A Parents Perspective
This next page was written by parents of a 16 year old student who committed suicide. The following information was written to help the individual reading this to understand their background and their experience.
Jeffrey A. Knutson 05/10/1983 – 07/28/1999
Jeff committed suicide on July 28, 1999.
He was 16 years old and it was the summer of his sophomore year at North Scott High School in Eldridge, IA. Jeff was working as a lifeguard at the Scott County Park Pool that summer. He was involved in his church youth group and had attended a week of church camp prior to his suicide. Jeff had been involved in Boy Scouts and had earned the rank of Eagle Scout. He was an exceptionally good bass guitar player and had saved his money working as a paperboy to buy his guitar and two amplifiers. He had many friends and family who loved him very much.
Jeff did not show any of the typical signs of depression or share any suicidal thoughts he may have felt. He left a note that just said good-bye to his family and friends and did not give any reason for his suicide. To this day the reason is still a mystery. After Jeff’s death a toxicology report was done which showed no sign of drugs or alcohol in his system.
Jeff’s family (Brad, Dawn and Ashley) knew that they would need help in dealing with Jeff’s death. It came as a total surprise to them that Jeff had committed suicide. They went to counseling for 9 months learning how best to deal with their grief, anger, hurt and loss. Many questions needed to be answered...how do you face your community? How do you deal with the untrue rumors? How do you pick up and move forward with your life? How do you teach all of the teens who knew Jeff and were watching the family that you can take a tragedy in your life and use it to help others?
A Parents Perspective Following The Suicide Of Their Son
On July 28, 1999, our son, Jeff Knutson, committed suicide. Jeff’s suicide was during the summer when school was out of session. As his parents, we were devastated by Jeff’s death and shocked that he committed suicide. Since that time we have been working to educate teens about depression and suicide prevention. We have been working closely with MBAEA and were asked to share our input on the events following Jeff’s death. To share what was helpful to us as a family and what we feel was helpful from the community and school. We will also share with you ideas that we think would be good to consider for future needs.
Things that helped us emotionally directly after Jeff’s death:
- School officials, teachers, social workers, and counselors attended Jeff’s visitation and funeral. (School was not in session at this time and we felt they were going above and beyond their job responsibility by being available to the kids during the summer, they could’ve just let the parents handle it alone.)
- School counselors, social workers, and psychologists remained at the funeral home during both visitation and funeral to help with any teens that felt they may need help in dealing with their grief. It is important and a relief for us to know that any of Jeff’s friends who needed help would have it available to them.
- It is important to remember that a funeral and visitation are not a school function-they are personal services planned by the grieving family and, therefore, the school officials should ask for the families permission before assuming they are welcome to provide those services at the site of the funeral and visitation. An alternate location for counseling may be set up if needed.
- In regards to funerals during the school year, it is greatly appreciated when the teens are allowed to attend the service. It is especially needed for their healing and grieving process and also helps the family of the deceased.
- We appreciated the teachers who took the time to stop by the house, call or send cards.
- The local clergy also provided places for teens to go to meet after Jeff’s death. It was reassuring to us when we would get a call that a friend was at a meeting and was okay.
- We appreciated the school’s willingness to let us plant a memorial tree.
- We appreciated the school’s working with Jeff’s classmates to have an Isabel Bloom memorial in the Library and a stone and tree by the new ball diamonds.
- We appreciated the school calling us on such issues as a yearbook page, memorials, and graduation ceremonies. It allowed us the ability to work with the school and Jeff’s classmates on these issues and to handle them in a way that was beneficial to all.
- We appreciated the valedictorians (3 of them) calling us before preparing their speeches and asking our permission to include Jeff in their speech. It showed respect to our family and gave us forewarning and time to prepare for what was to come at the ceremonies.
If we had any suggestions, it would be these three things:
- Follow-up Meeting: Call the family to set up a time for one or two school counselors, psychologist, social worker or representative to meet with the family one or two weeks after the services. Many times the words were said "let us know if we can do anything for you". Those are comforting words, however, at the time of the visitation and funeral you are overwhelmed and may not know what you need. Grieving parents may not make the call themselves if they do need something. If school aged siblings are involved it is especially important to have follow-up. We were not aware of all the services the school and MBAEA could provide and, therefore, did not know what we could request help with. If there was a follow-up meeting those services could be discussed with the family.
- Continued Grief counseling for the teens provided by either the school, community organization, or clergy would be beneficial. Teens do not understand the grieving process and many times their parents do not either. Teaching parents and teens what to expect may help them to understand their reactions and responsibilities in dealing with the death of a friend.
- There are many different beliefs and feelings regarding death by suicide. Remember that depression is a mental illness. The family may have been dealing with this illness just as other families deal with a child’s death by cancer. The loss of a son or daughter – no matter what the cause – is devastating to the family. Respect the family by not gossiping or sharing in community rumors that may only come back to hurt the family, friends and school. It is not anyone’s place to judge and, as professionals, others will be watching you and taking your lead. Your words and actions can make a huge difference in the recovery of that family.
Parent Referrals for Counseling
What should parents watch for in terms of referring their child for counseling? Some indicators of children who might need counseling include the following:
- Children who have experienced another recent loss.
- A child who has made suicide attempts or who makes suicidal statements.
- A child who had a close relationship with the deceased student but pretends that absolutely nothing has happened and continues to do so for an extended period of time.
- A student's schoolwork takes a dramatic decline or the youngster develops a phobic fear of school.
- A child's behavior changes significantly over a long period of time.