Finding Hope: Three families, united by loss, band together to save lives

  • Madi  Hendrick, 23, of Canterbury, got a tattoo in honor of her younger brother Seth after his death. GEOFF FORESTER

  • Madi Hendrick, Seth Decato’s 23-year-old sister, stands in front of the house where she and her brother grew up in Canterbury. GEOFF FORESTER photos / Monitor staff

  • Martha Dickey reaches out to her husband Paul to walk up at AFSP’s Out of the Darkness€ walk at the State House in September. They poured sand into a jar in memory of their son Jason before the walk. GEOFF FORESTERMonitor staff

  • Martha Dickey gets a hug from a friend as they head out on the “Out of the Darkness” walk at the State House in September. Martha’s team of walkers had a shirt in honor of her son Jason who died by suicide in September of 2017. GEOFF FORESTERMonitor staff

  • Paul Dickey is overcome thinking about his son at the “Out of the Darkness” walk at the State House.

  • Tina White (right) and her wife, Carrie, stand outside the workshop that Alec White had fixed up outside their Loudon home.

  • Martha Dickey heads out on the 'Out of the Darkness' walk on Saturday, September 8, 2018 in honor of her son Jason. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 10/23/2018 6:21:51 PM

Martha Dickey often left signs, in big and small ways, to show she understood.

Like the time she posted a comment on Facebook with symbols of suicide awareness – a butterfly, purple and blue hearts – on an article Tina White posted about the loss of her son.

And when she called Madi Hendrick before a fundraiser in honor of her brother, Seth Decato, to see how she could donate.

Or attending 16-year-old Alec White’s funeral in a cramped old church in East Concord – just three weeks after her own son Jason’s memorial service.

Martha’s son, 19-year-old Jason Dickey, White and 19-year-old Decato were three of 38 young people below the age of 24 that died by suicide in New Hampshire in 2017. The three boys all died within six months of each other and before their deaths, the families didn’t know each other well.

In the wake of loss, the three families – which live 10 miles apart in Boscawen, Canterbury and Loudon – have formed a bond. They have joined some of the same online support groups, reached out on their loved one’s birthdays and anniversaries of death and support the other’s wish to spread awareness.

The families said this year has been the toughest any of them has ever had to face – but that working to spread their sons’ stories, fighting to prevent another suicide and connecting with others who have had similar losses is one thing that helps.

“I think it’s just this sense of, ‘You walk a mile in the same shoes,’ ” Dickey said. “It’s definitely a unique experience. I think, to lose anyone by suicide, the shock is so painful. You feel connected, and like you can trust them to be yourself.”

A community

The three families found each other in different ways.

Hendrick said she was shopping in Walmart when her mother called to tell her Alec White had died. She immediately sent a message to Alec’s sister, Joli, offering condolences and support. Seth Decato was the first of the three boys to die, and Hendrick said she felt isolated not knowing anyone else who had gone through the same loss.

She didn’t want Alec’s family to feel that way, too.

“I didn’t know anyone beforehand and I needed to be that ‘somebody’ for them,” she said. “I felt protective of them.”

Tina White, the mother of Alec and Joli, said it’s nice for her daughter to have people to talk to who understand.

“It’s an unspoken thread between us – we know what the others are going through,” White said. “It’s that awful club we’re in together.”

There’s an immediate sense of understanding that comes when you meet someone who lost a close family member to suicide, the families said.

“It’s gut-wrenching, when you see that look in somebody else’s eyes and you recognize it,” Carrie, Alec’s stepmother, said.

Awareness

From the beginning, all of the families knew they wanted to speak out.

“I knew right away that I needed to do something about it,” Hendrick said. “That was part of my healing process, that I needed to do more.”

Hendrick, 23, joined the first group of youth loss survivor speakers for New Hampshire’s chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI NH), and less than four months after her brother’s death, she shared Seth’s story at the state suicide prevention conference in November 2017.

She was further trained by NAMI on how best to inform other young people about warning signs and risk factors for suicide and substance misuse. She recently presented to a group of students from Great Bay Community College in Rochester.

She started a blog, the Mindful Marigold, where she offers tips on mental health, self care and reflections on what it means to be a suicide loss survivor.

The Dickeys and the Whites both follow it.

“She makes my day, when I see her posts,” Tina said.

Outreach

Tina and Carrie worked through their grief in another way: they founded a company, Clearly Better Days, that sells homeopathic products branded with the suicide awareness colors, blue and purple.

Alec’s imprint is seen across the company: The company’s logo is the tree that Alec, Joli and Tina all had tattooed on their wrist, and the photos on the website of Mount Washington at sunrise are all ones that he took. Tina kept his telephone number and made it the company’s number.

“We inject him into it every place we can,” Carrie said, while packaging boxes of tincture at her kitchen table.

Tina and Carrie used the company to sponsor the American Federation for Suicide Prevention Out of the Darkness Walk that Martha Dickey was fundraising for.

“It’s pretty much saving my life, because it’s keeping my brain going,” Tina White said. “To take the business, and be able to help other people with anxiety and depression, gives me some sort of comfort.”

Martha Dickey has since changed jobs, from working for FIRST Robotics in Manchester, to working at the Friends Program in Concord, supporting homeless and at-risk youth. She and her husband, Paul, met with Gov. Chris Sununu to see if he would be willing to support the Jason Flatt Act, a non-fiscal piece of legislation that has been passed in at least 20 states and requires teachers to undergo two hours of online suicide prevention training every year.

Alec’s dad, Jeff White, attends the support group at NAMI NH for suicide loss survivors every month in Concord. He said it’s a good opportunity to support other people who are going through what he went through 11 months ago.

“When you’re looking for help, and want to know answers, who better to ask than people who have actually been through it?” Jeff White said. “I can give back. I’ve gone through the grief process, I know what it’s like.”

Missing

Although speaking out helps, the loss can still be overwhelming at times.

Paul and Martha Dickey have an electronic photo album of pictures of Jason rotating on their living room wall. They both go to visit Blossom Hill Cemetery, where he is buried, a few times a day.

“The pain is no less,” Paul said. “It’s actually more painful than it was last year.”

Jason’s 21st birthday was this week, and they feel like they should have been planning the big trip to Las Vegas with all of his friends and family, like he always wanted.

Seth’s 21st birthday was in September, and Madi and her mom, Tanya, celebrated it by going out to eat with his friends, and then coming home and lighting a candle on a vanilla cupcake in his honor.

Tina White said she gets a “mad-sad” feeling leaving the house – especially driving down her driveway, the last place she saw Alec alive.

“It’s hard to wrap your brain around it,” she said. ” I’m always thinking, ‘What could I have done better or what could I have done more of?’ I wish I could find the magic pill so I could figure out exactly why and share with everybody.”

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If you or someone you know might be at risk for suicide, contact The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255.

Click here to donate to the Jason Dickey Scholarship Fund

For additional resources, visit NAMI New Hampshire's Connect Program at www.theconnectprogram.org.




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