Had he lived my son, Jay, would have been 30 today. Like most mothers who survive a child, I find his birthday bittersweet. On my firstborn’s birthday, I remember the glorious day he was born and all the events leading up to his birth. I reminisce about the birthdays that followed, the toddler years when he tore into the piles of gifts. In later years, birthdays included sleepovers and picnics with friends at the lake. God blessed me with the honor of being his mom on this earth for 16 years.
The first years after his suicide, birthdays were extraordinarily painful, filled with guilt, remorse, sadness, questions of what if – all mixed with some righteous anger. As time passed, the birthdays became bearable, mixed with good memories and sadness that he isn’t physically present on the earth to celebrate another trip around the sun.
Jay would have been 30 today. On this monumental birthday, I celebrate his sweet memory, but I am also curious. What would his life been like if he had survived depression? What type of work would he do? Would he have married? Would he have children like many of his friends? Would his tall, thin frame have changed to be thick around the middle? His first niece was born this year (my granddaughter). I don’t have to guess how he would have felt about that. He would have been thrilled. With his delightful sense of humor, he would have found quirky ways to make her laugh. In my mind, I can see his dimpled smile and the twinkle in his eyes.
Many of my friends and colleagues know that I lost a son to suicide. However, most do not know that Jay was a school shooter. Jay held his former English class hostage before taking his own life. Most parents of school shooters go into hiding. With the support of family and friends and because I was the sole supporter of the family, I continued to work. I don’t know of any school shooters who had a parents who work in education. The school district I worked in at the time was supportive of my unique situation and I was able to maintain my job. Since they knew me before the events, they realized that if such an event could happen to me, it could happen to anyone. As I moved to other jobs, I didn’t share the information openly until today – Jay’s 30 birthday.
To say the least, Jay found school unbearable on so many levels. Because of Jay’s life and death, I have work very hard to make high schools better places for young people. The work of school improvement is extraordinarily difficult with long hours. Those of us in this profession often work late into the evenings and sometimes must work all night or through the weekend to meet deadlines. The travel schedule and hotel life can be brutal. Jay’s memory keeps me going. I hope no other parents to have to celebrate their child’s birthday while wondering what if.