The Normalization of Teen Suicide

Last night I attended Emily’s last parent conferences. Emily’s conferences are always a joyful event. She is a straight A student, she works hard, is responsible, respectful and kind. The only constructive feedback I ever get is that she could talk more in class. They are quick to add, that she always knows the answer when they call on her.

Since the first four conversations had gone like this, I didn’t expect what happened when I talked with Mr. M., the Economics teacher. I was pretty sure that he’d taught Patrick too. So as the family in front of my vacated the chairs in front of him, I stepped up and said, “Hi there I’m Emily Straut’s mom. I think you also taught my son Patrick.”

“Oh yes.” he responded with a big smile. “How’s he doing.”

Now there was a time when I might have burst into tears, but I handled this awkward moment with all the grace I could muster. I had the second or two while I took a seat to compose myself.

“Well, sadly, he died in 2011.” I said. “Suicide, he was bullied by another student from this school.”

“Oh that’s too bad, but I have to say, you know, it happens a lot these days, that we lose them. I am so sorry.”

“Well, I’m here to talk about Emily tonight.” And just like that, it was over.

The suicide of an 18 year old students was normalized and the conversation ensued about what a wonderful student his baby sister is. All true, but still it stung.

 

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Posted in Emily, Grief, Grief triggers, guns, Jeffco, Reaching Educators, Recovery, Remembering, school, Suicide, suicide prevention, teachers, time | Leave a comment

Telling Patrick’s Story

Introducing the Case Study to Jeffco counselors and teachers

Within hours after losing Patrick to suicide in 2011, I knew that I had to do something with his story. Actually, even much earlier, I had a pull in my consciousness that there was something about him, that the world would learn from him. It’s very hard to articulate, but I kept every art project, every note from his day care mom, and every report card. I just had an innate sense that I was going to need this documentation.

Early in my grief work, I met my amazing friend and grief buddy, Marguerite Ham. Her son Matthew passed away by accidental opioid overdose just 6 days before Patrick died. Matthew was 19; Patrick was 18, both were very creative, played guitars, etc. Through the funeral home’s Grief Director, Marguerite and I met and a very special and supportive friendship was born.

Marguerite is a total bad ass. She’s very strong and like me, early on she decided that Matthews story needed to be told to help save others struggling with addiction. She went so far as to document the horrific scene in the hospital when she had to terminate life support, preparing for Matthew’s funeral, and the aftermath of her despair as the mom of an only child. She had built a website for the Eye of the Storm Foundation BEFORE Matthew’s funeral; she was presenting to recovering addicts within a few months of his death. Like I said, she’s a bad ass.

About a year after the boys passed, I had the chance to attend Marguerite’s presentation. It was hard to watch, but I knew if she could do it, I could too. The one difference between Matthew and Patrick was that Patrick had been identified as gifted; Matthew probably was (from the stories Marguerite has told me) but he was not identified. And in my heart, I believe that the overexcitabilities related to being gifted impacted Patrick throughout his life. I have even gone so far as to say that he died due to his overexcitabilities, he was sucked into the drama because of his emotionality and the intensity of his personality.

So my logical venue to tell Patrick’s story was through the forums for training in Gifted & Talented. It took me about 2 years to be able to face the whole 20 pages of IM chat to see just how horrific the cyber-bullying was, but I finally did it in the summer of 2013. I had proposed a session for the Colorado Association for Gifted & Talented (CAGT) and it was accepted. Now I had to figure out how to tell my son’s whole life story, with emphasis on GT and with the most horrible ending imaginable, all in less than 50 minutes. It was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done.

I had great support from friends who sat with me to look at almost 100 slides, helped me make it more understandable, helped me find the meaning to share. I was very blessed to have so much support. But in the end, I had to do it–stand up and tell my son’s story to strangers.

I told the story in October, 2013 at the CAGT conference. And since, I have edited it and presented at Supporting the Emotional Needs of the Gifted (SENG), in Jeffco for parents and educators, etc. Some years I’ve had the time and energy to do it more than others. It takes a lot out of me. It’s a really sad story and it raises all of the guilt (“could’ve” and “should’ves”) that are inevitable when a parent loses a child to suicide.

In the time since Patrick passed, the suicide rate in our schools, state and nation continue to rise. I see our school district and legislature struggling to stem this most horrible tide. I don’t know how to help.

In the fall of 2018 I was honored to be asked by a couple of our GT Resource Teachers to tell Patrick’s story to Jeffco school counselors at their annual Mental Health Day. I said yes. Brushing off the PowerPoint deck, knowing that I could reach the people in our neighborhood schools who are often the front line with our GT kids was exciting to me, and I wanted to do a good job. I also thought it was time to re-record the talk, since I have added more grounding in Dabrowski’s Overexcitabilities and this group would understand the language specific to GT programming in Jeffco, the screening tests, etc.

I told Patrick’s Story twice last Wednesday, with a whopping 7 minutes between sessions, which I was a little worried about. The feedback I received was good. Having the commentary for each of the slides fresh in my mind, I recorded the whole thing with all the detail that I can’t do in 50 minutes on Thursday. Then I spent a few days trying to wrestle down the huge files and figure out where to host it to make it accessible for those who want to view it. That work is now done.

I am at a crossroads in my career, my training and experience is primarily online learning–implementing programs, evaluating programs and analyzing national data about those programs. But my heart keeps coming back to this work of telling my boy’s story and making some good come from that. Of course I don’t have a degree in Psychology or Social Work, I have an MBA, so my qualifications are as “just a Mom”. A Mom of a gifted kid who was so typical that when I listen to the experts, I know what they are going to say about these kids most times, because I had two.

I’m hopeful that the time I am afforded right now will help me find clarity about how I can help stem the tide of suicide among some of our most vulnerable kids. I think it’s supposed to be at least part of my life work. I know for certain that Patrick’s story had an impact on almost 100 Jeffco educators and counselors last week, and that’s a good start.

Link to the Jeffco Mental Health Day Presentation: https://ispri.ng/myxLg

Posted in Celebrations, Dr. Cross, Emily, engagement, Evan, friendships, funerals, Gathering, Gratitude, Grief, Growing Up, GT HS Center, guns, Healing, hugs, Jeffco, Overexcitability, Patrick's friends, Recovery, Regret, Remembering, Saturn Sky, school, school Mackintosh Academy, Shane, sleep, St. Patrick's Day, Success, Suicide, suicide prevention, teachers, Telling Patrick's Story, The Study, Traditions | Leave a comment

Update on the Posthumous Study About Patrick

Dr. Cross’ 2013 Book

As I have previously written, I submitted all of Patrick’s school and medical records to Dr. Tracy Cross and his team at the Center for Gifted Education at William and Mary a few years ago. Dr. Cross has been studying suicide among gifted students for over 30 years of his career. He is developing a model to help identify the unique characteristics of gifted kids that may make them more likely to attempt and complete suicide.

I ran across Dr. Cross’ work when I was doing my research to prepare my own presentation about Patrick’s life and death. Since we had 20 pages of instant messaging text that showed exactly what the online conversation was between Patrick and his ex-girlfriend that lead to his suicide, I thought it might be valuable to the Study. Dr. Cross agreed and Patrick has been included in his latest academic work.

As part of the study, the research team conducted interviews with Jerry, Brendan and I, as well as several of Patrick’s closest friends and a few of his teachers. This is very detailed work, and Dr. Cross warned me that it would be a lengthy process. I reached out to him this week to check the status of the study.

Here’s the update:

“Jennifer (Director of Research at the Center) and I are in the home stretch now and are focusing as much time and energy as possible on trying to complete the write up of our work to date. To that end, in the past three weeks, she went back through all of interviews again, transcribing all that had not been. It was not a required step, but we are trying to be as careful and thorough as we can be. We have about 25 pages of text written, and hope to have a completed draft by mid term. At that point, I will share the manuscript with an outside psychologist who specializes in child clinical psychology. She will vet the manuscript for process, accuracy, and any sort of potential bias relative to approach or outcome. This person has served in this role for me in the past and was an excellent choice for this type of quality control.”

I think we can anticipate having the study published some time this summer. It will be closest thing to an answer about how we lost Patrick. I’m hopeful that the work that the Center at William and Mary is doing to develop models will improve the identification of kids at risk and help schools and parents do a better job to keeping these kids safe.

If I can make these tools available here in Jeffco, I will be all over it. As I said in the first post about this topic, “It is my hope that in death, Patrick’s story will add to our understanding of GT students and suicide in a signifant way.”

Since 3/16/11 it has been my intention to make some good come of this terrible loss.

Posted in Dr. Cross, Gratitude, Reaching Educators, Suicide, suicide prevention, teachers, Telling Patrick's Story, The Study | Leave a comment

Happy Hauntings

Patrick loved Halloween. I think most kids do, but I have to admit that when he was little and an only child, he and I went nuts for Halloween. We had spider webs and graveyards, ghosts and goblins of all types. On Halloween, Jerry and I would take turns taking him out to trick-or-treat while the other stayed home to hand out candy.

One of my very favorite traditions was to shop the 50% off sale for Halloween decorations at Target on the day after. Patrick was my co-conspirator as I determined what new stuff we “needed”. We’d buy a bag of treasures and then safely tuck them away for the next year. These outings are some of my favorite simple memories of my boy.

This year Halloween was just boring. Brendan and Leisa had plans to go to a haunted house and Emily had an invite from her friends to hang out. We had, maybe, 20 trick-or-treaters ring the bell. But I was happy to remember the good old days when my kids loved to dress up and they let me help them put their costumes together. These are a few of my favorites.

Posted in Brendan, Celebrations, Emily, Remembering, Shane, Traditions | Leave a comment

Big Boys Playing Red Dead Redemption 2

This gallery contains 4 photos.

Yesterday was Brendan’s 22nd Birthday. I was determined to “do something” for him this year. Last year I was stuck at the WCET Conference and I was really sad to have not even seen him on the day he turned … Continue reading

Gallery | Leave a comment

Finding Solitude in Patrick’s Favorite Spot

View of Squaw Pass

Yesterday I made my annual trek up Squaw Pass Road. This year I made it to the place that Patrick told me about in 2010. We were working on framing some photos of aspen trees that I had taken that fall. Patrick said, “Mom, this is really pretty. But there’s this place where we go shooting that has the most amazing views. I’ll take you there next year.”

Of course Patrick died before the next fall leaves. In 2011 we drove up Squaw Pass and we found what I was sure was the spot Patrick was talking about. I took lovely photos there; they remain framed over the couch in the living room. But we hadn’t found the right spot. A few years ago, Brendan took us to Patrick’s Favorite Spot. It’s unmarked, but clearly known to target shooters.

The trailhead is nondescript

Lion King Rock

We didn’t make it there last year, but I was determined to take some time this year to find and enjoy this location. As I arrived at the big rock that offers the amazing views, I was so thankful to have this place all to myself. I climbed the rock and sat on a tree stump for a while, just taking in the place. I imagined Patrick and his friends goofing around there. I could see him kicking the dirt the way he did…

The thing that’s so special about it is that it contains views of Squaw Pass as well views of the mountains to the north. The photos don’t begin to capture the texture and complexity of the landscape. You just have to take the time to drink it all in. And I was blessed to be able to do that yesterday.

View to the North

The Golden color are aspens turning in the distance

Chilling at the Top of the World

I laughed, I cried, I chanted and I remembered my boy who loved this place. It’s good to have a place to go and remember him.

Namaste my sweet baby boy. We miss you.

Posted in Celebrations, fall, fun, Gratitude, Grief, Healing, Patrick's friends, Recovery, Remembering, Squaw Pass, time, Traditions | Leave a comment

When Patrick Was an Only Child

 

Patrick & Peaches, Christmas parade

 

Today my boy should be turning 26. Instead the details about him at 18 are fading from my memory. I can’t quite remember his voice. I know he would have aged in eight years, but we’ll never know quite how.

I’ve kept myself really busy this year in the run up to today. The first phase of the deck refurbish project has been consuming for the past few weeks, right up until it was time to clean up the tools for the party on Saturday. I think it’s a reasonable strategy, but it wears thin eventually. I finally had to cry.

I woke up today remembering what a cute little boy Patrick was and how much fun we had together for the time before Brendan was born, when Patrick was an only child. He was always eager to do silly things with me. He was my shopping buddy. We went shopping for holiday decorations on the day after to get them at 50% off. Halloween was his favorite for this. But as he got older, he was always up for going to the Fireworks stand on the morning of July 5, also for the 50% sale. He loved holidays, playing and just being. It was a much simpler, happier time.

He was just a joyful kid. As a little boy he had a big and easy smile, he had a funny little giggle, and always those amazing big blue eyes…so today, I will be thankful for the precious time I had with him. He was my first born, and for nearly five years, an only child. I was happy to spoil him, just a little.

Happy Birthday Patchy!

The Dumbo ride at Disney World

Hiking by Dinosaur Ridge (well sitting during a hike).

The skunk costume that Nana made. Patrick at 1 year & 4 months.

Approximately 3 years old.

Lion costume for Halloween

 

Posted in Birthday, Birthdays, Celebrations, fun, Gratitude, Grief, Healing, hugs, Patrick's friends, Remembering, time, Traditions | Leave a comment

Where They Are Today

Richy, Shane (with Brendan), Steven and Avery

Today we convened the Patrick Straut Foundation Board to compare our review of applications for the scholarship this year. This is always a special day for me, bittersweet because I’d rather not have a memorial fund in my son’s name, but it feels great to help deserving graduating seniors as they plan for their futures.

The applications this year from the Wheat Ridge High School Gifted and Talented Center seniors were amazing. All of the students have a plan, all showed resilience and growth throughout their high school years. I will say more about them once we surprise them with the scholarships next week.

One of my Board members said today that it would be great to provide updates on the students who receive the scholarships at time intervals after they receive them. That sounded like a great idea, and where better to start than with the first four recipients, four of Patrick’s closest friends.

In May 2012, the Board of the Jefferson Country Association for Gifted Children and other donors provided $600 in funding in Patrick’s name for scholarships to high school graduates in 2012. I was extremely honored and grateful for this funding. I also want to acknowledge that this brilliant idea was Jean Willis-Brown’s, a dear friend and fellow advocate for gifted and talented kids over the past two decades.

As we believe would have been Patrick’s wish, we split the funding among four very close friends of his who met their graduation requirements in 2012. Those recipients were: Richard Lewis Benton III, who graduated from Dakota Ridge HS, Steven Malunat, who graduated from Brady Exploration HS, Shane Michael Mason who completed graduation requirements at Long View HS (his graduation ceremony was in May, 2013), and Avery Worland, who graduated from Dakota Ridge HS.

What still amazes me and fills my heart is that all four of them are still family friends. In fact, three were on my porch this very afternoon. Here’s a brief update on where they are today.

Richy with Brendan and an awesome new Star Wars toy, March 2018.

Richy has lived with us for much of the past five years. He arrived in February of his senior year in high school. In so many ways, Richy has filled the space left by Patrick. He has truly become part of our family. Richy has taken some college courses, works full-time, has a lovely girlfriend, and is finding his way. He plans to attend college again as soon as he gets his own place this spring.

First dance at the wedding reception.

Shane married the love of his life, Tyne, nearly two years ago. We were honored when they each asked us to host their pre-wedding events at our house. We had an awesome bridal shower for Tyne, we hosted the “Merry Men” party for Shane where all the guys collected for a video game shoot out, complete with beer and loaded nachos. Both of them currently work at King Soopers. They are saving their money to fund college plans, one at a time.

Steven high on the job site, February, 2018.

Steven bought a house late last year. He’s a hard worker, working two jobs pretty much since graduation from high school. He saved up to get a beautiful home in the mountains and his love for it shows when he talks about his new place. Steven is working full-time as a plumber and taking the required courses to obtain his certifications and licensure.

Avery with his new car, June, 2017.

Avery completed most of his Associate degree without taking a penny in loans. He postponed completion until he has more confidence regarding how he would use the degree. Avery is currently working in water management for a metro area city.

I am so proud of all of these initial scholarship recipients. I am honored that they still stop by, just to visit; that they show up for every milestone honoring Patrick. I am happy that they have welcomed Brendan into their friend group, and that they let me “mother” them when I need to.

Posted in Celebrations, friendships, Growing Up, Patrick's friends, Remembering, Shane, time, Tyne | Leave a comment

Canary in the Coal Mine

Years ago I was searching for summer camps to keep Patrick engaged and learning. He had expressed interest in coding and game design. I found a camp that looked amazing, a perfect fit for him. But as I got to the bottom of the description it said, “This camp is for girls only.”

I reached out to the professor who was going to be teaching that summer and got her on the phone. I explained that the camp sounded amazing for my son. She explained that the grant she received to support the camp specified that it must be attended by girls only. It was an early attempt to bring girls into the STEM world…

We talked at length about gifted kids and engagement in learning. She shared that she had an adolescent son too, and shared many of my concerns. At a point in the conversation, she said, “Our gifted boys are the canaries in the coal mine.” They are the first to reject the traditional ways of teaching and they are often the first to disengage in classroom learning. That idea has stuck with me for well over a decade. It was certainly true for Patrick, if he didn’t connect with the content and the teacher, he checked out.

More recently, I am the canary in the coal mine. In recent years, I have been in a couple work environments that were toxic and unfair. I tried to stand up when a boss made a ridiculous assertion that I would not be able to present at a conference on gifted and talented topics after my presentation had been accepted. She wouldn’t budge, so I quit on the spot.

Oddly, not even a year later, I was approached by a member of the board to consider applying for her position because she had apparently stepped over lines with the board too, not just employees. Suddenly, my statements from the prior year made all the sense in the world. I was just the first to see this person’s true nature.

I wonder if this is a common phenomenon among the gifted. Is it that we are  less tolerant, more sensitive, see the whole picture more than the average? Is it really all explained by our overexcitabilities? Maybe a little bit of all of the above. I’m not sure, but it sure makes living and working in a politically charged and thoughtless world challenging for me.

I remain the canary in the coal mine, hoping that I don’t get overcome with noxious elements and drop right off the perch.

Posted in Healing, Overexcitability, Reaching Educators, Recovery, Remembering, school | Leave a comment

“We Miss Your Sage-Like Counsel & Smart-Ass Demeanor”

I talked with Shane today. I love that young man. The quote is his, as he was talking about the pending anniversary of Patrick’s death. He said this is the first year that he is angry. He went on to say that so many people would have benefited from Patrick’s perspectives and reality checks in these past seven years. He really was wise beyond his years in some ways. Then there is the whole life time of friendship and kinship that is totally lost.

We talked about the various crossroads and choices that stack up to result in where we are in life. We talked about job changes, boredom, and doing what you have to do. He’s grown up so beautifully and he makes me proud.

I feel so blessed to continue to have Shane and Tyne in my life. I haven’t seen them much this year, but I’m hoping they will come and release balloons in Patrick’s name next week. I need a right-sized hug; he’s a great hugger and a good friend.

Posted in Celebrations, friendships, Gathering, Grief, Growing Up, Healing, hugs, Patrick's friends, Recovery, Regret, Remembering, Shane, Suicide, time, Traditions, Tyne | Leave a comment