By DEVIN HEILMAN
RATHDRUM — A brave young man in a sharp dress shirt and bowtie approached the podium Friday morning to utter words no sibling wants to say.
“Who knew, as I was wrestling with my father, playful, getting ready for the wrestling season, my brother had a whole different story in his mind,” said Caleb Jacobsen, 14.
He exhaled deeply as he prepared to speak about how his family's world was crushed when his brother, Jamison, took his own life Nov. 1, 2015, when he was only 13.
"Anyone who has had a child, a brother, a family member pass away from the death due to suicide is more painful than ever, especially when it is unexpected," Caleb said. "You never think it will happen to you, but we have thousands of people in the ER waiting to hear news thinking the same."
Another heavy sigh.
"I remember walking into his room and my stomach just dropped," he said. "Ambulance started just arriving as I was forced away. All you want to do is help, but there is nothing you can do."
Caleb and his mom, Daun, are a part of a life awareness coalition created by Lakeland Joint School District Superintendent Dr. Becky Meyer to provide suicide support and education for the Lakeland community. In the past two years, two students and three Lakeland dads have been lost to this tragedy.
"What we are trying to do here is not to prevent it, because, let’s be honest, it's almost impossible to prevent. But we can slow it down,” Caleb said. "That’s why we made this group and this presentation, so we can get the notice of everyone in the Lakeland School District so no one else has to go through what we had to."
Boxes of tissues were placed throughout the Lakeland High School commons for the hundreds of faculty and staff from Lakeland schools who listened to the testimonies of those directly impacted by suicide during the district's professional development day.
The moms, siblings and survivors who shared their heart-wrenching experiences spoke of the ripple effect that suicide creates, where hundreds of people are affected by the loss of one life. They described their loved ones' struggles with bullying, mental illness and pain that is so deep and so hidden that they did not realize their loved one was hurting until it was too late or almost too late.
"Somebody asked me yesterday if we saw signs,” said Stacie Lawler, whose son suffered from pain no one saw but was able to get help after reaching a critical point.
“The answer is ‘no.’ There was never a sign," she said. "Never any moment that we thought he ever had any depression."
Lakeland's life awareness coalition is working to uncover these unseen signs and approach suicide prevention and awareness from new angles. Many of the employees were trained in the "Question-Persuade-Refer" method, known as QPR, during breakout sessions during the day. QPR is an innovative approach that provides practical and proven suicide prevention training and educates about signs of crisis that may be going undetected. Lakeland's goal is for every staff and faculty member, from teachers to bus drivers, to be trained in QPR by the end of the school year.
"There is a lot of impact in our community," Meyer said. "How can we support staff if they don't know how to look for signs? And if people are talking about it, what do they do? With this coalition, we decided to change the name to life awareness to make it about life and have people really concentrate on that. It's a positive thing. These mothers who lost their son and daughter are like, 'How do we help our community?' It's super powerful."
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255.