A mum has written a powerful open letter to her four sons about the controversial new series, 13 Reasons Why.
The Netflix show about a teenager who commits suicide has received backlash from around the world, with many saying it promotes suicide. Now Claire Orange from Perth has slammed it for ‘playing teen dress-up with suicide’.
In her emotionally charged letter published in the Sydney Morning Herald, the children’s wellbeing expert, therapist and author has listed 13 reasons why suicide is not the answer.
She wrote to her sons:
My young men. My crew of human beings that fill my days with emotions so deep I have no words to describe my love for each of you. Individually and collectively – you are my reason for rising and always my reason for being comatose by 11 pm.
From the moment of knowing that you were a life being grown and nurtured within I have felt this deep need to be there, provide for you, keep the world away for as long as possible. And for each of you, as you grew and engaged with the world beyond my arms I held my breath each time you fell over, you were pushed, someone stole your favourite sandpit toy.
Your skills have grown – walking, talking, riding a bike, driving a car and I have been there for each of those moments, anxiously looking for dangers, helping you to develop your skills and your resilience. Deepening your capacity to deal with the physical, social and emotional knocks of life.
And now the world impacts on you through your viewing, your interactions, your education, our family and extended family – some of which I can be there for and continue to hold up my invisible shield, to take some of the impact. Some, I can't and the older you get the more I have to let go and let you experience life's events and absorb life's learnings.
Do I think about and worry if one of you is having a tough time socially, academically, emotionally every day? Yes. Do I worry about times when you seem overly down, anxious and disconnected? Absolutely, yes. Have I ever wondered about whether you have had, entertained or lingered on some suicidal thoughts? I really wish I could say no, but to be honest, yes I have. Give me a second and I'll tell you why.
And now we have this series – 13 Reasons Why influencing and impacting your thinking. Playing teen dress-up with suicide. Wrapping it in the rich colours of teen angst. Hiding its ugliness in the common colours of teen sport, friendship ups and downs, betrayals and hurts. Somehow, I feel like the ultimate ugliness, the clanging finality is hidden behind this façade of fitting it perfectly into the usual difficulties that define that transition between your childhood years and your adulthood.
My boys, I know the scar that suicide leaves. Not just until the funeral is over. The faces of the family aghast, ashamed, unsure, bereft, devastated. Not just until you have children of your own. No, that scar lasts forever and when something brushes against it, it causes unimaginable emotional pain and hurt. You see, a friend of mine took his life when we had just left high school and it still impacts on my life. I didn't choose to see life through that lens. The lens of fear, of having not been there, of being a possible contributor simply through not being there at the right time to say the magic and lifesaving words.
I simply can't imagine life without every one of you. Having to endure a lifetime of self-blame and self-hatred that would blacken my soul and create a void that could never be filled, lightened or lessened. That's what suicide leaves. These are my 13 reasons why suicide is not the answer:
1. There is always someone there. Always. And if not me – because today I'm not your favourite person – then a grandparent, an auntie, a cousin, a brother, a friend.
2. Despite what's happened to you or what you have been part of by choice or proximity, I will always love you as much as the moment I first knew you were there. I might not love what you've done but I will always love you with my entire being.
3. You are here for a reason. You have a life ahead full of love, relationships, achievements and setbacks. And I will be there beside you.
4. However busy I am, whatever else is happening for me, I will put it aside for you. Hell, I'd lay down my life for yours to sustain.
5. You are loved.
6. You are valued.
7. You are resilient.
8. You are more than the sum of your experiences, more than anything anyone can and will ever say about you.
9. This too shall pass. Life is a series of stages, each with its own unique teachings and learnings.
10. Nothing is too big, too embarrassing, too … anything to talk about. I'm honoured when you confide in me, but remember your safety net of people. They love you too.
11. Every life – yours, mine has high and low points. Storm clouds gather, they might linger but they won't be there forever. Promise.
12. You come from a long line of resilient survivors. It's in your blood.
13. My love for you is more powerful than anything you've seen on a superhero movie. My love transcends time. It will be there for generations to come, wrapping itself around you and your children one day, and their children, and theirs.
My sons, 13 Reason Why should be called 13 Reasons Why Not. As viewed material, it now forms part of the complex neural network through which you interpret and respond to life. Let's keep talking, learning from it and making it part of your lifelong love of, lust for and link to life.
My Sons. My life. My breath.
Claire Orange is a children's wellbeing expert – therapist, author, speaker and mother of four. She is a director and co-founder of BEST Programs 4 Kids, a national organisation that specialises in developing effective social and emotional wellbeing resources for families and schools.
Where to get help in Australia:
Lifeline 131 114
MensLine 1300 789 978
Beyondblue 1300 224 636.