Our teens, drugs, death and helping them cope when they lose a friend

ImageThis is taken from a post in February. I thought Id share again and add some good resources at the bottom. Three losses in one week is almost too much when our community has lost so many kids.

This is the time of year accidents increase. Alcohol and drug use are up.Kids react to grief often by trying to ‘numb’. Drug use and addiction is an awful cross to bear, not just for the addicted but for their family. Even drug abuse that is not technically ‘an addiction’ can cause great sorrow for families.

What do we do as a community? Zero tolerance for substance use. I wish I could have you all for coffee- No more allowing drinking, no more permissiveness with our kids! Enough! Alcohol opens the gate to other risk taking behaviors. Troubled kids have to begin somewhere.  I know parents of kids that ended up in trouble, many of those parents said NO with great vigilance. BUT, they did not have the support of their community and their children were allowed to use at other peoples home. No one had their back.

There is nothing worse than knowing you do not allow your kids to drink but everyone you know (and like) does. Its not safer to allow them to drink at home. There is an 85% chance kids will use outside the home if you allow them to drink under your roof. Alcohol is a gateway to other uses and risk taking. Parents need to be on the same team. Its time to start saying no again. Their frontal lobes aren’t fully developed until 26, without alcohol they need our guidance!

Deep breath, have hope and be strong for you kids. Keep communication as open as possible! Allow healthy opportunities to share, be careful not to allow them to ‘drink away’  their sadness. We all need to  have our eyes and ears pealed. We need to watch, check Facebook, twitter and listen. Watch for changes in behaviors, comments that seem off . Better safe than sorry.

Friends are important to teens, so when they lose one, the pain is deep. 

How do we walk the fine line of our own grief and theirs? Has loss after loss created such fear in us that we cant speak to our children about the loss of their friends?

I hope not.

I wanted to write something today because I know many of our young friends are sad today. I know they are your kids, your neighbors and your students.

My kids remember, we talk about the boys we lost. Some talk more than others. 

Breathe…Pull the shade up and let the air and light heal. 

Chip has a favorite story about Adam and his famous skate board wipe out last year. He skinned his whole forearm. Like any good mother of 8 who wont take a kid to the Doctor unless its a ruptured appendix, I cleaned it, put cream on and covered it up. 3 days later my lack of a medical degree was to Adams misfortune and he ended up with a festering wound. Green, nasty and gross.

Covering it up and pretending it wasn’t there- big mistake. It festered long enough that the infection needed to be treated from the interior. He needed a Doctor.

Emotional wounds are the same, if we ignore them, cover them up and pretend they aren’t there…they fester. The kids need help that is bigger than we can give. They need a Doctor, don’t ever be afraid to find one.

I worry fear leaves us silent. Silence leaves our kids with an inability to grieve the loss of their friends.

 As their parents we give them a gift to talk about their losses at home in a safe place with the ones who love them most. 

Sometimes we don’t need to talk but simply listen, listening can give them great comfort.

Its OK to admit you don’t have the answers, admit your scared and admit your sad.

But don’t forget to remind them that life is a beautiful struggle and not always easy. Hope is always there even if its small and hard to see right away.

It’s important to be honest and open… To let the air and light in… To leave the grief untouched would allow it to fester.

Here are some great resources. This first one is what comes recommended as one of the areas top rehab facilities. Please let us know if we can help you further






Don’t forget your local churches and pastors. They are an excellent resource when kids are questioning God and life. Pastors are trained and can help you find resources you  need!

Spring is here…

ImageJust a couple of days ago we were sent an email from the head of our local Traumatic Loss Coalition reminding those of us who work with teens that it is that time of  year again when we seem to see loss of young life in higher numbers.

Sadly today we learned that two brothers from the town that neighbors ours were killed in a car accident. There doesn’t seem to be any answers to the whys or what happened. It’s very tragic, it’s so very sad, they were the only two children in their family. Our hearts are broken for their parents and we pray for strength for them to continue each day towards healing.

I wanted to share some thoughts from the note that came from TLC. I hope it gives you a starting point to begin a conversation with your kids. As we enter into warmer weather and celebration time, risk taking goes up and we do see losses every year in the paper.

I am not sure of all of the social implications specifically, but it seems that April-June brings with it an increase in tragic events (car accidents, drowning, overdoses) including suicide attempts and deaths by suicide.  Is it the freedom of being out in the warm air, or of gatherings among teens including drinking and drug use, friendships that breakup?  I am really not sure, but perhaps a combination of all of the above and more.

 All of us are well advised to increase our vigilance and our inquiries among the adolescents and young adults we know.  Pay attention. 

As parents, our conversations with our kids are powerful, they are listening.  We recently had a friend comment on how surprised he was when he and his son had a really good conversation in the car. He told us his son really listened to his advice on a ride home from a game. Sometimes timing is the key, sometimes location, when it works be willing to stop what you’re doing and engage.

Chip and I find when the kids seem open and are comfortably chatting with us about other things is a good time sneak in the important stuff. And sometimes you just need to say, ‘can you give me 5 minutes to talk with you?’ Asking permission gets their attention too. Bringing up these issues when they’re not in the mood, or you’re in the middle of a power struggle isn’t effective at all (we’ve done that too, doesn’t work!).

  • Don’t be afraid to ask the uncomfortable questions!
    • Keep conversation open, bite the bullet and just sit down and chat
  • Tell them that you are concerned about safety heading toward summer since it is a notorious time for young loss
  • Be careful not to allow substance use because ‘everyone else can’, or its Prom, its Graduation’, they’re just going to drink anyway next year….
    • Remember the frontal lobe isn’t fully developed until about 26. The frontal lobe is used for impulse control and decision making. Chemically altering the frontal lobe happens with the first drink. Plus its illegal and the consequences are long.
  • Go over the importance of not getting in a car with someone who has been drinking
  • Not texting and driving
  • Paying attention to speed limits
  • As we approach anniversaries of the loss of friends, be aware they could be sad in remembering. Check in with those who were close with them.

Be especially concerned for those who will be graduating and going off to college, or the military, or another career.  Transitions are difficult.  Most can handle them, some can’t.

Don’t go quietly into the spring and summer.  Tell the students you care and are concerned.  Let them know they matter.

We hope that we don’t see anymore sad headlines this spring. Let’s do our best to provide a  fun celebration season with many great memories safely for our young people. Remind them life is a great big wonderful journey and our lives,  their lives are precious and valuable.

It’s complex


I was recently asked by a friend my thoughts on what I’ve learned through our work at YCNBR about a young person who takes their life in a paragraph. I’m not sure I can write only a paragraph on such a complex issue.

Briefly; my husband, oldest daughter and I founded You Can NOT Be Replaced after our local high school experienced the loss of 8 students, 1 to overdose and 7 to suicide. Our section of Monmouth County during the same time frame lost 12 to suicide; we have the largest cluster in the country. YCNBR focuses on the irreplaceable person and finding real contentment in life using your gifts and talents for others. We are deliberately trying to fill a hole and ‘catch’ kids several years before they may find themselves in crisis.

‘Why’ is always what people want to know: we don’t know. We don’t know why our beautiful utopian area of the country has this unfortunate claim to fame. Suicide is complex; it has many facets and nuances that factor in, many that only the person who is suffering knows. That complexity I think is the most challenging aspect of trying to figure out the ‘why’. It would be very easy to say, ‘their home life must have failed them’, ‘they lacked faith’, ‘why didn’t they have hope?’ and walk away and say ‘not my kid’. But we can’t walk away, there is a ‘hole’ in our culture and we need to help find a way to ‘fill it’.

Suicide isn’t black and white. If it was, it would be easy to figure out and find a solution. The young people we lost came from homes with parents who loved them; in most of the cases the families did whatever they could to help their children. In some cases the family didn’t know their child was suffering or that their pain was as deep as it was. Depression manifests itself in many ways; sometimes isolation, sadness, sometimes aggression, nastiness, but often in silence. It’s not how the movies want us to think it is. A depressed person can become a master at hiding their pain. Depression can be a very grey area layered with complexity.

There are two different classifications of depression, chemical depression or situational depression. A creative brain reveals a window into the chemical depression. Look at some of the great authors, poets, musicians and artist of history, many though creative geniuses suffered horribly from dark thoughts.

Someone who wasn’t born with a predisposition of a chemical imbalance but life has thrown them a curve ball suffers from situational depression. Events occur and stressful circumstances in life spike a chemical called cortisol in the brain which will lower the ‘happiness chemicals’ in the brain. Both forms of depression have a whole other complex layer when someone is so burdened by sadness that they are suicidal.

There are four chemicals in the brain that effect happiness; dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, and endorphins. In some cases those chemicals can be boosted by exercise, clean eating, and healthy relationships, some cases need medication to balance them out.  Many young people who have a deficiency chemically turn towards substance use. Extra burden is added when a depressed individual gets involved with substance use.

Substances can temporarily make a depressed brain feel ‘normal’. A young person who is struggling with depression can also find themselves suffering from an addiction in the search for relief. The problem with self-medicating is that the highs and lows are not controlled and often when the crash occurs it is a deep dark time for the user. Depression is often made worse by substance abuse. Layer that with an underdeveloped frontal lobe which controls decision making and impulse control and you have a dangerous combination.

We know that for those who are chemically imbalanced, anti-depression meds can be real life savers-literally. For many who suffer, they didn’t realize how deep the depression they were in was until they were on meds and looked back. But because depressed people can be masters at hiding the heavy burden of depression, it’s often hard to intervene and get them help.

We explain the importance of not hiding emotions by telling kids a story about a skateboard accident our middle son had a couple years back. He skinned his forearm badly. We cleaned it, put antibacterial on it and covered it up. Each day we repeated the process and by the fourth day we had a mess. By covering up the wound we made it worse. It was festering, green, oozing puss and nasty. What the wound needed was air and light. It needed to air out and breathe. There is great relief in sharing our burdens with others, but it’s very hard to do.

For those who have someone their concerned about, know your limits. People who are seriously depressed need a professional.

When I was 16, I was a camp counselor at our pool club. I had my life guard certificate and often helped with swimming lessons. One day our 3 year olds were having lessons. They were lined up on the top step of the pool with the child who was ‘up next’ standing on the bottom step. For a moment I looked up to say hello to someone, when I looked down I saw a little face with sheer panic in her eyes.

She had slipped off the bottom step and had her tip toes on the bottom of the pool. Still, she wasn’t tall enough to keep her mouth and nose above the water. She could have very easily put her foot back on the step and stood up, but her panic and young age didn’t make that simple move possible. I immediately broke the cardinal rule of lifeguarding and jumped in the water to pull her out.

Depression can be the same. The person, like my little friend, might only have to reach their foot over to find the step and lift their face above water. But often they are immersed in the weight of the depression and can’t see the step. To rescue them I think the basic lifeguard rule applies.

The Rule:

Reach, Throw, Row but don’t go


If you have a friend who is isolating themselves and not interested in life like they used to be. Ask the friend if they’re ok. Tell them you are there for them, to help them, and you will go with them for help. If they don’t give an answer that seems right, tell an adult.

Your friend might need a lifeline thrown to them, but they person concerned needs to have their feet firmly planted on the ground to throw out that life line.


In life saving, you stand firmly on the ground and throw a floating device to the swimmer in trouble, and then pull the person towards you.

You must know what you are qualified to do and what your limits are. Young people often think they can fix their friends problems. They need to know that adults are not the enemy and must be involved to find the right help.  I would call a ‘lifeline’ an offer of a tangible option for help, bringing a friend to a parent, priest, minister or teacher, helping them be brave enough to call for counseling, giving them other options for relief other than substance abuse.


If a person is stuck out in deep water, you ‘row’ to them. The guard goes protected in a boat so that they arent aren’t pulled under the water by a panicked swimmer.

If you have a depressed or suicidal friend you must get help. You need to protect yourself and the friend you are trying to help by knowing your limits. There are adults that are professionals that must be called when your concerns are serious, they have been trained and they can help.

Don’t Go:

If you try to go into deep water to save a swimmer alone without a floatation device, in their sheer panic they could grab you , pull you down as well and then you’re both in trouble. If its a rip current,both people can be lost.

Have you ever seen a save with the line of guards from the shore line to the swimmer caught in a rip current? They line up connected by a long rope lifeline with the strongest guard as the ‘anchor’ and then together they pull them in.

When a friend is in trouble, ‘find’ the head lifeguard, find an adult you can confide in, your parents, their parents, get a professional and get help.

Always be kind to everyone. If depression effects millions of people every  year, you could make a significant impact in someone’s life without knowing it. You never know what a small act of kindness can do. It could be the encouragement a person needs to open up. Don’t be afraid to approach someone, it’s better to reach out and have a friend mad at you for a week or so than to miss something. But it’s very important to know that adults need to be informed of your concern.


Society for the Prevention of Teen suicide: Began by two local fathers who lost their children to suicide in our cluster. This is an excellent resource of the best information out there. They have a philosophy of prevention that is proactive and tangible. They have the country’s leading expert on suicide clusters Maureen Underwood as an advisor. http://www.sptsusa.org/

Other links and resources are available at our site: http://www.youcannotbereplaced.com