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Lessons of a life: Parents of suicide victim want others to learn from teen’s death

  • Paul Dickey has a hard time when he looks over at his son Jason’€™s photograph in the living room of the couple’€™s home in Boscawen on Firday. GEOFF FORESTER / Concord Monitor

  • Paul and Martha Dickey get ready to say goodbye as they leave their son Jason’s grave site at Blossom Hill Cemetery on Friday, September 22, 2107. GEOFF FORESTER—Concord Monitor

  • Paul and Martha Dickey comfort each other at their son Jason’s grave site at Blossom Hill Cemetery on Friday, September 22, 2017. GEOFF FORESTER—Concord Monitor

  • Martha and Paul Dickey look down at their son Jason’s grave site at Blossom Hil Cemetery on Friday, September 22, 2017. GEOFF FORESTER—Concord Monitor

  • Jason Dickey, 19, stands in a field of sunflowers at the Coppal House Farm sunflower festival in Lee this past August. Jason’s mother, Martha Dickey, said the photo is one of the last ever taken of Jason. It’s one of her favorites, she said. Courtesy



Monitor staff
Sunday, September 24, 2017

Jason Dickey was buried with a note from his mother tucked in his hands.

“I hadn’t heard from you that you were in pain,” Jason’s mother, Martha, wrote in a four-page letter to her son with her favorite blue-ink pen. “But your story is not over, Bug. Don’t have died in vain. People can learn why you made the decision you did and they can get help.”

Just over a week ago, Jason, 19, took his life in a community college parking lot. Since then, his parents and loved ones have been struggling to grapple with his decision. The one thing that’s brought them some peace, Martha said, is thinking about how they can use Jason’s story to help others.

Martha, 54, is no stranger to suicide. Her older brother, Phil, took his life when she was just 18 years old. Martha has been involved in suicide awareness campaigns ever since. She says Jason’s death only shows that no one is immune from suicide – even those who know how to look for signs that someone they love may be considering it.

Jason’s parents described their only child together as a happy-go-lucky kid.

“He would always try his best to make you happy. If something made you sad, he would try to cheer you up,” Jason’s father, Paul, said on Friday at the family home in Boscawen.

Jason never left the house without telling his parents he loved them, they said. He was generous, too – back when he was a student at Merrimack Valley High School, Jason often lent money to students who couldn’t afford food. He was always one of the first to introduce himself to new students.

Jason was 6-foot, 3-inches tall, but he was gentle. His mother said he loved hummingbirds and he would sit on the porch with nectar in his hand, waiting for them.

“He was always out there with his hand out, trying to get them to land on it,” his mother remembered.

When Martha and Paul talk about Jason, it’s clear they’re in shock, as they alternate between warm memories of their son, and raw moments of panging realization when it sets in that he’s gone.

Paul laughs, recalling how he would bicker with Jason when his son would leave the kitchen counter a mess after making coffee in the morning. But he breaks down, his hand lining his brow, when he talks about how he will never be a grandfather.

“What I can’t get through my head is that I’m never going to see him again,” Paul said. “I think that’s the toughest part. Just knowing that it’s forever. I can’t process it. Forever is a very long time.”

Understanding Jason

Jason was good at being a friend to others, his parents said. He was bullied in school when he was young, and that made him compassionate. He would talk on the phone all night if a friend needed it.

“He always wanted to protect the underdog,” Paul said. “He hated people being the outsider.”

But Jason wasn’t always the best at letting people know when he needed help. Sometimes he would keep feelings in – and they would eventually bubble to the surface. When his grandmother passed away three years ago, his parents said, he didn’t cry once in front of them. But later when his two cats died, he lay on the floor in the family’s living room for an hour, sobbing.

“He had his own struggles and it wasn’t easy for him to let that out,” Paul said.

In July 2016, Jason drank from a bleach container in a Market Basket bathroom after a break up.

He spent 10 hours in the hospital. Jason said he only drank enough bleach to get attention, and that he was fine. The doctors let him go.

His parents made him appointments to talk to a counselor at Riverbend Community Mental Health in Concord, where Paul works as a bus driver.

But then-18-year-old Jason wasn’t having it.

“The first time he said it was OK, the second time he said it was stupid,” Paul said of Jason’s trips to counseling. “The third time, they recommended him being put on a low-dose of medication. He told the person, ‘You can put me on it, but I’m not taking it, I don’t need it, and this will be my last appointment.

“He told me, ‘Dad, you can make the appointment, but I’m not going to go. Counseling is for p------ and I don’t need it.’”

On the day

On Sept. 14, Jason dressed in his blue smock for his morning shift at Market Basket. Then, he drove the familiar route from his house in Boscawen down Fisherville Road and off Exit 1 on 393 in Concord. But when he got to the intersection where he would usually veer right to go to work, he veered left toward NHTI.

Jason’s body was found hours later in a student parking lot. He had shot himself in his car.

The Dickeys said they thought things were going better for Jason. But Martha said Jason had another big break up with a girlfriend a few weeks before he took his life.

Jason had spent the last weeks talking it through with Martha at night, sitting on her bedroom floor. Martha said she was concerned that Jason was hurting.

“There was no lack of communication,” Martha said. “I asked him point blank, ‘Jay, do you feel suicidal? Because I had worked with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and I had resources that could help.’

“He said, ‘I’m not going to do that. I know how much you went through with your brother and I would never do that to you.’”

But Martha said in the last week or so of Jason’s life he seemed to get worse. Jason was always meticulous about his appearance, but the last times she saw him Martha said she remembers little things – a crooked tie, or an unbuttoned shirt – that made her realize something was seriously wrong.

But it’s the last time Martha saw her son that stands out most in her mind.

Jason was headed out of the house on the week he died when his mother told him she would be gone for a few days on a business trip in Illinois. Jason stopped in his tracks.

“He said, ‘What? You’re leaving?” He walked over to his mother and embraced her.

“That was one hell of a hug,” Paul said. “That wasn’t just a ‘I’ll see ya, Mom. Love ya.’ That was a three-minute hold.”

The morning Jason died, he had to be at work at 8 a.m. Paul said he knew his son was awake because he heard the shower running. He knocked on the bathroom door, but Jason didn’t respond.

“Have yourself a good day, Jay. I’ll see you later. Love you,” Paul said. Jason didn’t answer.

When Jason didn’t show up to work, managers at Market Basket tried getting a hold of him. Jason had left his cell phone in a friend’s car the night before, and she picked it up.

Paul said it was unlike Jason to be without his phone – he was always texting, playing games on it or using it to blast music in the car.

Growing concerned, Jason’s friend searched his phone. She found messages to Jason’s ex-girlfriend he had sent late the night before from his computer. Jason was saying he wanted to kill himself. His ex-girlfriend wouldn’t see the messages until the next morning.

Jason left the house at 7:27 a.m., according to the Dickey’s home security system. He pulled into NHTI less than 20 minutes later. Activity in the car halted shortly after it pulled in, officers say.

“When he got off that ramp, I think, in his mind he was thinking, if the light was green, he was going to go one way,” Paul said. “And if the light was red, with the arrow, he was going to go to work. I think when he got off, that light was green. As soon as he turned, he knew he wasn’t going to work.”

Paul said he didn’t think his son’s decision was planned.

“I know how his mind worked,” Paul said. “It was the moment.”

Law enforcement say they are still investigating where Jason got the gun. The Dickeys had a strict no-gun policy, and Martha and Paul say they have no idea where their son obtained the firearm he used to take his life.

No outward signs

Martha and Paul say they were blindsided by Jason’s suicide.

“It doesn’t make sense,” Martha said. “He had so much he was looking forward to.”

A few weeks earlier, Jason got a tattoo on his back of a swordfish that cost $800 and took six hours to complete. Martha said it had just finished healing before Jason died. The ocean is an important symbol to the Dickeys – Paul’s father worked on boats, and he always wore a gold swordfish necklace. Jason’s grandmother gave him that necklace after his grandfather died, and he wore it everyday. He was buried with it around his neck.

Paul and Martha both wear gold chains with anchors on them – they also each have anchors tattooed onto their forearms.

Jason was doing double payments so he could pay off his beloved white Chevy Impala – “Chelsea” – in two and a half years instead of five. He had tickets to go to a rap concert with a few close friends from Market Basket. Martha said he was trying to get a new cat, telling his mom it would help after the break up.

Everything else seemed normal, too. Jason had recently bought a meat smoker for the house that he was excited about. He would use it to cook his parents ribs and corn on the cob.

“The week leading up to this, he kept on coming home saying, ‘Dad, I’m gonna smoke on Saturday,’” Paul said. Jason took his life on Thursday.

Hard days

Driving through Blossom Hill Cemetery in Concord, it’s impossible to miss which grave belongs to Jason. It is encircled by flowers.

The wind was strong on Friday, and vases kept blowing over. Paul walked in a circle around the plot, bending over to pick them up again and again – even when he knew they would only fall back down.

Paul and Martha visit Jason every day, but Paul says he can’t stay for long.

“Five minutes, and that’s all I can take,” he said, looking out at the fresh patch of smooth dirt covering his son’s grave.

Paul said that morning was the first they’d been alone there. There were always people visiting Jason: close friends from work, store vendors, teachers from Merrimack Valley. Jason’s memorial service was attended by more than 400 people, his dad said.

Jason’s head marker won’t be ready for another six weeks, so for now his parents have spelled out his name at the grave’s head with tiny, white rocks. One of Jason’s friends came and arranged a heart next to his name, Martha said.

When the marker is finished, it will read, “Jason Paul Dickey, An inspiration to all.”

Martha said the cemetery and funeral home have been accommodating, walking them through the steps and helping the couple pick out ornaments for Jason’s grave site.

“It’s just so overwhelming,” Martha said. “I had to tell them last time that they just have to slow it down for me, because its too hard to think about. Sometimes it feels like it’s going too fast and I can’t breathe.”

She said they talk to their son every time they come to the cemetery.

“I tell him I didn’t realize he was in so much pain,” she said, her voice breaking.

Visitors have left Jason items that reminded them of him. One person left a lighter with a swordfish on it. Another left a carton of Arizona iced tea, which Jason loved. Jason’s parents left tomatoes and jalapenos from his salsa garden.

Paul wants to put a bench in front of a tree, so he can come out and read the newspaper and talk to Jason. Then, next spring, Paul said he’ll put up a hummingbird feeder.

“I know Jason would like that,” he said.

A mission to save a life

Martha said the family is planning on attending the suicide awareness walk in Boston – something Martha started doing in honor of her brother years ago. They will be honoring both Phil and Jason this year, Martha said.

“I wasn’t sure if I still wanted to do it this year,” Martha said. “But it’s just the right thing to do.”

The Dickeys said they hope to continue the walk in Boston, but also grow the suicide awareness walk in Concord. They’re worried for Jason’s many friends here who they say need the support right now.

“He had so many friends on the cuff of it,” Paul said. “I’m afraid these friends are going to say, ‘That’s it, that’s the easy way out,’ and I don’t want that for anyone.”

Paul said this experience has made him realize some things he wants to see changed. Letting parents have some control over their kids medical decisions while they’re still on their parent’s health insurance, for example. In Jason’s case, this would have allowed the Dickeys to push Jason harder to continue counseling after he said he didn’t need it.

He also cited bullying as a major issue. For Jason, those experiences colored life’s inevitable heartbreaks.

“You grow up being bullied like Jay did, and ... it sets up something in your head that you’re not wanted, you’re not good enough,” Paul said.

The Dickeys are in unimaginable pain – pain they know won’t ever ebb or heal. There’s only one thing they really want.

“There’s gotta be a positive to this,” Paul said. “And that’s saving one person’s life.”

(Leah Willingham can be reached at 369-3322, lwillingham@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @LeahMWillingham.) 

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WHERE TO GO FOR HELP 

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Other local resources include: 

-The N.H. Community Behavioral Health Association is an organization comprised of 10 community mental health centers throughout New Hampshire. The association serves as an advocate for a strong mental health system across the state. Call 225-6633.

-Riverbend Community Mental Health provides specialized behavioral health services for children, adolescents, adults and their families. Call 228-1600.

-NAMI N.H. is a grassroots organization of and for people of all ages, their families and friends who are affected by mental illness. Through NAMI N.H., you’ll meet other individuals and family members who have struggled with mental illness. Call 225-5359