A Survivor's Story
She thinks of him every day. There isn’t a day that he doesn’t enter her mind. Some days, he’s all she thinks about.
September is Suicide Prevention month, dedicated to drawing awareness to a very prominent and prevalent issue in our society. More people now die of suicide than in car accidents, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2010 there were 33,687 deaths from motor vehicle crashes and 38,364 suicides. Locally, in 2012 there were 18 suicides in Allen County, 3 in Hardin County, and 4 in Auglaize County.
Valerie Coffey lives in Wapakoneta. Six years ago, her17-year-old son, Scott, died by suicide. He had multiple mental health diagnoses, and still it seemed that doctors never quite got it right. Scott had been involved in several situations at school and with the law, earning himself the reputation as a troublemaker. In reality, he was a teenager who was misunderstood. He was unable to perform to the standards people were placing on him, and he didn’t always realize how he was coming across. He was being construed as being bad, or a criminal, when in actuality he was simply hurting inside.
“It became exhausting for all of us; we didn’t know what to do with him or the system anymore. Everything seemed like it was broken,” said Coffey. The year before he died, however, he started going to Apollo Career Center in Lima. “It seemed like everything had changed. He could be a college student, something we thought could never happen,” Coffey said.
Scott had a car accident a couple months before he died. He suffered a head injury from the accident, which left him with some frustrating difficulties with his thinking. He then was involved in an incident that got him into trouble with law enforcement again. He was afraid he would end up going to jail, or losing his license, or being on probation. He was afraid. Scott was also having some issues with his girlfriend. He had a big change in his meds four days before he died.
The morning of his death, Scott crashed a guy’s motorcycle. He was afraid of the consequences there, too. It was, as Coffey described, a “perfect storm,” and he didn’t know how to get out. That night, Scott’s girlfriend called, wondering where he was. Coffey looked in his room, and he wasn’t there. There was worry in Scott’s girlfriend’s voice when she said, “You better look for him. Something’s wrong.”
Scott’s mom finally found him behind the fence in their backyard. She then saw that he had a shotgun. “He said, ‘You can come back; I won’t hurt you.’ We talked for 15 or 20 minutes. I Hoped things would de-escalate. I just couldn’t seem to talk him down from the place he was.” Coffey said that in retrospect she should have called 911, but she didn’t know what to do.
Just then Scott’s girlfriend and her grandmother showed up. “We tried to tell him people loved him, that he was loved, that nothing in life was big enough to do this…” Scott’s phone rang and it was the boy he’d borrowed the shotgun from. “Scott started saying, ‘You have to go,’ and I was thinking that no one would do this in front of someone. We were pleading with him,” Coffey said. “I was afraid for him, and for us,” Coffey said. “I started backing up, and Scott’s girlfriend and her grandmother ran away. I dialed 911.”
The second the dispatcher asked what the emergency was, the gun went off.
Everything just stopped for a second, time just stopped. Stood still. “It was like slow motion, everything is not in real time, but it is,” Coffey said.
“ I feel like I never stopped feeing sorry for his situation. It was so pitiful that he felt like he had nothing else to do. He was just afraid it would be more trouble, more misunderstanding, more misdiagnoses. His hope was just shot. He just couldn’t do it anymore,” Coffey said. “You just look back and wonder…he had some suicide talk, but it was just like teenage talk.”
“No matter how benign it may seem…when people talk about hating their lives, to them, they think this will never end,” Coffey said. “You have to ask those questions. Do you want to hurt yourself? Are you thinking about killing yourself? Do you have a plan?”
After Coffey went through the loss of her son and the PTSD that she’s experienced as a result, she feels that she has to share her experience with people who hopefully don’t have to go through the same thing, and people who have gone through the same thing, to know we’re not alone.
“It doesn’t necessarily get better. It gets different,” she said. “You learn to cope. There are gifts in tragedy. You figure it out and you get the tools. It helps to have a community who embraces your loss as if it’s their loss. I want to be an understanding, compassionate, empathetic person and point people in the direction of where they can get hope. Families are so devastated by this but they can’t really support each other, even if it’s the same family member. You had different relationships with that person. You’re all having such a rough time yourselves; it helps to have someone who’s not in the inner circle.”
That’s why events like the Suicide Walk, to support survivors, are so important. Coffey is a regular attendee of the Walk and said that, “We all really found that doing something together as a unit and everybody who was there for that same purpose was really helpful. We do some grieving by ourselves, and do some collectively. It’s a good outward showing to the community that might make people stop and think a little bit. It makes people think about what the situation is.”
The Mental Health Recovery and Services Board of Allen, Auglaize, and Hardin counties provides funding for several programs and agencies such as PVFF. PVFF is a part of the annual Suicide Prevention and Awareness Walk, which is on September 28 this year, from ten until noon. It begins at the We Care Crisis Center, located at 799 South Main Street in Lima, and goes to the Square and back. It ends with a memorial service and balloon release to honor those who have died.
Because she will never stop thinking of him.