Community support after family tragedy

BY MATT MACKINDER
Clarkston News Staff Writer

School, church, and community gathered to offer comfort and support as the tragic news of a classmate’s suicide spread last week.
Clarkston High School Principal Gary Kaul and a support team of counselors stayed in close contact with the Oakland County Crisis Response Team and put a plan in place to provide grief counseling to anyone who needed support.
“Jack’s passing is devastating to our school community, and especially so for those who knew him well,” said Clarkston Community Schools Superintendent Shawn Ryan in an email to the community, Sept. 25, letting them know CHS junior Jack Lehman had passed away. “Words cannot capture our deep heartbreak today.”
“Jack was a bright, motivated student,” said high school Japanese teacher Faye Valtadoros. “He had a great love of Japanese and Japanese culture. Jack was usually the first one done with his work in class, and he always proudly turned it in before anyone else did. I will always remember his smile when he turned in his work.”
Kate Zywicki, pastor of youth and family ministry at Calvary Lutheran Church in Clarkston, where Lehman’s funeral was held on Sept. 29, and an active supporter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, said it’s important to be a voice of safety, support, healing, and hope during times such as this.
“People don’t want to say ‘committed suicide,’” Zywicki said. “You commit crimes. You wouldn’t say you committed cancer. There is a stigma there. When you ask someone if they want to hurt themselves, they are already hurting and see suicide as the only way to end that pain.”
Suicide is the result of an illness, Zywicki said.
“I think when you actually use the word ‘suicide,’ that it has more meaning and can be more helpful,” she said. “We need to be aware of policies and best practices on how, when, and where we can get help when warning signs appear.”
Anxiety for this generation has become the norm, she said.
“”It hasn’t just escalated – you are unusual if you don’t struggle with anxiety,” Zywicki said. “We had two (youth) suicides in our church community in the past year and a half (Josh Whitt and Evan Borgerson) and they motivate our heart to get the word out. And the community is responding. The community is listening.”
Clarkston High School teachers shared the news of Lehman’s passing Sept. 25 at school during Wolf Time and offered counseling to anyone who needs to talk.
“Suicide is a very complicated act,” said Kaul. “Often, we have a tendency to ask ourselves if we could have done anything to prevent it, or we immediately look for a reason as to why or how it happened. While these are natural human reactions, these are questions which are difficult to answer, and maybe impossible, to answer.”
One thing is certain – there are supports available that can help, Kaul said.
“Suicide should never, ever be an option,” he said. “Each of us will react to Jack’s death in our own way, and we need to be respectful of each other. Feeling sad is a normal response to any loss. Some of you may not have known Jack very well and may not be as affected, while others may experience a great deal of sadness. Some of you may find you’re having difficulty concentrating, and others may find that diving into your work is a good distraction.”
Teachers moderated small-group discussions with students to ensure everyone felt supported and know where to get help if they or someone they know is struggling with suicidal thoughts.
“We also will continue to work as a district to support the emotional health and well-being of all students and reach out to individuals who may be struggling for any reason,” Ryan said. “We want our students to know that their lives have great meaning and value, that they are loved, and are surrounded by people who care about them.”
The suicide prevention event, “safeTalk,” will be hosted at Calvary Lutheran, 6805 Bluegrass Drive, on Oct. 26 from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. On Nov. 23 from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., another event will focus on survivors of suicide loss. For more information on both events, contact Zywicki at kzywicki@calvary-lutheran.org or 248-625-3288.

If you are in crisis, or know someone who needs help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline NOW at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). For info, go to www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org.