I had the great privilege of knowing a son for 16 years. He was a total pleasure to me, and every day of his life I told him how much I loved him and how much I liked him. On the surface, he was the happiest kid I ever knew. I was a father. Part of a father’s job is to keep his family safe, so I kept a handgun in the house to protect my family. Once Billy used it to ward off someone breaking into the house, and the next time he used it on himself after a disappointment with a girlfriend. No prior attempts, no drugs or alcohol problems, no visible clues.
Left us a beautiful note letting us off the hook! Said he was “Just fed up. Simply that.” I will go to my grave trying to understand what “just fed up” means to today’s 16 year old. That was two and a half years ago, and I finally believe that I will survive it! And I can honestly say that more than half of my memories of him each day are sweet thoughts that make me smile, and then go on.
The worst day of my life was, of course, the day of Billy’s death. The next worst day came four months later when my wife and I read that Billy’s death at Roswell High had triggered at least four more attempts in the next ten days. We thought we had escaped the “cluster” syndrome, but we hadn’t. Inadequate post-vention, even in a school that had undergone training immediately before it! Next came the support groups, Compassionate Friends and Survivors of Suicide. As a businessman and scientist, I had always pooh-paahed support groups, and I went to the first one kicking and screaming, sure that it would serve no purpose to share my pain with strangers. After all, how could they possibly understand?
In my grandiosity, I firmly believed that nothing this bad had ever happened to anyone in the history of the universe! We got there early, as did two other new couples. As we introduced ourselves, we found that we had all lost a son, all within six months of the same age, all within a 15-day period, and all were buried in a 50- foot circle in the same cemetery. Suddenly, these strangers were my brothers and sisters, and we saved each other’s lives! In my opinion, support groups are a key element to surviving a suicide, along with one-on-one therapy for some people. I know now that support groups are for people with common experiences that can’t be shared with “civilians,” people without that experience.
Parents who have lost children scare the you-know-what out of other people, because it is a reminder that it could happen to them. We are the walking wounded who have to learn to walk and talk and laugh and love life again. Survivors are even worse. And as one said at a meeting, “The worst thing about this is that it forever removes suicide as an option to stop our own pain!” I am determined that my son’s life will still mean something, so I try to share my experiences in the hopes that some other family might be spared the terrible experience of the loss of their precious children.