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Leo, the French kid

Leo

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.

And then….

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.

coping strategies for grief and loss

Free eBook Coping Strategies for Grief & Loss

Short, easy-to-read strategies for managing the pain of grief by Anne Moss Rogers, Karla Helbert LPC, and contributing author Charlotte Moyler. Download Now.

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AnneMoss Rogers

AnneMoss Rogers is a mental health and suicide education expert, mental health speaker, suicide prevention trainer and consultant. She is author of the Book, Diary of a Broken Mind and co-author of Emotionally Naked: A Teacher's Guide to Preventing Suicide and Recognizing Students at Risk with Kim O'Brien PhD, LICSW. She raised two boys, Richard and Charles, and lost her younger son, Charles to addiction and suicide on June 5, 2015. She is a motivational speaker who empowers by educating and provides life saving strategies and emotionally healthy coping skills. As talented and funny as Charles was, letting other people know they matter was his greatest gift. And now that's the legacy she carries forward in her son's memory. Mental Health Speakers Website.

26 thoughts on “Leo, the French kid”

  1. I read this a few hours ago and can’t stop crying about the loss of Leo – and what Lucy and her family are going through right now.

    Anne – you are a special person for what you do. And your sharing of these stories helps people (that you likely will never know) in ways that you can’t possibly imagine.

    I still think about your son Charles all the time. I didn’t know him…but from your writings I feel like I did. In the years since first reading your story I have had countless moments where thinking of Charles has prompted me to step out of my comfort zone and be a better listener and resource to the teens in my life.

    I appreciate you and what you do!

    1. Wow Steve. Thank you so much for commenting. And for your kind words. I’m glad that Charles still has a presence. As a mom, we don’t want our child forgotten and to know he’s touched others after his death means a lot. I appreciate that you have become a better listener.

  2. Oh Anne, my heart breaks 💔 for you. I hope that you can find some comfort in knowing that in the months leading up to his devastating passing you provided him with the greatest gift another human can offer – a listening ear 👂
    You are truly the most BEAUTIFUL angel to have ever walked this earth & we are all so lucky to have you, we love you so much! ❤️

  3. Oh Anne Moss, thank you so much for sharing my big brother Leo’s story..you were such a great listener and support for him. I am happy to know that people will be able to read his story and be touched by it. I would have liked it to be a “super star” rather like Lil Peep, his favorite artist: by being a great singer who shares his pain in his lyrics. But it was otherwise. Today, it shines in its own way and me and my parents constantly think of this star Leo, in the immense sky. Now it’s me who writes songs for him, to believe that he and I are still connected even if we are not in the same dimension. I wish you many beautiful things Anne Moss and courage for the help that you bring. One day I hope to meet you.
    The little sister.

    1. Thank you so much for that Lucy. He loved you so much. And you were there for him. I ached that he did not share the whole story with you. Just know that already thousands have read about your brother. I won’t ever forget him and I know the closeness and strength of your family will help you through this tragedy.

  4. Anne Moss, I am so sorry about this. I cannot imagine how difficult this all was, especially at the same time as your mom died. I’m so thankful you were there for him in a time when he greatly needed a listener. I hope you will find the support you need in processing this. I had one hospice patient who died by suicide while I was caring for her. I had been with her since her diagnosis (I was working on an oncology service then, before I started as a hospice social worker) and was then caring for her in hospice at end of life. Her death was complicated, heartbreaking. It’s so hard when we, who are called to help, cannot. Thinking of you…

    1. I don’t even know how you’d process that Amy. But there is a part of me that feels when someone is terminal they should have the choice. What a confusing myriad of emotions that must have inspired. I hadn’t known you went through that. I wonder how common it is. Thank you for sharing.

  5. Wow..tough read AM but you provided him with an outlet, a conversation, a touch for his pain. We never will know or understand what brings people to make this choice but we see it time and time again in individuals who ‘appear’ happy and connected…you gave him extra days of understanding and love…

  6. It’s reassuring to know that Anne with her skills and experience in listening was able to be there for Leo. Yet for him that was not enough. It challenges our beliefs that suicide is preventable, when many of us know that’s a fallacy. As survivors with the lived experience of loss, attempts or suicidal thoughts, we never know exactly when that snap may happen. If we can at least be able to talk honestly like this, openly without tiptoeing behind language that some may find offensive, we will reduce the stigma the secrets so many of us hide behind. I’m grateful that a healthy discussion can be had without fear of judgement or criticism. Thank you for sharing Leo’s story 🙏🏼

  7. Oh Anne Moss, so hard to read that. Sad for Leo’s family and compassion for you in your connection to Leo. I hope that you have some solace knowing that he trusted you enough to share his pain.

    1. I know. No amount of success stories prepare someone for this. At any time. And I go into it knowing that and just prepared to be there and to use my skills which work most of the time. But sometimes they don’t.

  8. So sad! How terrible for Leo’s loved ones and others who cared, like you. And how doubly sad for you just after your mom’s passing. Sending a hug from NC to VA!

  9. Oh Anne, my heart hurts for you. Thank you for all you do for survivors and their families❤️ I know the toll it takes on your mind and spirit to offer so much help. I love and appreciate your blogs. Thank you.

  10. Oh Leo, my heart breaks for him and his family. And Anne, thank you for sharing this experience with us; and more so, thank you for what you do. You do the hard things with grace and strength and compassion. I learn so much from you.

  11. WOW Anne, your story of Leo is heartbreaking. You are an amazing human to do what you do.
    Happy New Year 2023
    I hope it’s a good one for you and your family

    Carol x

  12. Anne Moss, my heartfelt prayers and thoughts go out to Leo and his family, and my love and appreciation go out to you Anne Moss, for being the link to a precious soul in need and a listening ear on the other side of the world. You have provided a reality check for all to see the importance of reaching out with a message of hope while giving of yourself to a hearting and confused young man. The gift of life is to be able to give of yourself to others with no judgmental-ness, and with unconditional love and understanding. God uses each of us especially if we are willing to be his instruments.

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