Perhaps some of you saw the obituary in Wednesday’s paper for 20-year-old Ariel Jo May.
(I was unable to link to it, but you can find it online in The Star’s obituaries.)
If you’re like me, your reading of the obits is always arrested when you see that a young person has died…The natural and obvious questions that go through your mind are, “What was the cause of death?” and “Why?”
Those would have been my questions, too, except that I have more than a passing interest in and knowledge of Ariel’s case.
The tip-off as to the cause of death is found in the first paragraph, where the obituary says one of the charities where the family would like contributions to go is the Suicide Awareness Voices of Education organization.
The reason I have a more than passing interest in the matter is that Ariel and our 24-year-old daughter Brooks were in rehab treatment together in Chicago in recent months.
Brooks has been getting treatment for an eating disorder, and Ariel was getting ‘being treated, I believe, for self-harm tendencies and depression.
My wife Patty and I met Ariel briefly one day — while visiting Brooks — in a Michigan Avenue CVS. We were there to pick up a prescription for Brooks, and Ariel was there to get meds of her own. Brooks introduced us, and we chatted for several minutes. She was an attractive girl with an engaging smile and a relaxed, friendly manner.
The one thing that struck me as odd that day was that Ariel came away from the prescription counter empty-handed. “I have a lot of prescriptions,” she explained, “and I don’t have enough money to pay for them. I’ll have to come back later.”
Seldom do you see a young person picking up “a lot” of prescriptions, so I figured that whatever her troubles were, they must have been fairly significant.
That’s the last we saw of Ariel, although Brooks later went to a White Sox baseball game with Ariel and a friend of Ariel’s.
Later, in October, I believe, word came from Brooks that Ariel had been admitted to a behavioral health hospital outside Chicago because of an overdose of prescription drugs and perhaps alcohol. The next I heard, which was early this month, as I recall, was that Ariel was back home, in the Kansas City area.
With Brooks still in Chicago, I pretty much forgot about Ariel. Last week, Brooks came home for the Thanksgiving weekend. She returned to Chicago on Sunday night and texted us about 10 o’clock that she had arrived safely. About midnight, as I was preparing to go to bed, my cellphone rang and it was Brooks, again.
Voice trembling, she said, “Dad, do you remember Ariel?” I braced myself for what I knew was coming…”She killed herself.”
She gave me the few details she knew — that Ariel had overdosed on prescription drugs, apparently at her father’s house. While she was talking, I sank to my knees and began crying. I handed the phone to Patty. I continued crying for a long time…In fact, I hadn’t cried that hard and that long since my best friend committed suicide in 1984.
There’s something about a young person committing suicide that is maddening and crushing at the same time. I’m sure many of you feel the same way. My first and persistent thought about Ariel was — “Why did this precious young life, with so much potential, have to be lost to the demon of depression?
On Monday, I located the address for her father, John May, in Bonner Springs. I went to his house, called his home number from my car, and explained my connection to Ariel. He stepped outside the door. Stocky, with neatly trimmed, gray hair, he looked straight at me as I approached. His eyes were puffy and red, and his chest was visibly heaving. He extended a hand and then, with the other, wrapped me in a long, firm embrace. When he spoke — again looking straight into my eyes — he said, “I feel like a piece of my heart has been ripped out of my chest.”
I offered to help him in any way I could (he’s divorced from Ariel’s mother), and I ended up helping write and assemble the obituary. I learned a lot more about Ariel when I went back to the house on Tuesday, and the more I learn, the more I think help for Ariel was not far away and the farther I go down the “what if” road.
But she’s gone, and that’s the terrible finality. Today, I, along with friends and family, will mourn for her at her earthly send-off. And I will pray, as I have for years, that somewhere today, God will spare a child.