Sunday, March 26, 2017

To The Students Of Pearland High School:

“You care so much you feel as though you will bleed to death with the pain of it.”
― J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

To The Students Of Pearland High School:

I heard of your loss , and it breaks my heart.  I didn't know Hannah, but from all accounts, she was an amazing person, that she possessed multiple talents, was kind and generous with others, and beloved by those that knew her.  Not only did you lose a friend and classmate, but you lost her in a way that leaves you questioning your own mortality.

On October 8, 2014, my 13 year old son Peyton came home from school, went in his bedroom, and hung himself.  Five days later, he passed away as a result of his injuries. I have been in your shoes, and although I can't say I know exactly what you are going through, but I can empathize with your current situation.

Hannah's suicide left many of you in a fog, a state of bewilderment and confusion.  If she had died in a car crash or of cancer, you would still mourn her loss, but at least have an answer as to the "Why?" which is gnawing at you right now.  Why would a beautiful young lady who seemed to have it all choose to take her life?  What hope do I have if some one like Hannah chooses to take her life? Unfortunately, you may never have the answer to these questions, but don't despair.

The first thing you need to understand is that suicide was Hannah's choice.  It was probably not a choice that came quickly or easily, nor was it a rational choice.  The choice to take one's own life is generally brought about by a pain that few can imagine.  A pain that is not a physical pain, but an emotional pain. A pain that convinces a person that they are a worthless burden to those around them. A pain that convinced Hannah that what she was doing would be appreciated by those she left behind.  A pain that slowly breaks a person down to the point that they see death as the only escape. A pain that robs a person of their own self worth.  A pain that leaves some one as a shell of the person they once were.  Worst of all, it is a pain that a person is adept at hiding from others.

When you first heard about Hannah's death, you were shocked.  You thought that some one was playing the sickest, most twisted joke you have ever heard.   While some of you are obviously distraught, others are angry at her for leaving you.  You may be asking "How could she do something so stupid?" or "How could her parents have let this happen?"  Maybe you blame yourself thinking "If only I had paid more attention to her, " or "I should have known."  Maybe you are anxious and thinking, “If she could get upset enough to kill herself, maybe the same thing will happen to me (or one of my friends).” Those closest to her might may find it almost impossible to return to a normal routine, and may even resent those who appear to be having fun. They may feel empty, lost, totally disconnected. They may become obsessed with keeping the memory of their friend alive. No matter what you are feeling, I want you to know it is okay.  You are allowed to feel how you feel.  You are allowed to be angry, or burst out in tears, or blame some, or yell and scream if need be.  If you need to talk to some one, then find some one to talk to.  There are people there for you, and will continue to be there for you. Whatever you do, do not keep your thoughts and emotions bottled up.  There is no set time limit on your grief, and we each deal with grief differently.

I know some of you feel let down right now by the very people you felt you could turn to you.  You asked to honor Hannah in the yearbook.  That is an honorable request, but supposedly "The teacher told her, you know, no we can't do that because of the way Hannah passed."  According to her sister, Holleigh, "This administration tells us that they won't make this page because they think that if children see it, then it will urge them to do the same thing, and I completely disagree with that." While it seems as though they don't, the administration does have your best interests at heart.  They are responsible to each and every one of you, and want to protect you.  They are afraid of suicide clusters, or contagions.  While these clusters exist, so does the fact that talking about suicide does not make a child suicidal, but instead, allows the outlet for those who have already thought about it to talk about it and know they are not alone.  I have been a teacher and coach for 26 years, and have seen schools handle suicide with everything from ignoring it to victim shaming, so please respect their wishes and give them time.  Let them talk to the family and who ever else they need to.  In time, I am sure that after weighing all of their options,  a decision will be made that works best for all.

Finally, I want to let you know that things will get better.  I know right now it is hard to believe.  Just over a week ago, you were ten feet tall and bullet proof, the masters of your domain, and ready to take one the world  Now, faced with the true fragility of human life.   You are scared at having to realize that you are not immortal.  Given time, you will begin to feel better.  It will not be easy, and you may even feel guilty, even ashamed, for feeling better, but if Hannah is the person that people have described, it is what she would want.  You never have to let her out of your heart, but you do need to go on.

In the days, weeks, and months to come, I ask that you please take care of yourself.  Know that there are people out there that care and want to help.  Take life one day at a time.  Remember to eat, to exercise, to talk to others, and to take care of yourself.  Keep Hannah and her family in your heart. They will need your strength.  Take them a casserole, send them a card or a plant, or write them a letter telling them how much Hannah meant to you.  Don't forget Hannah, ever, but what ever you do, keep going.  God bless.


David James
The Peyton Heart Project

Monday, March 6, 2017

Sh*t Gets Real In The 'Burbs

I live in the suburbs, the final battleground of the American dream, where people get married and have kids and try to scratch out a happy life for themselves. -Harlan Coben

My wife and I live in the suburbs.  Yes, our house and neighborhood might conform to what people would call cookie cutter.  Yes, beige is a predominant color in our neighborhood.  Yes, our choice in restaurants and shopping is relatively limited to the same chains as every other cookie cutter suburb throughout the country.  Yes, we have an abundance of SUV's and minivans driving cautiously through our streets as they look for young children on their bikes and scooter  in prerequisite helmets. On the other hand, we also have some of the best schools in the state.  We have more square footage for our money.  We have well manicured lawns in the summer and pissing contests with Christmas lights in the winter.  We have high achieving kids we are proud of, even if they drive golf carts recklessly, occasionally rearrange the letters on the signs in the neighborhood, and experiment with profanity at the park.

Unfortunately, last week the sh*t got real last week in our little slice of the 'burbs.  For me, it was another Wednesday morning.  I woke up hating the idea of going to work, showered, dressed, poured my coffee, grabbed my lunch, and slouched out the door.  As I pulled up to the stop sign to the entrance to my neighborhood, I looked to my left to see a sheriff's deputy go flying by with no lights or sirens.  My first thought was, "Asshole!  Doesn't he know this is a residential neighborhood?  Kids are walking to the bus stops, and God knows they aren't paying attention!"  As I drove, the newon the radio talked about an officer involved shooting at a residence in Montgomery County. In my drowsiness, I didn't connect the shooting to the deputy's speeding car.

When I arrived at work, I received a text from my wife if I knew anything about the shooting in our neighborhood.  I didn't, but turned to the internet for answers.  I browsed the websites for the local network news stations and found what I was looking for.  Just a few blocks away, while we were all snuggled soundly in our beds, one of our local residents stabbed his wife to death.  Deputies arrived and found his 11 year old son at the front door covered in his mother's blood.  The father was found in the bedroom and was shot to death after lunging at deputies after refusing their orders to drop the knife.

In that instant, our idyllic lives were shattered.  We had gone from silently cursing our neighbors for not brining in their trashcans to worrying about what was going on behind their closed doors.    The street that had at one time been filled with mothers pushing infants in strollers and children taking advantage of incline to gain speed on skateboards was now clogged by police cars, news vans and curious onlookers.  Reporters interviewed neighbors, family, and friends who all told of a dedicated father, loving mother, and shock and surprise that some one in our neighborhood was capable of such a horrific crime.  This was the type of crime we heard about on the evening news and then made sure our doors were locked.  Crimes like this were one of the reasons we chose a longer commute and dinner at Chili's.

The response of the community was amazing.  GoFundMe pages were started, meals were cooked, collections taken, and some one even contacted the Buffalo Bills (the young boy played for the Bills in the local Pop Warner league).  Flowers, balloons, candles, and stuffed animals were left in the yard as a make-shift memorial.  On the neighborhood Facebook page, people rallied to help and offer their services, and to not make mention of the incident for fear that either the 11 year old or his brother might stumble upon them.  Normally when I publish my blog, I post the link to that particular page, but this time, I will not.  However, that won't keep my from asking just what the hell happened that night behind those closed doors?

As stated earlier, this is not something that is supposed to happen in upper middle class neighborhoods.  This is something that is supposed to happen to crystal meth tweakers in trailer parks on the seedy part of town.  Now it is a reality for many who would prefer it not be, and it must be addressed and talked about, the 800 pound gorilla so to speak.  Why would a seemingly happy man kill his wife and then lunge with a knife toward heavily armed deputies (in Texas no less)?
This same man had earlier written an eight page letter to his sons detailing what was to be done with the house, the cars, and the money.  It was as though he knew that night would be his last.
Were his acts rational?  No, they were the acts of a person losing a battle within their own mind.  A rational person doesn't kill his wife.  Had the pain been bad enough that he wanted to end it for her as well as himself?  Perhaps.Does a rational person lunge toward gun bearing police while holding a knife? After all, if you lunge with a knife at an officer in Texas, there is a good chance you are going to come out on the losing end.   Did he want to spare his wife from what was going to happen? Perhaps.  Then why spare his son?  Why did this happen at all?

Now we are left to question the actions of a man no longer able to defend or define them.  We are left trying to explain to our children what had happened, and why the man who had waved from his driveway, as well as his wife, was never coming back. Why the comfort and security that we had abandoned trendy restaurants and chic boutiques for was no longer there.  Why we now want to know where they are going, what they will be doing, and most import, who will be there. We will not wave at a neighbor again without wondering what goes on when the door is shut or we are all nestled snug in our beds.  We won't watch another soccer mom in a minivan go by without wondering if she is hiding a dark secret.  But then again, that is what happens when sh*t gets real in the 'burbs.