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All the Aumanns miss Bryan, left, including his sister Casey, right. (Submitted photo)

Losing a son: the grief never goes away

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Losing a son: the grief never goes away
River Falls Wisconsin 2815 Prairie Drive / P.O. Box 25 54022

Bryan Aumann would have graduated with the HHS Class of 2013. At this year's baccalaureate ceremony, his parents were presented with an honorary diploma, a yearbook which included a memorial to him and a graduation cap tassel.

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It has been a little over two years since Bryan Aumann, a 16-year-old sophomore at Hudson High School, took his own life. His parents, Lena and Larry Aumann, said their son made his decision after living with the debilitating effects of cancer treatments for leukemia for three years and the prospect of more treatment ahead.

They say the grief over the loss of their son will never go away but they are learning to live without him. And their sentiments over his decision remain the same as they were in those first difficult weeks.

"We don't agree with his choice but we understand it," said Larry.

The Aumanns both say there isn't a day that goes by that they don't think of Bryan and miss him. Lena said for the first year she cried all the way to and from work every day. Eventually she stopped but she continues to have therapy to deal with the loss and the impact it has had on her and her family. She had made an appointment with the therapist just before Bryan died to talk about how to handle his depression and anxiety over his illness. After he died, she called the therapist and said things had changed -- she would be talking about something else. She has been going ever since as has Larry.

"It is good for me and gives me a time when I can focus on what I'm feeling and thinking."

Larry said that "year of firsts" without Bryan -- first Christmas, first birthday, first Father's Day -- were difficult. As time has gone by, Bryan's death has become a point of reference for the family. "Everything is either before we lost Bryan or after but is is getting better. I find I am remembering more of the good times and I can laugh and not cry about them."

Bryan's only sibling, sister Casey, was a senior the spring Bryan died, and she headed off for college that fall. "Within just a few months we were empty-nesters. That was difficult," said Lena. "It helped when his friends would stop by and see us. Some of them still do or they drop me a message on Facebook."

The Aumanns say their son was in "pretty good spirits" in the days leading up to his death and that they were unaware of what he was planning.

"In looking back, he was very pleasant to be around in those last days. I think he had made up his mind. He was a different person. It is only in hindsight that I realize what he was probably thinking," said Lena.

Bryan did experience mental health issues related to the treatment he was receiving. He was taking up to 21 pills a day and seemed to always experience the worst side effects of whatever he was taking. The chemotherapy not only affected him physically but also caused manic periods where Bryan experienced extreme highs and lows. He received care and counseling and appeared to get better but it was a lot to handle for a young teenager, according to his dad.

Facing more chemotherapy, Larry believes his son changed his train of thought and hit on another option -- suicide. "I knew Bryan like the back of my hand. We were with him every step of the way through all of it but that day -- I didn't see it coming."

The Aumanns say their son's illness is what led to his suicide. They wish Bryan had talked with them, let them know what he was thinking but he didn't give them that opportunity. They believe their son would have survived the leukemia but he "lost sight of the light at the end of the tunnel."

"He started losing that light, and when he did, he lost hope," said Larry.

The Aumanns agreed to talk about their loss in hopes that it might prevent what happened to Bryan or help other families and friends dealing with a suicide of someone they loved.

Despite what happened to their son, they say communication is key when it comes to raising children.

"If you are worried about them or concerned about what they are thinking, don't be afraid to talk with them, ask them questions and get them help. It is not their fault," said Larry. "We need to get over the shame and stigma of mental health issues. As parents we don't get a book of directions on how to do things but the more you know about your kids, the more you talk to them -- the more you can help them."

The Aumanns will always wish Bryan had made a different decision the day he died but their love for him then and now is unconditional and unending.

The Hudson Community Foundation is sponsoring a community forum on suicide prevention on Aug. 7 at First Presbyterian Church, 1901 Vine St, beginning at 6:30 p.m. See related story.

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Randy Hanson
Randy Hanson has reported for the Star-Observer since 1997. He came to Hudson after 11 years with the Inter-County Leader at Frederic, and eight years of teaching social studies. He’s a graduate of UW-Eau Claire.
(715) 426-1066
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