When I first messaged Leo, he revealed only an “L.” He first landed on this blog from a google search on how to kill himself. He was filled with despair and claimed he needed to get on the bus.
I had not ever heard anyone put it that way. I wonder now if it’s a French saying. In short, Leo was suicidal. For the record, my blog has never offered instructions on how to die but I do offer a listening ear and resources for those who want them.
It was a couple of weeks before I would figure out he was French. His English was really good and he was very smart, too. But the email address had an “fr” revealing it was a French email. So I knew he was French before I knew his name. So when I say “the French kid” I’m not being dismissive. It’s just how I thought of him at first. It was my way of identifying a young man that had yet to share his name. Eventually, he did share his name.
Starting in May 2022, Leo and I emailed back and forth several times per day
This was a platonic relationship between a mother who has lost a son to suicide and a son who was struggling. He was 21 about to turn 22 in September of 2022 and had a history of depression.
Mostly I listened and responded. He talked about his family, whom he loved. And they loved him very much. He talked a lot about suicide.
He had planned it in great detail
I tried hard not to feel helpless. But that’s natural right? I can’t fix it. And I can’t call anyone because all I have is the first name and eventually a picture.
He’d confessed a lot of regrets and he did hesitate for the love of his family. But like a lot of people who struggle with suicide, he thought he was a burden. I know his family didn’t feel that way. I didn’t know them but I knew that for some reason and I did think of them. His sister Lucy had been a big part of his life– very supportive and a good listener.
He was concerned his anger would get out of control and he’d hurt someone and said, “You know it’s not just the pain that is my issue. I have a lot of repressed anger that tends to come up and it’s also very hard to manage. I either am sad or mad and angry at the world.” I’ve heard that before from young men especially.
One day he said it was the day, I swallowed hard, cried, and was so grateful to hear from him later that day. Something went awry and his plans got derailed. But then he tried again a week later and that time I didn’t hear from him.
Everything stopped. No messages and then an eerie feeling.
One week later I got an email from another email address and it said, “If your reading this i probably have passed away….” I won’t go into the rest of it. It’s still painful. Because the email arrived on August 11 and coincided with my own mother’s death which had happened the day before on August 10.
My breath was shallow, my limbs felt heavy with grief already. By this time, I’d gotten to know him. He told me all about each family member. They had noticed he was down and had reached out to him. But he didn’t confess the truth and kept it inside although he told the stranger on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean–me. He also had an uncle who adored him.
Here is the shocker
Included in the email he sent to me was a note to his family and a link to his mom’s Facebook page and her phone number. He’d left it in my hands to deliver his last words to his family in France. No email. No address.
I’m in the USA so a call from me would likely not be answered. How would I even start that call? When I clicked on his mom’s Facebook page, there was no way to “friend” his mom or message her. I’m not sure why because I was able to do that later.
I couldn’t see much on her page but I wanted to see if there were any memorial announcements. But I couldn’t see anything at this point.
Did his mom know? Was he still missing?
I knew they’d have to search to find him and that made me ache. Had they already found him? Had they gotten the news? Or were they still wondering what happened to him?
My breath caught in my throat, my brain was watery and weird and my mouth was dry. I was grieving my mom and Leo, too, and confused about what to do. Meanwhile, I had to make funeral plans for my mom and I had no idea how I would get in touch with his family. I knew it would come to me if I let it be for a few days.
In the meantime, I made a vow that even though I was terrified, I had to share the letter and the emails with his family. I know what it’s like to lose a child to suicide. And I know what it’s like to crave more information when it feels like I don’t have anything. I wanted them to know that he loved them very much and that I knew they loved and cared about him. I wanted them to have his last words because they weren’t for me they were for the people who loved him.
Would they think I was crazy? Would they be angry? Would they blame me?
You never know how someone will react
Especially after a suicide. But I couldn’t let my fears prevent me from sharing this last letter with them. I had to sit with my fears and acknowledge them. Then I had to figure out how to move forward and figure out how to get these last words to them.
I kept checking his mom’s Facebook page and still no message button through the app or through a browser. I decided I would go through the French embassy in Washington DC. I first needed them to confirm his death so I shared everything I had with them.
They got back to me right away and confirmed he had died by suicide. They did get in touch with his mom and delivered what I had sent which was the final letter. Meanwhile, the “friend” button appeared on his mother’s page and I was able to send a request.
By then, his mom had posted his picture and several friends were sending condolences for the death of her son. I held my breath and posted a comment (in French thanks to Google translator), that Leo had reached out to me online. It was a long story but he’d sent the last letter to me.
Does that sound bat-sh*t crazy or what? How would you react to that?
I can’t remember if the embassy had sent it to her by then or if I got it to her first. It’s all kind of fuzzy. There was a lot going on in my life at that time. My family was arriving for my mom’s service for one.
His mom was wary of my post but she did answer. I expected that. I’d be wary, too. Some stranger from the USA posted on her page that her son left some lady in the USA a final letter after his suicide.
It really does sound crazy. Why me? It was a lot to explain and I can’t really be sure why either. He had gone missing for several days before he was discovered. That had to be hell to go through.
Eventually, with my sharing the picture he sent, the letter, and the emails, she realized I was legitimate and wanted to know more.
None of Leo’s family members did anything to cause what happened but of course, they were all devastated. The dad ended up writing me a lovely note as did his sister, and his uncle. I was relieved they appreciated the emails and the letter and the last picture. If no one read them or wanted to do that later, that was OK. I remember I couldn’t read all of Charles’ lyrics right away. It took a long time.
So many times I’ve written back and forth with someone in crisis
Years later many of these people write back and say they’ve worked through the dark times and are now OK. But twice out of dozens in the last few years, I lost the person I was corresponding with. Kate, 40+, was the first. Leo was the second and the youngest.
You may be wondering why I do this. Because more often than not, listening and responding works.
Sometimes it doesn’t work out in our favor. I tried. His family tried. I know what to do and say and I know to listen more than anything. But we don’t have control over another human. We can’t do it for them no matter how badly we want to keep someone else alive. Somehow the letter he sent me softened the blunt force trauma of his death by suicide.
His mom reached out and said they spread his ashes in the water. Apparently, Leo loved to swim. Now he is with the dolphins.
RIP Leo. I don’t regret corresponding with you and getting to know you.