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Father shares story of son’s death

By Staff | Apr 8, 2015

Will Trautwein

John and Susie Trautwein lost a son. Will ended his own life at age 15. The family, obviously, was devastated.

The Trautweins quickly learned the hard truths of teenage suicide, as well as the mental illnesses like depression that are leading kids to suicide at an alarming rate in America. As a result, John and Susie started a nonprofit they called “The Will to Live Foundation.”

“The purpose of the organization,” John Trautwein said, “is to work closely with the teens of our communities to not only help spread the message of teen suicide awareness but also help these teens recognize the wonderful bonds of friendship we call life teammate bonds that help each other find the good in life.”

John and Susie Trautwein travel the country, making more than 100 presentations each year to parents and kids, providing education and encouragement. The family vacations in Sanibel. John Trautwein, a former Major League Baseball pitcher, recently lectured at the Sanibel Community Church.

Love and hope are central to their message. With the release of John’s new book, “Will to Live,” the Trautweins hope the message of suicide awareness, mental health issues, hope and love will reach families worldwide.

Awareness events are part of the Will to Live Foundation messaging. PHOTO PROVIDED

John Trautwein shared thoughts with the Islander on the issue of suicide.

Islander: You spoke recently in Sanibel. What was your message?

Trautwein: First of all there was quite a bit of “thanks” in the message, as many members of the Sanibel Dunes Men’s Golf Association were in attendance and for the past three years they have made wonderful donations to the Will To Live Foundation. Also, since I was speaking at my parent’s church, to many of my parent’s friends, I was also thanking them for the love and kindness they showed my parents after the death of my son, their grandson.

The main message of my presentation is simply to raise awareness that:

* Depression and mental illness are extremely common – treatable, curable and OK … but because no one talks about it, there is a stigma surrounding mental illness that is causing people with depression to “mask” their situation – and people, like my son Will – are dying as a result.

* 1 in 8 adolescents suffer from it – and it can lead to suicide.

* Every 2 hours in America a teenager takes his or her life.

* Every 13 minutes in America a person takes their life.

I never knew any of this before my son died, so my goal of raising awareness is extremely important to me. We lost our son to depression and suicide and we had no idea he was struggling at all, and what we found is that this is extremely common.

Finally the message is one of love and life teammates. It was my life teammates and my family’s life teammates that helped get us through this tough time, so we work with teenagers to recognize that they already have wonderful and close loving friends in their lives already – who want to be there for them … so please reach out … talk to them … something my son did not do.

Islander: Suicide crosses all cultures. What can society do to help to prevent it?

Trautwein: Talk about it. We all need to talk about it … it’s not a crime, it’s the result of a mental illness … it’s everywhere, and no one is immune to it it has not prejudice, no boundaries … and the more we talk about it, the more aware we will be. And this will help save lives.

Islander: What are the rules for talking about suicide?

Trautwein: Quite simply there are no rules. Don’t be afraid to ask the question about suicide or hurting yourself. There is a misconception in America that by talking about it, you will put the idea in your child’s head. This is completely wrong. The idea is already in their heads. One in 8 adolescents (maybe more) are suffering from depression already. Suicide is everywhere today – it’s an option – so we need to not be afraid to talk about it. I can’t stress this enough.

Islander: The Will To Live Foundation is uplifiting. Share the Foundation’s goal, what you hope it has accomplished.

Trautwein: Our goal is to:

* Raise the awareness of teen suicide in America.

* Increase the education around depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses that can lead to suicide.

* Deliver hope to teenagers everywhere by showing them that they already have met some of life’s best friends (their life teammates) and they should never be afraid to reach out. No one understands the difficulties of a teenager better than friends.

Life for the teens today is harder then it was for their parents, teachers and other trusted adults when they were teenagers. Today it’s a 24/7 world dominated by social media where everything these kids do is exposed on a national scale – let alone community scale – and it’s like nothing their parents had to go through.

So these kids need to hear this – it’s hard – it’s also wonderful – so many great opportunities (that their parents did not have). But it’s hard nonetheless, and by letting these kids know that we adults realize this – and we’re here to help them get through – it’s a great first step.

I never said that to my son Will. I always told him how great he had it, and how wonderful life is … now I know I was wrong. Life was hard for him and I didn’t understand that. I wish I had.