800967_46231785I knew something was wrong the moment the doorbell rang.

It was Sunday evening, September 28, 1997, and my family had just gotten back in town after a vacation. I was in the kitchen preparing to dig in to some pizza we’d picked up on our way. That someone was already at our door just minutes after we arrived home struck me as unusual.

Then I heard the voices of my mom and a lady who lived across the street.


Oh no’s.

I realized our neighbor had come bearing bad news.

I sat in the kitchen, trying to make sense of the words that were swirling through their tears.

Robbie’s son… dead… the middle one.

I immediately knew it was John.

I don’t remember who told me all the details, if it was dad or mom, or if I just pieced it together on my own. The rest of that evening was a blur.

Everything turned gray. The pizza lost all appeal. I was in a daze. Confused, hurt, angry, unbelieving.

John, my next door neighbor who for many years I’d considered my best friend, was dead. At his own hand.

We were sixteen, born just four days apart. Over the years, we played in our backyards, creating imaginary worlds in which we built forts and sailed down the creek. We camped out in his backyard on summer nights, eating popcorn he’d salted beyond edibility, exploring with flashlights, and telling ghost stories designed to spook each other. We fought like brothers and then put aside our differences so we could have more fun. We recorded radio shows on cassette tapes, sitcoms that came in “seasons,” more than a hundred episodes spanning our preteen years.

But now all those events would be tainted.

Those silly Trevin and John Shows would have the pall of death over them. My childhood memories of friendship, fun, and fantasy would roll up into tragedy.

A friendship severed, a life thrown away, a family in shock, and grief that never goes away.

Part of my childhood died with John.

People say time heals all wounds. The people who say that must not be familiar with this wound.

I staggered upstairs to my room that night, and John was everywhere. It was like he was a ghost, moving back and forth from different places, conjuring up old memories of fun times, memories now freighted with burdens too large for a kid to carry.

John’s last year had not been a good one. Prone to depression as a teenager, he entered a darkness he never left. I didn’t know it at the time, but he’d been prescribed medication for depression and he had exhibited suicidal tendencies before. But his family had seen his mood lift in recent months. He was doing better. He seemed to be coming out of the darkness, but only enough to muster the strength to do the unthinkable.

The what if’s were never-ending.

John was about to get his driver’s license, and he’d been out driving with his dad. The night before he took his life, he drove down our street and slowed at our house.

What if we’d been home? What if I’d been there? What if we’d spent more time as friends during that last year? What kind of friend am I? What if I could have done something, anything to change the outcome?

Guilt is the constant companion of grief.

It’s September again. Every year, when the seasons begin to change, my mind races back to that moment when time stopped.

The statistics about teenage suicides are startling, but seeing the numbers seems almost like an out-of-body experience to me. Like I have to wall off a part of my soul in order to take in the stories and statistics.

Sometimes, though, I can’t help myself.

When I hear of another child bullied to death, or another depression that ends in despair, I am right back in that flowery funeral home, standing over my best friend’s casket, the smell of flowers that cannot overcome the stench of death. I’m there again looking at his pale face, angry with him, angry with myself, angry at the evil one, and filled with grief. Part of me wants to cry. Part of me wants to scream: This isn’t right. Someone do something! 

It’s been 17 years. It was yesterday.

I still don’t understand.

If there is anything I have learned over the years, it is that despite what we project, we humans are incredibly frail. The mind is a fragile thing, and the heart more fragile still.

Oh, and that God is always good, but not according to the trite and easy answers we offer up with good intentions to people in pain. His goodness has an unshakeable quality to it that is fully equipped to handle our questions, our tears, our rage, our doubts and griefs.

Faith, after all, is best suited for the dark.

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8 thoughts on “Why Teenage Suicide is More than a Statistic for Me”

  1. Wesley says:

    Wow. This is powerful and moving my friend. Thank you for being willing to share your own deep places with us. It helps us know you better and reveal the hope of the gospel all the more brightly to our hearts. May God’s peace continue to comfort you until at last every tear is wiped from your eyes. Amen.

  2. Larry Pounds says:

    Thank you Trevin for your vulnerability. The death of our 34-year old son in a car accident 7 years ago changed our lives completely. Among other things we did as we were healing was facilitating GriefShare for five cycles. In that time, God used the circumstances to underscore the questions you had regarding both death and particularly suicide. This focused time also gave us broader perspective on God’s goodness and His sovereignty. God has expanded our compassion and understanding. The culture as a whole and specifically the church needs to pray for wisdom in ministering better prior to suicide and to the living following one. God bless you as you continue using the platform He has provided for you to impact others with compassionate care and Godly wisdom.

    1. Trevin Wax says:

      Thank you, Larry. I’m so sorry to hear of the loss of your son. Praying we will be ministers of comfort and reconciliation to others.

  3. Ken says:

    It is hard to write when addressing this issue without sounding trite. I have had more than a couple of friends and co-workers who have chosen death at their own hand. I sense your loss as I remember mine.

    1. Ken says:

      Perhaps I should have phrased my thoughts this way. It is hard for me to address this issue since I fear what I write will sound trite. I had a childhood friend who took his own life when he was the age you are now. I have had at least two co-workers who have taken their own lives. More than a few times thoughts of self destruction have course their way through my mind as situations over the last few years have nearly overwhelmed me. It is at those times that God’s ineffable grace and mercy have helped me to focus on an eternity with Him and the issues of this life pale by comparison. Ok, now I think I’m done.

  4. Karen Butler says:

    I am so sorry about the death of your dear friend, Trevin. I know the dread of opening a door, fearing that a young loved one might have taken his life. I was also suicidal at one desperate point in my life. So it is also more than a statistic for me as well. But there are some problems with your perspective here.

    But Trevin, modern neuroscience demonstrates that the brain is very plastic, and is *not*, “a fragile thing”, and it is especially important to communicate this hopeful message to youth, as that is when the first symptoms of depression begin, as this study from Emory University and the University of Texas demonstrates, “Teaching youth that the brain is not immutably fixed and that people can change has significant impacts on preventing depressive symptoms from arising, according to research published in Clinical Psychological Science.”

    Also, there is a dramatic rise in suicides associated with increased psychiatric care, –” taking psychiatric medications makes people nearly 6 times more likely to kill themselves, while having spent time in the previous year in a psychiatric hospital makes them over 44 times more likely to kill themselves” and the way the study was conducted eliminates the correlation/causation argument, as these authors write,”It is therefore entirely plausible that the stigma and trauma inherent in (particularly involuntary) psychiatric treatment might, in already vulnerable individuals, contribute to some suicides… Perhaps some aspects of even outpatient psychiatric contact are suicidogenic. These strong stepwise associations urge that we pay closer attention to this troubling possibility.”

    A survey from MindFreedom International indicates that it is the message of hopelessness communicated by these Mental Health Systems that contributes to suicidality. frequency of hopeless messages was even greater for individuals with diagnoses of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

    Additionally, the idea that depressed patients suddenly “muster enough energy to do the unthinkable” is a public relations spin by drug companies to undo the black box warnings of suicide risk for anti-depressant use by patients under forty. When young people in studies for urinary incontinence began committing suicide –having no history of depression — the FDA began paying attention. The mechanism is clear, as the drugs are widely known to produce an unbearable sense of inner restlessness known as akathesia, that some patients will do anything to escape. SSRI’s were already under study for suicide warnings, but the death of Traci Johnson was the tipping point:

    Again, I am sorry for your great loss, and understand how it must color your perspective. But we have the mind of Christ as believers, we have the knowledge that our Father God has not given us a spirit of fear, but a spirit of love, and of power, and of a sound mind. These truths were central to my climb out of the hopelessness of depression and anxiety.

  5. Karen Butler says:

    The link to Mindfreedoms survey did not copy properly — here is the proper one:

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Trevin Wax

​Trevin Wax is Bible and Reference Publisher at LifeWay Christian Resources and managing editor of The Gospel Project. You can follow him on Twitter or receive blog posts via email. Click here for Trevin’s full bio.

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