Reaching Full Potential
Kayla's Story

Sometimes, late at night, Kayla walked from her college dorm to the nearby railroad tracks and stood shivering on the wood ties. Every hour, a train shuddered by. She knew the schedule. In the solace of night, she thought of all the reasons she should remain on the tracks as the roar and vibration of an oncoming train intensified. I’m alone. No one cares about me. I’m not going anywhere in life. Will never be someone of importance. I’m done.

Then something would stop her. She pictured the face of her niece, large brown eyes, chubby cheeks, dark hair, and the faces of the children she babysat or taught, many of whom had told her: “I love you Kayla.’’

She stepped off the tracks. Not tonight.

At least four times Kayla walked on the railroad tracks. Then in the late winter of 2015, just weeks after returning to school from spring break, she took a riskier step. For months, she had sunken into a pattern of eating only soup and crackers, if anything at all, of staying in bed whenever she wasn’t in class or sitting alone inside the campus chapel staring outside the window at the city below. One night alone in her dorm room, she swallowed a handful of pills, her prescribed antidepressant - the antidepressant she had stopped taking months earlier.

The bedroom blinds were drawn, but Kayla could tell that it was sunny outside when she opened her eyes about nine hours later, angry that she woke up at all. Kayla would be hospitalized, her third stay on a psychiatric ward. She then returned to her classes in college, where she continues to be on nearly a full scholarship for academic achievement and financial need.

Kayla, 21, has been in counseling in recent years, which has helped her significantly in weeding out pessimistic and self-destructive thoughts. Since last spring, she has not had a desire to die, though she knows how insidious depression can be, how as the semester goes on and winter drags, depression could snatch her back. “If it gets hard again I’m not going to say I’m not going to consider it (suicide). Right now, with a clear head, that’s not an option.”

Kayla’s mother gave birth to her when she was 17 and unmarried, a year after Kayla’s older sister was born. As a single parent struggling both financially and emotionally, Kayla’s mother took her frustrations out on Kayla and her older sister, sparing only their youngest sister from beatings.

With little support at home, Kayla received affirmation at school. She graduated high school with nearly a 4.0 grade point average. In college, she continues to excel academically and has many interests beyond the lecture hall, including singing alto in a choir and building theater sets for plays on campus.

Even when she has struggled, Kayla has always been involved in contributing to others through her church volunteer activities and the childhood development center where she works. An avid photographer, she thrives on taking pictures of the children she teaches and hopes to be a preschool or kindergarten teacher to inspire young children, who in turn, do the same for her.

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Denise's Story

For months after her son’s suicide, Denise Meine-Graham hardly made eye contact with people, certain that even strangers in the grocery store, if they saw her eyes, would know she was the mother who failed her son.

My son is dead. It’s my fault and everyone is looking at me. She panicked in the store and held tight to her husband.

At the time, she doubted every decision she had made as a parent: Maybe if we hadn’t moved, if we hadn’t gotten a divorce when he was young, if I hadn’t taken him on a roller coaster as a child .... he wouldn’t have killed himself.

Every thought seemed to lead her back to the question she could not answer:

Why was my love not enough for my son to choose life?

On Aug. 8, 2012, in the early morning, Drey texted his mother: Hey, I love you. Denise thought it was odd, but not too concerning he would text her that message in the middle of the night. She texted him back, telling him she loved him, and got ready for work.

Two months earlier, Drey had graduated from Thomas Worthington High School, where he had been an avid soccer player and earned a varsity letter. He had a job at a car lot and was preparing to start college, a transition he was insecure about. In the weeks before he was to start college, Drey had been angry and depressed, but Denise thought perhaps that was just typical angst for a 19-year-old.

Drey’s father called Denise in the morning on Aug. 8, urging her to come to the house. Immediately. He wouldn’t say what happened. Nor would the many teenagers gathered in front of the house when she arrived and looked at each of their faces, hoping to see her son’s: Where’s Drey? Where’s Drey?

And where was the ambulance? Denise asked the police officer. Why hadn’t they dispatched an ambulance?

“Ma’am,’’ the officer said, “he’s already passed.’’

About two and a half years before he died, Drey seemed depressed and told his mother he wanted to kill himself. But after four months of counseling, his mood improved so much that therapy seemed no longer necessary.

Then, during his senior year of high school, he started drinking. His mother had told him not to and had hoped that perhaps it was a fleeting phase. Drey drank the morning he took his life - after his dad left for work.

Denise wondered how she could continue living, waking with the same thought for so many mornings: How am I going to be alive tonight at dinnertime? The weight of losing her son, she was certain would kill her. Live or die, she didn’t care either way.

Days after Drey’s death, a woman from her church came to visit Denise. Her son had died by suicide five years earlier, when he was in his 20s.

“I couldn’t believe she was dressed, that she had driven to my home.’’

How could someone whose son had taken his own life be able to get dressed, put on makeup, drive, make a casserole? Denise didn’t think she would ever be capable of doing any of those tasks again, but seeing the woman offered a speck of hope that eventually she might be able to function again.

That visit inspired Denise, to start the Franklin County chapter of Local Outreach to Suicide Survivors (LOSS.) The organization dispatches trained volunteers to the scene of Franklin County suicides to offer support and resources to the victim’s family members, then follows up with them in the months after the death with gift baskets, cards and phone calls.

In Denise’s office, a photo of Drey sits on her desk. In it, he stands in front of a row of trees, arms folded, smiling. Actually, Denise points out, he was laughing at her, as she stood behind the photographer dancing wildly with her arms flailing, trying to elicit a genuine smile - instead of a forced one - for his high school senior photos.

Among the photos she has of Drey, this one she particularly treasures. Because in it, Drey looks at her and laughs.

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Community Insight
“Everyone has felt sadness for a period of time, but not everyone can really identify with clinical depression, especially with children who could be in a position that they’d rather die than be alive.”
John Ackerman, PhD Suicide Prevention Coordinator, Nationwide Children’s Hospital
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