A few weeks ago, I answered an auto dialer call from our school district. I was expecting news about a cancelation, but rather was delivered a very unexpected blow. I was literally brought to my knees to learn that a sixth grade student had lost their life.
Staggering. Shocking. Full of instant heavy Grief. Question. Pain. Empathy.
My oldest, a sixth grader herself, was very concerned about this devastating news. A few moments later we were able to learn who the student was that had taken her own life. More shock. Alarm. And yes, more heavy grief.
As a parent, it was so very difficult to describe my own emotions. I struggled to process. I certainly felt unprepared and inadequate to have a conversation with my 11 year old daughter. I felt as if a small part of her innocence was about to be taken, yet I knew… if I didn’t have that difficult conversation, someone else would. I had to face this.
We sat on the floor together that Wednesday evening. She and I cried. Then we sat in silence, and later we talked some more. She asked questions. She asked me hard questions that I didn’t have answers for. But I listened.
That evening, Reagan didn’t understand why I had her sleep with me. I don’t think I understood either and I certainly couldn’t comprehend why I woke up crying throughout the night.
A 12 year old’s brain is not even fully developed. Their thoughts are often emotional and irrational, fickle yet absolute…but this hurting child made such a permanent decision in a temporary moment of pain.
By the grace of God, the kids we’re out of school that following Thursday and Friday which gave parents, teachers, school administration and our community time to prepare. Our children, at the ages of 11 and 12 had to go back to school without a classmate. They experienced the loss of suicide all together too early.
It has appeared that our students are recovering from this shocking tragedy without too much difficulty. That is alarming to me as well. Are they de-sensitized already? Do they even know the depth and gravity of suicide?
I can’t account for any other students, except for the three that sit around my dinner table. The Monday evening after they went back to school, I asked them to share about their day and they all three had stories of how the kids were responding to the student’s death-even my 2nd grader was impacted.
Reagan decided she didn’t want to go to the funeral, but she did tell me, “I wasn’t mean to her, Mom. But I could have been more nice. She had friends; she didn’t need me to be another friend.” I remember telling Reagan, “Kindness is never wasted, and you will never regret being nice.” I prayed that would be a defining moment in her life, that she would see the power of kindness in a new light, and that I would raise her to be the kind of girl who was friends with everyone, whether they needed another friend or not. Good friends create such strength in our lives.
While I do not believe this tragedy was a result of bullying, I do believe this creates real opportunity for us to have forward facing conversations with our children.
I didn’t think I was ready to talk about her shaving her legs, wearing makeup or having crushes on boys. I certainly wasn’t ready to talk about suicide, sex or violence… but as a parent, if we don’t have those conversations, someone else will.
I am using my voice, my influence and my heart to share with Reagan about the difficult things in life. I don’t expect her to learn about Godly principals of forgiveness or self control from the kids on the bus, so why on earth would I leave it to them to tackle these tough issues.
Being a parent isn’t just about teaching them the good stuff, reinforcing their good behavior and affirming their self-esteem. While all those are important, I can not forgo the necessary role to talk about the hard stuff. I will address the subjects of depression, fear, loneliness, isolation, anger, and resentment.
I can’t protect them from the evil and pain in this world. I can’t isolate them from the prejudice and perversion in our culture… but I can use my voice to educate and prepare them. It’s not easy; in fact, its really uncomfortable. I am not entirely confident in how to navigate these conversations, but I must.
I will do all I can to make our home a safe refuge. I will create an open relationship for her to ask questions and unload her difficulties. But I will say the hard words like suicide, self-harm, abuse, molestation, and rape. She will not learn about it at the lunch table or behind the bleachers… she will hear it from me. She will not go into the world unarmed. I will love her tightly, but send her our equipped because I am a forward facing parent.