“At Least They Didn’t Take Anyone Else With Them”

This is the solace of the parent of a suicide completer. I remember thinking it in the aftermath of Patrick’s death. It wasn’t an immediate thought, but it did occur to me within hours of learning that he had died. I was at my neighbors’ house, ours was surrounded in Crime Scene tape. I was thinking this is the most horrible thing that could possibly happen, and then it occurred to me that at least he didn’t take anyone with him.

I remember thinking it at the 2011 American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) event that they do each year for survivors to bolster us going into the Thanksgiving/Holiday season.  Patrick’s name was on the same slide as Dylan Kleebold in the memorial slide deck that was running on a loop for the candle lighting celebration and I thought, “Well it could be worse, at least he didn’t take anyone out with him.”

I thought it yesterday when the news changed from, “We’ve got her to she’s dead.” And I immediately thought about her poor father who was being hounded by the press through  his front door. He said something like, “I think she has some mental problems.”  Followed by “She’ll be ok.” But she wasn’t. But at least she didn’t take anyone else with her.

I struggled as I watched my husband grapple with PTSD again at the thought of the sight of this girl’s body who completed suicide much like our son did. I worry about the professionals who found her. These are indelible memories that haunt us.

I worry about my community as we mark the 20th year since the Columbine massacre this weekend.

I remember my boy, then 6 going on 7, a second grader in a Jeffco school. The intensity of the day is hard to describe to anyone who didn’t live here then, but it is real. As I checked in with him that night before bed. I asked him how he was doing. He said, “I’m ok Mommy, no one shot anyone at my school.”

Little did I ever consider that 11 short years later, he would take his own life with a gun that he bought at Walmart at the age of 18. And I certainly never thought that my solace would be “At least he didn’t take anyone with him.”

 

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Posted in Grief, Grief triggers, guns, Overexcitability, Remembering, Suicide, suicide prevention, Telling Patrick's Story, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Gratitude For a Most Unlikely Confidant

Ruth holding a glass of wine, just as I will remember her

We survived another March 16, we had a nice celebration in honor of Patrick Friday, March 15, and Saturday was a quiet day. Things were going just as planned. We had left over ham and cabbage, and enjoyed a lovely warm spring day. St. Patrick’s Day was equally quiet and enjoyable until the evening.

I saw a post on FaceBook that suggested that my dear friend, Ruth Fairbee, had passed away. I immediately went into denial. I had forgotten that first frantic stage of grief when your brain just can’t fathom that a person has left this realm. I was there, big time. I shut down my computer, it couldn’t be true. Then my Mom called with the news, yes Ruth had passed away.

Brendan and Leisa went to the store and brought me a beautiful bouquet of spring flowers and three packages of 100,000 bars to ease my pain. I cried, I drank a couple of glasses of Chardonnay in Ruth’s honor and I went to bed. When I woke up Monday morning, I thought I’d had a bad dream. Ruth couldn’t be gone.

When I walked down stairs and saw the flowers in the vase, the emotion came flooding back, yes it was true. The sadness hit me like a wet rag. I will miss this woman so much. She was a sweet soul, always willing to lend an ear, give an opinion, and just hang out. I enjoyed her company so, she was like a second Mom to me, and our friendship was most unlikely.

Ruth happened to be married to my high school sweatheart’s father. The family moved from Ohio to Lewes, Delaware in the summer before my sophomore year at Cape Henlopen HS. I met her stepson, Scott, and we started dating just before Christmas that year. I have vivid memories of walking down the street while they were putting up the Christmas lights on the porch of the big Victorian house on Mulberry Street.

Conversation turned to an invite in, turned to staying for dinner, then making Christmas ornaments out of wooden clothes pins. I still have that little purple angel and I put it on the tree very year. Scott and I dated all through high school, breaking up a couple days before graduation. He went on to have a career in the Coast Guard. I moved to Boston, went to grad school, met Jerry, moved to Colorado. Life went on. And Ruth was always a part of my life.

She always remembered my birthday and sent treats to the kids for Christmas. I shared all of my crafts that I’d make for family with her, she was a part of my family. The past 10 years or so, the Christmas treat was Gourmet Chocolate Covered Pretzels. One of my last fond Christmas memories of Patrick was coaxing him to put his special ornaments on the  tree in 2010 with the promise of a few of those pretzels. I had hidden them because he was snarfing them so fast and the other kids hadn’t gotten their share of them. I will continue to tradition of chocolate covered pretzels each year in Ruth’s honor and memory.

Through 40 years, Ruth remained my dear friend. Months could go by without a conversation, but when we sat across her kitchen table with a bottle of wine, there was never any distance. We talked about everything and sometimes nothing. My fondest memories are of whole days spent parked in beach chairs on Lewes Beach, just talking about life. Ruth also became a close friend to my Mom. They would take advantage of lunch specials, senior citizen discounts, movies, and loved to sit at Lewes Beach and eat a Dairy Queen. She was a joy to be around.

Thank you, Ruth, for always being there for me and mine. You were a kind and caring soul and the world won’t be the same without you.

 

 

 

Posted in beach, Birthday, Celebrations, Food, friendships, fun, Gratitude, Grief, Growing Up, Remembering, time, Traditions | 1 Comment

“My Mommy Said You’re Very, Very Old”

Earl D. Wyckoff (Poppop to most), 1988

Patrick, 3 years old, 1995

Yesterday, March 1, 2019 was the 18th anniversary of my Poppop Wyckoff’s passing from this realm. I was reminding Jerry about the anniversary last night. As we were talking about what a great guy my Poppop was, I reminded myself of a funny story that I don’t think I’ve ever written down.

When Patrick was about three, he and I stayed with my grandparents at their house in Cherry Hill for several days. I think it was around Christmas time, as I recall us taking Patrick to the Cherry Hill mall to see Santa. I remember it being challenging to manage the needs of a little kid and those of an older couple (in their home) at the same time. To help give Meem and Poppop a break, I scheduled an afternoon visiting my Aunt Delores about 45 minutes away. Patrick and I were driving to Aunt Dee’s when Patrick says from the back seat where he was in his car seat, “Poppop is ugly.”

I shook my head, thinking about how to reframe this. I took a deep breath and said, “Patrick, Poppop isn’t ugly. He’s just old. You have to remember that Poppop is your Nana’s Daddy, and Nana is my Mommy. So you see, Poppop is just very old.”

He seemed satisfied with the answer and our conversation moved on to other things, probably what he wanted for Christmas. We had a nice visit with Aunt Dee, including dinner with her I think. Then we drove back to Cherry Hill to stay with Meem and Poppop.

As we entered the house, they were watching TV (or dosing off with it on, as was often the case). When we entered the little entry way and then came into the living room, Patrick put his hands on his hips and proclaimed, “Poppop, my Mommy says that you are very, very old.” I turned fifteen shades of red, I don’t even remember whether I tried to explain.

Poppop asked us if we wanted some ice cream. He loved ice cream and pretzels before bed.

I imagine that they hang out together in the other realms. And I’m sure Poppop is the handsome, strong man that he was in life.

Posted in Gratitude, Grief, Healing, hugs, Recovery, Remembering, time | Leave a comment

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.

 

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