My oldest son died in the summer of 2019 at the age of 18. This was before we ever uttered COVID-19, before the murder of George Floyd. My son died because he couldn’t breathe. A police officer didn’t kneel on his neck. A pandemic didn’t suck the oxygen from his lungs. Yet, I spend another Mother’s Day mourning the life of my firstborn.
When people learn my son died unexpectedly, they ask how it happened. This is what they ask a grieving family? A mother. A brother. A father. Why ask? Isn’t it enough that we mourn?
Today, as the nation heads into another Mother’s Day, I’ll answer in the hopes that my family’s story will help you hold your own children tighter, love them, care for them and do right by them.
My son, my African-American son, my Jewish son, my bright and intelligent and loving and giving son who entered college at age 17, died alone by suicide, in a public park, with a rope around his neck.
Sheree Curry and her son Jared Levy at 15. (Photo: Sara Rubinstein)
It’s hard to imagine a grief that cuts deeper than that of a parent who has lost their child. For Black mothers, the grief can be especially painful when you learn that your son has died through a means once used against so many of our ancestors by people who wielded power in ways that were meant to humiliate us, dehumanize us and annihilate us.
Yes, my son was biracial. Yes, the coroner did not realize that my blue-eyed, curly-haired, forever-baby, was half-black. His death certificate lists him as Caucasian — a word my son never used to describe himself.
My law-abiding son, born in suburban Chicago and raised in suburban Minneapolis, fought against racism, sexism and other isms meant to oppress those who do not fit the definition of what others consider “normal.”
People who learned how my beautiful boy died, those who did not know him well, incorrectly speculated about what caused his death. The coroner did not find any illicit drugs in his system. There was a very small amount of cold medicine and ADHD medication found in his blood. There were remnants of his last meal in his stomach.
My son, a young man with a bright future, a high ACT score, an affinity for the sciences, a brilliant singing voice and a love for the music he created on his guitar, was not diagnosed with a mental illness or depression. Sure, my outgoing, witty son was clearly hurting given the means of his death, and we will never know for sure why he did it.
We speculate. His actions could have resulted from childhood trauma elevated by 10-plus years of being dragged through family court. Children may not know the details behind a divorce, but always feel like they are being put in the middle because they know their parents are fighting. In addition, it was a mostly white system that did not understand or seemingly care to understand the racial dynamics at play for a biracial child in an interracial family in a predominantly white society. About six weeks after the last court order, our son was dead.
So the question should not be how he died, but how we, all of us across America, can keep more of our children from taking the same action. How do we keep our children safe?
What we can do is love our children every day that they are here. We can keep them out of adult affairs. We can recognize that systemic racism is real and heavily impacts our children. We can seek and encourage counseling services for our children, the most vulnerable in this society, whenever there is trauma in their lives, regardless of what we may think is the root cause. We can keep the number for the National Suicide Prevention Hotline (800-273-TALK) in our hip pocket, in case we think it may be appropriate to share it some day.
We can and need to do our best by our loved ones and pray that we have many healthy and loving Mother’s Days (and Father’s Days) with them until God takes one of us home.
Sheree R. Curry is a Black and Jewish freelance journalist living in suburban Minneapolis. Follow her on Twitter @shereecurry.
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