“Torment is how I would describe the last two years. Reece took his life on February 12, 2018. He was 17. We didn’t see it coming. Reece was popular and smart. He was in the IB program at Fairhope High School, but he didn’t do something correctly and couldn’t return to the program his senior year. We started noticing changes in him. He was athletic and ran for hours, but dropped out of cross country. After he quit running, we discovered how much the exercise helped keep his anxiety at bay. One night at dinner he was so anxious his hands shook. We got him into counseling and he was seeing a therapist at the time of his death. He tried a couple of medications, but stopped them because of the way they made him feel. He kept taking the Trazadone to help him sleep.
A friend spent the night around Christmas in 2017. The next morning, I picked up the blanket where he was sleeping and found a vape pen. I gave it to Reece to return to his friend and to tell him never to bring it to our house again. Reece tossed it into his backpack. Two months later, Reece was called into the principal’s office because a teacher said she smelled marijuana. They searched his bag and found the vape pen. That talk with the principal was the first time Reece said he was going to kill himself. My husband signed a paper acknowledging Reece talked of suicide and took him for a drug test. He tested negative. The school suspended him for three days for the vape pen. That was the week before he died.
I apologized to Reece for not throwing away the pen and for getting him into this mess. He said it was good timing because he needed a break. We told him he couldn’t say he was going to commit suicide. He had everything going for him, why would he even talk of taking his own life?
After his suspension ended, we let Reece spend the day with his friends on a school holiday for Mardi Gras. He checked in with us a couple of times during the day, got his haircut, and ran an errand for us. He also went to a party and was drinking all day. He had a friend drive him home. As he was loudly getting food in the kitchen for them, we asked if he had been drinking. He melted down with anger, tears and bizarre behavior. My husband ran his friend home and I went into the kitchen. Reece was writing on a piece of paper, ‘I know it is selfish. Don’t plan a funeral.’ I asked, ‘You aren’t going to do something stupid?’ He said, ‘Something stupid, huh?’ He grabbed a chair from the dining room and drug it into his room. I followed him, but it gets blurry from there. He pushed me out of his room and locked me out. That was the one time I couldn’t pick the lock and open the door. My mind was thinking this isn’t happening and I called 911. I went around the house and looked in his window. I saw his feet. He had hung himself. I finally got into his room and tried to save him, but I heard his heartbeat for the last time. The paramedics tried to revive him. They took him to the ER at Thomas Hospital in Fairhope and then to Women’s and Children’s Hospital in Mobile. He was on life support for three days, long enough for everyone to say goodbye. His room was filled with teenagers and the doctors and nurses took care of all of us.
After Reese died, I went numb and everything was a fog. We went to a family counselor who helped us deal with traumatic loss and hold our marriage together. We were also connected with SOS, Survivors of Suicide, a support group in Fairhope who have helped us through this. I was surprised by how many people were there and that number is growing during the Coronavirus. I learned to think differently and to let go of the thought that I couldn’t protect my son and I let him die. I reprogrammed to tell myself I did the best I could do.
Recce knew two other teenagers at school who took their own lives, but I never dreamed it would happen to him. Anxiety and mental illness have a role. They say if you know someone who died from suicide before, that makes it an option.
I would have done a few things differently. I would have researched Trazodone more because it has a black box warning that taking the drug could increase the chance of becoming suicidal and the suicide risk may be higher for people youger than 24. I would have taken the threat of suicide more seriously. Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. That is a logical statement, but you have to think of the emotional state the person is in. It is a permanent solution to a permanent problem. We should have thought more emotionally. Talk with kids about emotional well being and the dangers of suicide. There is also a ripple effect of suicide that touches friends, family, teachers, first responders, and emergency room workers.
We are an average middle-class family that goes to church and cares for our kids. I think it frightens some people that if it can happen to our family, it can happen to them. People don’t know what to say to us, but it is good to hear people say his name and share memories. I avoid social media because it is hard to see pictures of happy lives and his friends going off to college or getting married. Those are pictures Reece will never have and I feel sorry for myself. In therapy I wrote him a letter. It started with an apology, what I am proud of about him, and saying goodbye. Little things like that help.
When you lose someone to suicide, it is a difficult recovery. I am trying to figure out what to do with my life. We got involved with The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. In the first year, we did an Out of the Darkness walk with overwhelming support from the community. Because of COVID-19, this year the walk has to be online. I got scared of asking for money and decided to earn it. I have a sewing machine because I wanted to make teddy bears out of Reece’s clothes for his friends. COVID 19 hit and I started making masks and selling them for Out of the Darkness. They have sold well and I am now making fall masks. I am so grateful for opportunities to raise money to help stop another family from going through this. It is helpful and healing.
So many people have come to our rescue. They fixed the busted door and broken window in Reece’s room. Our church family took care of the memorial service and provided us with a place to live while we had a new home built. They even moved us. The mask idea took off because friends and coworkers bought them and people have even donated the fabric and materials. The love of others helped our family survive.
Reece was a giver. He made people around him feel important and special. He was generous and friends with everyone, without prejudice. He made sure everyone was included. One of his friends said, ‘There is no way to summarize him without leaving something out. He was just so much person. He’s being remembered as the biggest, brightest personality anyone had ever met’.
It still breaks my heart knowing Reece is not coming back.”
Here is the link to donate to Out Of the Darkness in memory of Reece: https://afsp.donordrive.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=donorDrive.participant&participantID=2291389&fbclid=IwAR3BgQCHv2wDW9-wkx0rDns5y08V8tx7-UGvzK-Mv9qtFupqP8g9G44_Doo