Monday, February 29, 2016

If A Person Completes Suicide But We RefuseTalk About It, Are They Still Dead?

When angry count to ten before you speak. If very angry, count to one hundred.  Thomas Jefferson

I am at a million and counting.  I guess you could say that I am angry a lot.  It has been that way since Peyton's suicide.  People tell me I should let it go.  Those are the people that piss me off the most.

You could say I have had anger issues since Peyton's suicide.  In the 16 months since his death, my emotions have been all over the place.  There is no ride at Six Flags that can compare to the tumultuous adventure I have lived.  One day, I am jumping up and down on deck at the state swim meet cheering on my swimmers,  embracing them in a monster bear hug for their unexpected state title, and two days later, I am trying to find a reason to get out of bed and go to work.

Trust me, it is not fun being angry.  Most of the time, I am an even keeled person.  Many would say boring.  I'm a high school English teacher/coach.  I live in the suburbs, drive an undistinguished truck, read pulp novels, watch the Walking Dead, and love Mexican food, but when I get mad, I get pissed.  Not turning green and smash mad, but pretty damn angry.

So what brings about this anger?  Cowardice and intentional ignorance.  Just last week it happened again.  A former student from my school, away at college, took their life.  I heard about it the same way I hear about many tragedies in our community, through the grapevine.  It started with the usual misinformation until I was able to talk to enough people to put together  the actual story.  The young man had been popular at the school, had a large group of friends, took part in athletics and other activities, and for all intents and purposes, seemed to be doing well in college.  Then, without any perceived warning, he chose suicide.  According to statistics, a suicide affects at least six people intimately.  In a close knit community such as ours, you would expect the effects to be far reaching.  After all, he had just graduated.  His friends weren't confined to the class of 2015, and there were many students at the school who considered him a friend.

Common sense would dictate that you alert the teachers.  After all, his friends might be sitting in their classes trying to sort through their feelings of anger, guilt, and abandonment.   Even students who were on the fringe of his group would be struggling.  After all, this would be the third suicide of a young person in the area in less than four months, but the silence was deafening.  Sure, they alerted his teachers from the previous year, but no one else.  WTF!?!?!?!?!?

Why is this district so unwilling to address this topic?  Is their thinking stuck in the 1950's?  Do they think that by uttering the word "Suicide" they are putting this idea into the heads of students?  Maybe they still think you can get the clap from a toilet seat as well, or that that your neighbor is a commie and should be reported to the McCarthy Hearings.

I'm sorry if I am ranting, but this is not the first time this has happened.  The frustration is endless and maddening.  How long are we going to pretend that this is not a problem within our community. Do people really think that by not talking about suicide that kids will never think of it?  How does that approach work with drinking or drugs?  I'll tell you there is no drug problem in our community, the kids can get their hands on just about anything they want.  No problem.

So what can the community do?  Here's a thought, take a tragedy and make something positive out of it.  Don't let a person's suicide be in vain.  Use it to save other lives.  I made that decision when Peyton died.  I made a decision to save as many people as possible.  Has all my ranting and raving made a difference?  I have no idea, but it is not for a lack of trying.  Self help guru Dr. Wayne Dyer once said, "There's nothing wrong with anger provided you use it constructively." I am trying to turn my anger into something good.  What about you?

Friday, February 19, 2016

Dead Kids Don't Take Tests

If you are one of my regular readers, please excuse this post.  It is not intended for you, chances are, the people that it is intended for will never read it, but I have to unburden myself.  Now people that know me well know I can be a snarky a-hole.  My ability to piss off and offend people is pretty damn good, I usually take that approach when I am frustrated with something or some one.  This is one of those times.

A while back I wrote a blog entry entitled An Open Letter to School Boards Everywhere. I wrote it in reaction to two suicides locally.  I presented a reasonable, logical argument as to why suicide recognition and prevention training, as well as mental health awareness training, would be a good thing.  I even presented data (modern education lives and breathes data) for their perusal.  It performed better than any of my other posts.  It was even published in a newspaper and an enews letter.  I was actually pretty darn proud of myself.  Silly me actually hoped that our local school board would change their long time stance of saying nothing, pretending nothing happened, and hope it goes away quietly.  But alas, nothing has changed.  I figured that I would keep plugging away.

Then about two weeks ago, two students at Plano East High School completed suicide on the same night.  For those that are not familiar with Plano, it is a suburb of Dallas, and Plano East has a student population of over 5,000 students.  Now East went through the standard protocol of bringing in counselors for the students, saying and doing all the right things.  However, East went a step beyond and reached out to the community and held an open forum at the school.   According to Susan Modisette, an assistant superintendent for the Plano school district. “We wanted to equip our campus administrators, teachers, families and students as best we could and give them the opportunity to share their experiences and listen to experts who could help them heal in a way that works best for them.”

What a remarkable concept!!!  A school actually educating and helping the community in the wake of a devastating tragedy!!!  Who knew???

That brings me to the snarky, a-hole part of this entry.  To all the other districts out there that have experienced similar tragedies, but have done nothing, I ask you, Why the Hell Not!?!?!?!  What are you waiting for!?!?!?  When are you going to realize that this problem will not go away on its own no matter how much you ignore it!?!?!?!?  How many more young people have to die by their own hand before you actually quit worrying about test scores and the status quo and do something!?!?!?!  I know that there are districts that wish this problem would go away, but as the old saying goes, "Wish in one hand and sh*t in the other and sees which one fills up faster. " The lives of the children that you are elected to represent are far more important than any test score.

I know some of you are reluctant to act because you are afraid of offending you broad base of voters, or you don't want to make them uncomfortable with such a taboo topic.  I'll let you in on a little secret, talking about suicide is a hell of a lot easier than dealing with it, and trust me, you don't want to try it out just to make sure.  In my humble opinion, it is better to have a few pissed off parents than one dead kid.  I know this is a moral decision, as pissed off parents vote, and kids, dead or not, don't, but hey, you go with your gut.  If your gut tells you that one or two dead kids is acceptable, then go with it.  If not, then do something about it.  While it is true that you might lose your job as a school board member, but at least your conscience will be clean.

I find it funny that there are so many people within school districts that are dedicated to improving test scores, but so few dedicated to keep those students alive long enough to take those tests.  But I can see the dilemma here.  After all, school districts are judged by how well they do on those state mandated tests, but what if some of those kids that could really help the over all average aren't around come test time?  How wold that reflect on your scores.  After all, dead kids don't take tests.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

About Your Brother

One Friday, our family had piled into the SUV and was heading out to a family dinner.  Ian was prattling on from the back seat about something that only a 13 year old boy would find funny or interesting. Emmy was in a good mood and laughing at her brother.  Suddenly out of nowhere, Emmy blurted out "Peyton is in Heaven with God."  The car got very quiet before I responded by agreeing, "yes, he is".  We had followed advice after Peyton's death, and told her the truth.  Even though she was only two at the time, she seemed to understand.  What happened next left us all speechless.  She told us that she, "Played with Peyton every night in her imagination."

It took all my will to focus on the road in front of me.  Although I have grown used to Emmy making random statements, after all, she is three and a half, and randomness is part of her personality, but this one hit me like a hammer.  I have been struggling lately.  In my blog entry Onward Through The Fog , I talked about the struggles of the second year as the reality of Peyton's suicide have really began to sink in.  As we drove on, I began to think about she would remember her brother as she gets older.  I decided to tell her all I could about their relationship so that she would never forget.

Dear Emmy,

I want you to know about Peyton.  First of all, know that he loved you.  He wasn't able to be there when you were born, but thanks to the marvels of technology and wifi, he was able to see you shortly after you entered the world.  I'll never forget the smile on his face as he looked down at his little sister. I knew then and there that you would hold a special place in his heart.  He met you for the first time four days later.  At the time, he was living in Round Rock with his mother.  He only came to see us twice a month, but this visit was special.  He was coming to see and hold you for the first time.  He was so scared the first time he help you.  Unlike Ian, who had two younger sisters at his dad's house, Peyton had never been around a baby before.  The first time he held you, he was nervous.  If I had to guess, he was afraid he might break you.  Every time you moved or made a sound, he stiffened as though he had commit a flagrant sin.  He eventually learned that it was alright for him to hold you and play with you.

Peyton loved to make you laugh, Emmy.  Once he discovered he had the gift of entertaining you, it was a task he cherished.  He would get on the floor with you and make your toys come to life.  He possessed a gift for making your animals and dolls talk, and both of you loved it.

That's not to say all was sunshine and puppy dogs.  Peyton wasn't always thrilled to have a little sister.  Your presence meant that he no longer had Daddy all to himself.  Not only that, but we were no longer able to get up and go on a whim.  A baby meant a level of planning equal to the D-Day invasion, and spontaneous adventures were a thing of the past.  However, when we did go out, he enjoyed being the big brother and pushing you in your stroller while making the obligatory engine noises.

Perhaps Peyton's favorite thing to do was take you on the carousel at the mall.  He would volunteer his own money to take you on, walk you around to find your favorite animal, put you up, and buckle you in.  I loved watching the two of you go round and round.  Your face was flush with excitement, and Peyton's filled with pride for being such a good big brother and seeing the joy and excitement in your eyes.

I still remember that fateful October day.  Your mommy and I picked you up from school and began the long journey to Austin to say good bye.  It was hard for you to stay in the hospital with us, and there were times that we took you outside to run and play, but for a two year old, you did an impressive job. You would sit in my lap next to Peyton's bed, talk to him, and hold his hand. You were by Peyton's side when he left us.  You were able to hold his hand, kiss him on the forehead and tell him goodbye.

We took you to the funeral home to see Peyton one last time before the funeral.  You seemed a bit confused because we had told you Peyton had gone to heaven to be with God, but there he was.  It is hard to explain the concept of a soul to a child, but you seemed to grasp it.  You were so well behaved at the funeral.  You sat quietly and listened to the service.  Afterwards, you let people hug you and tell you how special your brother was.

Since Peyton's funeral, I have done everything I could to keep him alive for you.  I have all the cards people sent us, newspaper articles, news stories, and of course, my collection of writings for you.

You have been a part of Peyton's memory too, Emmy.  You helped deliver boxes to the Ronald McDonald House, you walked in the rain to help raise awareness of suicide, and you cuddled tightly with me on those days where I am just a bit overwhelmed.  You and mommy and Ian have helped me through those dark days where I am overwhelmed.

This past Sunday, we had your 4th birthday party at ASI Gymnastics.  You were so excited and reminded my so much of Peyton at that age.  You ran around non-stop the entire time, going from one area to another, bouncing, swinging climbing, and sliding.  How I wished that Peyton could have been there with you, playing alongside.  I just hope that as you swung off the rope into the foam pit, that Peyton was there with you in your imagination.