Good morning Warriors, and thank you for coming out today. My name is David James from the Peyton Heart Project. I'm here today for two reason, to chew bubble gum and to stop suicide, and I am all out of bubble gum.
My journey began a little over five years ago about four miles away from here in the parking lot of College Park High School where I worked as an English teacher and swim coach. My day had begun at about 5:00 AM when I arrived at the school, picked up the shuttle bus, and drove to the natatorium for practice. After a morning practice, a full day of teaching, and an afternoon practice, I went back to the school to make sure that everything was ready to go for my classes the next day. It had been storming on and off all day hard enough to cancel football practice, so at 5:30 when I walked out the door, I was not surprised to see my truck by itself in the coaches parking lot as the rain continued to come down. I waited for a break in the downpour , but there was none, so I ran through the rain hitting the unlock button on my key fob, threw my bags onto the passenger seat, and jumped inside. I sat there listening to the rain beat down on the roof of my truck as I caught my breath and was just about to put the key in the ignition when my phone rang. I saw it was Jacki, my ex wife and mother of my 13 year old son Peyton. I answered the phone and all she said, "David, you need to talk to this officer." A man came on and identified himself as an officer with the Georgetown Police Department. He then told me in a flat, emotionless voice that Peyton James had hung himself. He then handed off the phone to a woman that I believe to be a nurse. She told me that Peyton was at Seton Medical Center in Round Rock, his condition was critical, and I needed to get there as fast as I could, as time was of the essence.
After hanging up the phone, from some dark place in my body came the most primitive, guttural scream I had ever produced. I screamed, I yelled, I cried, I slammed my fist into the steering wheel and punched the roof. I had tears streaming down my face, snot running out of my nose, and I didn't care. I was able to calm down enough to call my wife Lisa to come and get me. While I waited, I begged and pleaded for God to save Peyton, but if he was intent on taking a soul that day, I volunteered to exchange Peyton's for mine. Once Lisa picked me up, we picked up my daughter Emmalee from daycare, stopped by the house to grab some clothes and headed for Austin.
Somewhere on the outskirts of Brenham, I received a call that Peyton was being taken by life flight to Dell Children's Hospital in Austin where he would be in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit. When we arrived, we met with a doctor who told us about the severity of his injuries, a plethora of outcomes, mostly negative, and that the next seventy two hours would be critical. There was always someone by his bedside, we talked to him, prayed over him, and I continued to bargain with God for his life. Unfortunately, we found out that the damage his body had sustained was too great, and that his brain was dying and he would not survive. Despite the best efforts of the incredible medical staff at Dell, Peyton was declared brain dead on October 13, 2014. Six days later, on October 19th, we said our final good-byes at his funeral.
For a while, the support from my family, friends, co-workers, the community, and even total strangers was great, but after a while, everyone got back to their own lives, and I was left to live my "New Normal".
At times, as I knew that no matter how strong I thought I was, I knew that I would need support. At first, Lisa and I tried a support group for parents who had lost children. The meeting began with each couple saying their child's name, how old they were, and how they had passed. The causes of death ranged from illnesses, to accidents, to overdoses. When it was our turn, and I said that Peyton had taken his own life, it was like the air had been sucked out of the room. I had never felt so judged before in my life. The expressions on their faces made me feel even guiltier than I already did. It was at that moment that I truly realized the taboo of suicide, and how uncomfortable even the mention of it made some people, but at the same time, I was not going to dishonor my son and his memory by not talking about him and what had happened to him. Sadly, that was not the last time that I would encounter that feeling, but it did help me to realize that educating people and removing the stigma behind suicide and mental health issues would be paramount.
Even though that support group didn't work out, I was not deterred. As I am sure far too many of you can relate, I felt alone and lost. It seemed as though no one understood what I was going through, and I needed to find others that not only knew my pain, but had been where I was, could validate my feelings and listen without judging.
Not too long after, I was contacted by another employee in the district who had lost their child to suicide. She emailed me and told me about a local support group for survivors of suicide loss. Lisa and I went to our first meeting, and every person there introduced themselves, spoke the name of their loved ones, and how they had taken their life, but this time there was no judgement, just acceptance. That night, I talked openly and honestly about Peyton to a group of strangers that would become like family to me. We all shared our stories of heartbreak and loss, and comforted one another. I knew I had found where I belonged, that I would keep going back. At first, I went for help and support, and over time, to help others.
I want to take a moment to thank my friends Jenny, Linda, Starlet, Tim, Donna, David, and so many others who have helped me over the past five years. They have been rocks for me, but have also given me the strength, support, and encouragement to go out into the community and beyond spreading the Peyton Heart Project's message of suicide awareness and and prevention.
That is what brings all of us here today. We are here to honor our loved ones, to end the stigma of suicide, and to support each other. We are here to speak openly and honestly about our loved ones, to proudly say their names, and to tell their stories. Today we are all part of the largest support group in the Houston area and perhaps the entire state of Texas.
Whether you are here for the first time, or the tenth, I want you to find someone close by that you have never met before and introduce yourself. Tell them the name of your loved one. Now, look them in the eye and repeat after me:
- I am sorry for your loss.
- I know what you are going through.
and most importantly:
- You are not alone!
Now find another person and do the same thing:
- I am sorry for your loss
- I know what you are going through
- You are not alone!
Hug each other, cry on each other's shoulders, and let each and every person know they are not alone. We are here for each other!!!As you venture out on the walk today, make it a point to greet each other, to share your stories, and to form bonds that will last a lifetime. It is through all of us that AFSP, and organizations like the Peyton Heart Project, Cassidy Joined for Hope, Kindness Matters, and so many others are able to spread their message, to lead us to a a world where mental health issues are treated just like physical health issues, a world where people can talk openly and honestly about how they feel without shame, and most importantly, a world without suicide!!!
Before I hand the mike over, I want to thank each and every one of you for being here today. Because of you, your loved ones will live on. On the count of three, I want you to shout out their name loud enough to be heard across the Greater Houston Area, south to Galveston, East to the Sabine River, West to El Paso, North to Amarillo, and straight up to our loved ones in Heaven. Let them know we love them, we are proud of them, and they will never, ever be forgotten.
One!!!! Two!!!! Three!!!!
Thank you, and may God bless you.