Like every parent, the thought of my child dying by suicide is bewildering. I can’t even imagine the pain. And like so many in our community, the recent death of Nathan Kocmond shook me to my core. I’ve never met him or his family, but it brought back memories I had apparently packed away, from my childhood and even from two years ago.
When I was young, my mother, sister and I shared an apartment with my mom’s best friend, Matha. She was like a second mother to me, omnipresent in our lives. One morning my mother discovered a note Matha had left on her dresser. All I knew is whatever she wrote made my mother frantic. Later that evening and after a chaotic day, Matha’s body was discovered. She had ended her life. What I remember most is that we never spoke about it. We discussed memories of Matha often, but never her death.
Then two years ago, Blake Brockington ended his life. I came to know Blake through Time Out Youth, where I occasionally volunteer. Blake was a handsome, secure transgender young man who had gained notoriety by becoming the Homecoming King at East Meck High School. He always impressed me as being so much stronger than I ever was when I was his age and contemplating coming out. His suicide simply took my breath away.
When Nathan initially disappeared I so hoped things would end well. And when they didn’t, the heartsickness I felt compelled me to do something. I initially jumped in the car and drove to find the Kocmond family’s home. My plan was simple; to hug them and tell them how sorry I was for the loss of their son. Halfway there it hit me how odd this was likely to be received. In 1950 that might have been a perfectly appropriate thing for a total stranger to do, but not today. Isn’t that sad? So I turned around. But I was still committed to doing something.
As if the universe had ears, the next week a young lady named Sarah Cothren emailed me, asking if we could meet. She lost her college roommate, Savannah, to suicide last year. As a result and in her current role as Miss Cabarrus County, she’s made it her mission to work as an advocate for suicide awareness and prevention. She’s a smart, confident young lady. She says Savannah’s name and she doesn’t whisper. She keeps it simple: She lost her friend and it hurts. And she’s committed to preventing it from happening again.
I had no idea more than twice as many people die from suicide in North Carolina annually than by homicide. In other words, we’re far more likely to end our own life than have it ended by someone else. Between the ages of 15 and 34, suicide is the second leading cause of death in our state. In fact, the rate of youth suicide deaths has basically doubled since 2010 and there’s no clear explanation. And apparently things haven’t changed much from my childhood, because most people still feel uncomfortable talking about it. And when we do, often the victims are blamed and their friends, families and communities are left devastated.
For friends and families who have lost a loved one to suicide, life has to go on. And now for Nathan’s friends and family, incipit vita nova, a new life begins.
While no one takes their life for a single reason, the sadness and pain that lead to irrational hopelessness seems to be ever-present. But there’s hope. We can interfere and disrupt. In addition to treatment, medication and therapy, we can battle sadness and pain by loving each other and then loving some more. Will that always be enough? Of course not. If love were always enough then Matha, Blake, Savannah and Nathan would still be with us. No, it’s never going to be enough, but it’s the most powerful weapon we have.