Families Deal with Life After Suicide: Merrick Family

The numbers surrounding suicide are shocking — and the most shocking part may be that no one knows precisely how prevalent the problem is. Last year the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that slightly fewer than 43,000 Americans died by their own hand in 2014 — the highest number in 30 years.

As sobering as that is, no one – least of all the CDC itself – believes that number to be anywhere near accurate due to sketchy reporting. In fact, a recent West Virginia University study suggested wide disparities in the number of overdose deaths listed as accidents versus suicides, particularly in the South.

Whatever the number, it pales in comparison to the millions upon millions of family members left behind to cope with a loved one’s final act. What follows are stories of three such families and one community coming to terms with who they lost, what they’ve learned and how they face each new day.

Jordan Merrick at Cotillion

JORDAN MERRICK

November 26, 1999 – January 28, 2016

Barbie Merrick keeps a photo of her daughter, Jordan, on her Facebook page; the girl is onstage, one of the places in the world she loved best. The photo shows Jordan with eyes cast hopefully upward, face lit by the bright stage lights, mouth open and smiling in song.

“She was just so talented, even from the time she was just little bitty,” Barbie says. “She loved to sing and entertain people. She really had a gift for it. Boy, she could pick up on anything.”

The picture also shows an intense skirt of darkness enveloping everything just beyond the footlights, an equally fitting metaphor for the Cabot teen.

“Something she told me one time was, ‘You know, Mom, I don’t think I’ve ever been just really happy. I don’t think I have the capacity to be happy like some people are happy,’” Barbie says. Jordan Merrick with her mother

Barbie’s voice never reaches beyond conversational, but the “why” is still in her tone. Jordan was the polar opposite of the stereotype of a person at-risk of suicide: She had friends, a stable home life and good grades; she was active in her church. Every part she tried out for seemed to go her way; every award she set her sights on found its way to the family mantle.

It was only after Jordan’s death from a self-inflicted gunshot wound that her parents discovered the darker influences in her life.

“In the last two weeks before this, she had joined some groups and Googled different things,” Barbie recalls. “One of them was called The Tracks and it’s this group of kids who talk about how to kill yourself by sitting on the railroad tracks. They encourage each other to do it. And we found a couple of texts that she had sent out to friends saying ‘I’m just sitting here on the tracks. I’m going to do it today.’”

Jordan would have been a senior this year and the milestones that her classmates experience are hard for her mother to watch. She wants to support the kids who used to hang out at her house and fill it with laughter, but she can’t bring herself to. The loss is too raw.

“The thing I’ve said over and over and my husband and I have talked about is we know we will see Jordan again,” she says. “I can’t fathom a parent who has lost a child who doesn’t have faith when we barely get by day to day. Inside you feel like you’re just dead emotionally, physically, spiritually, but to the outside world you just keep smiling. Nobody knows that that’s how you are.”

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