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DAY BY DAY: The time has come to talk openly about suicide

Over my 23 years as a reporter for the Star-Observer, I have told some pretty sad stories that have involved our families, friends and neighbors. They have included the loss of loved ones from disease, accidents, natural causes and even criminal acts. It is always difficult to tell these stories but a death from suicide is a special challenge.

At the Star-Observer, we generally don't use the word suicide unless the person dies in a very public place, is a person in the public eye or if the circumstances surrounding the suicide endanger the public. Part of the reason for this is to spare the family any additional pain or suffering and we all understand that. But maybe that should change.

Suicide has always been treated as a very private act and along with that, it has somehow also become something shameful. That's just not right.

I had the rare privilege of talking with Melissa Costello about the suicide of her beautiful daughter Jordan last September. She lovingly and very eloquently told me about Jordan -- her daughter's strength, her caretaking nature and her sense of humor. She also described a teenager who was deeply saddened over a broken relationship and struggling to deal with the transition from high school to college, a child who texted her mother that she just wanted to feel happy again. She also thanked her mother for supporting her and always being there to talk.

Melissa Costello texted her daughter back the same way I would have responded to my own girl -- that she wished she could take the pain away, that things would get better, that time would heal her and that she loved her and always would.

But sadly it wasn't enough for Jordan. She did what too many young people do these days -- chose a permanent solution to what was likely a very temporary problem.

Melissa Costello understands the darkness her daughter was feeling. She felt it herself in the weeks and months following her death but she has chosen another way to honor Jordan's memory. She intends to talk about suicide openly and honestly in hopes of saving someone like Jordan.

Melissa Costello grieves for her daughter every day but she is not ashamed of Jordan. Suicide is the result of mental illness and it is time to take it out of the shadows.

Statistics tell us that a majority of young people think about suicide at one time or another. Most never do it but maybe those who do could have been stopped if someone only talked openly and directly about it. Think of the impact it might have if someone like Melissa talked to teenagers about Jordan's problems, likely similar to their own issues; if she told them about the pain she and her family are living with after suicide; if she talked about the things she would do differently.

As parents we try to protect our kids from the hard and ugly side of life but deaths like Jordan's are evidence that we really can't. Maybe what is more important is to share with our children that life can kick you in teeth, that depression and overwhelming sadness are tough things to live through, that people we love can hurt and disappoint us deeply but you can survive it all because we have.

The day I heard about Jordan's death, I called my own kids and for the first time talked with them about suicide -- actually used the word and told them in no uncertain terms that it is NOT an option. I just wanted them to know that there are an unlimited number of choices out there that are better. There are no guarantees in life but at least we had the conversation.

I think that's all Melissa Costello wants -- to tell parents and children alike that there are other choices out there and that suicide should not be one of them.

For more information about suicide awareness and prevention go to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention at To get help call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255.

Meg Heaton

Meg Heaton has been a reporter with the Hudson Star Observer since 1990. She has a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and Native American Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

(715) 808-8604