Saturday, September 01, 2007

Alone in a Crowd

Tomorrow is our youngest son's 16th birthday, and I don't want to mar it with sad talk, but it was someone else's birthday too, and today I want to talk about him.

When our son started high school, he auditioned for and was accepted into a performing ensemble of 16 singers. He was the youngest one in the group. A senior, popular, known by all, loved by all, talented and full of grace, made a point of welcoming our son Charles into the fold and extended his friendship. Michael made Charles' transition into high school and this wonderful singing group easy. He was included because of Michael. He belonged.

But something horrible happened a week ago that I've had a difficult time talking about, let alone writing about. As a high school teacher and someone who knew Michael, even if only through our son, the news devastated me.

Michael killed himself last weekend.

Everyone who knew and loved him was completely shocked and taken by surprise. The tremendous outpouring of love at his memorial service rivaled that of a celebrity. It was a full house. Michael was a performer. He would have loved a full house.

I'm providing a link here to his online obituary and guest book, which is a beautiful service the St. Petersburg Times provides.

Some of our teens are in agony and we don't even know it. Some of us may suspect but don't know what to do about it. The aftermath of a teen suicide is especially shattering to family, friends, and community. Often schools send in "crisis intervention" teams to help students deal with their loss. Trying to "soldier on" at school when this happens is difficult at best.

Suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death among teens. There are warning signs.

Suicide threats, direct and indirect
Teen depression
Obsession with death
Poems, essays and drawings that refer to death
Dramatic change in personality or appearance
Irrational, bizarre behavior
Overwhelming sense of guilt, shame or reflection
Changed eating or sleeping patterns
Severe drop in school performance
Giving away belongings

The signs were there. There is no blame. Just questions. Just pain.

As parents or teachers of teenagers, the "drama" that goes along with it can turn into annoying background noise. We all have to find a way to stay tuned in.

Thank you, Michael, for freely giving your friendship to my son. It will always mean so much.