“I feel responsible for my son’s death”: The Surge in Student Suicides

Baljeet Kaur saw the way they looked at her: at the funeral service, at the temple—which smelled of ghee and of underarm sweat—where a small congregation gathered after the cremation. When they came to the house carrying covered casserole dishes and potted plants. The hushed whispers, the looks of reproach, the pity on their faces. They looked at her as if they were surprised that she was still here on earth, still able to stand and walk and breathe. Often they did not even meet her eyes, or they looked away when they did, as if her pain might be contagious.

“Yes, I am a mother to be pitied.” She wanted to yell and scream until her throat bled.

If she hadn’t been a working mother. If she’d quit her job when Covid happened to help him with distance learning. If she’d been more available, more aware. If she’d been a better mother. If, if, If.

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Jasmine stared at her fourteen-year-old brother’s body draped in white with roses coiled about him, at his purple lips, which made him look like he’d just been sucking a frozen popsicle. She touched his body and was struck by how cold he was. She took off her Pashmina shawl (one of her mom’s) and draped it over him, but that wasn’t enough to warm him, so she draped him with her body too.

“Get up, Dev,” she shouted. “Get up, please.”

She could no longer tell if she was screaming out loud or just inside her head. She felt someone pull her by the shoulders and barefoot, she stumbled into her best friend Elizabeth’s arms.

She saw Elizabeth’s family had arrived at the Sikh temple—en masse, getting it all wrong—Elizabeth’s mother dressed in black, instead of white, her father in a suit and tie instead of casual clothes, struggling to cross his legs in the temple. Elizabeth in a skirt, being given a blanket to cover her tanned, swim team legs, fumbling with her headscarf to tuck the ends of her long, blonde hair under, sitting with her feet pointing at the Holy book, when we don’t point our feet at the Holy Book, reaching out to hug her, but all Jasmine wanted was Dev wrapping his scrawny arms around her thin shoulders, nudging Elizabeth aside, and saying. “I’m still here, big sister.”

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In the weeks after Dev died, Avatar felt as if an alien had occupied his body. He lost his appetite when before he ate like a vacuum cleaner, hoovering up whatever his wife cooked and placed in front of him. He found himself crying like a child, unexpectedly, without conscious thought, in the bathroom shower, in the car on the way to work, even in a meeting, embarrassing his colleagues when his eyes spontaneously filled with tears and made tire tracks on his face.

Avatar didn’t get it. The hymns from the Sikh scriptures recited that detachment was the path to nirvana, that we must learn to accept death and pray for the dead so that the soul finds solace in the afterlife. But, his tears were endless. Avatar even recalled his mother telling him as a child that they were compulsory. One could not enter a house in mourning with dry eyes, she said. He was impressed by the theater of it: he recalled a gaggle of strangers arranged around his Mataji when his grandfather died, beating their chests and wailing.

He couldn’t switch on the waterworks at will, even when he thought of the saddest thing that had ever happened to him, which at that time was probably failing to receive a bicycle on his birthday like his brother Satnam had. But, now, if you asked him if the tears were healthy, he would reply, yes, that such was the effect of ceaseless sobbing that by the end of the five-week mourning period, he was spending his afternoons teaching kids in high school about the risk of adolescent suicides due to the isolation of the pandemic. Pointing to the note that Dev left behind saying he had “nothing to look forward to.”

Last week he’d met with the school superintendent and other officials urging that schools reopen in February, despite the new variant sweeping the country.

And, just yesterday, the local T.V. station, Kron 4, had called to interview him.

“We knew he was upset because he could no longer meet with his friends or participate in his school activities—the basketball team, the chess club,” Avatar told the reporter. “We never could have foreseen that Dev would hang himself after his Zoom AP Geometry class.”

The reporter, a broad-chested man with a head full of curly brown hair, asked him who he thought was responsible.

“I wish I’d looked for signs that something was wrong,” Avatar mumbled, tears spilling over his pallid, blue-washed cheeks so that everyone could see.

#pandemicstories, #pandemicimpact, #studentsuicides, #suicide #depression, #mentalhealth, #anxiety, #suicideprevention, #mentalhealthmatters, #healing, #covid, #youmatter, #awareness, #bekind

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