On Tuesday night, a teacher's suicide in Homewood-Flossmoor confronted us with harsh reality. The ground our children stand on is hard as iron and winds moan outside our small suburban high school.
We all look for answers in these situations to questions that run the gamut from gruesome to metaphysical. How did he do it? Why did he do it? Who found him? Didn’t he know we needed him?
The answers, gossip, official statements, veiled comments, tell a complex story that makes it all harder than it was before. Few facts are verified, and most of us have no context. The devil is in the details, of course. And, yet, a teacher is gone.
Truth is, we’ll never know enough details to make it easier. The only thing I know for sure is that I don’t want anyone to follow in his footsteps. I’ve known a few people who’ve killed themselves, my uncle, a friend, the husband of a good friend, a classmate of my daughter’s and now, this teacher.
Each of their suicides is unique and complex. But every single one created far more problems than it solved. My heart goes out to their families and friends, who will bear so much guilt and so much grief. My heart goes out to them, too, but too late to matter. They could no longer bear the pain of depression or fear or shame.
Here are a few things I’d like to say to the H-F community.
Thank you to the first responders. The police officers who found him when they were conducting a welfare check were the first to be confronted by the trauma, which has been moving through our community in concentric circles.
Thank you to Principal Ryan Pitcock and all of the teachers and administrators at H-F. Dr. Pitcock announced the death quickly to both kids and parents and deployed counselors throughout the high school. He is following up with written information and is reaching out to students in every way he can.
Thanks to the teachers for making their own feelings visible to the kids. The teacher who cried as she hugged my daughter sent a powerful message about grief and community.
Only one person is responsible and “at fault” for a suicide, the person himself. But, blame is a wrong turn. Find a place and a way to grieve and question without hurting anyone else.
Most of us will never know the details of this story, but there is a story, a context. We do things we regret, we fail, and we harm others. We suffer and struggle. We collapse under the weight of depression and anxiety.
But only sometimes. Many, many more of us go to bed and struggle out of bed the next day, put one foot in front of the other and persevere. We reach out to friends, to doctors and counselors and medication, to teachers, to family. We seek forgiveness. We try to accept our weaknesses. We learn and do better. We suffer our punishment and make amends. We realize that it does, usually, get better.
In the bleak midwinter of 2013, I wonder what I can give to this family and to these kids. I can only give my heart.
If you or anyone you know is suffering and needs someone to talk to, please call for help.
Suicide Prevention/Crisis Intervention, 1-800-248-7475
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-8255
When you Need Someone To Talk To, Covenant House Nineline, 1-800-999-9999
Crisis Prevention for Gay Youth, Trevor Helpline, 1-800-850-8078
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