e read the news stories — far too many in the past few years — as one teenager after another dies by suicide.
As a mother, my thoughts go directly to the parents. I imagine their grief. Shed a tear at their unimaginable loss. The news cycles and the rest of us move on, hoping it might be the last report of suicide we hear.
The parents, though, cannot move on.
I’ve watched as Tracey Depperschmidt Campisi, my Woodland Park High School classmate, has shared her grief and attempts at healing on Facebook. It’s been a heart-wrenching reminder that while the headlines fade and the anniversaries of tragedy pass, this is something that a parent will never recover from.
Her son died by suicide almost 15 months ago at the age of 16. Maverick’s death didn’t make local headlines, though Tracey graduated from Woodland Park she lives in Oro Valley, Arizona, now.
Maverick was the youngest child of three. “He was our spunkiest, most outgoing fun kid,” she says. She says he was such a typical teenager. Sure, he struggled with self-esteem as he wondered if his teeth were white enough or if his weightlifting was paying off. But Tracey says there were no signs that anything was wrong.
Though she made it through the first year without him, she thinks the second year might be harder. “Looking back, I was probably in shock the first six months.”
“In the second year, you start to realize this is for real,” she says. “You actually really feel what it feels like.”
She’s watching as all of Maverick’s friends are starting their senior year, getting portraits taken. His 18th birthday would have been on Sept. 29.
“I think of the things he’s missing,” she says. “But he’s not just missing his own birthdays, he’s missing everyone’s birthdays.”
Tracey still struggles with what she might have been able to do differently. She says he died on a Friday about three weeks into summer. Though there were no red warning flags, Tracey says about three weeks prior to his death, her gut told her something was different with him. She was checking in with him more. She reached out to a friend of his, asking if Maverick was OK.
In hindsight, she scours her memories for details that might have tipped her off. Was it his not working out because of the bronchitis he had the last week of school? Was it the emotions unleashed by trying to reconcile with an ex-girlfriend? Was it the marijuana he smoked a few times that she discovered only after his death? She knows asking these questions is a futile effort, but it’s a parent’s instinct to fix things for our kids. The notes he left on his phone for his parents and best friends offer some insight, but no answers. And nothing she discovers will bring back her son.
She’s found camaraderie in the back rooms of Facebook, where parents whose children died by suicide offer support and understanding in closed groups. She belongs to a group of parents with kids ages 13-20 who died by suicide. Tracey says there are new members in the group nearly every day — some whose children died five years ago, some because it happened last week. “Those hurt the most,” she says. “It all sucks.”
On her public timeline, Tracey is heartbreakingly honest about her emotions and her loss. She posts photos of Maverick, with messages to him — and about him. On Aug. 27, she posted a photo of herself from 2010. “I wish I could smile & glow & feel like this ‘Tracey’ again. But after a piece of your heart is missing, it’ll never be.”
“I don’t want people to think I’m fine and I’ve moved on,” she explains, though the grief she shares doesn’t tell the whole story. Sometimes she retreats to reflect more privately. She doesn’t want people to forget Maverick and is doing what she can to inform and educate in hopes of saving lives, even if it’s just one life.
She encourages parents to spend one more moment looking into their children’s eyes, asking “Hey, are you OK?”
“You don’t want to wish you would’ve asked the right question at the right time,” she says.
National Suicide Prevention Week is Sept. 10 to 16. For a list suicide-prevention resources available in El Paso County, go to tinyurl.com/ElPasoCo-suicide.