As told by Wendy Sefcik. . .
As the fairy tale goes, Steve and I met, fell in love, got married and were blessed with 3 beautiful boys—John, T.J. and Matt. I decided to forego my law career to be a stay-at-home mom while Steve grew his production business.
We settled in Towaco, NJ, which seemed like a good place to raise a family. We found ourselves in a wonderful neighborhood filled with young families. The kids spent their days running around the neighborhood playing baseball and street hockey, riding bikes and playing tag.
Time sped on as it tends to do when raising children. The days were full and fun. Of course, life wasn’t perfect—it never is—but it was as near perfect as I ever could have imagined. It was a joy watching our boys grow and interact together.
When T.J. reached adolescence, Steve and I began to notice changes in his behavior. Our funny, out-going, sensitive boy was becoming increasingly irritable and disrespectful. While concerned, we had no idea he was battling depression nor that depression was so common in teens. 1 in 8 teenagers will suffer a depressive episode before they reach adulthood.
Things escalated quickly and before we could get a handle on what was going on T.J. died by suicide on December 1, 2010. He was just 16 years old. To say our world shattered into a million pieces would be a gross understatement. We felt our life ended with T.J. When you lose a child suddenly there is shock, disbelief, numbness, and denial.
There are no words that can adequately describe the pain that rocks you to the core of your very being. And when that sudden death is due to suicide, there is yet another layer of pain.
How could a child you cherished and loved, feel so much pain that he could make a decision to take his own life? How could we have failed our son to the point that he could do this?
We were overcome with guilt and pain. Breathing was hard, putting one foot in front of the other almost impossible, yet the sun continued to rise and set, and our greatest fear became our reality—one of our children had died.
After losing T.J. to suicide we found it helpful to immerse ourselves in learning everything we could about teen depression and suicide. We have been open in talking about what we experienced with our son in the hopes of preventing this tragedy from befalling another family. I was asked to speak on a panel for parents who lost children and there was so much interest in T.J.’s story that our program, Remembering T.J.—A Story of Teen Depression, Lessons and Hope was born.
Along with my husband Steve and son Matt we began presenting in schools, colleges, community events, and corporate lunch-and-learns to raise awareness of the importance of taking care of your mental health and to be aware of suicide risk factors in teens. Since its inception we have presented to over 30,000 students, parents, educators and mental health professionals. The program weaves our family’s story in with the red flags of teen depression and suicide risk. It provides guidance of what to do when you or someone you care about may be struggling. The program also gives hope by sharing examples of people who have struggled with depression and have gone on to lead productive, full lives. We also offer suggestions of where to turn for help.
We believe that raising awareness and sharing insights with educators, parents and children can greatly reduce the senseless loss of life from suicide. While suicide remains a leading cause of death in this country, it is totally preventable. No lives should be lost to suicide.
NOTE: In addition to the Remembering T.J. program, Wendy was appointed by the governor's office to the NJ Youth Suicide Prevention Advisory Council and is currently serving as Chair. Wendy is a Stigma Free Ambassador for Montville Township and Morris County NJ. She also serves as a NJ Chapter Board Member for The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Wendy regularly attends workshops and training seminars on mental health and suicide prevention. Most important she provides support and guidance for parents of struggling teens and those dealing with suicide loss.