Finding meaning in a family tragedy: Mother talks about daughter's suicide
It is difficult to imagine what life has been like for Melissa Costello these past eight months since she found her beautiful 18-year-old daughter dead from suicide in their Grandview Drive home. But she thinks talking about it might just save another family from the unimaginable.
Jordan Costello had just graduated from Hudson High in 2012 and was a new freshman at UW-River Falls. Her mother said Jordan had enjoyed a wonderful summer with her friends despite the pain of breaking up with her longtime boyfriend at the end of the school year.
But in the fall when friends headed off in different directions, a sadness that Jordan had been dealing with off and on settled in on her again. Melissa has a text from her daughter written just a week or so before her death. In it she tells her mother how down she is feeling and longs for the time she will be happy again.
Despite how she was feeling, Jordan told her mother in the same text how much she appreciated her constant love and support and what a good mother she was, that "she always knew what to say." Melissa responded in kind, telling her daughter that she loved and supported her, that things would get better with time and that she would always be there for her.
But it wasn't enough to stop Jordan from hanging herself in her bedroom closet on Sept. 17. Her mother came home from work around 7 p.m. and saw her daughter's car in the driveway. She found her twin sons in the house who told her Jordan was upstairs. She found Jordan's bedroom dark, called out to her and then switched on the light and saw her.
Melissa only remembers screaming and knowing immediately that Jordan was dead. Her sons, Jason and Joe, 23, came running, called 911 and lifted their sister down. The family found eight notes written by Jordan, one each for her mother and her father, Vince, for her brothers and friends and one for her former boyfriend.
The notes to her parents can only be described as love letters. In them she apologizes for the pain she has caused them and implores them not to blame themselves or anyone else for her decision. She tells them repeatedly that she loves them and that they were good parents to her. She said she was going to a better place and they would be reunited there. She told her dad his number one job now would be to take care of her mother.
Melissa said Jordan's notes provided some comfort and insight but did not answer the biggest question -- why their daughter chose such a permanent solution to what was likely a temporary problem.
When asked how she would describe Jordan, her mother used words like strong, tenacious, driven and funny. "And she was very caring about others, especially her friends. She just didn't have enough strength to save herself."
It is to help other families avoid having to ask that question that Melissa has decided to speak publically and honestly about her daughter's suicide and its aftermath.
Melissa describes the days and weeks immediately following Jordan's death as a blur. She remembers some things about planning the funeral, the support of family and friends and the kindness of the people where she worked.
"I remember picking things up from O'Connell's -- picking her up. I was bringing my daughter home in a box. I would never plan her wedding, have grandchildren from her, or celebrate another Mother's Day with her. I found myself missing all of that as if it had already happened."
Melissa says those first weeks were dark ones for her and she admits she even considered what it would be like to end her own life to be with Jordan. She stayed home, often in bed, and did little to care for herself or her home and family. But at one point, she made a choice.
Driving to get a haircut, a deer darted out in front of her car. She slammed on the brakes to avoid the collision. "And in that moment I thought why did you do that? You could be with Jordan. But in that same moment I made the decision that I was not going to stop living, that I have a life, a family I love and who loves me. I decided I was going to find a way to live that would honor my daughter."
Melissa sought help. She regularly sees a therapist and takes medication to help her deal with her loss. She also regularly attends a support group for parents like her. "When this happened I couldn't help but feel like a failure. But it's helpful to know there are other people out there who are feeling like I am. It helps to hear their experiences and how they have dealt with it. But there are people there who have been coming for 20 years. My heart sinks when I think about that but I understand. Every day I get further away from her but talking about her where no one judges her or me helps."
Melissa says seeking help and talking about what happened is part of her grief journey. She says it is different for her husband and her sons. "Everyone grieves in their own way and in their own time. That has to be respected. All I can say is that it has brought us closer together."
Melissa said she has chosen to speak about her daughter's suicide in hopes that Jordan's story and their family's experience can help others avoid a similar tragedy. She knows now her daughter's depression was deeper than she ever realized. "I think she visited that darkness too many times and went into a tunnel she couldn't see her way out of."
"I have gone over everything she said and did and what I said and did, trying to see what I could have done differently. I want people to know that it doesn't just happen to kids who are bullied or who have tough home lives. Jordan was loved and cared for but it wasn't enough."
Melissa said if she had it to do over again, she would talk with Jordan candidly about the ups and downs of her own life, her own early relationships that didn't work out or were hurtful and the disappointments she dealt with along the way.
"I know now that it is important to talk with our kids openly and honestly and be specific. Tell them that life can be tough and seem unbearable but it can also change and get better and probably will. Tell them about your own experiences. These are things we understand as parents having lived through it but they don't see it. And most of all, tell them that suicide is not an option they should take."
Melissa said the loss of her daughter is something she deals with every day and that will never change. But what she hopes will change is the circle of silence that surrounds suicide. "Suicide isn't about shame or blame. We need to be honest about it and love our kids enough to talk to them about it."
Jordan was a proud member of the Hudson Raiders soccer team. On Monday at 7 p.m. the HHS varsity game against New Richmond will be played in memory of her and to raise awareness and the prevention of suicide. A special shirt has been designed for the game and balloons will be released at half-time. She will also be remembered with a tree planting at the May 18 annual alumni soccer game at the Hudson Middle School soccer field.
The Costello family has established the annual Jordan Costello scholarship for a graduating HHS girl soccer player. The first award will be made at this year's soccer banquet. Donations to the Jordan Costello Memorial Fund can be made at any Associated Bank.
Community Task Force
The Suicide Prevention Task Force of St. Croix County will present a Community Forum on Wednesday, April 24, at 6:30 p.m. at the New Richmond Community Commons. The event is free of charge. Included, will be a QPR Gatekeeper Training. QPR is a nationally recognized evidenced-based program, proven to reduce suicides in communities across the United States.
For additional information on this event or ways to become involved, contact Patty Schachtner at email@example.com or Kesha Marson at Kesha.Marson@co.saint-croix.wi.us. Additional information can be found on our Facebook Page, Suicide Prevention Task Force of St. Croix County, Wisconsin.