Updated: May 23, 2022
Today's post was written by Mitchell Rubenstein.
My post today is not to garner sympathy, emojis or "likes," but to express my thoughts as a father of a child who died by suicide. We are not ashamed by our son's actions; we are heartbroken that he suffered in silence. It has since become our mission to let everyone know - it is ok not to be ok - just let us know.
The afternoon of November 13, 2015 - The worst possible unimaginable family nightmare which can never be fully expressed in words or erased from my mind. Our beautiful and carefree 20 year-old son, Devon, texted us that he was leaving this world and we would be better off without him. Shortly after, police were at our door to announce Devon passed away a few miles from our house; within throwing distance of his high school.
Our family was devasted. The grief was unbearable. I found myself questioning my parenting skills. Where did I go wrong? Was I a bad father which led my only son to believe his life was not worth living? Was I too hard on Devon? Did I push too far to ensure he could be the best he could be? Should I have been more of a friend than a disciplinarian? Did my experience as a criminal defense attorney representing young offenders cloud my judgment?
I believed my parenting skills were somewhere in-between, but maybe I was wrong. Our daughter was raised in the same home with the same parenting. Laney was 2 years younger than Devon and was a happy child. Devon, on the other hand, was moody at home, hung in his bedroom and was not excited about family chores or activities. Laney’ was the complete opposite. I mistakenly believed Devon was a lazy, spoiled teenage boy, much like I was at his age. Until Devon died, I did not know that he was well loved by his huge circle of friends; that he loved and lived for his friends. That was just not the Devon I knew.
How, as a loving and caring parent, did I not know my son possessed a gregarious personality and fun-loving spirit? Liz, my wife, and Laney, my daughter, knew, Why not me? Sadly, it was at Devon’s funeral service that the soulful words spoken by his friends finally allowed me to see who my son really was. It was then I felt his friends briefly stare at me, as though my strained relationship with Devon resulted in his suicide. Maybe they were right.
I always wondered why Devon was not more like Laney. Laney was raised in identical conditions with the same loving parents. She was the “golden” child. She rose every morning happy and loving and was part of a wonderful circle of friends. It even occurred to me that perhaps Devon was doomed from birth? Was there a physical or mental condition we were unaware of? Maybe we should have parented him differently?
Until I leave this world, Devon will remain in my most inner thoughts. I grieve every night; imagining life with Devon. I dream how different and wonderful our world would be if he was still here, with us. The past 6 1/2 years have failed to shed any light for me about my own behavior or things I could have done to make life better for Devon. I remain convinced the future will fail to do so either. So now, we are a family of three me, Liz and Laney. We move forward and make the most of every day; we believe that Devon would want that for us.
To quote Holly Kohler, ”a person never truly gets ‘over’ a suicide loss. You get through it. Day by day. Sometimes it's moment by moment.” This quote rings true for me. I continue to try and move forward, but as I do, I work hard to make sure my son’s name serves as a catalyst for change - one that helps eradicate the stigma of mental illness and lets people know it's ok not to be ok.
In 2019, our family created the Devon C. Rubenstein Foundation (“DCRF”) in Devon's memory, to ensure he does not die all over again. DCRF has partnered with Our Minds Matter (OMM) to provide a powerful student-led suicide prevention club in every high school and middle school in Montgomery County. DCRF provides 100% of the funding for this program. Schools simply need to ask for the program; then DCRF takes care of the rest.
As a parent, I made mistakes. Being an integral part of DCRF helps me forgive myself. And it is my deepest, inner-most hope that, as time goes on, for each teen we connect with, Devon forgives me.