Suicide Prevention Week runs September 6 to September 12, with September 10 marking World Suicide Prevention Day. Today, guest writer Megan Concepcion opens up about how suicide touched her life.
We all have an April 14, 2015—a day that changes your life forever. For me, I woke up knowing it would be an important day, but not for the reason I had thought. In 2015, I was an eighth grader on the school’s associated student body with my best friend Bekah Chung. We were at an ASB meeting when our leaders said we would be giving student interviews about why our school received an award that celebrated dramatic gains in student achievement. It was really the little moments that excited us as middle schoolers.
Finally the day came. I woke up extra early to prepare for the day and I arrived at school with my stomach in a knot. “Wow, there are so many of them,” I thought, referring to the well-dressed adults roaming around campus. I assumed these were the people that would be holding the interviews. The bell rang for first period and Bekah and I, along with a couple friends, walked to our first period classes. Instantly, the day turned upside down.
I was in algebra class when I heard. My teacher struggled to get her words out: our classmate Aaron Yanagisawa passed away. The school administrators were gentle with delivering the news, but left many curious as to what happened. At this moment, it didn’t even matter. Many of us had lost a friend, a classmate, a crush, a brother. We were heartbroken. I was in disbelief. I sat listening to my classmates begin to cry, the door slamming shut after many had run out. But I sat in silence, shocked.
This didn’t last very long. I knew what I had to do in the moment. I repressed all my feelings to care for my best friend who lost her world. Aaron and Bekah had a bond like no other. They were special to one another. Seeing the two of them together talking, laughing, enjoying life brought me happiness. Their friendship was pure innocence. While Aaron and I were friends, it was Bekah that pointed out his unique personality. It was his willingness to go out of his way to help others and his kindness that set him apart from the rest.
I quickly asked to use the restroom, running to Bekah’s first period class. She was nowhere to be found. Crying girls comforting one another filled the bathroom, but still no Bekah. I roamed the campus and finally found her. We cried together; there was really nothing else we could do in the moment. A teacher found us and told us to either see one of the counselors or return to class. I then realized that the well-dressed adults who I thought would be interviewing us were actually grievance counselors.
Later that day, one by one, we slowly found out that Aaron Yanagisawa had taken his own life.
Before this, my middle school life felt pretty horrific. I had to face my own bullies at school and on social media, struggle through my parents’ divorce, and to top it off, this. I can’t even remember feeling any emotion at the time. I was numb more than anything. Numb to my own feelings, numb to losing a friend. The only feeling that broke through was strength. Maybe it was my coping mechanism. By being strong for Bekah, I didn’t have to fully process the tragedy just yet.
We grieved together. Bekah held my hand the whole day and never let go. She stayed the night at my house and barely slept. She didn’t say a word for almost the whole week. Still, while I needed to stay strong for her, Bekah is the one that held me together. Because of her, I was able to maintain courage and strength for the both of us. She kept my mind straight during Aaron’s celebration of life, his paddle out, his candlelight vigil, his memorial, and all the days in between. While keeping strong for both Bekah and I, there was a part of me that had not yet been touched.
A year later I was able to deal with my repressed emotions. My initial mindset to stay strong for my best friend held me back, and I instead grieved for her instead of with her. After finally processing my feelings, I was ready to let Aaron’s death change my life. Though I can’t honestly say that time has healed us, I can say that Aaron gave me a new perspective on how I wanted to live.
To say this experience of losing Aaron was a “turning point in life” is to say the least. Through this journey, I found that my purpose of life was to uplift others and spread positivity among all those around me. After watching, hearing, and experiencing all the beautiful moments he shared with us, I was inspired to create change just like him. I always tell myself, “He was too good for this world.” Through Aaron, I saw hope and kindness when all I saw was my world being torn apart. I soon realized that my world was only one out of the billions of others. I was able to see the bigger picture: that my problems were incomparable to world hunger, the homelessness crisis, chronic disease, and so much more. I grew an appreciation for the life I lived, despite the small mishaps. From that day forward, I vowed to myself that I would treat myself and others with kindness. Aaron showed me life is an opportunity to be the change in someone else’s world.
Today, I am sharing my story to offer insight to those who struggle every day with mental health. This year has brought upon hardships for all of us. From the global pandemic, to police brutality, to the loss of legendary heroes, 2020 has seemed to have an endless amount of travesties. However, we can take from this that tomorrow is not guaranteed and time is precious. We continuously try to keep our bodies in good condition and often lose sight of keeping our minds equally as healthy. We lose an average of 800,000 people to suicide every year. Many of us are constantly fighting internal battles that can easily be hidden by a smile. While we can’t always provide someone with answers, we can always provide kindness. Lend an ear and don’t just hear, but really listen. Together, we can spread positivity and make change in each other’s worlds.
If you are a loved one are in need of help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. If it is a life-threatening emergency, call 911.
Megan Concepcion grew up in Long Beach, California dancing her way through life. She is currently a student at San Francisco State University working to earn a B.S. in kinesiology as well as a B.A. in dance. Megan strives to spread positivity in the world with her words and through dance.