This is Not That Story by Jenn Merritt

Jenn Merritt

On June 4th 2017, I lost my dad. He was in and out of the hospital with numerous health problems but it was still unexpected and devasting. My dad loved music and he had introduced me to Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, one of my favorite bands. And shortly after my dad died, Tom Petty passed away. I told my friend that if I ever write a book one day the title will be The year my dad and Tom Petty died…I had no idea really what it would be about or why but I really liked that title.

On December 18, 2017, I met a friend after work to walk and get some fresh air. We had just gotten to the trail head when my son, Aidian’s school called me. The counselor told me another student had expressed concern that Aidian might be typing a suicide note…writing good bye letters.

Aidian had been in and out of therapy starting when he was 13. He suffered from depression and anxiety as well as anger management issues. But he was open about it. We talked all the time about how much he struggled with it. I knew he was hurting, I listened to his concerns, I got him the help he needed. I was supportive of him and told him we would fight this together. And we fought, literally and figuratively, for 2 years. I was aware that he was typing a journal because he had been open enough to share some of it with me. And I explained all this to the counselor when she called me that Monday. I said I knew he was struggling, I’m aware of the issues, we are getting him help. But when I hung up the phone…I knew something had changed.

I tried calling Aidian at home but there was no answer. I didn’t panic at first because he always wore a headset when he played his video games. I called my sister who lived a few miles from me and Aidian’s dad who lived right down the road. I told them both the situation and asked if they would go check on him but again, I was not too frantic at the time. I assumed he was playing his game. It was just 2 days prior to that, Aidian and I had a wonderfully, long conversation about how he wanted to get better. He told me how he was ready to really put in the work to overcoming his depression. There was no reason for me to doubt any of his words because he said them with such sincerity. I remember he looked incredibly tired but so ready to get back up, to overcome what he was battling.

I kept calling and still no answer. I can remember the stretch of road I was on when the thought popped in my head and to this day, I hate being in that location. “The year my dad and Tom Petty died.” I felt the panic…and anger…and sadness…and confusion hit me like a ton of bricks. “This is NOT that story!” But I knew…I knew in my gut…I knew the way a mother knows…I knew. I kept calling and still no answer.
On December 18, 2017 my 15-year-old son decided to end his journey here. The 2 years after his death have been a fog. The day keeps starting and ending and he still isn’t here. I function. I go to work and pay my bills. I go to the gym. I attend church. But I do all of it now with an incredible weight of grief and guilt. I do it all with an incredible weight of a love that has no where to go.

I share his story with anyone who will listen. I love to talk about Aidian. He was an incredibly smart kid. He had dreams of being a pilot. He was kind and courteous. He helped others when he could. He was a typical teenage boy who loved video games and junk food. I love telling his story because it helps me to remember him, to keep him here with me.

But I also tell his story because unfortunately there is a stigma that surrounds suicide and mental health in general. Society thinks its sign of weakness to be sad or depressed or anxious. There are so many positive quotes and affirmations floating around social media that one might think the whole world is in a state of blissful happiness so when they’re sad there must be something wrong with them. And they can’t talk about it because they don’t want to be the outcast. They don’t want to be anything less than normal. I will always tell Aidian’s story in a hope that it will make someone feel safe enough to share theirs.

If you are reading this and you are thinking of ending your life…please stay. Not to be strong, not to save your mother a broken heart, not to escape becoming a statistic…please stay because you matter. Your pain matters. Your struggle matters. Your mental health matters. Your story will make a difference to someone…please stick around to personally share it with them.

In 2018, I started a fundraiser for suicide prevention called, One More Light.  I host an adult prom at the gym I attend.  It’s a blast! It gives adults a chance to dress up and dance all for a good cause.  The first year we raised over $4,000 and last year we raised over $6,000 for suicide prevention awareness.  Hoping for a good third year this September! I never thought I would organize a fund raiser for suicide prevention and I NEVER thought my son would be the reason for it.  When I saw one of the posts about what you’re doing, I wanted to help out and share Aidian’s story to keep him alive but also because I know how difficult it can be to raise awareness for a cause that is shrouded in stigma. 

I do speak openly and publicly about Aidian’s story and my experience losing my son to suicide. I feel that if talking about this to others can save even one other person then it is worth it.

My son, Aidian, struggled with depression and anxiety.  He was in therapy for a couple years and fought a good fight but ultimately decided to end his journey here on December 18, 2017.  He was only 15 years old.  There really are no words to describe the aftermath of losing my only child.  He was incredibly bright and kind and courteous. A typical teenage boy, who loved video games and junk food. I miss him terribly.

My coping strategy have been my faith. God found me the day I lost my son and I would not be here to share Aidian’s story without Him.

Above is a photo of Aidian provided by his mother Jenn. At 15 years old Aidian ended his life by suicide.

The best help I received from friends and family was small, simple texts that said “no need to respond, just want you to know I’m thinking about you”…I loved that so much because they didn’t ask me a ton of questions I couldn’t answer or try to fill the space with small talk. They were there in a quiet and solid way. I love them all for that.

For others dealing with suicidal thoughts…please stay. Please keep fighting. Please keep communicating. Please keep sharing. It can get better. For other dealing with grief and guilt…it doesn’t get better. But please stay to share your loved ones story. Find some ray of hope, some light, on your good days to know that you did everything you could and your person made a decision…they made it. It was their’s to make. But you can use their story to make a difference and to help save someone else.

As a community, we need to start treating this like the disease that it is. If someone is battling cancer, we talk about it. We raise awareness, we host 5K and fundraisers. But mental health does not get that same treatment. There’s this idea that “you just have to get through it, get over it, try harder, keep your chin up…let me know when you aren’t such a drag to be around we’ll hang out then.”

Mental illness and suicidal thoughts are just as serious and life threatening as illnesses we can physically see. We, as a society need to put an end to the stigma surrounding it.

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