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12 Years Old?

I am in shock and full of questions as I write this column. I am afraid this time, that I have no conclusion for you, and I will leave lots of unanswered questions.  Longtime readers will know this is an unusual thing for this writer.

The reason is simple: A 12-year-old boy my son knew killed himself the other night.  Ponder this in general terms for a moment, and let those thoughts seep in before you continue, because I want the reader to fully understand “where I’m at” as I write this.

Jamie, we’ll call him, was a bright kid, with a genuine future. Liked his music, was a veracious reader, was in the Boy Scouts. Got good grades in school. Liked the color Red best. To my understanding, he never gave anyone cause for concern.

Before now.

Now, of course I understand that people die every day. This is not news, nor is it earthshaking. I usually write about things that are more widely reported and discussed. So, my even making mention of this comparatively small happening in the annals of the world,in this column is unusual.

Yet, when one is close to us, that death impacts us in a rather pronounced fashion. When one is particularly young, or their death is particularly senseless, that too, tends to affect us in very significant ways. This death affected me as profoundly, yet on a different level as the events of say, the WTC and Pentagon attack on 9/11 did. So of course, I had to write about it, while marveling that this tragedy should occur so close to the day when the WTC cleanup was officially completed.

We’re still learning about this tragedy, even while we grapple with the emotions it causes us. At this writing, I don’t know any of the problems that led to this event, so we’re not even sure what to base our feelings on.  My son seems to be taking the death of his friend in stride, but then again, he’s the kind to keep things to himself, only to hit you with ‘zinger’ comments and questions later on, sometimes
months later.

So, I’m pretty much resigned to this subject coming up with my boy, at some future date… doubtless, when I am least prepared for it. Indeed, I’m rather hoping for it, since his talking about it to someone he trusts is the only way he’s going to get all of this to a manageable point in his own mind.  Yet, I dread it, because I’m
lacking the answers for the questions he will be asking. So, I got to thinking about all of this, in general terms, in an attempt to prepare myself for what questions he might ask, or feelings he might express.

How does one prepare for undefined, hazy questions from a 12-year-old, who is just coming to grips with the death of a friend, even an accidental one, much less one of this nature?  I suppose it would start with defining your own feelings about it. This would be foundational for my own sanity, first of all, and making sure my boy
takes all the right messages away from this event. In the process, however, I found myself ending up with more new questions than answers for old questions. My own feelings have nothing but loss to be based on, so they are as a result, at best unfocused.

When a tragedy like this happens, one of the biggest questions is always ‘why’. An accident is far easier to explain and deal with emotionally, than this. So, chief among the questions would be, what it is that drives a 12-year-old to end his short life?

In general, we know that there are no definitive answers for why adolescents attempt suicide, there seems to be general agreement among professionals and lay people alike, that young people who take their own lives, feel hopeless about their situation. They think that situation will never change, and so there’s only one way out. Suicide seems to be a response to seemingly what the youth considers
intolerable pain.

Specifically, Jamie was kind of smallish for his age, so I suppose the bully/low self-esteem syndrome could be at work here.  But I know Jamie to have been quite popular and outgoing, so there’s no clear-cut answer there. A lack of parental involvement is usually on the list of possible indicators, but in this case, I don’t see that as an issue, either, based on what little I do know.

We know that suicide attempts are usually speaking, unsuccessful; For every five people who commit suicide, four have made one or more previous attempts, say the experts. But so far as I am aware, there have been no previous incidents in this case. No note was left, so far as I’m aware, but this is not unusual, either. Indeed, the experts tell us only 15% of suicides leave such a note. Even a friend I know who lost a child in this manner decades ago, has no answers for me. To this day, he still searches himself for the answer to his questions, and comes away empty.

The bottom line, I guess, is that I’ll never know what was going on in Jamie’s mind, that night. I am left with the terrible weight of the question, “How could one so young and so apparently promising, be so troubled and not show some outward sign of it?”. I don’t suppose that will change.

Of itself, that’s a problem, in that since I don’t understand it myself, I fear that I cannot explain it to my boy when he comes to me to ask “Why?”, which was a question on all our minds as we came away from the funeral, yesterday. It’s hard for parents when they don’t have answers for their kids.

Harry Chapin (another senseless tragedy) once wrote “It’s got to be the going, not the gettin’ there, that’s good”. So perhaps if we apply that thought of Harry’s to the search for answers to hard questions like this, it’s not the answer itself, but the struggle to find it, that’s of greater import, at least in this case. I guess at this stage of the game, the best I can do, the best thing I can be, is here, and
available, when my son finally starts asking those questions, so that the loss can be a shared one. Because, however often the questions get re-examined, all that’s left is that loss.

And I wonder; would knowing, even were that possible, make it easier or harder to accept?

I’ll leave you with some links to suicide prevention information in the hope that you read and learn. One less of these events would make it worth it to both of us. If you have better ones, drop me a line, and I’ll be glad to pass it on, in future columns.

http://www.jaring.my/befrienders/youth1.htm [1]
http://www.emh.org/acadia/su.htm [2]
http://www.childsafe.net.au/SCOUTS/scysp1.html [3]