Remembering suicide losses, dedicating community to prevention at SpeakUp ReachOut event in Edwards
'We have to speak up and reach out every day of the year'
Editor’s note: If you or anyone close to you is struggling with depression or thoughts of suicide, help is available at 1 (844) 493-8255. Help is also available locally through the Hope Center of the Eagle River Valley at 970-306-4673.
The names on the paper butterflies were familiar — Nate, Taylor, Luke, David, Todd, Olivia — members of the local community who died by suicide.
On Saturday, family members and friends remembered those losses and gathered in a spirit of community. They also dedicated themselves to the work that will prevent new names from becoming part of the paper butterfly display next year.
Saturday marked the eighth time SpeakUp ReachOut — the local suicide prevention group — has gathered the community for a commemorative event held during National Suicide Prevention Month. But as guest speaker Anne Moss Rogers told the assembled crowd, the conversation about suicide can’t be restricted to a single event or a particular month.
“We have to speak up and reach out every day of the year,” she noted. “There is no right time. It can happen at any time. We need to talk about it all the time.”
Making sure those conversations happen has become Rogers’ mission. That mission is the result of her son’s death by suicide five years ago.
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Charles Rogers was 20 years old when he took his own life on June 2, 2015. He had struggled with depression and addiction prior to his death by suicide, but as his mother shared, Charles’ life was much fuller than the issues that resulted in his death.
“My son was the funniest, most popular kid in school,” she recalled. “He was the type of person that if he walked into the room, all heads turned toward him.”
As an elementary student, Charles begged his parents to buy a white tuxedo so he could wear it to his fifth-grade graduation. The $25 that the tuxedo cost turned out to be money well spent. Charles proudly wore it to cotillion classes and as a Halloween costume.
“No one embraced different like Charles,” said Rogers.
Beyond his goofy exuberance, he also had a caring soul.
“He connected in a way that was deep and people knew he was listening to them when they spoke with him,” said Rogers.
Through illustration, she shared a story from one of his friends, a young girl named Lauren. Lauren was fighting her own demons during her high school years and one day she was searingly depressed when she headed to classes. Something in her countenance that day drew Charles’ attention. He sought her out — a girl he didn’t even really know — to compose and perform an on-site rap.
“When he finished, he told her that pretty girls shouldn’t look so sad,” Rogers said. “That’s what I miss most about my son. In a world where we don’t’ have time to listen to others, he had time.”
Not on the radar
Charles was often a sunshine-in-your-pocket presence. But the darkness was there, too. From the time he was 14 years old, the Rogers family recognized that aspect of his character and when he was 17 years old, he was diagnosed with depression. Mental health professionals told his parents he was “high risk.”
“They never said the words that he was a suicide risk, but that’s what he was,” Rogers said.
Charles also suffered from a sleep disorder and he began exhibiting risky behaviors.
“All I could see was drug use and the cavalier attitude about his life,” Rogers said.
The family struggled to find help, going as far as kidnapping him from his bed one morning to send him to a wilderness program. From there he went to a youth treatment program in Utah, far removed from the family’s home in Virginia. Rogers recalled that for 22 months beginning in 2014, Charles spent much of his time outside of the family’s home.
After he returned home in June 2014, he began using heroin.
“I lived for 10 months with a teenager addicted to heroin and I didn’t know it,” Rogers said.
She also didn’t know that her son was contemplating suicide.
“Suicide wasn’t in my mind because it wasn’t on my radar,” she said. Charles turned 20 years old in April of 2015.
His parents learned their son had taken his life when a police officer appeared at their table while they were dining at a restaurant.
“We got the news of our son’s death in a patrol car, in a parking lot,” Rogers said.
His parents learned Charles had died by suicide and the matter of his death left no doubt about the cause.
The Rogers family was left with guilt, questions and pain. That legacy will never end, but it has found a partner — purpose.
‘Diary of a Broken Mind‘
When the sun rose the morning after her son’s death, Rogers remembers it felt like an assault. How could a new day begin when everything had shattered the night before?
But within hours of her son’s death, Rogers realized something. Nothing that happened in the days and months ahead could possibly be worse than that moment in the patrol car. She told herself she could survive whatever came next.
Part of her lifeline became writing. First it was an article for the local newspaper that took months to author and stacks of tissues to complete. Then she launched a blog — EmotionallyNaked.com. She has written a book titled “Diary of a Broken Mind” which shares her story and a collection of the haunting lyrics that Charles composed. Her life is now dedicated to working for youth mental health and suicide prevention.
And, most importantly, Rogers has learned to forgive herself. She raised two sons — one is living his dream as a filmmaker in Los Angeles and one who struggled with depression and drug abuse and died by suicide. When her elder son offered to transfer the family’s old DVDs to disks, Rogers watched the story of the two boys’ younger days.
“I saw that my sons grew up in a house of love. I saw that 98% of my life had been beautiful,” she said.
But grief lives alongside the beauty and it has forged Rogers into the person she is today.
“You can come out of a devastating loss. It won’t be easy and it won’t be quick,” she said. “But grief can inspire you to become something you never thought you could become.”