by Chrissy Lowery
“Another one…?” I couldn’t help but hear it repeat in my head. “Really, another one?”
My body shook with chills and my stomach knotted itself, just as it does now remembering the story. I wondered if hearing these stories will always affect me this way, and if they would always jolt me back to that instant gut-wrenching fear that I felt on June 15, 2016.
I’m an RA for a freshman residence hall at Christopher Newport University in Virginia. We have weekly staff meetings in which my boss updates us on our duties and requirements for the upcoming week, and sometimes keeps us informed on campus happenings as they relate to our residents. On February 26, 2019, my boss shared the shattering news that another student at my university had attempted suicide. It had happened over the weekend and the student was still in the hospital.
Other details were scarce, as the family had requested privacy and my boss explained as if reading from a script. Despite my curiosity, I refrained from asking any questions. I remember being a part of that aforementioned ‘family’ and I remember the overwhelming feeling that came with everyone asking ‘how’ and ‘why’.
I remember getting choked up the last time a friend asked me why I was so passionate about suicide prevention, because somehow sharing my story on my own accord felt so much easier than sharing it when someone asked me directly.
Luckily our staff meeting wrapped up after that heart-wrenching announcement, and I proceeded upstairs to my room where I suddenly broke down and cried, something that is uncommon for me. I called the first person in my recent contacts without really knowing why, other than that my extrovert self can’t handle being alone at times like that.
As I thought about my feelings and tried to explain them over the phone, I reached for the journal I had written in on the day of my cousin’s death over two and a half years ago. I read the passage from that day aloud to myself, wondering if I would ever be able to share those words publicly, maybe on stage at an awareness walk, or in a blog post for anyone to read. I imagined giving hope to someone who had also suffered a suicide loss and I imagined impacting someone who struggled with suicidal ideation. I imagined saving a life.
I had studied that journal entry more than any other I’ve ever written. It started with the direct intention of painting the picture of a very regular day. I had eaten Fruity Pebbles while watching the Today Show that morning in the summer of 2016 and I met my two best friends for lunch at our favorite restaurant before
I ran an errand at Walmart later that afternoon
Of course, that’s not what I remember about that day, and that’s what makes those details so important. I was having a very regular day, filling myself with friendship and checking off some things on my to-do list before starting my camp counselor job for the rest of the summer. At the same time, my 16-year-old cousin, Jake Lowery, took his own life by firearm.
I remember hearing the word ‘suicide’ and feeling my head spin around the room. I remember sobbing into my brother’s shoulder onto his navy blue Nationals t-shirt and I remember repeating “I Love You” over and over as he repeated it back to me. I remember hearing my dad call me ‘Peanut’ for the first time in years when he got home from work and embraced me.
That night I wrote in my journal
The last paragraph of that entry reads, “I’m so in shock and unable to process anything. I’m afraid to sleep because I’ll have to remember it all again in the morning—and attempt to convince myself it’s true. I wept initially but haven’t cried since. I’m afraid for Jesse [Jake’s brother]. I loved and still do love Jake. I wish he knew how much he meant to so many people. I don’t understand.”
The healing process continued for weeks and months and years, and to this day I can’t say my cousin’s death doesn’t sting me randomly sometimes.
It stings me on June 15 of each year, when I reflect on another year that Jake didn’t get to witness and as I try to fathom the amount of time that he has been gone. It stings me on July 16 of each year, when I picture Jake being another year older. It stings me on Thanksgiving and Christmas and the Fourth of July as I picture him holding my hand as our family prays before a feast of a dinner.
It stings me even more when I hear of the death of another young person who felt that life was ultimately too painful to bear any longer, as I envision another family going through the thoughts and feelings that myself and my family underwent in the summer of 2016.
On February 27, 2019, I learned that the student who attempted suicide on my campus died in the hospital a few days after his attempt. While I wish to maintain his family’s request for privacy, I believe talking about his death is the only way suicide will lose its stigma.
As I’ve tried to grasp an understanding of suicide since that day, I have come to appreciate the connection that suicide survivors share. It is by talking about suicide, sharing our stories, and destroying the stigma of mental illness that we may combat suicide as a community.
I share my story publicly because it is real and painful, and because no one deserves to feel the loss of a loved one to suicide.
Chrissy is chairman of the Out of the Darkness Walk at CNU, Newport News, VA
Walk Date: 04/07/2019
Walk Location: Christopher Newport University – Newport News, VA
Check-in/Registration Time: 9:00 am
Walk Begins: 10:00 am
Walk Ends: 12:00 pm