Columnist

Dr. Mary Jo Podgurski is the founder and director of the Washington Health System Teen Outreach. She responds to 6–8 questions from young people daily and has written 'Ask Mary Jo' since 2005.

Q. Thank you for you column about suicide. My father took his own life when I was 12. I’ve never gotten over it. I watched my mother destroy herself with guilt. She died when I was 33 from cancer, but she was never the same person after his death.

I’m writing in the hope you will use my email in your column. Some people do not realize how devastating a suicide is for loved ones left behind. My father didn’t leave a note to explain his actions, so my family constantly blamed themselves. I’m glad you’re not afraid to take on this harsh topic. I’m glad there are places teens can go if they feel lost and alone. I’m in my 60s now and I still think of why he died.

Mary Jo response: How much courage it took to write to me! Thank you for sharing such a difficult life challenge. It is an honor to use your email in my column.

Loved ones left after suicide deal with a unique grief. Not knowing your father’s last thoughts haunted your mother. Please know you are worthy of joy. Your words today may help another.

I send you love and support. I hope you’ve been able to speak with a grief counselor. Your father’s death was not your fault. It’s never too late to seek closure. I wish you peace of mind.

Q. I read your column about suicide and I felt a wash of memories. I was only 15 when I considered taking my life. I was lost and felt alone. I knew I was gay early, I’m not sure how early. I’m guessing around 8 or 10, before the word “gay” meant anything to me. I just knew I was different. I grew up in a very homophobic home. I knew, without anyone telling me, what would happen at home if I admitted the truth about who I was.

It made sense to me at the time.

If I was dead, no one could hate me. I thought I must be some kind of monster if I was one of the people my father constantly mocked. Why didn’t I do it? Because someone affirmed my worth. A lot. I remember the first thing you said to us in ninth grade sex ed. You said you respected all of us, and you called out how the class would honor each other, following your model, no matter our gender or sexuality or race or class or anything else. It took me a whole year to come out to you. That was the best thing I ever did.

I’m writing not only to thank you for your long ago support, but also to remind any LGBT kid to remember they are worthy. As you always say, every person is worthy. Don’t give up. Find people who can become your family and your tribe and surround yourself with people who care.

You are correct, Mary Jo. Adults really do matter. Keep doing what you do.

Grateful in my 40s

Mary Jo’s response: I am grateful for you! I am so glad you’re here! I remember. I was only teaching a few years when we met. Your words are generous. You fail to share your courage and your strength. You’ve made wonderful things happen in your life by embracing who you are!

Your email minimized your accomplishments. I will not share details, since you did not, but I know the amazing things you’ve done with your life thus far. I have faith your future will be filled with more service to young people. I am so very proud of you.

There are wonderful resources for young people in distress; the key is connection with an adult. A one-on-one connection is best, but there are now many resources online as well. The Trevor Project offers immediate support for LGBTQA young people with lifelines, chats and text connections. For more information on The Trevor Project, visit https://www.thetrevorproject.org/get-help-now/. To speak with a counselor, call 1-866-488-7386 or text START to 678-678.

No one is alone.

Everyone is worthy of life.

Thank you for dedicating your life to helping others and thank you for adding to my appeal to adults. Absolutely, adults matter. Adults need to know young people are watching. Young people are listening. We need to be there for all young people. Thank you. Yes, I believe #EachPersonIsAPersonofWorth.

Have a question? Send it to Dr. Mary Jo Podgurski’s email podmj@healthyteens.com.

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