gone too soon. be at peace, austin wylie

Austin

I received word a little while ago through my Shipley network.  Young Austin Wylie is gone. Reports indicate suicide.  This teenager is a perfect stranger to me, my only sense of connection is my alma mater Shipley, and I have to tell you I find the news devastating.  I am having such a hard time wrapping my head around the photographs of a seemingly happy and well-adjusted teenager, and this news.

We have a teen close enough in age to this boy, so it hits home on that level too. My better half’s mother was  on the Board of Trustees like Austin’s mom when we were in high school . (My sweet man’s mother is one of the reasons boys were allowed to go to Shipley all those years ago, truthfully.) We  were speaking about this today, I called him at his office to tell him the news from Shipley wasn’t good.

missing 3One of the things we spoke of is how I don’t remember kids being under pressure like this when we were at Shipley. And that at the Shipley of today this was the second teenage boy from there in a little over a year to chose to end his life. I am referring to Cayman Naib.

Before all you haters pop up and criticize me for thinking about this, be honest, am I the only one? This is not a dig at my alma mater Shipley at all, they are just as devastated and this came way the hell out of left field at school officials as well. I am speaking of the pressure teenagers, and seemingly boys in particular are under to succeed.

This was not a boy anyone would have pegged for this action. But Austin Wylie as per Shipley, his family, and the authorities ended his life by jumping off the Ben Franklin Bridge. He left a note on his phone apparently, and was feeling overwhelmed by something at that time. I don’t understand how no one saw him climbing up on the bridge, but that is one of the things about cities and life: we are all so busy going about our days we often do not notice what happens around us.

Here is the letter from Shipley:

explain 1

explain 2

explain 3

explain 4

This is a very nice letter.  I am sharing in my own post because I am a little offended by the Patch and their zeal to spread devastating news like spam. They hit a power share button and just blasted the news across their sites in my opinion. Maybe if they did actual reporting they might have content for all their hyper local sites. But I digress.

Yesterday Shipley had put the following out:

shipley yesterday

 

missing 2I have to be honest as the hours dragged on yesterday and people in the media I knew kept commenting how they were being shuttled back and forth between the police departments involved trying to figure out what was going on that the news was NOT going to be good.  It was just a feeling, and now as I write this post I wish the outcome had been different.

What happened to Austin that made him drop everything else he was doing and go do this in the middle of the day like this?

A friend of mine just made the following comment:

Another suicide. Another young person with their whole life ahead of them. I can’t think about it without crying. But what can we do…to lessen the pressure our children feel – whatever happened to the carefree days of high school? – and what can we do to recognize and support those in need of mental health support. I can’t help but feel like we are failing today’s children.

 

Another friend then said:

This is horrible. We all need to stop the high expectations, pressure cooker, mentality at school and home. Isn’t great teaching and great learning enough? Manage the expectations and egos.

 

I agree.  And I think this goes especially for boys.  Boys internalize so much.  We don’t even realize it.  Girls seem to let emotions out more.  And they will talk about stuff more.  When you ask a teenage boy how their day was, the response is monosyllabic. I know first hand and it drives me crazy.  Ask girls the same question and you will not only get more of a response, you will get the added color of who annoyed them at lunch or what someone was wearing.

missingHowever, male or female, we do need to regulate the pressure cooker called life.  As kids climb the grades in high school the expectations grow. The expectations grow from their schools, from us as parents, and the pressure these kids put on themselves so they don’t disappoint anyone.

Another friend of mine said :

It‘s not just Shipley though. It’s an epidemic. The pressure and expectations how early it starts is terrible. And the way today’s teenagers believe their lifetime happiness and success are somehow related to test scores or number of AP classes or grades is heart breaking. In addition we need them, everyone, to be unafraid to ask for help and to not be embarrassed to address and acknowledge their struggles.

It’s a topic that is hard to discuss. It’s not something that teens or adults want to think about.  It’s unpleasant and difficult. But it does happen. Teen suicide is very real, and is preventable.

Good mental health is fundamental to the health and well-being of every person and of the nation as a whole. Our children are our future, so we need to help them know they are not alone and there are resources at their and their parents disposal.

Being a teenager is not easy. It is quite literally the best of times and the worst of times. As adults, we need to think back into the deep, dark recesses of our minds and remember what it was like to be a teenager. The hormones, confusing and often conflicting (let alone ever-changing) emotions, peer and parental pressure.  Add to that today the issues of multi-platform bullying and social media overload.

Teen suicide is part of a larger public health issue. Coverage of this topic and discussion needs to encourage help-seeking.   And we all have to remember suicide is a very complex issue. It can’t be pigeon holed into a little box and that’s it.   There are multiple causes. And the signs of suicide vary.

 

According to the website Reporting On Suicide, the signs can include (but not all individuals display signs):

  • talking about wanting to die
  • looking for a way to kill oneself
  • talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose
  • talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
  • talking about being a burden to others
  • Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
  • acting anxious, agitated or recklessly
  • sleeping too little or too much
  • withdrawing or feeling isolated
  • showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
  • displaying extreme mood swings

 

Parents  need to be  honest and admit  at times it can be a struggle when communicating with the teenagers in our homes.  And according to a study produced during the Clinton White House Years , teenagers aged 15-16 who do not feel close to their parents are about three times as likely to think about suicide as teens who are close to their parents, and teens aged 15-16 who don’t eat dinner with their parents regularly are twice as likely to have attempted suicide. This talking point about dining as a family is also just good common sense.

Togetherness as a family that is positive opens many doors, and face it, what is one of the hardest parts of raising teenagers? Communication. And communication isn’t social media like Facebook and Twitter, e-mails, chat programs, it’s a real conversation. Sitting down and talking even if it is light dinner conversation. Real and tangible contact and human interaction is so important with regard to interpersonal relationships at any age.

Teen suicide is very preventable, but as a society we have to open the doors to productive conversations and communication.  Proper education on the topic is one of the keys to prevention. This needs to be discussed in the schools, the community at large, and the home.

Again, communication is key.  When life gets bumpy or stressful it is helpful to know there are resources and people to talk to. Some teens in crisis will not display any telltale signs of issues, so it is really important to be able to talk with your children and they with you. And it is important for them to know from us that we do not need them to be perfect, and for some parents, especially if they are personally ambitious that is often hard to convey.

I am not laying blame here, I am devastated for the Wylie family.  I look at photos of a boy that will be forever frozen in time, never aging.  That makes tears run down my face. I also hope parents who were friends with, neighbors of, and went to school with Austin hit the pause button and help their children grieve and work through this.  We can’t pretend these things aren’t happening, they are happening right in our own communities and across the country.

Updated: JULY 15, 2016 — 3:21 PM EDT

Please talk with your kids about teen suicide. We need to take the top of the pressure cooker.

Austin Wylie, I never knew you, but I won’t soon forget you.  I hope you are at peace, and I pray for his family and friends to find peace at this most difficult time.  Remember the good times you had with this by all accounts remarkable young man.  Hold him in your hearts with love.

Here are some resources Shipley recommended:

Grief Counseling Referral List 2016[1]

After a Suicide- Student Questions

Parent Handout – Suicide Loss

My deepest condolences to Brooksley and Jim Wylie and Austin’s brother Cameron.

I close with one of my favorite Robert Frost poem I shared a year ago:

Reluctance

Out through the fields and the woods
And over the walls I have wended;
I have climbed the hills of view
And looked at the world and descended;
I have come by the highway home,
And lo, it is ended.

The leaves are all dead on the ground,
Save those that the oak is keeping
To ravel them one by one
And let them go scraping and creeping
Out over the crusted snow,
When others are sleeping.

And the dead leaves lie huddled and still,
No longer blown hither and thither;
The last lone aster is gone;
The flowers of the witch-hazel wither;
The heart is still aching to seek,
But the feet question ‘Whither?’

Ah, when to the heart of man
Was it ever less than a treason
To go with the drift of things,
To yield with a grace to reason,
And bow and accept the end
Of a love or a season?

Robert Frost

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14 thoughts on “gone too soon. be at peace, austin wylie

  1. Heartbreaking. As a mom and aunt of two bright, loving, beautiful, funny girls who are Suicide attempt survivors, I and my family have been very open and outspoken about our experiences in hopes of shattering the stigma associated with mental illness. If a person had diabetes, heart disease or cancer treatment would be encouraged and sought. There would be no shame and there would be support. The mental health system and options about mental illness in this country are broken and need to change. Progress is being made but we have far to go. Minding Your Mind Foundation is an incredible local resource : http://mindingyourmind.org
    AFSP.org is a great national one as well.
    If you or someone you know is struggling, the national Suicide prevention lifeline is 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
    Praying for Austin’s family, and friends.

  2. I am so thankful for the honesty expressed here. I am the parent of a male Shipley alum. I like many other parents and others prayed for the safe return of Austin keeping at the back of my mind Cayman. I was particularly moved by this situation because after Cayman’s passing I was discussing his death with some 9th grade Philadelphia students during a civics class and their response hit home – our children are overwhelmed ( I was an attorney at the time who volunteered with a program that taught civics to children in the school district of Philadelphia). These students were so open and honest and some of them were actually so distressed that I asked for the principal to join our discussion. These teenagers in a college preparatory school felt that with the pressures of achieving high honors, participating in extracurricular activities and other activities to build a resume for admission to the perfect college, did not allow them time to just be a kid. This discussion was over a year ago but on Thursday night and early Friday morning in was so fresh in my mind that I was unable to sleep and I felt led to write an open letter to our young people. What they do does not define who they are, and they must be taught that and believe it. My message to them is below.

    A MESSAGE TO OUR YOUNG PEOPLE:
    What you do does not define who you are. Whether you are an athlete, an artist, or an A-B student or a C-D student: WHAT YOU DO DOES NOT DEFINE WHO YOU ARE! Please hear me. First and foremost you are a child of the most high God, who created you in His image and likeness. Whatever skills or gifts you possess and we all have a skill or a gift, it comes from God. Its purpose is to be used to glorify God and to bring hope through you to mankind. Your gift is never designed to cause you stress or strife. What does this mean for you in plain English? It means that your gift (your innate ability to throw a touchdown, hit a ball out of the ball park, knock a hockey puck through the goal, paint a masterpiece, receive First Honors without even studying, sing like an angel or make people laugh effortlessly) these abilities that help you make friends, win scholarships, get invited to honor societies and otherwise open doors for you – also do not mean that you as a person are a failure when a door may close in your life. A bad grade does not make you a bad person. A letter saying that you are not admitted to a certain college or program does not mean that you are not still talented, gifted or VALUABLE!

    And most importantly, please know that we, your parents love you. Rejection by any person or medium does not mean that your parents’ love for you is any different. I know that sometimes we (parents) put pressure on you to study and to practice more and at times as parents we need to check ourselves and make sure that we are not overdoing it. As parents we need to make sure that we separate in our minds and in our relating to you, the difference between what you do and who you are. Please know that more than anything that we love you and only want you to be better than we were or we are. We may not always get it right in how we express that desire to you but know that at the base of every long hour we work, every penny we invest in your education, every word we chant at your game, every meeting we have at your school, every conversation that we have with you, every prayer that we pray on your behalf – everything we do is because we want the best for you. No matter how successful you think we are as surgeons, teachers, preachers, engineers, lawyers, stay at home moms, janitors, sanitation workers, police officers or housekeepers – we always want better for you than we have. But more than anything we want you to know that we value you, we respect you, we cherish you and WE LOVE YOU. We should never equate your performance with your purpose. If you fall short, we still love you. If you forget some assignments, we still love you. If you get a rejection letter from your number one school, we still love you. If you have a bad game, bad day, get a bad grade, we still love you. If you have a run in with someone in authority – we will correct you, but we still love you. We love you because as your parents this is God’s charge to us to do.

    So my plea for you today is please separate in your own mind the difference between who you are and what you do. You are the apple of God’s eye, you are beautiful, you are fearfully and wonderfully made, you are the head and not the tail, you are above and not beneath, you are more than a conqueror through God who loves you, you are better than sliced bread and a bag of chips, you are your parents heart. You are the bomb baby and don’t you ever doubt it. Fight past your fears and insecurities. Do not ever let someone else’s opinion of you penetrate the knowledge of who you are. People, including parents have their own issues. That is okay. Just don’t let their issues define who you are. Know who you are and if you do not know who you are; take this time to get to know yourself. Look inside yourself and begin to define yourself as God has defined you. I will say again that we, your parents love you. Trust me that our fear of losing you is greater than any fear we have of you failing. If you fail, you can start again. If you fall we can help you get back up, but young people if we lose you to these streets, suicide or some phantom illness – we have lost YOU and that would be and is too much for our hearts to bear.

    So, I leave you with this reminder: God began a good work in you on the day you were created, He is faithful to complete it. Where you are is not where you are going. As long as you have breath in your lungs things can change for you, and they will. If things are good they will continue to get better. If things are bad they will get better. As long as you keep living, things can and do get better. You will not always be a child so if your home situation is less than ideal, it too must change with the passage of time. Give yourself time. Give yourself room for error. None of us are perfect and that includes you. Give yourself a break because you will need it. Learn to laugh at yourself but most importantly, learn to love yourself. No matter what happens that is outside of your control know inside that you are valuable and precious to God, your parents and to this world. Never give up! Never! We love you and we need you!!

    Nycole Watson

      • Carla, thank you for taking the time to read my note. Please feel free to share with the children in your life who need this reminder that we love and need them.

    • Your words summed up all I have felt in the past few day. I don’t know Austin- I live in Alabama! I have grandkids that I love and encourage and I want them to know what you said! When I am excited for them I am excited that they are excited – not because of what they have done. I want them to know they were created for a purpose by our most high God and it is to live for Him! Praying for kids and parents everywhere. It is not a job for the faint of heart.

      • Thank you. There is always one person who will take something and try to make it ugly. Such is the case about my post .

        This woman is doing things like threatening me to take it down his mother is a lawyer.

        I posted about NOTHING that wasn’t already out in the public view, including an article in the Inquirer, all over Patch, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook.

        I posted in part because a lot of us have kids the same age. I did not post an ugly, angry, or disrespectful piece.
        And what this woman doesn’t get is once, once I was the teenager who lost a classmate to suicide.

        Friends will remember it too – it happened the spring of Freshman year. He was among the first kids I met when I first got there. And he was just a nice guy.

        NO one really talked to us about it that I remember. Ever. Except my mother briefly who saved the letter I wrote to her about how I was feeling after he died.

        We had a student led memorial service. I can still tell you where I was standing in the quad like area where the student memorial was held and that they were playing Genesis “follow you, follow me” on a stereo. I STILL think of the student led memorial service every darn time I hear that song.

        I can tell you exactly the view when the sirens woke me up and I looked outside my first floor window. I had quite the view. I was on the first floor of the dorm.

        I was 18 years old.

        I did not think what I wrote was so awful. I do not get the inner vitriol in people that bubbles up when they decide to literally attack someone they do not know online. If I had written this for a newspaper they would not have said a word.

        Makes me sad.

  3. your tribute to austin
    is absolutely beautiful, and the frost poem is so fitting. i’m a shipley mom – you hit on so many true points. i’m beyond devastated for this family.

    • Dear Jill,
      Thank you. I am a Shipley alum who many years after high school fell in love with a Shipley boy…a boy I had been friends with in high school. My Shipley boys from my day are still some of my closest friends. And many of our friends have had or currently have their children at Shipley. But kids today seem to have even MORE pressures than we did. My heart breaks for Austin’s family.

  4. I graduated from Shipley in ’06 and I think you hit the nail on the head. I wrote an email to my dad when this news came out last week in which I mentioned that I hoped Shipley was looking at what it can do to help promote mental and emotional balance, the pursuit of excellence in happiness as well as in academia. I think the college admissions process has gotten even worse and more cut-throat in the last 10 years than when I was a student, and the whole culture around that isn’t healthy for anyone, but most importantly not for teenagers who have a very limited perspective. I hope Shipley can help the student body heal. I hope they can teach each student that he or she is excellent, is enough, is important just be being who they are, and not judge themselves or each other by the outlandish standards that we as a culture have seemingly normalize. Thank you for writing this piece.

    Ali Stahlwood – Shipley class of 2006

  5. Devastating.
    The need to take the pressure off is so true! To stop the guilt train running over our kids with obsessive social justice topics in every class, giving back, white privlidge, bullying, rape culture, it in itself is madness!
    Young adult books are obsessed with suicide. Porn, self abuse, dangerous sex, hopelessness and hate, and are assigned in every school. Read them. Suicide has been sold as a valid choice rather than a cowards way out or a sin. It is sold as fashionable in pop culture, google tumblr suicide. Pro suicide sites are endless. And your kids have 24/7 access on their phones and distorted social media.
    The idea that mental illness is the problem disregards the REASONS for unhappiness, despondency, depression which are surmountable, and if the suicide meme was not fascilitated by the schools, books, media, and entertainment, tv, and internet, kids would not consider it as a solution in the heat of emotion. Parents need to wake up.

  6. Agree with Quinn. This kind of horrible and heartbreaking tragedy is going to be on the increase if parents don’t wise up . Parents Pay Attention to all the emotional dreck stirring that is happening in our kids classrooms and the mandatory volunteerism for ” The Common Good”. Kids are made to emote and confess their feelings constantly. They read depressing books about rape and death and are made to constantly focus on the darkness in humanity. Who really thinks this makes a child must less an adult happier and healthier?

    Parents think in independent schools their kids are protected. HA! Especially in independent schools they are made to feel guilty for being there. For their ” privilege” . The emphasis is constantly on FEELINGS and CRITICISM and NOT FACTS. They are made to feel badly for everyone in the world all while they are simply trying to grow up, make good grades and figure out who they are.

    Kids everywhere are extremely vulnerable because they have not yet formed a strong personal ethos. They are being manipulated and maneuvered by the social justice crowd and parents just think they are learning algebra. The mental illness is being fomented. Sad kids, confused kids are so much easier to manipulate and steer .

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