It Actually IS Life or Death

Sep 10, 2021

The most powerful and life-changing conversation I've ever had was with a mother who lost her son to suicide.  Our sons had been friends when they were little.  Our sons are very much alike.  Hearing about his death, I knew to my core that if it could happen in her family, it could happen in mine.  I learned from visiting with her that there was no warning and there was no note.  There was no obvious reason, but there were many possible reasons.  She listed a string of challenges: ADHD, depression, junior year overwhelm, major school pressure, an illness which kept him home for two weeks and caused his grades to slip, isolation because of covid, some bullying, some self-doubt.  On the other hand, he had a lot going for him and it always seemed that he was managing just fine.  

I write this on Suicide Prevention Day, September 10, 2021 and in honor of Suicide Prevention Month to bring attention to the very real truth that this IS the #2 killer of teens in America.  

You can find loads of information on ways to identify the potential for suicide online, but what you can't find are the jewels of wisdom my friend has shared with me since this tragedy has shattered her.

"I was so worried he would fail a class and now I think, 'So what?  So what if he had to repeat 11th grade?  So what if he would have even dropped out and gotten a GED?  So what?  So what anything.  We could have dealt with that, and I would still have my boy."

"People think kids have it easy these days.  They do not.  No generation has ever had to work this hard in school.  No generation has had this much pressure on them to be college students while they are still in high school so that they can get into the college they would like to go to.  It's too much for them... especially kids with learning challenges.  There's no down time, there's no time for living." 

This is the first generation to grow up with most of their social connections occurring through screens.  PLUS they have constant access to seeing everything that everyone is doing all the time.  Kids know if they are left out.  They are constantly measuring themselves against the social media presence of not just their friends, but young celebrities in a daily dose of scrolling.  IT SEEMS LIKE REALITY to them.  This is a whole new world that they are navigating and these waters are uncharted.  It's a lot, and in some cases, it IS life or death.

My friend's words have changed my life as a mother... "So what anything" rings through my entire body as I navigate parenting my teen.  Rather than, "Have you finished your homework?" I'm learning to ask, "How are YOU?"  "How's your heart today? Is your mind heavy or light?  Is there anything I can do to support you?  I love you so much.  I see how hard you're working and I'm really impressed!  I hope you are proud of yourself... this workload is no joke."

Another beautiful reminder she shared with me is "Just have fun.  Do everything you possibly can to have FUN and don't worry about anything that isn't important."  

My teen has asked me to stop talking to him about school all the time.  My friend shone a light on my obsession with his schoolwork.  It actually is not the most important thing when you think about it... but it accounts for the bulk of our conversations and interactions.  It's been hard work to retrain my brain to focus on LIFE instead of assignments and deadlines.  My teen wants to do well in school... and he wants to have a life, too.  Our education system does not leave much room for enjoyment during the school year.  Teens are overwhelmed, exhausted, and starved for face-to-face human interaction and time in nature.  I don't know what the overall solution is, but I do know that living by these two mottos: "So what anything" and "Just have fun" is helping to ease the tension in our home.  

We often hear that parenting teens is hard.  Ultimately, I don't think it's nearly as hard as BEING a teen.  Can we be the first to admit that we may be turning up the volume on the pressure our kids already have to deal with?  How can we make this more fun?  How can we lighten the load?  How can we support them and create a safe space for our kids to be honest with us about how hard it is?  How can we drop the narrative that this entitled generation is lazy and ungrateful and realize they are working harder than any generation before them and they are facing challenges none of us know how to navigate. 

Teen life is hard.  I hate it that my friend has to go on without her boy. With teen suicide, it is very common that it is a result of a split-second decision… an impulse only minutes before it happens.  No family is immune to this possibility. 

It is a cherished gift that my friend was brave enough to meet me for lunch and talk with me at such a raw and tender time in her grief.  She brought nuggets of gold and gave them to me... and I share them with you.  This is how her son's life evolves and expands the human race.   This concentrated wisdom flows through his spirit, through his mother, and into our awareness, "So what anything... just have fun."

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