Hello, our names are Alan and Shay Black. We are high school sweethearts, married going on 27-years now. Our son, AJ Black, died of suicide by gunshot in his bedroom at 3:00 AM on April 1st, 2016. AJ was 17-years-old, and a junior at Berthoud High School in Berthoud, Colorado. He was gifted and talented in Math and Science, and in the STEM program. He was a wrestler, even made it to state this past season. He loved to wrestle with his clubs and high school, wakeboard at our lake, make music on his computer, go hunting with his Dad, and love on his yellow lab, Lacey. AJ had a great humor, and was called the class clown on a daily basis. He could light up a room and turn the most serious conversation into fits of laughter. He certainly brightened our world, and it is dimmer now without him physically here beside us.
AJ was our only son. He was our baby. The youngest of three kids, with two older sisters. We will never forget seeing that ultrasound, and knowing that we would have a son. A son who looked exactly like his Dad, and would be named after him.
Psalm 116 verse 15 states, “We don’t own our children. God has given them to us in trust. However, God may transfer our children to His home at any time”.
We still have a lot of questions, a lot of hurt, a lot of pain, and even some anger. Why did AJ take his own life? The answer to that question is something that we may never know. As parents, it feels like we have failed. Like one of the poems in AJ’s memorial card said, “If only I had known it would be the last time I heard your voice, I would have kept you up just a little bit longer”. But we didn’t know. We had no way of knowing. Friends were fooled, family was fooled, even counselors were fooled. And that is because AJ was keeping something deep down inside of him that he felt was just too much for him to bare. For us to bare. For all of those who loved him to bare. So many loved AJ and he loved us. You can read the words that so many have posted on my Facebook page to see that, but sometimes love just isn’t enough.
In the hours after AJ died, we struggled. We knew what our faith was telling us, and we were trying our best to hang tightly to that. But in the dark of that first night without our son, it was just so much pain to endure. We cried together, we prayed together and we admitted to each other how scared we were. We were scared because not only did we not know where our baby’s body was, but we were worried about where his soul was. We prayed together, asking God to send us a tangible sign that AJ was okay. That AJ was in heaven. We spent a sleepless night, with night lights on, because the dark was just too dark. We listened to the hum of filter systems in AJ’s bedroom, and we cried, prayed and held each other.
The next day, Shay was contacted by a childhood friend from days back in Oklahoma. She had been living in Loveland for a long time, and wanted to bring food to us. We ask her to bring it to Alan’s parent’s house, as our family was all congregating over there. We told her that we would be in and out that day, and we couldn’t promise we would be there. She said she was bringing food anyway. She showed up, and we just happened to be there. She ask Shay if she felt like she could tell her how AJ died. When Shay told her that he took his life, the shock on her face was quickly replaced with her realization that she had been sent to us for a purpose. See, both her parents had taken their own lives when she was younger. They were Christians, and she struggled with this, even to the point of lying to others about how they died, telling people they died in a car accident. The burden of where her parents had gone on to weighed heavy on her heart, and weighed down her young life. She strayed from the church, and made some choices that took her on a rough path. One day she finally came back around to her faith, and was shown a particular verse, John 10:28-29, “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.”. What this means is that once we are in His hands, our future is also in His hands. No one – NOT EVEN OURSELVES – can rob us of the certainty and security of eternal life. Once we have given our heart to Jesus, we may take our own physical life in our hands, but not our eternal life. Our eternal life is in His hands, not ours.
Shay’s friend did not know how AJ died before coming over, and this scripture was in a sealed card that she gave us. She took Shay’s hands in her hands and told her that we have to let go of this burden of where our son is. Because he is with Jesus. He is safe.
As Shay began to tell her the story of the time with AJ the night before, she mentioned that AJ had gone to his job at the pizza place that night. She stopped Shay and ask to see another picture of AJ, then proceeded to tell Shay that her and her husband had been served by AJ at the Brick Oven in Berthoud that very night. Not only had she been sent to me to comfort us, she saw our son the night he died. She said he was laughing and smiling, and cutting up with the other employees. In fact, she said they were laughing about one of them blowing up an onion in one of the ovens. Shay told her that sounded like something our class clown would have been involved in.
We know in our hearts that this was our sign. And it amazingly confirmed what another dear friend had said to us the day before, “You don’t get into heaven because of your actions, so you surely don’t get turned away at the gate because of them”. AJ is okay. AJ is safe. AJ is wrapped in God’s love. We wish he was here with us, but sometimes our earthly love just isn’t enough.
But even with the peace that we have been given by God through so many people sharing their hearts, it is still so hard to contain so great an emptiness. Our hearts feel like they have been ripped out – it physically hurts inside our chests, our minds feel numb, the sadness is so far reaching that it is indescribable. We have friends who have children in heaven, and Shay always told Alan that if God took one of our kids before he took her, she wouldn’t be able to bear it. Mom would be inconsolable and her own life would be over. But because of the amazing people we are surrounded by, we are consoled by our family, and our overwhelming number of friends. We am comforted by messages and scripture. We are loved and held by our marriage and daughters. We are carried by faith.
But please understand, we am broken. AJ’s sisters are broken. Grandparents are broken. Teammates are broken. Coaches are broken. Friends are broken. AJ made this choice himself, in the blink of an eye, and we are sorry to all who loved him for all the brokenness it is causing. But AJ was sick, not with a disease that any of us could see, but with some sort of mental distress or illness. There was something he kept so deep down inside, that nobody knew about it. Not family, friends, counselors, not anyone. We truly believe in our hearts that if AJ had this decision to make over again, he would not make the same one. If he could change what happened and take it back, he would. His not yet fully developed mind could not rationalize the finality of this choice.
We live in a world where we can order anything in mere seconds, and have it delivered overnight express. We can access our family and friends in a click, and post pictures of our lives right as we are living it. All without having face to face conversations. We are so used to just doing things without thinking, and unfortunately this snap decision changed way too many people’s lives forever. This is one that cannot be returned like a shirt ordered too small. Suicide has a permanent outcome. This world lost a great one, and our family lost a part of our hearts. We are one man down.
To the teenagers: please don’t let this happen to your Mom, your Dad, your grandparents, your friends. Don’t leave them here crying, sick with heartache. Don’t bottle up the feelings you have, pushing them deep down inside. Don’t think that there is anything in this world that you can do or say that will make your parents not love you. Their love is unconditional. There will certainly be discipline and teaching, because that is what a parent does, but their love will go on forever and through anything.
Reach out to each other. Keep tabs on each other. Check in with each other. Don’t assume that your friends know you love them, tell them and tell them often. Pull together and pull each other through the darkness. Let go of the stigma associated with talking about suicide, or the worry of what people will think if you ask for help. We all have issues and struggle with stress. All of us. And there is help. All you have to do is reach out.
Our son was a loving kid. We have so many messages from his friends telling us stories about times AJ was kind to them, made them laugh, made them smile, and pulled them out of a dreary day. We wish he would have been able to do that for himself, and see the value in himself that he obviously saw in others. Sometimes the ones we all think are doing the best and are always happy and well adjusted, are the ones who need our help the most. Many times they are the ones who push the hurt and depression so deep, and then cover it well.
Parents, keep tabs on your kids, what they are doing and who they are with. Know their friends, check their cell phones and computers. Make sure they know that you are on their side and will support them through anything. And then know, that sometimes none of it is enough. So you have to reach out for help as well. Do not ever be ashamed to do this. Reach out.
Our son’s death will never be worth it to our family. But we cannot bring AJ back, and we know that. So if we can help another family, save a life by helping them see clearly and get help in time, our son’s death will be worth it to them. And we can live with that. We have to live with that.
To my AJ, Ma and Pa love you with everything we are, and there are no words to express how much we miss you. We do know you are resting easy in God’s loving embrace, and we look forward to the day when we can hold you again. Thank you for giving us the strength to reach out and give a helping hand to others.