PROSSER, WA - Suicide is a tough subject to tackle but for one Prosser mom, she's made it her mission. This Christmas will be Kimberly Starr's third without her youngest son. Her teenage boy, Tom, died by suicide in March of 2015.
"Tom was one of the most caring people I've ever met," Kimberly described her son. "When he was little, he told me once 'mommy, you and I are the same. We both have glass hearts that are easily broken.' I thought that was just so beautiful coming from a child. He felt things very deeply. He was very service-oriented. He was incredibly intelligent, of course, maybe I'm a little prejudice. He was very funny and quick-witted."
His young life was cut short, though - consumed at times, by what he called 'The Darkness.'
"We did see a little bit of a change and we didn't really think much of it," Kimberly explained. "So when he died it was like getting hit by a bus. It just came out of nowhere. We were all blindsided and terribly broken. About the first year is a complete blur. I really don't have much recollection of that time. I mean, I know I went to work.. I know I had relationships. But you're kind of trying to redefine everything. Everything is different. Every holiday that comes up is different. Every funny thing... I see an article or a meme online and those first couple of months I would try to text it to him or I'd want to call him and talk to him."
She chronicled that first year and a half after Tom's death in a book called "457 Days." Kimberly is sharing her harrowing story through writing and speaking engagements.
When asked what Tom might think of what she's doing now: "I don't know. People tell me he would be proud of me. So I guess that's a beautiful thing. Sorry. I know there were people that went to him who said they were struggling. People have come to me and told me my son was there for them and they wish they'd been there for him. So, I guess he would be glad that his legacy is trying to help other people."
Kimberly started Starrbright Suicide Prevention Presentations after finding solace in sharing her knowledge.
"When Tom died I started writing and I would post short stories about where I was and how I was feeling," said Kimberly. "We were embraced by not only our physical community but our online community, too. So I felt very free to be very transparent and not everybody gets to experience that. People often feel isolated or very alienated because people don't know how to interact with somebody who has lost a child, let alone lost a child to suicide. So I started writing about what I was experiencing and I ended up writing a short piece about the signs we now know we missed in Tom that we didn't see at the time."
"t kind of blossomed into I wanted to start doing presentations about it. I actually sat through a suicide prevention presentation probably about a year and a half before Tom died. I remember thinking to myself, I don't have to worry about this with my kids. My kids are great. I'm in a good place. It was very sobering to me when he died because obviously he wasn't in a good place. Somebody said to me, 'you're the best mom I know. If it could happen to your family it could happen to anyone.' That really stuck with me. It made me feel like, if I was well-respected as a parent in the community then maybe I would be well-respected as an advocate."
She turned out to be right. Kimberly and her husband have become sort of unofficial local suicide experts, hoping to help others understand how to deal with it and how to talk about it.
"When you see somebody that seems like they're a little off and the magic number is about two weeks," said Kimberly. "We all have ups and downs and bad days. We all do. But if it's been about two weeks and you don't see a change in a person then that's when you need to start being aware and then you can even straight out ask the question, are you feeling so badly that you're thinking about suicide? That is the key question and then knowing how to respond."
If you or someone you know is feeling depressed or need someone to talk to, there are resources available to help. You can always call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1 (800) 273-TALK.