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Out of the Darkness

September 2, 2009 - John Stack
In February of this year, a young girl from Schenectady High School took her own life. Over then next 4 months, three other girls in her class would also end their own lives prematurely. In Palo Alto two weeks ago, a 13 year old girl stepped in front of a southbound Caltrain. She was to begin 9th grade this week at Gunn High School. 2 other Gunn High students have taken their own lives near the same intersection by stepping in front of a train. The last time I saw my cousin Burt Allen alive was about 10 years ago. Our families were in North Carolina for a wedding. I hadn’t seen Burt in a few years, since I attended a grad party for his older sister. He had grown up into an incredible young man. He was student government president, a star athlete in every sport he played. I went to a mall with him and his younger brother. We hung out for a couple hours. I remember telling my sister Brij how impressed I was with Burt. He seemed to have it all together. He was very enjoyable to hang out with, joked like a regular teenager, was able to converse easily with adults, and had an incredible drive. He grew up on a farm and learned to ‘turkey call’ with the best of them. He would enter competitions for best turkey caller, and often beat people more than twice his age. It was rare anyone within 10 years of his age were even in the competition. He would practice calling anywhere and everywhere. Out on his 4 wheeler or doing chores. Burton’s mother is my aunt Mary. She is one of the most wonderful people you could ever meet. Before my time, my great grandfather was the glue in my family for 60 years. My brother Bill is the glue in my family. Mary is the glue of her family, with 11 siblings. She’s not the oldest, or richest. But she is the one who everyone can turn to, and the one who would keep her head in the middle of a crisis. She lives for her kids and grandkids. 2001 was a tough year for me. My grandmother died at 90 in August. Then there was 9-11. Then my dad died a couple months later. But, earlier that year was the most shocking event for the family. Burt finished up his chores for the day. Got all of his homework finished up for the next day. Seemingly had a great day at school. That night he carroed out a plan (who knows how long he had planned it) and took his life. He was 14 years old. Why did this tragedy happen? Why did the multiple tragedies happen in Schenectady and Palo Alto? Could they have been prevented? Is there someone to blame? Suicide is very complex. Was the person being bullied at school and couldn’t handle it? Did they not feel they could turn their fortunes around? Many have signs of depression and problems at school (like some of the girls in Schenectady). But Burt didn’t. I can think of almost no one less likely than Burt to take his own life. Reading the blogs after a number of the above suicide stories, there are explanations and blame a plenty. It was the school’s fault. It was the parent’s fault. It was society’s fault. It was because we have taken God out of the classrooms! I don’t know what happened. Another close relative of mine also attempted suicide. She told me that she planned it for a year. She burned through her money for a year, and acted out in ways her normal self wouldn’t do. She is today someone I think of as a very strong person. She tells me that the only reality is what is between your own two ears. Maybe it’s the stigma that stops people from getting help. I remember when I was about 11 years old. A girl younger than me attempted suicide. Every time I saw her, I wondered about it. Being 11, I had no handle on this. I thought there must be something wrong with this girl. Why would she do this? She came and played in the park with us, and never showed any outside problems. No one ever talked to me about suicide or depression. Only recently has talking about depression and suicide been socially acceptable and not taboo as much as it was. My dad had a heart problem. A year or two before he died, he was terribly depressed, because he wasn’t getting better. But, it took us kids a lot to convince him to see someone about the depression, as his generation didn’t get depressed or talk to people about their problems. My cousins and other family members are participating in an AFSP (American Foundation for Suicide Prevention) community walk to raise awareness of suicide prevention. They have a group called ‘Team Burton’. Any money anyone can donate to this worthy cause would be greatly appreciated.On the link above, type in ‘team burton’ on the participant search area if you want to donate.


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