My family was initiated this week into a club no one wants to join: those who’ve lost a family member to suicide. It honors those for whom living with their demons has brought too great a pain, and death seems the only possible way to end the suffering.
A young man with great promise, with character, with the support of an amazing, loving family and hundreds of friends, decided that he could no longer face his life. Someone who lived surrounded by love, comfort, and joy. A person who was an asset to the world, but whose fight against addiction was ultimately lost.
I did not know him well, this son of my niece. But being for a few days where he had lived taught me much about him. Hearing his friends speak of him – a group of friends that included young people of different races, genders, and sexual orientations – taught me that his heart was not bound by prejudice or hatred. Listening to a former teacher who mentored him in high school and beyond told me that he had a teachable spirit. Hearing of his parents’ valiant efforts on his behalf in his last months showed me that his family ties were strong and based on deep and abiding love.
Collectively, I estimate that at least a million tears were shed for him. A beautiful spirit has surely gone out of the world. The world is darker, but the skies are one star brighter.
This initiation has also made me think of the bigger picture. I think of those young people who are also fighting the demons that Justin fought, but don’t have loving families or winning personalities. My brief research shows that there are 113 suicides every day in the U.S. It’s the tenth leading cause of death in this country, but the second leading cause for males in their twenties.
I weep for Justin, but I also weep for the unknown, unnumbered young people who are alone, addicted, afraid, and have no hope and no help. For whom the world has not been a place of joy or comfort or love, but of alienation and fear. For the ones for whom few tears are shed.
We must find a better way to help, but I do not know yet what that way may be.