Editor's note: This article first appeared in Issue 5 of Holl & Lane Magazine.
Words and images by Meg McLemore
In the early morning hours of November 30, 2014, our biggest fear surfaced at full speed. We were now living our greatest nightmare.
Shaun had been out that night for his 10 year high school class reunion. He had had an amazing time: he gave a toast to his class, organized the class photo, gave out hugs in abundance, told his classmates that he loved them and was so happy they came - something that wasn't unusual for him to do during a night out. On the outside, he looked beyond happy. He made sure everyone else was having a phenomenal time.
Shortly after the evening ended, Shaun's extreme high crashed to an extreme low and he attempted suicide after arriving home. In a matter of minutes, our lives became forever changed. Shaun was airlifted to Toledo Hospital where he remained in a coma and on life support until the early evening of December 2, 2014.
Shaun had battled depression since a young age, something only those closest to him were aware of. Outwardly, he appeared as one of the happiest, fun-loving, and adventurous people who had a zest for life. He spoke to only a few about previous thoughts of taking his life and it was a fear that still lived in the pits of our stomachs, even when he seemed to be doing better. He described the darkness he felt as "the monster that lives inside me". Over the course of several years, Shaun was on and off medication to help with his depression, underwent a brief stint of counseling and was hospitalized once. He did not care for any of those forms of treatment; to him, the gym and riding his quad was therapy, as that is what made him feel his best. Loved ones encouraged him, at times even pleaded with him, to seek appropriate help. At the time of his death, Shaun's depression was not being treated.
Shaun had the biggest heart of anyone that we know. To know him was to love him, and he touched all of our lives in ways beyond description. Shaun would give a stranger the shirt off of his back; he was the smile in the room, the one who made you laugh when you were down, and the person who was always checking on everyone else to make sure they were OK. He was a jokester as well as a confidant; yet Shaun carried the weight of the world on his broad shoulders. He was a beloved son, brother, boyfriend, grandson, nephew, cousin, uncle, and friend.
Shaun's suicide was devastating and heartbreaking beyond measure. It caused a pain that until you have experienced it, you cannot fully understand how hard it is to face the never-ending grief that comes from losing someone by their own choice. You spend every day wondering what you could have done differently to change the outcome, to avoid the heartache, and to evade the pain. Your grief is overwhelming most days, and you look to channel your energy into something, anything, to get you through the toughest ones. For us, it was Making Strides.
Almost immediately after losing Shaun, Jen, his sister, and I began discussing an event to be held in memory of him. Shortly thereafter, Jen was contacted by Lenawee Community Mental Health about the possibility of her organizing a walk for suicide awareness here in Lenawee County. As the pieces seemed to fall perfectly into place, we began working with a small committee, to whom we are so absolutely grateful for, to form Making Strides: a community walk focused on the awareness and prevention of suicide. This was our way to share Shaun's story with the world, and it was our chance to break down the stigma attached to depression, to spread suicide awareness, and to ultimately prevent the loss of another life.
The journey that we have taken during the course of planning this event has been nothing short of incredible. As a result of the stigma that is attached to depression and suicide, it is not a topic readily discussed. By shedding light (or 'shaunshine' as we like to call it) on such a dark subject, we have created an intimate place for grieving families to share their personal stories. We have been blessed to have met and connected with some amazing people who, like ourselves, have been recently lost a loved one to suicide. At our inaugural event, we saw over 250 people from all walks of life come together in memory of their loved ones lost and in honor of those still struggling daily with their depression. We had received countless emails and Facebook messages from those in our community that wanted to share their own experiences with us, and I cannot begin to describe how honored we were to be entrusted with their words.
To date, Shaun's story has been shared with over 11,000 people on social media. Much like the story of Pandora's Box, Shaun's is one that is full of sadness, pain, and suffering; it is also one that is filled with hope. Our hope for Making Strides is to grow this event and hold it annually in our community, with the immediate goal being to use the funds raised towards a support group for families that have lost someone to suicide right here in Lenawee County. Our hope for our community is that by bringing awareness to suicide and depression, we will save another family from experiencing the pain of losing a loved one to something that is completely preventable. And our hope for those struggling is that by reading Shaun's story, and those we have shared on Facebook, they are able to recognize that they are not alone in their struggles and are able to seek help. That in the midst of their own pain and suffering, they too find hope.
If you are interested in sharing your personal story of how suicide has affected your life, please email StridesforShaun@gmail.com. To follow Making Strides for Suicide Awareness and Prevention on Facebook, go to www.facebook.com/stridesforshaun.