Written by John Trautwein
I’ve been told that I am a member of the “saddest club on earth.” I am a suicide survivor. In just one week, it will be the third anniversary of the suicide of my teenage son, Will.
My boy was a very successful, talented, popular, healthy and handsome 15-year-old high school freshman, yet he somehow lost the will to live and took his own life, leaving his family and so many loving friends absolutely stunned and shocked. None of us knew anything was wrong—we not only thought Will was happy, we all wished we were like him.
Will came from a loving home. My wife and I have a wonderful marriage and a very positive approach to parenting and to life in general. Our home was always happy—we were always happy. The Trautwein family was living the dream. Today, however, we are the face of teen suicide in America.
During that fateful weekend when I said goodbye to my son, I thought I would never smile again. However, I was wrong. You see, during that weekend of Will’s funeral and every day since, my friends quite simply picked me up and carried me through life’s darkest hours. My wife experienced the same from her friends.
They showed us the good and the love that do indeed still exist in our lives, every day, even during this absolutely awful tragic period. I was shocked at the power my friends had to help me, and I remember thinking, If only Will could have realized this. If only his friends, who were so devastated by his death, could have known the power they had to help Will and to help one another.
I very quickly realized that the greatest friends I ever made in my life, those who stood up for me at my wedding and are the godparents to my kids, were friends I made when I was Will’s age—my teenage friends—who I now refer to as my Life Teammates.
If only Will had recognized what wonderful friends he’d already made in his short time on earth, maybe he would have reached out to them—maybe. If only Will’s friends had known he was hurting, they could have reached out to him—maybe.
Weeks after Will’s death, we started a nonprofit foundation called the Will to Live Foundation, which, just as its motto states, is “for the kids, through the kids, and by the kids.”
Will to Live’s goal is to spread awareness of suicide prevention and depression while working with teens and young adults to help them recognize that right next to them—in the classroom, on the field or in the dugout, in the youth group, scout troop, music group or band, or at the dinner table—are some of life’s greatest friends.
So let’s talk, and let’s listen. Let’s encourage our kids to do the same. We all need to realize that life is extremely hard, and to win this battle against teen suicide, we have to act together and show one another the good and the love that exist in our lives. I know that’s what my son would want us to do.
John Trautwein, of Atlanta, GA, cofounded (along with wife Susie) the Will to Live Foundation in honor of their 15-year-old son, who took his own life in 2010.