Hope for your financial life and beyond

A 15-Yr. Old Life Should Never End This Tragically

Question MarkIn my tenure as educator in a private Christian school, I’ve had some tough weeks before where nothing went right. In those times, I still tried to find the positive amongst the negative and tell myself the pain was only temporary. Invariably, my assumptions were confirmed, as the “bad weeks” never seemed to be prolonged into weeks, months or years. Positive energy was always the next day away, ready to brighten my perspective and turn my attention back to the joys that come from seeing students flourish.

The positive energy of this new school year was unexpectedly and violently ripped out of the atmosphere last weekend when we were informed on Sunday of the tragic news that one of our beloved 10th grade girls chose to take her life on the Friday night of the first week of school. Needless to say, last week was the toughest I’ve ever experienced with students. And I suspect these tough days are going to turn into tough weeks and months ahead for our school family and tough years for her closest friends and family who loved her most.

Where does one start to piece together something this devastating? Your world literally stops. You don’t know what to think, what to believe or what’s appropriate to feel. And it’s not just a few that are affected. When you have a middle and high school only totaling 90 students, it touches everyone.

So much pain.

So much emotion.

So many questions.

No good answers.

This post is my meager attempt to honor the life of this child and help our students cope with their pain. Her grandparents, who acted as her legal guardians for the last several years, have graciously consented to this writing in the hopes that others may understand the effects of suicide. It is their wish that our students would always cherish their fond memories and live a better life themselves for having known their granddaughter – who, at the request of the family, I will give the pseudonym Jane Doe for the remainder of this post.

Knowing Jane

An element that made this shocking was that Jane had an incredible support system. Her grandparents were very involved and did everything they could to foster a nurturing environment for her and her younger brother. She was not an outcast at school. She was not bullied or mercilessly teased. She was not shy, timid or withdrawn. She was not a discipline problem in the classroom. Oh…quite the contrary.

The picture of health and beauty, her smile would light up the classroom the moment she came through the door. She had a core group of girlfriends who roamed the halls of school together like they were joined at the hip. She connected with teachers and staff. She was loved.

I remember she would ask deep and pertinent theological questions about God and life in my classes. She engaged people. She was a leader on the cheer squad.

But she had deep scars from her childhood that continued to wound and fester. Only a few were fully aware of how painful it was for her. I remember her talking about those in a general way last year when she shared a devotional in my Bible class. It was sweet and precious and courageous. I saw a teenager, confronting her past and working to move forward from it. That’s what every parent and teacher hopes for.

We know now she couldn’t escape it.

Losing Jane

Three days after Jane took her life, our middle and high school student body gathered in our church sanctuary, first period Monday morning. You can’t imagine a sadder scene. Students sobbed uncontrollably. Others gathered together in corners or in seats hugging one another. Many just stared off in the distance, eyes glazed over. You can’t help but tear up and have a lump in your throat to see young people have to deal with this.

Members of Jane’s family were there as well as many parents of our students, coming to support their child and their child’s friends. You get that type of supportive reaction in a small private school where everyone knows everyone. Parents investing time in the emotional health of their children – what a beautiful thing to see.

Our church and school pastor had the responsibility of making sense of it all that morning. I’m not sure anyone wanted to or could listen but he did a great job considering the circumstances. And then Jane’s grandmother spoke. I can’t imagine having that level of courage. But she was so concerned at the grief and well-being of our student body I doubt anything would have kept her from taking the stage that morning.

We spent the majority of first period in chapel. After that, many kids went home with their parents. Those who were left spent the rest of the day being debriefed and counseled.

Tuesday wasn’t much better, especially for those in her class. The 10th grade girls made a shrine of pictures and memorabilia in Jane’s locker. They wore pink bracelets and hair bows – her favorite color. We had an emotional talk about her in my Bible class.

As the week wore on the sadness lingered. Some began to share their feelings. Others buried them. Many were having sleepless nights.

Emotions surrounding Jane

There has been such a wide range of emotions presented in words and in looks. It’s understandable because everyone deals with death and grief differently. Our school’s four horsemen have been:

Sadness. It’s a 20 on a scale of 1 to 10. I think you have probably sensed that already.

Frustration. Utter helplessness. That is what I felt all week trying to explain this to our students and her friends. It’s frustrating because you can’t bring Jane back and try to spiritually and emotionally reach her one last time. Dually frustrating, is that as a trusted adult authority figure in their life, I’m looked upon as one who has the answers they need. In this case, I found myself sorely lacking in many instances.

Guilt. Oh, my gosh…the guilt. “I should have done more to help,” I heard a student say this week. “Why didn’t I listen more to her?” said another. In the back of their mind, the tape player is rolling and it’s saying, “It’s all my fault. I could have stopped this.”

Anger. This is a tough one but I’ve heard it several times. People are angry at themselves. People are angry at Jane. People are angry with God.

And I’ll admit, after the initial shock wore off, it was the first emotion I experienced.

I was angry that she couldn’t see past the pain and imagine a brighter future. I was angry that she won’t grow up and experience the love of a caring husband or the joy of holding her own baby. I was angry that she didn’t reach out more and share more and that she forced her friends into experiencing deep pain.

(I’ve resolved the anger in my spirit now but I believe this and guilt will be the two emotions our students deal with the longest.)

Questions for Jane

Why?

When? Where? How?

What were you thinking?

How could you do this to yourself?

How could you do this to us?

What caused you to think this was the only way out?

What emotional pain was that bad?

Even if all other hope was lost, didn’t you realize God was there for you?

Why didn’t you share more about what you were going through?

Could I have done more to help you?

Why didn’t you see how much we loved you?

Did I say something to push you to this?

Didn’t you realize you would make us feel awful?

These will mostly go unanswered. Some we don’t need to know.

Hope for Jane

This past Saturday it was standing room only at Jane’s memorial service. The family aptly chose to call it “A Celebration” of her life. It was all of that and more.

One of her closest friends read a farewell letter through courageous tears. There was a slide presentation set to music. Her favorite candies were out on a side table. Her friends devoured them. One of our current teachers shared some fun stories, one in particular of Jane getting caught eating breakfast in the bathroom instead of being in 1st period class one morning.  (I’ve always thought laughter at a memorial service feels good.) And one of her former teachers, turned minister, shared with us the hope that we all have for Jane today.

He reminded us that as much as we loved Jane, God loves her more.

The Christian doctrine teaches that God is holy (perfect) and we are not. God cannot look on or abide with imperfection. So if I, an unholy person died, I would be subject to eternal separation from God as my penalty. To remedy that issue and provide a means to escape eternal separation, God sent His only perfect son, Jesus Christ, to spiritually take that penalty by dying on a Roman cross. It was perfection voluntarily dying for imperfection and all I need to do is believe that concept to be true and put my trust in Him.

Jane had made that decision in her life. So today she is walking with God in heaven. Pain free. In glory.

Moving forward without Jane

As tough as it will be for the family, our students, staff and parent body, life goes on for us. But how to move forward? What should we be doing in the present to heal ourselves and live a life that might honor our memory of Jane? Here are some suggestions to consider:

Remember the positives from her life, especially how she gave to others. (The family wanted to share that her organs were donated and have already helped two people with life-threatening situations. So a part of her will continue to live on.)

Be thankful for the time we were given to know her.

Honor her life by carrying the best parts of her forward with us.

Rally around each another in this time of grief. Spend time with one another. Don’t isolate yourself.

Hug someone and listen. Love each other.

Don’t stuff your feelings deep down. Share and talk with those closest to you no matter how painful it is.

Refuse to blame yourself for what happened. She made a choice and it was hers alone.

Draw near to God, the great Comforter. He is our ever-present help in time of need.

Encourage one another through kind words and actions.

Be sensitive to those who may be dealing with this loss harder than you.

Never forget how you felt about this and NEVER, EVER take the same action. Suicide is not the answer.

If this has touched you some how, then please share through the medium of social media. The family hopes that others who may be dealing with this issue can be comforted or perhaps tragedy averted by coming across this post. Be in prayer for them and our student body as we continue to deal with the ramifications of this event.

Goodbye Jane Doe. We will miss you.

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Comments

  1. So tragic and sad. My daughter has attempted suicide twice, so I live with fear, agony about her condition and hope that she has finally moved to a place where she sees this is not a solution. I also recently lost a colleague who is my age, with grandchildren and it seems everything going well in her life, so I’ll never understand.

    • So you really understand what this is like. It was so difficult, even to the end of the school year, she was still in everyone’s thoughts. It was very sad to finally clean out the memorial the girls had put in her locker all year long.

  2. Student Debt Survivor says:

    Reading this post and thinking about a client I sent to the hospital on Wednesday. She was having command auditory hallucinations telling her that she was a bad person and she should kill herself. Fortunately she told her social worker about these voices and I was able to intervene and get her admitted. If she hadn’t told someone the outcome could have been very different.

    Many, many people with mental illness (diagnosed and not, severe and not) never talk to anyone about their illness because mental illness is so stigmatized in our society. Sadly, many people still believe that people with depression should just “think happy thoughts” or “snap out of it”. Depression is a chemical imbalance i your brain, if “thinking happy thoughts” made it go away, nobody would be depressed. When our society starts to think about mental illness the same way we think about physical illness, things might begin to change. It clearly sounds like this young lady was dealing with some sort of trauma history and/or depression. It’s sad that she didn’t feel like she could reach out to someone, but the people around her should not blame themselves. I hope the community is able to heal and I hope this sad event brings to light how important it is to talk to kids (particularly at that age while they’re still young and impressionable) about mental health and emotional wellness. My prayers are with her family and friends.

    • Appreciate your perspective here and your prayers. One thing that made this tough is that she did have a good support system around her (now) and they were doing what they could to try and help her heal from past events. The pain was just too much despite their efforts. Our concern now is trying to help the community heal. Most of her close friends are still devastated.

  3. Leslie Beslie says:

    This entire post and not one mention about depression. No wonder no one reaches out for help. We need to start talking about the cause of this so everyone can learn how to ask for help when feeling depressed and what to do when someone we love is depressed.

    Depression is a medical disease. Just as some of us sitting here cannot understand the idea of suicide, a suicidal person simply cannot understand the idea of “it gets better”. When depressed, your own brain is sabotaging you. How do you tell someone that their brain is wrong? How do you tell someone not to listen to their own thoughts? How do you stop listening to your own thoughts?

    Therapy needs to be a more accepted health option. Everyone goes to the gym. Children are encouraged to join sports teams, but what about mental health? Why is mental health still not considered a priority?

    • Thanks for those thoughts Leslie. I think you are right on many levels. To respect the privacy of the family and honor their wishes, I chose to write this post about suicides impact and how our school family can move forward from here, rather than deal with the causes (which were many in this case).

  4. What a terrible story, I am so sorry to hear that Brian. I hope the kids and staff can find a way to keep beautiful memories of Jane. It is not fun being a teenager, and as a parents it much be hell to see your child suffer when you want to shelter them forever and never see them hurt. That is really sad she couldn’t see that life has a lot of good things too.

    • They have been Pauline. Her classmates have made her locker into a memorial shrine with pictures, notes and personal items of hers. They are wearing pink ribbons on their wrists and in their hair – that was her favorite color. As a parent, I understand about watching your children suffer through pain (although nothing to this level). I can’t stand to see mine in any discomfort.

  5. Brian, thank you for posting. A friend shared your post on Facebook. I have friends who suffered the unexpected loss of a child. Several through car accident and at least one through suicide. Please consider several things that may help them. Facebook has a way to memorialize a person’s profile/page if the family wants. CaringBridge.org also has memorial pages where people can post. The Compassionate Friends is a non-profit organization that can help families and friends with dealing with their grief. Lastly, consider supporting The Farley-Kluger Initiative to Add Family Bereavement to the FMLA. Many people don’t know that the loss of a child is not included in FMLA. The grief never totally goes away. It is a roller coaster and you never know when a “grief bomb”, as my friend calls it, will go off. My heart and my prayers go out to the family & friends, especially the younger brother. The younger brother of one of the aforementioned children who died has PTSD because of it. It is life altering to lose someone so close. His mother started a blog that has helped many. http://www.normaldiedwithmax.blogspot.com
    You can delete my post if you feel the need to I will not be offended. Thank You and God Bless you all.

  6. Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

    Oh, my dear friend. As one who, as a teen, lost friends to suicide and has been suicidal myself, I totally get what ya’ll are going through, and what Jane faced as she struggled with the decision of whether or not to end the pain. Praying for all of you there for comfort, peace, and forgiveness. That was the hardest part, for me, with the friends I lost to suicide. May God bless you and keep you all.

    • I think many in her circle will struggle with forgiving themselves for things they feel, thinking only in retrospect, they could have done to stop this. I know the family and her friends did a lot to help her and they should be comforted by that. In reality however, once a person has committed to this in their mind, they will eventually find a way to do it, regardless of what steps we take. We can’t place the guilt on ourselves for her actions.

  7. Kim@Eyesonthedollar says:

    It’s really a shame how hard it is as a teen to see the bigger picture. I wish I could show them that whatever is happening now is not the end all be all that it seems at the time. Positive thoughts to her family.

    • It would seem she thought her life would never get better. She couldn’t see past her present pain and chose an unacceptable way out. In the process, she increased the pain for those who loved her. I wonder if she thought of that before the end?

  8. As much as it hurts, it’s important to let your emotions run out. There is no point in trying to hold them in or “be strong”. Life is so much more beautiful when you experience all of the emotions, the good and the bad.

    My thoughts are with you all.

    • I agree Don. Now is not the time to be holding it in. Unfortunately, that is what many do out of guilt or anger or fear of judgment or for whatever reason. Repressed emotions are not healthy. Your encouragement is appreciated.

  9. I knew someone from high school who took his own life shortly after graduating. It’s not an easy thing to deal with. Thank you for sharing. My prayers go out to Jane, her family, and your community.

    • Thank you for your prayers Lisa. The memorial service I think began the healing process for our students. But there is still an empty hole. I felt it today when I had her class for Bible. I looked at her desk and she wasn’t there. It’s just going to take time.

  10. MoneySmartGuides says:

    I agree with many of the others comments about not taking life for granted, knowing that every moment is precious. I try to remind myself of that every time I get angry. You never know when someones (or your) time is up, so enjoy the times when you have them in your life.

    • Boy, that would be tough…knowing the last time you spoke with someone it ended in a heated exchange. And at that point there’s no chance of asking for forgiveness and mending the relationship. That would be a tough wound to heal. Thanks for sharing that.

  11. John S @ Frugal Rules says:

    Wow. What beautiful and moving words Brian, thank you for sharing. As a parent who has lost a child I can’t imagine what it’d be like to lose a child in this way. Reading things like this really shows us again just how precious life is and to appreciate each moment that has been given to us. Our thoughts and prayers are with Jane’s family and friends.

    • Thanks John. “…to appreciate each moment…” It’s funny that we seldom do that. When we are in the moment, we rarely recognize how special that one moment could be. They pass us by and we don’t give them a second thought. Who knew that Friday when she walked out of class would be the last moment I would ever see her on earth. It’s quite humbling when you really start to process it.

  12. Thank you for this, Brian. We are all mourning Jane’s loss. Even though we are seperated by distance, our hearts are with her family, a family my own daughter loved and enjoyed being around. Please, give them a hug from the Dionne’s.

  13. Kyle James says:

    Wow, that is so tragic. I’m sorry for the pain you are going through.

  14. Tony@WeOnlyDoThisOnce says:

    I am so sorry to hear this. There is nothing worse for a parent…I can barely imagine it. This was a beautiful post in her memory..I will be hugging my kids tonight. As an educator myself, I have dealt with these tragedies as well. There is nothing to say except I am sorry.

  15. Shannon Ryan says:

    Oh, Brian. I am so sorry. I cannot fully imagine what you and your fellow teachers and students are going through. My thoughts and prayers go out to you and everyone who knew Jane Doe. Thank you for sharing her story with us.

  16. Holly Johnson says:

    I am so sorry to hear that! The teenage years are such a hard time for kids. May she rest in peace!

    • There is so much physical and emotional transformation that happens at this age. It can be very confusing. All the more reason parents and other trusted authority figures need to stay engaged in the lives of teens.

      • “The choice was hers and hers alone” – I call b.s. Where were/are her parents?????? I didn’t see them mentioned once in your blog. That’s where the problem is. Yes! Children NEED decent, responsible PARENTS. Grandparents can help (a lot), but they can not make up for idiot parents who never treasured the little angel they had.
        So why aren’t you calling them out? Too politically incorrect for you? Give me a break! We survived the Columbine shooting with a teenage daughter and the kids who made it thru that god-forsaken event had PARENTS who were with them every step of the way.
        So – what IS the story re: the parents? Don’t mean to be harsh, just mean to get to the bottom of the problem – realistically. I’m sorry for your pain – and everyone else’s. I have seen teens cry with pain they can’t begin to comprehend. I want it to end – hold the PARENTS responsible.

        • This wasn’t the time or the place to discuss what led her to take her own life. The family wants privacy and needs time to heal right now. I respected that in my writing. Maybe when they are ready they will let me have the honor and write about what made Jane crack. Then you and everyone else can see that yes, there were obvious issues.

  17. I was not prepared for what I just read. This tears me up when I hear this. It is good to hear that the community has come together to honor her. Sorry to hear about this Brian. Thoughts and prayers for everyone in the situation.

  18. Man I’m so sorry for everyone who knew Jane. I can’t imagine pain so unbearable that you take your own life. I just can’t. I think that’s the hardest part about suicide…you just can’t image what that person must be thinking before they decide that life is no longer worth living. I would always be wondering if tomorrow something awesome would happen to me and I’d have missed it. My thoughts go out to you and her friends, family, and school.

  19. So sorry to hear this. Prayers to your community and Jane’s family in this tough time.

Trackbacks

  1. […] writing the most difficult of posts. Three years ago it was about one of my high school students who chose to take her own life. This time tragedy struck in our church youth group as on Tuesday we lost a 16-year old girl to the […]

  2. […] Brian over at Luke 1428 shared a riveting post with A 15-year-old Life Should Never End This Tragically.  Read this, and then share it.  We all need to work together to encourage and support our loved […]

  3. […] the struggle, don’t quit! Brian from Luke 1428 posted this week about a 15-year-old girl at his school who ended her own life. I have many thoughts on that but the one thing that sticks out in my mind is, you never know what […]

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