by Rhonda Sellers Elkins
On April 11, 2013, I got the most dreaded call that any parent could ever get. A call from the police in the town where my 23-year-old daughter, Kaitlyn was starting her third year of medical school at Wake Forest School of Medicine. He said he had to talk with me about my daughter and that I had to go there to be told what he had to say. I begged this man to tell me then, as I would have a three and a half hour drive to Winston-Salem.
My initial split second thought was, “Kaitlyn is in trouble! She’s never been in trouble in her life”. Then my thoughts turned to other things and the blood left my body as he told me what happened. He said that she was deceased. I envisioned her getting into an auto accident.
When I asked him what had happened, he said that she had taken her own life. My world and everything I’ve ever known came crashing to an end at that moment.
How could this have happened? My daughter seemed to be the most together person I have ever known in my life. Graduated valedictorian from Whiteville High School, graduated summa cum laude from Campbell University in two and a half years and got accepted to medical school where she could pursue her lifelong dream of being a doctor. She was doing extremely well in it. She had friends. She had just taken a Step One medical board exam that she felt she did well on. She was an artist, a writer, avid runner, she had common sense and was wise well beyond her years. She was excelling and seemed to have the world in her grasp.
I had just seen Kaitlyn the weekend before as she had come home for a few days for Easter. We had a wonderful mother/daughter day and we went shopping, out to eat and the movies. We had a wonderful time and she seemed totally happy. How could this have happened?
She wrote my husband and I a two page suicide note, as well as letters to some of her friends and her sister, Stephanie. In this letter, she stated that she had been sad all of her life and had worked very hard all her life to hide it and protect us from it. She said that she knew she would have been a successful doctor, wife and mother, but that she was exhausted from the weight of the sadness she had had all her life, could not go on, and this was what made sense to her. She stated that I might wonder why she had not sought help and that she did not know why herself.
She was a high achiever, but we never put any pressure on her to succeed because she set these high goals for herself.
The reason I am writing this letter is to tell all parents, friends, or spouses, that no matter how happy someone seems to be, there may be a devastating depression within that they are hiding. Parents, ask your children from time to time, “how are you really doing?” and make them talk about their feelings. As you do this, I hope that they are forthcoming with you. My daughter was not and we had a very good and close relationship.
I’m devastated by her loss, lost in a sea of “what could have been”, the wonderful life that she could have continued to have had. But I celebrate her life, thanking God that I had the honor of having this beautiful being in my life for 23 years. But I wish I had more.
If this letter helps at least one person to come forward with their depression, or a loved one to ask about it and have that child open up to them, then it is worth it.
Rest in peace my beautiful daughter, the peace that I thought you already had. And as I’ve always told you, I love you bigger than the universe.
About the Author: Rhonda has been married to a wonderful man, Allyn for 32 years. She lives in North Carolina and is a registered nurse and has been for twenty years, but she has not worked since April 12, 2013, the day she learned of Kaitlyn’s death. Rhonda and Allyn have two daughters: Stephanie, who is now 27, and Kaitlyn who died at the age of 23. She can think of many things that would identify her before, avid reader, loves to RV, travel, ride our motorcycle, but all she is now is a grieving pile of mess. Rhonda is the author of the book, My Bright Shining Star: A Mother’s True Story of Brilliance, Love and Suicide.
“After losing my daughter Kaitlyn to suicide 4-11-13, I was not only grief stricken, but totally shocked that my brilliant, highly achieving, seemingly happy daughter, who never showed signs of depression could take her own life. She had just started her 3rdyear of medical school and was doing well. My grief sent me on a quest for answers. I researched and wrote. Eventually, my research and writing became the catalyst for writing my book. My book is about my daughter, her life, her suicide, the hidden depression of so many gifted people as well as letters from professionals, short articles, letters from her friends and so much more. It is personal and sad, but it is my belief that within its covers is a warning to parents, teachers, counselors and the many highly achieving young people with hidden depression that they must let someone know they are depressed and seek help because if they don’t, it could lead to suicide. My daughter never told anyone about her depression until her suicide note and she never sought help for reasons she could not explain. But I have written about many possibilities of why she did not. I don’t want this to happen to anyone. I want people to know that severe depression is not always obvious.” Rhonda Sellers Elkins