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fallen Angels - the First

Posted on April 9, 2018 at 1:05 AM

<<Be advised: this blog entry contains reflections about my past that may trigger victims of suicide loss or attempt survivors - and - it is rather long as well>>



At the end of my blog post on April 1st, I drew attention to an older series of my posts back from November 30th to December 5th, 2016. Four of them were entitled "fallen Angels" and numbered second, third, fourth, and fifth. In a helpful way to refresh anyone's memory allow me to explain what I was referring to by using the phrase fallen angels, and why I chose it. Also, as always I want to thank you all very much for taking the time and effort to continue supporting me by reading my blogs. Spread the word and generate helpful discussions about any of these important topics.


In the four blog posts during early December 2016, I talked about four people who had died young as a result of car accidents. These individuals were unique because they each affected my life considerably. Two of them were high school classmates that I knew well enough (Lynnette Williams, 1999; Jason Baird, 2001), one was a former friend and then-next door neighbor (Benjamin Wimer, 2004), and the fourth wasn't someone I knew but the tragedy of her passing affected me just as much as if I had known her (Nicole Chauvet, 2009). Their deaths left permanent marks on my life as well as my mental health at those times, and they had died much too young with so much life ahead of them.


Hence why I referred to them as fallen angels in those blog posts.


However, because of the way my blogging streak of one hundred twenty eight days ended up by February 15th 2017, I never found the right moment to talk about the one person who did not fit into the car accident fatality discussion. The one person who had an even more powerful effect on me as well. Given the years' time that has passed, since I originally intended to talk about this, I have had more time to think about what I want to share. So, I hope now what I say here will honor his memory in better ways and reflect a greater awareness of what happened then, compared to my life now. In all honesty, his death left perhaps the single most profound mark on my adolescent life.


Steven J. Claypoole

1981-1997

The first of the five fallen Angels to have affected my life...


Thursday, January 16th, 1997; the day that single-handedly changed my entire ninth grade class forever. It was a day I will never forget. The most compelling reason was not the circumstances or the way in which Steve died, but in how genuinely nice of a person he was. Although somewhat quiet and to himself, the time that I had known of Steve he never had a terse word to say to me or anyone else. Likable in his own way, and rightfully loved very much by those close to him, Steve always seemed soft-spoken and easy to get along with. Therefore, this made his passing far more difficult to bear and due to the way in which it happened...


Suicide.


The first memory I have for all these years since is actually not of the Thursday, January 16th, when everyone found out. Even though it was intense enough as it unfolded... At the time, I knew I was obviously not the last person to have seen Steve alive. What I will never forget was the last class of the Wednesday before, because both Steve and I were in it together: Mrs. Stephen's ninth grade English class. I also remember it because four years later, in 2001, Steve's close friend and fellow classmate, Jason Baird, died in a car accident. From being seated in Mrs. Stephen's classroom, Jason sat in the right front desk that was closest to the door. Steve sat behind him. One seat behind and to their left was where I sat, with few classmates sitting near the three of us that day... Or at least that was how it felt... afterwards.


I will never forget the memory from that Wednesday, January 15th, of the faces of both Jason and Steve. I don't even need to close my eyes to see them... with Steve close enough to reach out and touch... I'm sorry... Thinking about that moment is still sorrowful enough to bring me to tears... If only I had reached out a sturdy hand and patted Steve on the shoulder... or shook his hand with a greater intent of friendship. To reassure him of his worth and what he meant to the people around him. Or how and why his quiet nature had still endeared him to many of his fellow classmates... To do everything I could for convincing him that his life was worth far more to live than he felt that day... But I didn't. I suppose it is survivor's guilt to regret having not been closer to him to prevent his tragic end. An end that few seemed to see coming...


For the memory of the next day, Thursday, January 16th, guilt was all I could muster to feel. The emotions still haunt me even now... The school day seemed to start as usual until maybe the first or second period. I don't remember what class it was, but I can remember a snapshot of it and how all the old wood of the room stood out in my mind. Just before I got to class and was nearly late, I'd heard some rumors in the hallways. The teacher was late to show up and I whispered to a classmate about what I heard. One of my classmates harshly spoke up to quell the rumor. Later that day I found out why. We waited for what seemed like an eternity, and I mean an eternity, until the teacher finally arrived for class to begin. But the day was far from over.


It seemed as the following couple of class periods went by the whispers of a rumor grew so quickly that people were talking about something rather profusely. I don't recall if Steve's name had ever come up from my perspective, but we knew that something terrible had happened. A sense of foreboding was so strong you could cut the air with a knife. The former classmate, who spoke up in my class earlier that morning, was one of the few who knew what happened because he was actually one of Steve's close friends. I can only imagine what he felt that day... Sometime before mid-day it was decided by the Junior High faculty to make an announcement over the PA system and address what had happened during the night before.


Our classmate, Steve Claypoole, had passed away......


When the announcement was made, and I kid you not, it felt as if an entire plane full of people we all knew had crashed and died. It was just that overwhelming... The sheer impact of the grief for Steve was unimaginable... and difficult to describe now even twenty one years later. Many students were visibly distraught; some were crying in the hallways as I progressed along. It was intense... I quickly thought back to the day before and Mrs. Stephen's English class where I had last seen Steve. My mind could not comprehend having... been so close to him to have been right there for a chance to change what... happened. Just out of arm's reach...


So unbearably close, yet so helplessly far.

:(


I don't recall whether the school announced that Steve had just passed away or made any mention of it being by suicide. By that point, nearly everyone knew enough to have been fairly certain he had likely died by his own hand. While I do remember how, out of respect for him and necessity of being mindful I will not share that detail here. It was painful to be stuck on having the last class of the previous day with Steve, and being seated so close to him... In a way, I felt as if I was the last person to see him alive, because all I saw of most classmates was only while at school. I hadn't yet felt like I really belonged, so my point of view is what made it more identifiable to Steve's... Although in the few years afterwards, I did finally find that group of best friends, it did not seem to divert me from my own suicide attempt six years later in 2003...


As a result of how overwhelmed our ninth grade class was from the tragedy, the school decided to dismiss all classes for the rest of the day. And yes, it did have that much of an impact. Never before or since have I witnessed such an experience. I have no doubt it was because of the kind of person Steve was... Someone you least expected to take his own life. When, at a time in our lives, we were still quite young and didn't really know what suicide was. Let alone to deal with such an intense loss of one of our own... I was fifteen years old at the time this took place. I have since recognized that such a young age is a vulnerable time in emotional development to confront something so devastating. At least for me, Steve's passing was the first tragic death I lived through in which the individual involved was someone I knew.


At least, knew well enough... and was around the same age too. I guess you could say my life flashed before my eyes...


After the announcement of Steve's death, and releasing us to go home for the day, there were two other memories that I have not shared with anyone before... So, I appreciate everyone's respect and understanding while I continue to be honest about sharing all of this in so much detail. I remember walking down a particular second floor hallway of the Junior High School and happened to bump into one of my teachers. In stark fashion, I remember making the comment to her that "if it had been me would everyone have reacted the same way (as they had for Steve)"... And I am fairly sure these were my exact words too. Yeah... That's pretty serious. For me to have said that and asked such a question aloud to anyone, it reflects a more vulnerable state of my mental health. Until now, I honestly had not acknowledged this truth.


Before, I felt as though my more progressed suicidal behavior began to emerge right after I changed my major during the spring semester at college in 2001. Two years before my attempt and one year before I graduated from Penn State Altoona. But if I expressed feeling identifiable with Steve's death within minutes following the announcement of his passing, that is an undeniable indicator of just how I felt about my life. And only three years after my first confirmed mental health symptoms emerged in 1994... What I also remember was just how devastated everyone, including myself, felt as we gathered our belongings to head home for the day. To put that moment into poetic perspective, it seemed like it took so much effort to accomplish getting our stuff... And I know why. We weren't just gathering our things.


We were struggling to gather our shattered hearts and grieving emotions too...


In all honesty, I don't remember exactly why I did not attend Steve's funeral. I was shaken up, yes, but confronting death in a funeral setting was something I had never experienced before... In January 1997, I was probably just not ready whether it was an open-casket viewing or not. Two years later, though, I did attend my first funeral when my maternal Grandfather passed away in March of 1999. That experience left its mark on me just as much... I do understand feeling some regret for not having attended Steve's funeral, now. On the other hand, I must realize this kind of feeling is only while I look back to remember all that had happened during that tragic experience... There was another reaction I had to Steve's death which I have never told anyone about either. So, yes, respect and consideration are much appreciated...


In the days and weeks afterwards, I reacted in a most peculiar way. I had nightmares, yes, but I also kept envisioning a scene I'll describe as best I can... The sky was dark, the house and surroundings seemed to vaguely glisten from the chilling cold air, and a most delicate few snowflakes were falling like feathers ever so gently towards the ground. Even though I had no idea what Steve's family house looked like. And yes... Steve was there... gun in hand, and such... The saddest look of regret and sorrow etched upon his face. I did imagine him doing the deed, each time too... which is important to be honest about in sharing this. I can only assume it was some way for me to try understanding why he did it in the first place. Trying so hard to understand, at age fifteen, how and why his decision reflected more of my own life than I ever probably realized... Until now, at least.


Do I miss Steve?


Absolutely. No question...


Would I still miss him if I hadn't pursued my mental health advocacy? Yes, I would have because he was such a likable person. I cannot trade my life for his, but no matter what happened or what Steve had to live through that drove him to give up on his life, I waste no breath believing he deserved to still be here with us today. If then today, I would break my back to make sure I could be here for him. However... with great sorrow and regret... in 1997 suicide was far from the reaches of what modern mental health support can even try to reach or prevent... Obviously I can't go back and save him from taking his own life. So, that is one of the fundamental experiences in my life which compel me to make that single most important difference in the lives of others... While I am still here.


As it has been said to me if I help at least one person, then that is making a difference... It is, yes.


Now, with more of you knowing just what my very first experience with suicide was actually like, in grave detail as I've shared here, you begin to see even more about why I am doing this so selflessly.


For me, saving one person, just one Steve, is not enough...


I really do want to save them... all... As many as I can.


For those whom we were not there for, don't fret or be hard on yourselves... The most important thing you can do is not just to remember their lives, but to share their stories with others around you. Keep their hearts, their souls, their memories of happier times, keep them alive and well. It seems all too often that once the social norm of grieving for about two weeks has passed; those lost to us like Steve are nowhere near as compelling to inspire the change in our lives that is really needed. I don't wile away countless hours or days obsessing over his suicide. As you have seen, this is the first time I have reflected on these memories in this much detail for the last twenty one years... And I will be honest to say that this is the only time I will dwell as much on Steve's passing. But I will always keep him very close to my heart...


This is why I keep plugging away and doggedly refuse to give up... again... Or at least as easily as I seemed to back in 2003... We are all privileged to live our lives in the wake of tragedies that take loved ones like Steve. To those who we knew or were touched so dearly by their fate, we live to honor the memory of their once cherished presence in our lives. So that they may never be forgotten and can serve as an inspiration to help make the future a better place for generations to come.


Steve Claypoole......


May you continue to rest in peace. I, for one, will never forget the impact your life had on mine no matter what happens to me in the future. You will always have a special place in my heart. You will always be remembered so that I can push on in my life, my advocate work, in hopes of helping to prevent others from sharing your fate.


And I will not rest until I have made the kind of difference I so passionately seek...


...with all my heart and soul.

Categories: To Know Me Better, Mental Health & Awareness

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