In January of 2008, I was forever changed when my dear friend Jack Pennington took his own life. Jack and I were camp counselors together, and had spend many nights gazing at the stars and talking about poetry, thinking we were wise beyond ours years. He was a freshman at the University of Oregon, an amazing writer, and a kind and loving person. The day before Jack died, I was just returning back to school after winter break, and after a day of traveling I got an instant message from Jack, but I signed off early and went to bed. There was nothing that could have prepared me for that phone call, and the guilt that followed. Jack was 18 years old.
The importance of teen suicide prevention is first and foremost about protecting the lives of young people, that there are resources out there to help them when they are struggling. However, teen suicide prevention is also important because youth suicide is a travesty that rips apart communities and fundamentally alters the lives of all those involved. The surviving families and friends are left wondering why, and how, and what could have been done to prevent what had happened
In my life, Jack’s death has drifted in and out of my thoughts unexpectedly. His facebook page, now a memorial to the lives he touched, friends still commenting almost weekly with sentiments of “wish you were here.” A swallow tattoo on my left shoulder serves as a memorial to my summers with “Captain Jack.” 6 years later, and I still have moments where I wonder if there was anything I could have said, could have done, to change his mind.
The national conversation on youth suicide has grown tremendously since 2008, with efforts such as Dan Savage & Terry Miller’s “It Gets Better” Project, the Trevor Project, and legislation such as the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act coming into play. However, with the teen suicide rate increasing, there is more work to be done, and we can never do too much on this issue.
If you are struggling with suicide bereavement in Corvallis, “Support After Suicide” hosts a free support group at LBCC at 4pm on the First Thursday of the Month. 757 NW Polk Ave, Corvallis