Mother tries to deal with son’s suicide
Vail, CO Colorado
GLENWOOD SPRINGS ” When Lennon DeRochey was a little boy he made up a song that stayed with him throughout his life. “Puppies and kitty cats, little furry fuzzy friends/All they need to know is that you love them.”
About a month ago, DeRochey was on the phone from Phoenix to his mother, Virgie Dupew. While talking to her he also had a small child on his lap. She was the daughter of a friend in need of some comforting. He was singing the song to her and talking to his mom. He was good at giving comfort, Virgie said.
His apparent joy for life was what made his death by suicide at 21 so difficult to understand. “That was the last conversation I had with him,” his mom said. “It’s so hard to wrap your mind around,”
How her son went from those tender moments to despair so deep that he would take his own life is something Dupew struggles with. Now, three weeks since his death, Dupew wonders what drove him to that dark place. She also sees it in the context of a life where mental illness has been a constant companion.
“On March 18 my son was taken by a madman ” mental illness,” she said.
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The specter of the disease has haunted three generations of Dupew’s family. Born in Grand Junction, she grew up in Rifle, Silt and New Castle, and graduated from Rifle High School in 1978.
“My mother was severely mentally ill,” she said. Dupew and her two sisters and brother lived with her grandparents, Lester and Beulah Coulter. Her grandmother also struggled with depression. Her brother committed suicide in 1980 at age 19.
Dupew has fought alcoholism and depression herself. The first inkling Virgie had that her son was depressed was in 2003.
“He became very withdrawn,” she said.
Her son wouldn’t talk about it.
Dupew and DeRochey were together during the Christmas holidays last year and everything seemed fine. Then he went to Phoenix to visit friends. That’s when what DeRochey called the “Dark Angel” appeared again.
On the day of his death, he was at the home of a friend, a woman who was taking methamphetamine.
“I don’t believe he was doing it,” Dupew said.
There was a fight in the living room, the details of which remain unclear. DeRochey left the room, went down the hall to a bedroom. That’s where he shot himself.
Now, with her son gone, she is left to cope with a senseless death and no clear answers. She has faith and an abiding strength that is seeing her through an unimaginable torment, she said.
“I try to deal with things as they come,” she said in a calm voice.
Her emotions range from anger and sorrow to joy. There’s also an acceptance that helps her cope. “Blame has no use. What’s done is done.”
Coping with suicide can be very difficult on a number of levels, said Garfield County Public Health Nurse Sandra Barnett. “We still have a lot of stigma around suicide.”
The grief that follows a suicide is often much more intense than that after a natural death.
Barnett said the best way friends and family can help someone who has lost a person close to them through suicide is to accept the intensity of grief.
Understanding is also key. It’s important to understand that survivors go through periods of guilt and even shame.
“Listen with your heart. We as a culture have a hard time being quiet and listening,” she said.
Barnett and other public health nurses and mental health professionals in the community are helping to organize the county’s first suicide prevention organization to provide counseling services and an emergency hotline.
It’s a need that is especially pronounced in a state that has one of the highest suicide rates in the country, about 16 per 100,000 people. Suicide is the second leading cause of death accidents in Colorado.
According to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, suicide rates are higher in Western Slope counties than those in and around the Front Range.
Theories abound why this is so, said Colorado West Counseling Services Program Director Jackie Skramstad. She said that some reasons could be the accessibility of firearms and “a strong independent Western attitude” that prompts people to solve their own problems rather than seeking help.
For Dupew, part of her healing process is to speak out about her experience. She said DeRochey’s secret, which he would not share with the family, kept them from helping him. “There should be no secrets,” she said.
If there is to be a concerted effort in the community to prevent suicide, it must be brought into the light of day.
“If we really want to prevent it, we have to change how we perceive it,” Skramstad said.