Early next summer, an excited group of grade twelve students will walk across the stage to receive their secondary school diplomas at London District Christian Secondary School. Family and friends will gather to give congratulatory hugs as they look towards promising roads ahead. However, one student from the class will not be present on that special day—former student, friend, and classmate Jordan Hiemstra, who died by suicide last month.
Since that tragic day in late September, Jordan’s parents have been intentional about sharing their son’s story with as many people as they can. At his funeral, Chris and Christy Hiemstra read aloud a touching and honest eulogy—which they later posted on their Facebook page—prefaced in this way:
“Our family wants to be honest and authentic to who we are, so we will share that our hearts are broken and our dreams of our youngest son’s future and opportunities have been crushed Friday night. Our Jordan has tragically ended his life here on earth. He struggled with the deep pain of depression, and was seeking medical and counseling help with the support of our family and two close friends. He wanted to keep [his struggle] private, and yet in the end he made it so public. We grieve intensely as family but yet we have hope in a better place, like Jordan did. He led our family in prayer at supper, and said ‘goodnight, I love you’, but something in his mind made him say and believe that he was too weak and that the internal battle against himself wouldn’t get better.”
The many photos shared at his funeral show the Jordan that everyone knew—a smiling toddler gently holding a wriggling puppy, a young boy filling Tonka trucks with sand behind the barn, a mischievous worker on his parents’ bee farm spraying water at his co-workers, a confident musician playing keyboard on the church praise team, and an energetic friend who loved being outdoors.
“When he was with you, he was the guy who could instigate fun,” shared Chris, “but he’d never try to be center stage. He was sensitive and thoughtful and was always aware of those who were more vulnerable or sensitive around him. He had great social skills and was very involved in working on the farm—giving wagon rides, leading school tours, and taking kids around on our ‘bee train’. He did well in school and was proud of the honours plaque he got in grade eleven. He had a core group of friends that did a lot of things together—campfires, and that sort of thing. They were always hanging out together, and last March they went on a trip to Europe together with a larger group from school.”
“Jordan also had a very creative side,” added Christy. “He had a real gift for music—he played trumpet for a while, learned piano and keyboard, and recently taught himself how to play the accordion. He also loved photography and got very good at using different cameras to capture various photographic techniques.”
Jordan’s life has continued to be remembered and celebrated over the past two months, but the difference he made in many people’s lives is now felt as a deep loss. “We’re different people now,” shared Christy. “I cry for him every day. There’s a sadness that lingers over us all the time. I’m reminded of his loss in so many ways each day—in the pictures and videos that I look at…walking around the farm and seeing his building projects…his empty chair at mealtimes … missing our morning and evening talks—there will always be a huge hole in our lives.
“When I look at our family picture that was taken in the spring, I don’t even see myself anymore,” Christy continued. “I’m a different person. My heart is broken and my family isn’t whole anymore.”
“There’s such a void that’s left behind,” Chris added. “If you’re struggling in the way that Jordan was, you cannot fathom the chunk you’re carving out of everyone’s hearts when you leave them behind.”
“People are connected more deeply than they realize,” he continued. “Even people who don’t know you will be affected by your decision to take your life. In today’s society, with social media, news travels further and it impacts more people than ever. Jordan was not a celebrity by any means—he was a normal grade twelve student—but people from all over could relate to, or were affected by what happened in ways we don’t understand. It could be as simple as the bus driver that picks you up every morning, the teacher that poured into you for eight years in elementary school, your youth minister, the friend that has been riding the bus with you for twelve years, the people in the hallways at school or those who met you at work, relatives, even the people you only talked to once—you have no idea how your life has affected them or the loss they will feel when you are suddenly gone.”
For this reason, Chris and Christy Hiemstra hope that by sharing Jordan’s story, as well as their own pain in the aftermath that has ensued, they can carry a message to other teenagers that are struggling with the very real temptation of suicide, along with their parents, friends, and teachers.
“One of the biggest struggles that I’ve had is recognizing how Jordan’s illness changed his perception of things so that he couldn’t really see things for what they were anymore,” shared Christy. “In the note that he wrote to me before he died, one of the things he said was, ‘I don’t know how much this is going to affect you, Mom’. I was shocked! He had no inkling that his death would change my whole life completely! And not just mine—like Chris already said—he changed so many people’s lives. But he couldn’t recognize the truth of how much people really did care about him.”
“I think Jordan felt that he was hurting us already and that he wanted to save us more pain. I don’t think he could ever fathom how much pain his death has caused us. So, for other teenagers, or even adults who think that others don’t care, or that taking your life is a way to spare pain for others, I feel such a passion to let you know that you couldn’t be further from the truth and that your absence will deeply affect the ones that care about you.”
Since his death, both Chris and Christy have been open about the struggle that teenagers and their families face when dealing with depression, especially because of the stigma that is attached with mental illness. “He didn’t really share his struggle with any of the friends he hung out with or tell people what he was feeling,” shared Chris. “I often wonder—if depression wasn’t such a touchy or taboo subject, would he have told others what he was actually feeling? For a teenager who is developing into a young man, communicating those kinds of details to your friends feels intimate, and those kinds of feelings aren’t normally a part of everyday conversation.”
“That’s one of the things I think must be the most frustrating for teenagers who are struggling with depression or other types of mental illness,” added Christy. “When you are suffering with more obvious physical illnesses, there are people you can talk to about your symptoms who will help you understand your illness and can usually prepare you for the process of healing. But there are so many unknowns when it comes to feeling anxious or depressed, and even though there is work being done to eradicate the stigma attached to suffering from mental illnesses, I’m sure it seems impossible for teenagers to know how to identify their feelings and find someone who can help.”
Both Chris and Christy realize that when people are wrestling with a mental illness, they cannot process their action’s consequences or their own pain of feeling disconnected. And although they both struggle with the many questions that come along with trying to help a loved one who struggled with the pain of depression, Chris and Christy are passionate about encouraging others to seek support. “Of course, it’s easy to look at things from hindsight and say that we could have done things differently, “Chris shared, “but what we really want to do is look forward and ask how we can prevent this from repeating itself.”
“That’s why it’s so important for us to share Jordan’s story with as many people as we can. We feel that by letting others know what this journey has been like for us, perhaps we can create opportunities for others who are struggling to recognize that there are those who care about them and to find ways to get help.”
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