When Suicide Hits Home
There are some days when you wake up and have no idea your life is going to change. One of those moments was the day I first heard about a young woman named Kristen Anderson who tried to commit suicide by laying down in front of a train.
I was at a publisher’s brunch when I sat down next to a woman named Margaret McSweeney. We were introducing ourselves, and I was telling her about my writing. She turned to me, eyes wide:
“I think you’re supposed to write a book about a young woman named Kristen Anderson.”
Margaret promised to introduce us, and the first time I talked to Kristen on the phone, I knew I had to write her story. There was a time Kristen’s life had sunk into darkness, but God changed everything. She’s now one of the happiest people I know. I knew that if people would see how Kristen’s life did not remain in that dark place, they could have hope for their own journeys, too. My intentions were to help people “out there.” I had no idea that it would open up conversations within my own family.
When I first started working with Kristen on the book, I was intrigued. I’d seen Kristen on Oprah, and I knew people were amazed how she survived. I was amazed, too. There were numerous times in the interviewing process that I thought, “This is a miracle.”
As with all my books, I often share what I’m writing with my family. I remember one afternoon when I was driving, and my 16-year-old daughter, Leslie, was with me. I was talking about Kristen, and Leslie looked at me with sadness in her eyes. “Mom, I have to tell you, I’ve considered suicide before.” I felt my breath escape me. Tears sprang to my eyes. “What? When?”
Leslie went on to tell me it was when she was in junior high. She didn’t have many friends and felt shunned at church. Worse than that, the girl she considered her best friend teased her all the time, telling her she wasn’t pretty, wasn’t smart, and would never have a boyfriend. “I was so sad inside. I didn’t want to face that sadness anymore, but I didn’t take my life because I knew how much it would hurt you and Dad.”
Over the next couple of days, Leslie and I continued to talk about how hard life seems sometimes. We also talked about how easy it is to pretend everything’s fine when we’re really hurting inside.
That conversation with my daughter about her thoughts of suicide made me realize that as a mom, there could be things my kids are struggling with that I have no clue about.
Because of that, I’ve been more diligent to ask. If I sense something’s wrong, I don’t ignore it. Or even when I think everything’s fine, I check up on my kids just to be sure.
When I talked with Kristen’s mom, Jan, during the process of writing the book, she told me she’d been worried about Kristen’s friends at times but not about her daughter. “Kristen was the one everyone turned to for help. She seemed to be having a hard time, but I had no idea how bad it had gotten.”
Like me, Jan wishes she would have asked more questions and had taken time to listen. For Kristen, her story turned out to have a happy ending, but for so many others, it doesn’t.
Make sure you take time to talk to your pre-teen and teens about sadness, depression, and suicide.