Summary:

Paragraph 14 reads:  "All of this leaves his family wondering if the medication he had just started taking for attention deficit disorder contributed to his death. The Food and Drug Administration put a warning label on the drug after a study revealed suicidal thinking in children and adolescents using Strattera."


http://www.boston.com/news/local/articles/2008/04/06/parents_just_wanted_to_say_thanks_for_caring_after_sons_death/?page=full


Parents just wanted to say thanks for caring after son's death 

 
Email| Print|Single Page| Text size – + By Bella English


April 6, 2008

All Robyn and Stephen Londergan wanted was to thank the Boston College High School community for the care and sympathy they had shown after the death of their son Richard, of Braintree, who killed himself last June. Richard was 16 years old and had just finished his sophomore year in high school.

Richard Londergan's parents were offended by an article in a BC High newspaper presuming to know how their son died.

Richard's friends at the school and in town had organized a fund-raiser and participated in a walk that benefited the American Federation for Suicide Prevention. Letters of sympathy and support arrived from classmates, parents, and teachers. A priest from the school said the funeral Mass.

When the family called to put a thank-you message in the school's newspaper, The Eagle, they were told by the faculty adviser that the paper would be happy to run the family's words of thanks with a photo of Richard. That would be fine, said the Londergans.

When the issue came out, the message and photo were included next to a long story about Richard, by two of his friends who wrote warmly of their classmate. But then the article changed tone and began giving advice about stress and getting help. It said that depression and suicidal feelings are "treatable mental disorders." It said that high school students should have "their illnesses recognized and diagnosed and appropriate treatment plans developed.

"While we will always remember our good friend Rich, we hope that we can get the message out that there is always another option to suicide. We wish Richard had been able to get the help he needed," the story stated.

Stephen and Robyn Londergan were offended; they wonder if an adult suggested or added information on how to cope with depression, complete with suicide statistics and a hot line number. It's not that such information isn't valuable; they just felt it shouldn't be included in what was meant to be a tribute to their son - and their own thank you to the school.

Most of all, they felt the statements about mental illness and Richard's not being able "to get the help he needed" were presumptuous and damaging. Damaging not only to their son's memory but to other students who might fear the stigmatizing label "mentally ill," leading them to hide any feelings of depression, hopelessness, and isolation.

"It's a disservice to kids and their families," says Robyn. "To put the stamp of mental illness on it is too simplistic. Kids might think, 'Oh, if I feel this way, I must be mentally ill.' It's much more complicated than that. It might be stress; it might involve an individual's ability to cope."

The Londergans have asked the BC High administration for a correction in The Eagle. A school spokesman declined to comment "out of respect for the family and the sensitivity of the situation."

Talking about suicide prevention, the Londergans know, is crucial, but it shouldn't come at the expense of the victim.

The fact is, the family remains baffled by the death of their son, the sunny middle boy sandwiched in between two brothers, 20 and 11. He was 6 feet tall, "a 200-pound teddy bear" who got up at 5 a.m. on school days to work out at the gym with his mother. He loved taking the bus to school, observing all the riders, and wrote a freshman essay on "Riding the 225." He would pull his mom outside to look at a rainbow. He was a gifted artist who would toss off complex sketches as if they were stick figures. He had tons of friends who all showed up at his funeral.

He was, in his mother's words, "a glass-half-full person." There was no sullenness, no withdrawal, no moodiness. Memorial Day weekend, he'd gone on a family outing and sketched his little brother in the back seat of the car. He and his father had just returned from a trip to China, and Richard wanted to make plans to return. Shortly after, he took his life.

All of this leaves his family wondering if the medication he had just started taking for attention deficit disorder contributed to his death. The Food and Drug Administration put a warning label on the drug after a study revealed suicidal thinking in children and adolescents using Strattera.

Teenage suicide, tragically, is not a rare occurrence but a killer that takes more than 5,000 lives a year. All the Londergan family knows is that their beloved boy is dead, and that somehow, his death is being treated differently from those resulting from an accident, illness, or violence.

After he died, a neighbor said, "It's not your fault. He took the easy way out."

Another told Robyn: "I curse him every day for what he's done to our family. Life is hard enough [for my son] with school and girls, without having this burden added." Such ignorance and insensitivity may be unthinkable but, unfortunately, are real.

The Londergans were also upset about a recent story in The New York Times that quoted a grief counselor on teen suicides. The counselor said that children who took their own lives were not good problem solvers; they were wrong, and suicide should not be romanticized or glorified with memorials and tributes.

For their part, schools, including BC High, no doubt worry about the "copycat" or "contagion" factor and do what they think they can to address that concern with the student body.

There is obviously a healthy place between "glorifying" suicide victims and condemning them. The more society talks about the very real issue, the better off our children will be.

The Londergans would like to be part of that discussion; it is a topic that tragically they know something about.

But they say they want the discussion to be informed and fair. Is it too much, they ask, to expect to be treated like any other grieving parents who have lost a child?

And despite what some of the experts say, they believe their son is worthy of the Japanese garden in their backyard that coworkers of Robyn's at South Middle School built in Richard's honor.

As in other losses, such memorials serve to dignify our children's lives, not their deaths. Every single life was different. And so was every single death.

Columnist Bella English of Milton can be reached at english@globe.com. []
© Copyright 2008 Globe Newspaper Company.

Richard Londergan's parents were offended by an article in a BC High newspaper presuming to know how their son died.

A TIME FOR RESPECT