A Letter For Jackson, Who Died Too Soon

We must stop bullying

Photo: Unsplash

Jackson —

As you well know, even in your nine years on this Earth, the news spreads quickly in these parts. On Saturday, we got some pretty tragic news. You took your own life.

I never knew you, little buddy, even though you lived less than an hour from my house. I never had the honor to meet your kindred spirit before your life was abruptly interrupted by a group of bullies so vicious that you thought the only way to loose their unflinching grip was to end your days on this planet. You were nine - not yet old enough to drive, or vote, or take your first love on a date. Nine — and in an instant, you were gone.

I wish I could have been there the day you made the decision. I would have put my hand on your shoulder, told you how you would grow into a big strong man with hopes and dreams and something to offer this big world. I wish my voice could have shouted louder than the voices of the youngsters who told you that you had no worth. I wish I could have shown you that you are needed, that you deserve to be heard, deserve to have a chance to know what an entire lifespan has to offer.

But I missed that chance. Missed my opportunity to know you. Because the hurtful, degrading words of others made you feel less than, and ultimately made you decide that the world was too much to take.

This is Jackson. May he rest in peace. (Photo: WVNS)

Your story is tragic in so many ways. Tragic because your death took place on the day set aside for the world to prevent suicide from happening. Tragic because you were so young, still growing from boyhood to manhood. Tragic because you were someone's son, someone's brother — and yes, someone's friend.

There is no doubt in my mind that you had so much potential, so much good in you. It hurts to think what this world has lost. You could have been anything. The doctor who takes care of my aging father and mother. The lawyer who protects our people. An artist, writer, baker. The president. Any of these — and so much more — could have been your reality.

Any death — especially one caused by the cruelty of others — hurts. But this hurts me even more because you were my fellow Appalachian, my fellow West Virginian, and we mountain folk have a certain kinship. You, little man, were my people. And so your story has resonated with me even more.

This cruelty needs to stop. Words do hurt. Sometimes words smother, sometimes they choke. Names have meaning. You did the best you could. You fought back — sometimes with humor, sometime with fists. But still, in the end, the words won. Stupid words that shouldn't have defined you, little buddy.

You'll be buried soon. And when you are, I will travel to your grave, leave a bundle of flowers and this note. I wish it weren't so. I wish I could be giving you a pat on the back, a few good words of a job well done. But I can't. Not anymore. So the flowers, these words, and several tears shed will have to do.

This is my plea to the world that remains: Please, watch you words. They hurt. They kill. If you have nothing nice to say, say nothing. No one deserves to feel less than. No one deserves to be bullied.

Little Jackson, in your short life, you made a big impact. I will not let you die in vain. Your story is always in my head. Your memory remains in my heart. I will keep fighting — for you, for those others who continue to face bullying in our towns throughout this country, and the world. I hope your death from bullying is the last, even though it is one too many. Rest peacefully, my mountain brother. Every setting sun, I will tip my hat to you.

If you or someone you know may be considering suicide, please seek help. Call the national suicide prevention hotline at 1–800–273–8255. If you’re a bully, stop it. Seriously. And if you ever just need someone to talk to, send me a private comment. I’ll gladly give you my email or phone.