FLINT - I was watching the news with my 13-year-old son Henry when a story came on about a Flushing teen who took his own life.
I didn't say a word. As a parent, I guess I was hoping the story would pass over his head or simply wouldn't interest him. I certainly didn't want to talk about it. It's such a sad and horrible topic that I, like most parents, treat it like Harry Potter characters treated Voldemort - by daring not to speak its name.
Naturally, being 13, Henry did exactly the opposite of what I wanted him to do.
"Why would someone his age kill himself?" Henry asked.
Great question. And of course we can't know the answer. I mumbled some answer about brain chemicals and overwhelming sadness, and soon a commercial - thank God - came on that caught his attention.
I haven't stopped thinking about it since, though. Of course I've had help. Piling pain on agony, this has somehow become a news story.
The parents say bullying may have had something to do with their son's death. The police and school officials say there is no evidence to support that.
I'm not sure how they can say that. Wouldn't the parents know?
Besides, the Flint Journal about the boy said the following: "When school started, he joined the Flushing Raiders football team, but was ineligible to play because of his grades. Still, Jarrod continued to wear his jersey to school and stand on the sidelines at games - which (the boy's stepmother) said a small group of students took issue with and began taunting Jarrod. (The boy's stepmother) said she alerted the school and administrators met with all the boys. She said she assumed it had stopped and that Jarrod never mentioned it again after that. Since Jarrod's death, however, his classmates and friends have told her the meeting sparked a new series of insults - calling Jarrod a 'mamma's boy' and similar name-calling because she intervened."
Sounds like evidence to me. But then who knows? He had a history of depression. Is there any way to know for sure if the taunts or the chemistry inside his head or a combination of the two is what caused a beautiful young man to take his own life?
Obviously not. I don't see, though, what the school or the police have to gain from categorically denying that bullying was involved at this stage. Bullying seems to be a bigger and bigger issue in schools these days, even more so than when I was a kid.
Rather than jump to a quick conclusion, shouldn't this bear closer examination? Maybe it ultimately wouldn't matter. I have my doubts about how effective anti-bullying rules and laws are in the end. But I do know one thing: At the very least talking about bullying raises awareness, and awareness is the key to behavior change. Awareness, in fact, seems to be the only good thing that can possibly come out of this whole sad event.
I think I'll go hug Henry now.
EDITOR'S NOTE - Andy Heller, an award-winning columnist for The Flint Journal, appears weekly in the Daily Press. He graduated from Escanaba Area High School in 1979. For more of his work, visit his blog at blog.mlive.com/flintjournal/aheller. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.