For months after her son’s suicide, Denise Meine-Graham hardly made eye contact with people, certain that even strangers in the grocery store, if they saw her eyes, would know she was the mother who failed her son.
My son is dead. It’s my fault and everyone is looking at me. She panicked in the store and held tight to her husband.
At the time, she doubted every decision she had made as a parent: Maybe if we hadn’t moved, if we hadn’t gotten a divorce when he was young, if I hadn’t taken him on a roller coaster as a child …. he wouldn’t have killed himself.
Every thought seemed to lead her back to the question she could not answer:
Why was my love not enough for my son to choose life?
On Aug. 8, 2012, in the early morning, Drey texted his mother: Hey, I love you. Denise thought it was odd, but not too concerning he would text her that message in the middle of the night. She texted him back, telling him she loved him, and got ready for work.
Two months earlier, Drey had graduated from Thomas Worthington High School, where he had been an avid soccer player and earned a varsity letter. He had a job at a car lot and was preparing to start college, a transition he was insecure about. In the weeks before he was to start college, Drey had been angry and depressed, but Denise thought perhaps that was just typical angst for a 19-year-old.
Drey’s father called Denise in the morning on Aug. 8, urging her to come to the house. Immediately. He wouldn’t say what happened. Nor would the many teenagers gathered in front of the house when she arrived and looked at each of their faces, hoping to see her son’s: Where’s Drey? Where’s Drey?
And where was the ambulance? Denise asked the police officer. Why hadn’t they dispatched an ambulance?
“Ma’am,’’ the officer said, “he’s already passed.’’
About two and a half years before he died, Drey seemed depressed and told his mother he wanted to kill himself. But after four months of counseling, his mood improved so much that therapy seemed no longer necessary.
Then, during his senior year of high school, he started drinking. His mother had told him not to and had hoped that perhaps it was a fleeting phase. Drey drank the morning he took his life – after his dad left for work.
Denise wondered how she could continue living, waking with the same thought for so many mornings: How am I going to be alive tonight at dinnertime? The weight of losing her son, she was certain would kill her. Live or die, she didn’t care either way.
Days after Drey’s death, a woman from her church came to visit Denise. Her son had died by suicide five years earlier, when he was in his 20s.
“I couldn’t believe she was dressed, that she had driven to my home.’’
How could someone whose son had taken his own life be able to get dressed, put on makeup, drive, make a casserole? Denise didn’t think she would ever be capable of doing any of those tasks again, but seeing the woman offered a speck of hope that eventually she might be able to function again.
That visit inspired Denise, to start the Franklin County chapter of Local Outreach to Suicide Survivors (LOSS.) The organization dispatches trained volunteers to the scene of Franklin County suicides to offer support and resources to the victim’s family members, then follows up with them in the months after the death with gift baskets, cards and phone calls.
In Denise’s office, a photo of Drey sits on her desk. In it, he stands in front of a row of trees, arms folded, smiling. Actually, Denise points out, he was laughing at her, as she stood behind the photographer dancing wildly with her arms flailing, trying to elicit a genuine smile – instead of a forced one – for his high school senior photos.
Among the photos she has of Drey, this one she particularly treasures. Because in it, Drey looks at her and laughs.