QUESTION: The suicide at CV High totally caught me off guard. Our entire family is deeply saddened. We have two teenagers who we love dearly. We attend church together, and my wife and I attend all of their sports functions in addition to having regular family time together. I’ve begun to worry if we’re doing everything we can to help our teens feel safe, secure and loved. Do you have any suggestions that would reinforce family values and help teens with difficult situations outside of our home?
Dear Diligent Dad,
As an alumni, spouse of an alumni, friend of many CVHS grads, and parent of a current CV student, I share your feelings of sadness and confusion regarding the recent death of this precious 15-year-old young man due to suicide. When our daughter came home on that Friday, my husband and I both felt a profound sense of relief to see her alive and with us. At the same time, we could not help but think about Drew Ferraro’s parents and imagine them getting that horrible telephone call that no parent ever wants to receive. This is most certainly a death in our community like no other.
As we all began to work through our shock, I think most parents can’t help but ponder the sad fact that this tragedy could have happened to any one of us! According to the National Institute of Mental Health, suicide remains the third leading cause of death of young people ages 15-24. The warning signs of suicide (including sudden change in behavior, increased isolation, alcohol and drug use, hopelessness, depression, negative self-esteem, loss of interest in activities, giving away possessions and expressing suicidal thoughts and plans) are well known and certainly it is wise for all parents to remain vigilant and aware of them. Protective and proactive steps parents can take with their children regarding suicide include: maintaining open and supportive communication; providing effective and timely medical and mental health care; teaching skills in coping, problem solving and conflict resolution; protecting against access to lethal means; and providing positive role modeling. Maintaining cultural and religious beliefs that discourage suicide and support self-preservation has also been shown to be an important deterrent of suicide (US Department of Health and Human Services, 2001). Though these facts are good and helpful to us as parents, I think that one of the reasons we are all feeling “caught off guard” by this tragedy is because despite the very best efforts of parents sometimes our children still die from suicide. What then? What can we do? How can we comfort and support one another? And where is God in all of this?
There are no easy answers in such a distressing situation. Certainly sitting with our kids and affirming together our belief in an unconditionally loving, comforting and forgiving God that is always “right where we are” is important and helpful during this painful time. As parents, we must be mindful to create a loving and safe place for our kids to share their thoughts and feelings with us. We must be open, I mean really open, to hearing what our young people have to say – even if it is sad, distressing, or goes against our values, morals, or beliefs.
If we find as parents that we are having a tough time listening, then a good prayer to help with that is: “God show me how to do this (listen and love) as you do.” Our children must feel that that they have the “ear of God” through our words and our loving presence as parents. I think this is more important than any lecture on the nature of God or the particulars of our religious beliefs. Don’t just talk about God, be the love of God as much as you can with your kids (and really everyone around you for that matter) as much as you can!
As a parent myself, I can say that this is a tall order and often I (and we) don’t succeed. However, I think this death of a loved one in our own community is a warning sign to all of us that we must continue to try.
Finally, as parents I think it is important to support our children and one another as we continue to send prayers and thoughts of love, comfort, and peace of mind to all members of the Ferraro family during this difficult, difficult time.
Sandra Shields, RScP
Center for Spiritual Living – La Crescenta
Dear Diligent Dad,
It sounds like the recent suicide at CVHS has rattled you enough to seek a rock solid answer, even a guarantee. That’s really what parents want. We want to know for sure our kids will be safe. Truth be told, we want a guarantee. As a parent myself, I wish there was one. Parenting will always be a risky pursuit. We do our best and leave the results to God.
On the other hand, look at all you’re doing right! 1) Your teenagers are loved dearly. 2) You don’t just drop them off at church, you worship together with them. 3) Both you and your wife attend all their sports functions. 4) You have a regular family time together (I’m not sure what that is but it can’t be bad). But you sense there is more you can do, and you’re right!
Consider this: become a prayer warrior for your family. Fervently, faithfully pray for your children. Translate worry, which does nothing, into prayer, which can do anything. Someone has said that prayer is the saucer into which parental fears are poured to cool. Each time a parent prays, Christ responds. His big message to moms and dads is: Bring your children to me. Raise them in a greenhouse of prayer. When was the last time you functioned as a “high priest” for your family, taking the names of your precious children to God’s throne of grace, interceding for their safety and deliverance from the traps that ensnare so many other teenagers today? It sounds like you know all too well that your kids are worth this effort! Let them hear you pray for them at the end of the day. Cover them with a prayer of blessing before you send them off to school. The devil hates your kids but God loves them. Become his partner in pursuing their prosperity and protection. Pray that your children develop a profound sense of place in this world as well as a heavenly place in the next.
QUESTION: My husband of 30 years just asked me for a divorce. He claims there is no other love in his life, he just wants to be free to do what he wants to do, totally unencumbered.
He recently retired. I was a stay at home mom until our children were school age and then went back to work. I’m currently employed at a job I enjoy. We’ve accumulated many assets together, including the home we live in. He wants to liquidate all the assets, buy a fifth wheeler and travel the country alone.
I’m so confused and upset I cannot think straight. We have yet to tell our adult children of his decision. Any suggestions to help me regain peace of mind would be helpful.
– Left Out in the Cold
Dear Left Out,
First of all, I’m sorry for your loss. I usually say that to people who have to bury a loved one, but this is certainly a loss for you, and I am sorry. The death of a loved one didn’t happen, but the death of your relationship with a loved one certainly has, and I’m sorry. So what to do now?
When my first wife and I decided to split, our therapist told us to say what we appreciated about each other. For you to do the same might not be good advice, especially since your husband’s decision seemed to have caught you by surprise. So maybe a better approach would be to sit down with him and discuss liquidating your assets; if he wants out, I wouldn’t make it difficult for him. But I would insist on getting your fair share of the proceeds, which I’m guessing would be 50% in California. Also, tell your adult children as soon as possible. Each may side with you or not, but let them in on this family tragedy.
Next, talk to your pastor or priest; don’t think there is any virtue to suffering in silence. If you’re not a member of any house of worship, or even if you are, you might want to check out a marriage and family therapist. As sad as you must be, I’m sure there is some anger there as well. So don’t stifle your anger; the truth is that whatever you are feeling is okay: denial, anger, sadness, and maybe even some relief. The point is, there is no “right” way to feel. Whatever you are feeling is okay.
What I’m about to say may sound a little glib at this point, but this is not the end of your life! One of the great concepts I take away from the Easter story is that there can be a resurrection in your life right now, not off in the future, the so-called “pie in the sky when we die by and by.” There can be new life for you right now, a resurrection experience, if you will. One of the tenets of the Christian faith is that the worst man can do can still be used by God to bring new life. So this terrible tragedy in your life right now is like a death; it’s like what happened on Good Friday. But that’s not the end of the story! Your Easter experience – new life – is right around the corner. Allow it to happen! God isn’t finished with you just yet!
The Rev. Skip Lindeman
La Cañada Congregational Church
Dear Left Out,
I think you just got a lot of spiritual support by putting this in the paper. You should be experiencing a wave of neighborly sympathy and righteous indignation, even though your submission is anonymous. Here is my best guess at what is going on: As women in our culture, we tend to be pretty good at helping one another cross the bridges between life stages – from adolescence to young adulthood to motherhood to this time in life when we are “wisewomen,” grandmothers and family matriarchs. Older women friends and family teach younger women how to take on the responsibilities and possibilities of the next stage in life.
For all kinds of reasons, this sharing of life wisdom is just easier for women. Men in our culture are not so good at it. Your husband, having retired from work and raised the kids, needs to cross over into wiseman territory. He can be a man in whom young men in your family confide as they negotiate the challenges of being good and faithful mates, fathers and providers. He can be an awesome husband.
There is actually deep peace and joy in the wiseperson phase of life. Unfortunately, your husband does not seem to have a wiseman to help him find the bridge and so he thinks that deep peace will come from no connection vs. fuller connection. Of course, this is folly. If you can get him to find a mentor for retirement, he will figure this out.
I don’t know if it gives you any peace to know that his experience is not unusual in our culture. If you can manage compassion in the midst of your pain, lovingly suggest that you postpone the divorce while giving him space and resources for easing into retirement. (Fr. Richard Rohr writes and speaks so beautifully on this struggle). If he can travel for a month without y’all selling the house, then maybe that’s fine. A spiritual journey into the desert is biblical. We wrestle with our demons and come back stronger than before.