aidan’s grades had fallen so far behind that he had failed the first semester. At this point he wanted to do virtual school and so this was the plan for the second semester.
The morning of Jan. 15, 2019, I got up to get ready to go to school and Aidan came into my room. I knew by the fact that he was up that he never went to bed. He had a headache and told me he had been unable to sleep. The paperwork to get him into the Florida Virtual School was signed and we were going to get him signed up for classes that evening. I hugged him, told him that I loved him, and told him to go back to bed and get some sleep. He never did go to sleep, because he texted several people throughout the day. None of his conversations were red flags. I will never know what the final moment was that he could take no more, but he was gone by the time I got home.
I’m trying to put my life back together. I’m trying to find meaning and happiness to my life again. Losing two children to suicide has brought me to my knees. How do I take this tragedy and reach other families going through this same thing? I know I am not alone. All I have to do is turn on the news and see yet another story of a life ended too soon due to suicide.
“Depression is a lie.” Those were the words that came out of my 14-year-old son’s mouth when I brought up the subject. I’ve lost two sons to suicide, so I must talk to my 14-year-old and ask him how he is doing and let him know that he can tell me anything. Well he told me that depression was a lie, and the moment it came out of his mouth, I felt a pit in my stomach, and I took a deep breath in. I asked him what he meant. He told me that depression is a lie, because depression tells you that no one likes you, and it tells you that you have no friends. In that moment I breathed a sigh of relief. I’ve never thought of it like that, but he has good insight. It’s time to end the stigma.
If you or someone you know needs help, contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-8255.