The familiar “kerplink” alert of a Facebook message on my phone at 9:56 p.m. on March 31 wasn’t followed by the normal “Yoooo Veeee” that one of my best friends, Ian, has claimed as his signature, virtual greeting.
This message was from Beth Hendren, the mother of the late Cody Hendren, the former Battle High School freshman I had had been trying to write a Life Story on before break that ended up just being a Missourian obituary because of the lack of willingness of sources to talk to me, expectantly so with the surrounding circumstances. Family and friends said a few things to the Missourian about this bubbly boy at his memorial ceremony at Peace Park.
She apologized for just getting back to me and said how the vigil was that upcoming Saturday if that was any use to me. The time had passed for any Life Story to be put out but I still welcomed her information. She told me how they had raised over $500 at that point for suicide awareness and are wanting to continue to focus on prevention and knowledge. Beth had already thought about the possibility of going to the schools to talk about it.
“Ding!” rang the story idea bell in my head.
I was invested in this story, in this family, in Cody. The fateful GA shift in which this obit fell into the inbox of Katherine Reed pulled a trigger of something that wouldn’t really know was there until I ended the day sobbing on the phone to my mother.
Katherine had been talking to me when she received it and instinctively asked me to take it.
“Oh no, he was 14,” she sighed. That number seemed arbitrary until I connected it with the idea of age, the age my brother Frank just dismissed as his own in October.
This Life Story was to be about a child. A freshman in high school that was just getting into the groove of what high school really is. A kid that did kid activities, like goof around with friends and listen to his music too loud.
“He was the same age as my brother,” I muttered as she handed me the printout.
Katherine gave me a sad puppy dog face, knowing that this wasn’t going to be easy in any sense, especially with our presumptions of suicide being the cause of death based on the “In lieu of flowers, donations are accepted for the Boone County Suicide Prevention Coalition” skirting the edge of the obit. But, I threw on a weak smile and said that I would still take it.
I reread the obit looking for clues to see what I could write about, ask about, who to contact, etc. when things started to hit a little too close to home. Fourteen and 15-year-old boys tend to be similar in a lot of facets, but some of the main descriptors in this lovingly written obituary by his mother matched up with things I commonly use to describe my brother Frank. Both of them love skateboarding, are amazingly academically gifted, love just listening to music on their iPods, etc. Typical for a young teen boy, right? I about lost it sitting there in the newsroom when I read ” and he loved playing Minecraft with his brothers.”
My mind flashed to me clomping down our unfinished stairs to bother Frank while he played Minecraft in the cool, cement cavern of our basement during the summer. He would tell his friend Jacob, who he played online or in-person with, that I said “Hi.” Or, he could be surrounded by my other brothers, Vince, 18, and Jack, 12, giving him advice on what to buy with his coins, where to build, etc. I would sit in to just joke around about the purposeful “8 bit” look of the game while gaining some nerd culture knowledge. Minecraft would be a casual conversation topic that I would use with my angsty and stoic brother on the phone when I called home.
All day I tried to secure some confirmation on the cause of death (it is Missourian policy to make every conceivable effort to report the cause of death for those who are under 60 and to report if suicide was the cause of death if it is confirmed by family and/or close friends) and to reach anyone to tell about the vivacious and unfortunately short life of this bright boy. His gifted program teacher talked to me and gave me such a beautiful view of a hard-working, goal-driven individual, someone he never thought that “this” would happen to. He dropped hints and words of suicide but said that he couldn’t confirm based on the orders of the compassionate guidance counselor staff at Battle High. The ACEs wanted me to try to contact a couple more people the next day as they sent me home for the night for me to retreat into the crying-safe confines of my room in Jones Hall.
After going through my nearly daily routine of accidentally using the office key for my door and turning the key the wrong way (our locks are backwards, it’s not my fault I follow lock logic), I collapsed against my raised bed into heavy sobs. With quavering breathe and shaking hands, I knew I had to call home and just talk to Frank because someone so similar to him was gone to the world.
When my mom answered the phone my voice cracked and the sobbing started all over again. She sympathized with my sadness when I told her all the triggering similarities and commanded me to get control of myself so I could talk to my overly apathetic brother.
He was none the wiser.
We talked about his soccer team, his utter boredom with his classmates’ antics, how he was watching Psych and not the Blackhawks game (weirdo) and some of our inside jokes. My youngest brother, Jack, was trying to put in his two cents on everything, giving the call a natural end and passing on to him, as if I just called to casually catch up.
I felt immensely better after talking to my brothers, but Beth’s recent message to me reinvigorated my investment in this story. I would do anything for my brothers. I cannot (and will not) imagine what it would be like to lose any one of them. The similarities in that obit triggering me to think of my brother was the closest I hope to ever get to that feeling ever. I carry that pang of the triggering thoughts around with me, and I am reminded of it whenever I see the print version of my Missourian obit on my clippings bulletin board. I only hope I can continue tracking however Cody’s brightness will be spread, either through a story of my own or just in passing because a little bit of his light is with me and I don’t think I can just let it out.