“My son Allen was 19 years old and two months into his sophomore year at Montevallo when he took his own life. On a Wednesday morning, I was prepping for Friday’s PTA Halloween dance at WJ Carroll Intermediate School. My dog started barking, and I looked out and saw two men walking up my driveway. My first thought was to hide, which is what I usually do when someone comes to the door. One was a policeman, the other was a well-known retired preacher. My life changed when I opened the door and they told me what happened to my son. I fell to the floor and chaos began. About two seconds later, I got a call from a friend at the high school asking if it was true. People had already heard about it. I did everything in my power to keep my husband and two younger sons from hearing about this before I could tell them.
I was in a fog for weeks, but that kept me sane. We did things I never thought we, as parents, would have to do. The first two years were hell. A few weeks after his death, I went back to subbing at school to find normalcy. Everyone was so kind, but it was also difficult. All three of my boys went to that school and I saw memories of Allen everywhere.
Ten days after we lost Allen, we received his permanent driver’s license in the mail. There was his beautiful face and we were just so confused and shocked. That’s when we learned more details of that day. Allen tried to buy a gun, but his driver’s license was expired. He renewed it and returned to the store with the temporary paper license. He was able to buy a shotgun in a few minutes. He bought it on Tuesday afternoon, and took his life nine hours later.
Five months later, I renewed my driver’s licence and received the temporary one. I stopped at Target on the way home and grabbed a bottle of wine. The cashier asked to see my license and said she couldn’t sell alcohol to me with the paper license. I dropped everything and ran to my car. I wasn’t able to buy a $3.99 bottle of wine with my temporary license, but my 19 year-old son easily bought a $280 shot gun with his. I am not anti-gun, but let’s please make it harder to buy a gun than a bottle of wine.
Our community and friends were amazing. They saved our family. But some people didn’t know what to do or say. I remember walking through the grocery store and seeing some friends turn away when they saw me. Just say ‘I’m sorry’ or let the person know you are there if they need anything. I remember one day a friend knocked on the door, she simply handed me a pot of flowers, hugged me and left. She never said a word, but that meant so much to me.
Allen had a beautiful baritone voice and loved singing and theater. He was a great big brother. In every picture of the boys, Allen is hugging his brothers or has his arm around them. Allen was different from most other teens. He was a 50 year-old soul in the body of a 19 year old. He loved and gave so much. He was a good person and we miss him every day.
It’s been 11 years since he died. There’s no acceptance or understanding of why he ended his life, and we have to live with that. It’s just up and down, up and down. It slowly gets better, but it takes a very long time. We are still healing, but we’ll never have the answers. That’s what’s so horrific and tragic about suicide.
A lot of people say suicide is a selfish thing to do. But in my research I learned that they actually live as long as they possibly can with the pain until they feel in their heart that they can’t live like that anymore. It has nothing to do with family or friends. It’s them. They love us, but they feel that their pain is never going to be good for them or for anybody else. Research shows that 90% of suicides are caused by a treatable, and often undiagnosed mental condition, usually depression.
One of the biggest reasons for my healing is because of my volunteer work with suicide awareness. I had to do something to help others, or I would have gone crazy. I started a support group with a friend who also lost her son. It’s a club that none of us ever wants to join, but we’re so glad we found each other. People reach out to me at least once a week, asking for help with a child or loved one. I give them resources and steps to take because help is out there. In the last eight years, around 180 people from Fairhope, Daphne and surrounding areas have come to our support groups. That’s a lot of people struggling and under pressure, even in the utopia of the Eastern Shore. We are all human and have to learn how to be gentle with each other. Tell your kids every day that they are enough.
I also got involved with the Out of the Darkness Walk in Daphne. We are going into our 11th year and over the years have raised more than $350,000 for the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention. This year’s walk is Oct. 24th in front of Daphne City Hall. It’s a 45-minute stroll around Daphne to let people know we care. Hope is my favorite word. At the end of the walk, we release monarch butterflies as a sign of hope.
I have to remind myself that there’s a rainbow after the storm, even if sometimes it’s hard to breathe. I know we are going to see Allen again. I absolutely have faith in that.”
If you or someone you know is struggling, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text the Crisis Text Line at Home to 741741 to get help today. To register and or donate to the South Alabama Out of the Darkness Walk, go to AFSP.org/Daphne.