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OPINION

Rest in Peace, Matthew
Steve Stewart, © 2011

Just days before Christmas, 2011, I heard from a marvelous, talented woman I dated in the 1990's. I was quite serious about Marguerite then, although ultimately the relationship did not work out. If it had, I would have been the one helping to raise her son, Matthew, who was almost four at that time. Young Matthew's story is truly hers to tell and I won't interfere beyond these few words.

Now in 2011, the reason we were discussing her son at all was because to my horror, I learned that early this year, Matthew died of an accidental overdose of prescription drugs. Matthew was just twenty years old.

In my reply to her, I referred to us as "comrades in arms" with a common purpose of saving other young lives. Marguerite is focused on educating parents and teens about the dangers stored casually in family medicine cabinets. She also focuses on the dangerous risks this casual storage makes possible. Neither is a topic she can ever take lightly, knowing first hand, devastatingly, that real lives are on the line. Half of all drug related deaths involve prescription drugs, mainly acquired from friends and family, often enough without anyone's knowledge.

My own personal and professional focus is on deliberate acts of frustration and depression culminating in teen suicides. My 19 year old son, Travis was one of these. Among American teens, this happens 4,400+ times every year and pills are simply one of the variables.

She and I would be a mess together now, don't you think? Is there a more lethal combination of experiences for two people to have in common? Could there be room for the loss of more than one child per household? Every "How was your day?" would be just three ladder steps away from the cold, bottomless pit of raw despair. No one can tell her story better than she, so I step aside and encourage you to go to the source, www.eyeofthestormfoundation.org. Live and learn to your benefit.

Raising the issue
Another friend has asked me if I am shy about raising my topical issue of teen suicide without first knowing what has transpired in the lives of others. I said, no, not because of that. There is the random chance that others and I will have this unspeakable loss of a child in common. Teen deaths are more common than you might think simply because none of us wants a conversation on the matter. "Say, did I ever tell you about the time my son Travis took his own life?"

Still, I always know that in any room with a certain number of people, the odds are that another parent much like me is present, both of us quietly guarding our ugly secret. Loss and death are no respecters of wealth or circumstance. Unhappy, unfulfilled people come in all shapes, sizes, colors and privilege or poverty. Although each of us can feel very alone, in truth none of us are. We just don't indentify ourselves.

How would you choose to handle this? If forced to choose, I personally cannot say which worse -- a bucket of emptiness or a bucket of pain? Many people have either or both, while not everyone finds a positive exit from there to wholesome, happy, productive lives filled with warm chatter, friends and full acceptance by others.

At times when those depressed don't find the positive exit, they choose instead whatever is behind Door #2. Perhaps with enough depression in play, they can't tell the different exits apart.

Intentions
What differentiates Matthew from Travis was their intent, not their results. Travis knew what he was doing. I had no idea Travis owned a rifle, but he did. I don't know where my teenage son got the beer although I don't imagine it was difficult to obtain, and he did. Travis drank enough of the beer to boost his courage and dull his inhibition to be able to pull the trigger and end his life. His intent was deliberate. His depression assured him this act would release him from all the problems and pain - which then cascaded down on those of us he left behind. I would happily have taken in all the problems and pain if only he remained alive. But his choice left no choice for others. Travis, all is forgiven. But no one lives or dies disconnected and alone in the world.

Matthew's intention was NOT what he got. He was just playing on thin ice without realizing how thin it was, his judgment overshadowed by the belief he was unbreakable. Otherwise, he would have played elsewhere or not at all. Yet with wholly different intentions, Travis and Matthew share their results.

What lies, and what lies ahead?
Travis is my story, and in a similar way, Marguerites' story. Our stories are irreversible. But your story with your children and grandchildren, your students and neighbors, are still being written.

How will you write your stories? How do you intend to promote the results you want? What exactly would you say or do with your child or grandchild, your students or neighbors, if you thought they were at risk? And they are at risk.

Surely you cannot wait to find out since they will never volunteer to tell you about the risks they take, any more than you told your parents about your own youthful risk-taking. Your chldren may not see it themselves even if you point it out, underline and highlight it, put it in the chapter headings and the index with a bookmark at every occurance, show supporting testimony from a teen pop star, with yellow post-it notes placed at eye-level from the bedroom mirror to the refrigerator door, and even where you are SO obviously right.

But with the precious stakes so high, will you leave these things unsaid?

Steve Stewart Seminars | 276 N. El Camino Real #184 | Oceanside CA 92058 | 760-298-8146/Direct, 760-216-1353/Cell | www.Steve-Stewart.com/ChooseLife