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

life and loss

Friends who were at the vigil last evening at Shipley in Bryn Mawr for Cayman Naib shared the above photo with me. I don’t know about all of you who read my blog, but I bet there are a lot of us who woke up today once again thinking about the Naib family. They have experienced an unspeakable tragedy. Just like (but for different reasons) the Hannagan family of Downingtown did on Valentine’s Day.

It is completely unfathomable to me of how anyone would feel after losing a child. I almost feel guilty for expressing condolences to these families because I don’t know them, and I didn’t know the children. But these crazy things that throw curveballs in life can happen to anyone, can’t they? Unless you were born with a heart made of stone how can you not feel empathy and sympathy for these people? How can your heart not break in some small way for them?

I remember growing up,  a student back then at Shipley, when fate took the lives of two young women I knew. They were not classmates of mine but they were schoolmates of mine, and one in particular was a fairly good friend at the time.  In the case of both of these girls from many years ago, they both died because of automobile accidents for lack of a better description – one was in an accident and one was hit by a car while running. But it left a huge hole in our school community at the time for some of us, along with what it did to their families.

As a freshman in college, one of my classmates, committed suicide the night before parents weekend was supposed to begin.  He jumped out of a window in a floor above mine in the dorm where I lived. I remember waking up to sirens and flashing emergency lights. He had been a really nice guy, and although not a close friend,  ironically  it ended up he was a cousin of some sort of a girl I knew from high school. I still to this day remember clear as a bell snippets of the memorial service held by students on campus for him. Someone played Follow You, Follow Me by Genesis on a stereo and the music wafted all around us.

There are particular parts to the lyrics that I can still hear in my head when I think of this:

I will follow you will you follow me
All the days and nights that we know will be
I will stay with you will you stay with me
Just one single tear in each passing year
With the dark,
I see so very clearly now
All my fears are drifting by me so slowly now
Fading away
I can say
The night is long but you are there
Close at hand I’m better for the smile you give
And while I live
 I will follow you will you follow me

 

I think we are all ever mindful of how fragile life is. And how like it or not everything can change in an instant.

Cayman’s death was ruled a suicide a short time ago.  Depression hits all ages .

But we can’t stop living can we? We can’t live wrapped and safe in cotton batting locked away from the world. The  thing is this however: when tragedy befalls a young person it is so much more magnified in it’s awfulness for lack of a better description. I can’t even imagine what it’s like directly for the families involved. Selfishly, I don’t want to imagine that.

When things happen to children we all can’t help but be affected, especially if we are parents in any form. Whether natural parents or stepparents or adoptive parents, it affects us. It didn’t happen to any of us, but we know but for simple twist of fate anything can happen.

But I guess the important thing is how we deal with loss. I’m not talking about those people personally grieving who are experiencing  it in the first person and have to work through it, I’m  speaking of the rest of us.

We can’t let tragedy and sadness swallow us whole, we have to pay it forward. As parents we have a very special obligation and a simple one: to love and teach our children well. We want the best for them but I think what  happened in the past few days makes us mindful once again of how we have to pay attention without smothering.

We were all kids ourselves, once, but it was a long time ago. Times have changed, life has changed the world is very different. It behooves us all to ensure that our children can talk to us no matter what.  Being an adolescent is the best of times and worst of times quite literally.

But the thing is this: with girls we often have a better idea of what is going on because they are just more verbal and more communicative. Boys for the most part, weather in whole or in part, are still waters run deep. And the reason for that I believe is because historically and societally men and boys are raised to be stoic and not show emotion and be strong. We have to let our boys know that it is not a weakness to talk to someone about what is going on or talk  if they are upset.

I have a teenage boy. Trust me, I know there are days he wishes I would just be quiet and not talk so much and not ask so many questions, just like there are days I wish I didn’t have to pry things out of him. I am working on the abbreviated version of conversations with a teen boy as in fewer sentences, but I am work in progress. But after this weekend, I am mindful of how, whether he wants it or not or might be embarrassed or not,  I need to tell him more often how much he means to me.

Love is a very powerful emotion and we do need to tell those in our world of any age how we feel about them. It sounds like a dorky Hallmark card, but life is a precious gift. We need to celebrate it and appreciate it while we have it. The importance of being together and not allowing people we care about to feel all alone, also can’t be overlooked.

Love and loss or part of the cycle of life. And both can cause enormous heart ache. But when the dust has settled , we always need to be mindful of the gifts we have. Live and be the best human beings possible is one of the best ways to celebrate any life lost for whatever reason.

Hug your kids, people. Hug your loved ones. Talk to them. Call the ones farther away to see how they are doing. Appreciate the life we have. It’s not always perfect, it’s a work in progress, but it is so much better than the alternative.

Say a prayer for young boy who was named Cayman and his family, the Hannagan family of Downingtown…and whomever else you think might need a little of what my grandmother referred to as “Irish insurance”.

Teen suicide is an ugly reality. This is a mental health issue . That is the conversation we should be having in public and taking away the stigma – as adults we should be helping kids through difficult times safely. The pressure on kids today can be enormous. Let’s not make this about finger pointing because the average person is not equipped to recognize the signs of teenage depression.  That is not a negative statement, either.

Depression manifests differently in kids versus adults and I have been told this by a friend who is a mental health social worker in another state. Teen suicide is ugly. 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.

We as human beings must advocate for taking the issues of teen depression and suicide out of the shadows and  into the light.  It is time to remove the stigma attached to depression and related mental health issues.  We’re all human beings, after all. And I think if we learned anything about what happened here to this sweet boy Cayman Naib, it is that we all have a lot to learn.

Parents  need to be  honest and admit  at times it can be a struggle when communicating with the teenagers in our homes.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.

As my friend Liza says love, only love. Without love,  life is very gray.

Thanks for putting up with my rambling stream of consciousness today and for stopping by.

Cayman 1