Sunday, March 26, 2017

To The Students Of Pearland High School:

“You care so much you feel as though you will bleed to death with the pain of it.”
― J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

To The Students Of Pearland High School:

I heard of your loss , and it breaks my heart.  I didn't know Hannah, but from all accounts, she was an amazing person, that she possessed multiple talents, was kind and generous with others, and beloved by those that knew her.  Not only did you lose a friend and classmate, but you lost her in a way that leaves you questioning your own mortality.

On October 8, 2014, my 13 year old son Peyton came home from school, went in his bedroom, and hung himself.  Five days later, he passed away as a result of his injuries. I have been in your shoes, and although I can't say I know exactly what you are going through, but I can empathize with your current situation.

Hannah's suicide left many of you in a fog, a state of bewilderment and confusion.  If she had died in a car crash or of cancer, you would still mourn her loss, but at least have an answer as to the "Why?" which is gnawing at you right now.  Why would a beautiful young lady who seemed to have it all choose to take her life?  What hope do I have if some one like Hannah chooses to take her life? Unfortunately, you may never have the answer to these questions, but don't despair.

The first thing you need to understand is that suicide was Hannah's choice.  It was probably not a choice that came quickly or easily, nor was it a rational choice.  The choice to take one's own life is generally brought about by a pain that few can imagine.  A pain that is not a physical pain, but an emotional pain. A pain that convinces a person that they are a worthless burden to those around them. A pain that convinced Hannah that what she was doing would be appreciated by those she left behind.  A pain that slowly breaks a person down to the point that they see death as the only escape. A pain that robs a person of their own self worth.  A pain that leaves some one as a shell of the person they once were.  Worst of all, it is a pain that a person is adept at hiding from others.

When you first heard about Hannah's death, you were shocked.  You thought that some one was playing the sickest, most twisted joke you have ever heard.   While some of you are obviously distraught, others are angry at her for leaving you.  You may be asking "How could she do something so stupid?" or "How could her parents have let this happen?"  Maybe you blame yourself thinking "If only I had paid more attention to her, " or "I should have known."  Maybe you are anxious and thinking, “If she could get upset enough to kill herself, maybe the same thing will happen to me (or one of my friends).” Those closest to her might may find it almost impossible to return to a normal routine, and may even resent those who appear to be having fun. They may feel empty, lost, totally disconnected. They may become obsessed with keeping the memory of their friend alive. No matter what you are feeling, I want you to know it is okay.  You are allowed to feel how you feel.  You are allowed to be angry, or burst out in tears, or blame some, or yell and scream if need be.  If you need to talk to some one, then find some one to talk to.  There are people there for you, and will continue to be there for you. Whatever you do, do not keep your thoughts and emotions bottled up.  There is no set time limit on your grief, and we each deal with grief differently.

I know some of you feel let down right now by the very people you felt you could turn to you.  You asked to honor Hannah in the yearbook.  That is an honorable request, but supposedly "The teacher told her, you know, no we can't do that because of the way Hannah passed."  According to her sister, Holleigh, "This administration tells us that they won't make this page because they think that if children see it, then it will urge them to do the same thing, and I completely disagree with that." While it seems as though they don't, the administration does have your best interests at heart.  They are responsible to each and every one of you, and want to protect you.  They are afraid of suicide clusters, or contagions.  While these clusters exist, so does the fact that talking about suicide does not make a child suicidal, but instead, allows the outlet for those who have already thought about it to talk about it and know they are not alone.  I have been a teacher and coach for 26 years, and have seen schools handle suicide with everything from ignoring it to victim shaming, so please respect their wishes and give them time.  Let them talk to the family and who ever else they need to.  In time, I am sure that after weighing all of their options,  a decision will be made that works best for all.

Finally, I want to let you know that things will get better.  I know right now it is hard to believe.  Just over a week ago, you were ten feet tall and bullet proof, the masters of your domain, and ready to take one the world  Now, faced with the true fragility of human life.   You are scared at having to realize that you are not immortal.  Given time, you will begin to feel better.  It will not be easy, and you may even feel guilty, even ashamed, for feeling better, but if Hannah is the person that people have described, it is what she would want.  You never have to let her out of your heart, but you do need to go on.

In the days, weeks, and months to come, I ask that you please take care of yourself.  Know that there are people out there that care and want to help.  Take life one day at a time.  Remember to eat, to exercise, to talk to others, and to take care of yourself.  Keep Hannah and her family in your heart. They will need your strength.  Take them a casserole, send them a card or a plant, or write them a letter telling them how much Hannah meant to you.  Don't forget Hannah, ever, but what ever you do, keep going.  God bless.


David James
The Peyton Heart Project