“Meant to tell you, I met someone. Let me introduce you.” – Braden
“Braden was always so kind. We talked mostly via Snapchat. I told him I hardly knew anyone in my lunch and he asked if I wanted to sit with him and another friend at their table”. – Student
“If you can see it, it won’t last. The things which truly last are those things you cannot see”. – Dennis Swanberg
It’s been a while. Certainly not for lack of subject matter. It’s National Suicide Prevention week and only God knows the names of each teen, who this very moment are seriously contemplating or even perhaps planning when and exactly how to take their own lives.
I’ll try not to be morbid nor overly zealous, but just ponder this: Suicide is the second leading cause of death for teenagers. That fact is hard to even take in. As a parent, if you’re thinking your teen hasn’t at least entertained the thought, you are deceived. It’s the topic of the day. The thing to consider. In fact, it’s become “just another choice on the menu” as several youth have told us. Since March 2020 (the beginning of COVID lockdowns) that number has increased to nearly 50% of teens and young adults 16-24.
Since the loss of our son, in hopes of helping others walking in our shoes, we remain committed to sharing about the nightmare many today are living, yet too few are willing to discuss. Writing and speaking about this is like talking to a counselor hoping to better understand what can never be fully understood. Two mirrors facing together with unending reflection.
Last year, I met yet another father who had lost his son to suicide. The young man had graduated high school and begun his college career. These parents have become friends, sharing similar ground in losing a child while working to keep things on track personally and in the role as parents.
Although I never met my friend’s son nor those of numerous other parents who have survived the loss of their children, when we share stories it’s like we’re all talking about the same kid. Loved but not feeling loved. Accepted, yet not feeling accepted. Caring, still feeling uncared for. All living with a pervasive struggle of depression and hopelessness.
That evening, my father friend asked how our non-profit, “Braden’s Voice” was developing. I admitted, ironically with the pandemic and all that’s going on right now, teen mental health and the epidemic of suicide has seemingly faded from the radar. I told him for now we’ve backed off and are waiting to see what God wants for this mission. Surrendering to and trusting in God has sustained us and His plans will be made clear soon enough. Still, inside I was thinking it seems futile.
When I got home I prepared to drop to sleep, but couldn’t relax, my mind kept occupied by my friend’s question: “What are you doing to help others who face the same struggles your family faced?” For two hours I stayed wide awake trying to answer that question in my mind. It certainly begs an answer. Finally, I gave up trying to sleep and decided to scan email.
The first was the standard junk mail from one of a thousand realtors trying to sell our house though we’ve never given serious thought about placing it on the market. Then a charge card bill, like I needed reminding at midnight that we have a Visa bill to rival the national budget.
The next email was from a total stranger. A student from Braden’s high school who had been a freshman when they had first met. The message was one I’ll never forget and one which renewed hope that God continues to quietly work even when we grow weary of trying.
The writer gave permission to share the following. Keep in mind, their identity will remain confidential until such time they wish to share their testimony directly. Still, this is a message that shouts to be shared.
The message began:
First off, I want to properly introduce myself. I’m 17 years old. I read your blog often and it is very touching. In 2017, I was a brand new student at Prosper High when I met Braden through a mutual friend. He was so kind and we talked (mostly on SnapChat). I confided knowing hardly anyone in my lunch hour and he asked if I wanted to sit with him at his table with his friend. I accepted his invitation and sat with him and a couple of other students.
Unfortunately, just weeks later, my schedule was changed so I didn’t have the same lunch time anymore. I never got to eat lunch with Braden again. It was about a year later when Braden passed.
When I found out about it, I was so upset. After all, I had known Braden. I’d sat with him at lunch. I had waved to him in the hallway and had talked to him. I attended the candle lighting at Frontier Park with my dad and had tears running down my face.
A couple of months later I saw a strange notification from Snapchat saying “Braden Speed is typing”! I was so confused! Then when I went to open the message, it was from you.
The day I found out about Braden I’d sent a message to him on SnapChat thanking him for being so nice to me when I was new to High School and for inviting/ welcoming me to his lunch table. Of course I realized he was gone and would never read the message, but I felt it was important to express my gratitude and grief.
You gave me your number and said you’d love to talk to me sometime about Braden. I was nervous, being young and carrying a ton of anxiety. I never could gather the courage to respond to you.
My next school year of high school I was going through stuff and felt so alone. I attended the first two days of school and after that I don’t know what came over me. I just couldn’t do it anymore. I felt like the whole world was against me.
It was at that point when I attempted suicide.
I was placed into inpatient treatment for a week and subsequently outpatient therapy for a week. When I was discharged from the hospital I went straight to your blog. It gave me hope. I’ve regretted not responding to you in 2018 when you’d shared your number.
Thankfully, I am in a much better place mentally than where I was at that time. I just wanted to thank you and Cathy and Caitlin.
Signed, A Prosper Student
There have been many “God moments” where I’ve felt Him sending a message of hope saying, “I have a plan to defeat Satan where he had plans to destroy”. Still, it’s difficult to recall when a specific message arrived so timely and one more encouraging.
I’d dug into Braden’s social media almost two years ago to find anything to help put together the pieces. Instead I found messages all saying, in essence they “wish they’d known” and they’d do something different. To me, it’s telling that only one out of all those kids decided to respond. That’s not an indictment on them. After all, they are kids. Still, it’s further evidence of the problem. Complacency and a lack of willingness to make a difference.
Hope Squad is now in every school in Prosper. These are kids identified by their peers as a safe person in whom to confide. The primary means to truly impact teen suicide is peer to peer. These are kids who can and will make a difference in saving lives by being consciously aware of red flags and subtle signs to indicate a friend who is in crisis.
One of several friends who share daily devotionals sent one recently which contained the following quote: “If you can see it, it won’t last. The things which truly last are those things you cannot see“. We will not see our son until we each take turns in returning to our eternal home in heaven. However, what Braden left us and those he touched in his brief life will truly last.
Among far too many to list, our family is grateful for the bold courage of this one young person and for the many who want to make the difference in finding and helping the lost.
Our kids are getting lost. If not literally, they’re getting lost spiritually. We must teach them that we’re all lost and in search of our value, purpose, and connection. Remind them the only lasting source of acceptance and meaning is in a personal relationship with Jesus who readily invites them so they may be found.
Lord, as we begin a new school year and especially during this month recognizing those “lost”, grant our kids the hearts and the eyes of Christ in their comings and goings. Make them bold and courageous in reaching through uncomfortable invisible barriers and finding the lost.
May Your Name be glorified. Amen