We were barely in our car after school when my son practically blurts out “Sara* told Bob* and me that she was going to go home and kill herself – you’re a social helper – you have to help her!”
I looked back at my ten-year-old son and more than likely started with “wait – what?!” Together, we then go over the exact conversation a few times. In math my son, Sara and Bob were talking about what they would do if they were school class president. Age appropriate ideas flew around of days off, half-day-long recess and free ice cream for all. When it was Sara’s time to share her ideas she told the boys that she wouldn’t be here to experience all of that because she was going to go home and kill herself. Sara then told a tragic story. A tragedy that I ignorantly thought our teeny tiny middle class town was protected from. In a breakout math partner group, Sara shared with the two other ten-year-olds that her mom had died of drugs and her grandmother was raising her. Before school that morning her grandmother told the kids that child protective services would be taking them away that day after school.
Sara would rather die then move somewhere else.
My heart shattered. I was heartbroken for Sara. What pain, sadness and pure loss at such a young age. What chaos her life to this point must have been. I felt for Sara’s grandmother. While I do not personally know the family I can’t image losing your daughter and inheriting her children. Then to lose the children. And, for my son. To become the keeper of such information so young.
Kids do go home from school and kill themselves.
The stories are all over the internet and news. I don’t think I knew suicide was a thing at ten. These ten-years-olds today actually commit suicide. I couldn’t stop thinking what if Sara killed herself before help could arrive. My son would forever be changed. I know this for a fact. My son told me what he deemed a secret because he wanted me to help Sara. At ten he literally wanted me as a “social helper” to go and get Sara and talk to her and tell everything would be okay.
I immediately grabbed my phone and emailed a teacher and the principal – I knew they both would read the email ASAP and respond. There was a response within minutes that the message was received. Sara and her three siblings were removed from the grandmother’s care that cold and rainy night. My son and I went over several times that he did the right thing and that Sara would be safe because of him. I went to bed afraid that Sara was going to be angry with him at school the next morning – that she would blame him for telling what she said and that he would then be angry with himself and start to block out his instincts.
Even though he doesn’t know it – my son knew more at ten than I knew at 17.
I was at my dad’s house to pick up his credit card for clothes for my senior class trip. My half-sister was temporarily staying there. She was about ten years older and heavily involved in drugs for most of my life. I may have seen her half a dozen times prior to this day.
I invited her to come to the mall with me. We were making small talk – the best that two practical strangers could hope for. I don’t remember the conversation before or after this but I will never forget her saying something along the lines of “Don’t use drugs – I am in so much pain I would rather be dead.” My mom did a tremendous job of keeping me as sheltered as possible. As a geeky 17-year-old I had no idea about heroine or the physical and mental pain of opiate withdraw – the pain that she briefly referenced. People say they would rather be dead as a figure of speech all the time. As we were checking out – I used my dad’s credit card to buy her a skirt and I didn’t think too much of it. It wasn’t too long after this conversation that my sister killed herself.
In the nuclear fallout of the situation I can’t tell you how many times the shopping trip in the mall replayed in my mind. As an adult who has processed and accepted the situation I can say without a doubt that having the skills or insight at 17 to recognize that my sister was making a suicidial threat and having told someone would not have changed the way this situation played out. However, also as an adult, I now know that suicidial threats are very very real. According to Crisis Centre, “Research indicates that up to 80% of suicidal people signal their intentions to others, in the hope that the signal will be recognized as a cry for help. These signals often include making a joke or threat about suicide, or making a reference to being dead.”
I cannot put into words the gratitude I feel that Sara’s cry for help was heard. We live in an unsettled world full of turmoil and sadness. All that we can do is try to raise our kids the best that we know how. I am glad that my son values listening to other’s stories (he also really values talking!). And, I am glad that he feels he can talk to me and trust me to help with his problems. I don’t always have the answer but I hope I will always be able to find someone who can help.
If you or someone you know is suffering from suicidal thoughts or ideology please call the suicide helpline at 1-800-273-8255.
*Names changed to protect the children in the story