Dedicated to the memories of
Forrest Werner IV (June 1992 – March 2015)
Hayden Werner (May 1996 – May 2016)
Suicide, the single word which most people hurry to brush underneath the carpet. People shy away from the uncomfortable issue surrounding a life lost at one’s own hands. People generalize about the loved one’s left behind, or the selfishness of the victim. Unfortunately, people forget that a life is always a life, a loved one is always loved, and sometimes unexplainable tragedies occur for which no answers can be found.
My first experience with suicide happened in 1985. A family friend, and employee of my father’s, decided his life no longer held the same value as it once had. He ventured off to a nearby mountain cabin, loaded his rifle, and pulled the trigger. His unsuspecting family filed a missing person report and within days received word. Our neighborhood was close, and his family was a part of all of our social functions. It rocked our community to its core. The worst part about the entire situation is nobody knew this man was in a free fall. Nobody knew he held inside so many dark demons. Nobody knew he intended to take his own life. He never let a soul know he needed help. His family in turn spent a few years picking themselves up and trying to move forward without the husband, father, or friend who ended everything without a sign.
Nine years ago my eldest boy entered the intermediate school arena. I was the ever volunteering parent. I quickly was thrown into the role of PTO President, because let’s face it, who really wants the job? However, it was one of the best decisions I made. It brought about friendships with the staff, and allowed me to spread my wings back into teaching. On this staff were a pair of brothers with a dry sense humor, and a deep commitment to student achievement. My children were fortunate enough to fly under their wings and understand that academics and real life were all a part of their education. Each of these men was not only kind enough to forge relationships with my children but helped me dip my feet back into the teaching arena. They too had worked private sector before becoming teachers and truly embraced many of the same philosophical views of engaging young minds as I believed. Working side by side with these men continues to be a pleasure, and the friendship we forged could not be any stronger. I side track a bit, in order to better provide a context to the impact of two particular life changing situations, which have opened up a cavernous hole and broken our hearts.
March 10, 2015 began like any other school day. Arriving and setting up my room, making the rounds to visit with my fellow brotherly duo, and continuing on ready for whatever the day might bring. Several periods down and an SOS message came to my texts from a fellow colleague who also plays in the shenanigans game the brothers’ and I engage in. Her words still chill me to the core.
SOS – Fo had to leave, home emergency. Fr on his tail. We need to cover classes but something is very wrong
Without any further information we began the take over their students. Every member of our staff covered their classes. Before long an answer arrived. A very grave and unraveling answer. Our matriarch of the staff sent a few of us close to the situation the grim and saddening news:
Pray – Fo needs us, little Forrest found at home in the garage. Fo needs us to be strong. I’ll keep you all posted.
Before the day ended our fearless leader, also a close friend to the situation, lead us into a staff meeting, with the chilling news, one of ours had fallen. We all sat stunned, the surreal minutes passing by, the still in the room leaving us all stiff and immobile. As a staff we shed tears, and found a strength in our matriarch, who became the voice between us and our brotherly duo as we awaited instructions on what the family needed.
Obviously, the moment a crisis hits, everyone is around to help. But in the weeks and months to follow often people fall to the way side and those still hurting are left alone. Fo is the father of four beautiful children who grew up in a home filled with love and care. His children are his world. But his oldest son’s demons were a force he could not help his son overcome. Fo provided the loving, nurturing home, provided the psychological help for his son, provided everything he could, and still young Forrest, unable to shake the darkness which loomed over him made a decision which forever changed his path.
As the Werner family mourned and gathered themselves from the unexplainable sadness of the loss, they rallied together, and three remaining siblings made a pact to keep up constant communication with one another. They never wanted another heart wrenching tragedy to strike them. Fo and I spoke often as the months passed by and the difficulties and pain of birthday’s and holidays were another constant reminder that his family was down a man. Our little shenanigans group was only one of multiple outlets Fo had to help him manage the difficulties and pain of losing one’s child.
In September the brothers lost their father who had been in failing health and at 86 had lived a blessed life. For many reasons they waited until May to accompany his ashes back to Indiana for a celebration of life. The boys made plans to travel the mid-west and enjoy a few extra days with some friends. Of course they were kind enough to send funny pictures and little tales of their trip to our shenanigans group, now dubbed “Politically Incorrect Group” or PIGs for our own humor! I knew they were due back in a few days and had sent off my last vulgar message of the night while they were visiting Tennessee. Somewhere around 5am my phone buzzed on my side table. Figuring it was my eldest boy at college needing a paper read before class I picked up the phone ready to lam-blast him about his college planning skills and my work life. The message I received still sends shivers down my spine.
Fr: Fo and I on the ground in LA. Headed to Santa Barb Hospital, Hayden attempted to take his life. In ICU. Keep you posted.
Poking the Mr. with tears in my eyes, hands shaking, and voice nonexistent, we sat clearly shaken for what our friend was about to encounter. Over the course of several days’ test were run, and prayers rolled in, but unfortunately the toll on Hayden’s brain was too much and decisions were made to remove life support. Once again my dear friend and his family were braced to say good-bye and plan another service for a young life gone too soon.
Fo and his family had no warning that Hayden was falling into his own dark place. His cousin had received a voice message a week or so before Hayden headed off to join his brother. The message was upbeat. He discussed the really good things going on his life, and ended the call with, “I’m just living it! Call me.” There were no signs he was struggling. There were no signs he was unhappy. There were no signs the young college sophomore was battling the deepest of inner demons.
Two boys, fourteen months apart, and a family left behind. Fo is a strong man, but this has rocked his world to the core. His family dynamics have changed dramatically over the course of three years. He and his wife grew apart before either boy made their decisions, and he is coping with a set of losses no parent should experience. Our little group keeps in touch daily and we are all in it together. We are open and honest which is a beautiful relationship but the struggle is real and the devastation still present.
Suicide is growing in epic proportions within our modern-day society. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, suicide wears many faces, but there are some chilling statistics:
- Suicide is a major public health issue, taking life without regard to age, income, education, social standing, race, or gender.
- Overall, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death for all Americans, the 2nd leading cause of death for adults ages 25-34, and the 3rd leading cause of death for youth ages 15-24.
- The legacy of suicide continues long after the death, impacting bereaved loved ones and communities.
September is National Suicide Prevention month and awareness is the key to prevention. Fo and I discussed writing this piece and it has been really difficult. Fo was not a tattoo bearing man before eighteen months ago. He now wears the legacy of his family on his chest and openly discusses the need for more research and services dedicated to helping prevent such unexplainable tragedies. Donations to the national suicide networks are always appreciated and well received. Donations in the name of young Forrest and Hayden Werner have been set up through a local chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Orange County. The family also set up donations in Hayden’s name with the With Hope Foundation.
As good friends, our PIG group continues providing fun and off-color humor for both brothers. Additionally, Fo and I have begun a little reading therapy. I’ve helped set up his iPad with the Kindle app, and he has read my blog and reviews, selecting pieces which interest him. The smiles on his face as he came to discuss Sloane Howell’s The Matriarch were a welcome surprise. Discussions about the twisted society in Celia Aaron’s Acquisition Series, and he is now enthralled with Leigh Shen’s Blood to Dust. I can’t wait to see what he chooses after this! We are truly enjoying this new outlet for his mind, and he is “Living it” as advised by the last words spoken in a voicemail by his youngest son.
Suicide is a serious matter and it can strike without warning anywhere, anytime, and anyone.