A Mother Recalls Losing Her Son to Suicide

Guest writer Samantha Taylor interviews her aunt about their family’s loss and how others can be more aware and active in preventing suicide
Published on 09/05/2016 at 7:22 PM EDT

[Image: The author, with her cousin Zachary on her wedding day]

For suicide prevention week, we are featuring three personal stories of people whose  families were impacted by suicide. Here is the first by Samantha Taylor. And remember, for more information about suicide prevention and awareness, visit NAMI. – Mayim

My cousin Zachary was a budding rock star. He was the lead singer in a band that was about to go on tour. He was writing music and had a place of his own. He had lots of friends, and no shortage of girlfriends. 

When Zach turned 21 he bought a gun for protection. A few weeks later, on the early morning of March 13, 2009 he shot himself. As his cousin, I was obviously shocked and devastated. As the years have passed, and my children get closer to becoming teenagers, I cannot help but think about how devastating this has been for my Aunt Hedy. 

Hedy and I are very close, and we often talk about Zach. I asked her to talk with me, on the record, about Zach, suicide, and what she’d like to tell young people about how they might be able to help. – Samantha Taylor

Samantha: I remember Zach as a funny, spirited kid. When did you notice a change? What did you see?

Hedy: In his early teens, I saw signs of what may have been ADD. He was put on medications. That helped for a little while and then it got worse. I remember asking a doctor if could he be suicidal because occasionally he seemed anxious and angry. The doctor laughed. “Zach? He’s the most confident of any kid I’ve ever met.”

His outward appearance to others was that way, but I remember him saying to me “You don’t know how hard it is to be me.” Looking back I think that meant he put a face on for people.

He had his highs and lows. When things were great he was creative and could stay up all night writing music. He was living his dream, in a band, writing, performing music. He had his own apartment and friends. He had girlfriends. To the outside world people can look like everything is going just fine even to the people closest to them. The difference between someone being depressed can be the level of intensity and duration. We all have down days. I will always wonder about the depth of despair he felt. In some ways, though surrounded by people, I think he may have felt isolated.

Samantha: What happened in the days leading up to his suicide?

Hedy: I knew when he was 21 he had intentions of buying a gun for protection. He asked me to go for lessons with him. I don’t think he bought the gun with the intention of ending his life. Having the gun in the house made it easier. I had seen him just days before he was to go on tour with the band. He seemed to be fine, but a bit tired. I remember asking him how he was doing, and with his usual grin, he said fine. I left with “I love you.” I’m so glad I did that.

Samantha: The last thing in the world I ever want you to do is think that anything you could have done would have prevented this. Looking back now, would you have changed anything?

Hedy: Could I have done something to stop it? No. I don’t think anyone should ever feel guilty like that. As a parent you can try to get your child medical attention if they have major mood swings or won’t come out of their room. But Zach wasn’t like that. He didn’t present the way that you would think a depressed person would.  Zach was outgoing, friendly, funny, and extremely talented. He wasn’t socially isolated, but it’s difficult to know what he was feeling. Sometimes I believe there are biological components to depression that we still don’t fully understand.

Samantha: How do you want the world to remember Zach?

Hedy: As a loving kid who loved his family. Creative and sensitive in a way that belied his outward rock star appearance. He was a poet who saw the world in a different way and I think he wanted to be accepted.

Samantha: What is your advice to parents who think their children might be suicidal?

Hedy: As a mother: don’t be afraid to ask. Don’t worry if your child gets angry with you. Too bad. The other factor is that guns shouldn’t be so accessible. The average 21-year-old shouldn’t have a gun. I don’t think a person’s brain is mature enough yet.

If I had to get one message out to all people, but to young people especially… I believe that there were certain people that knew Zach was in distress and I think the fear that they’d lose his friendship or he’d get angry with them may have influenced them.

So, my message is simple. If you sense something wrong, you need to say something. You may lose a friendship for a while, but the alternative is far worse.

For more information about suicide prevention and awareness, visit NAMI here:

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