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Teenage Angst, Loss, and Gratitude

Sarah Beth Wiley
WhiteFlag Creative Director
My father had a big nose. Growing up in a small town, where he also grew up, everyone knew everyone. So that meant everyone knew my dad had the kind of nose that stops traffic. Boys in first grade would tease me, saying, ”Your dad’s nose is SO BIG, he could use it as a baseball bat!” — picture one boy miming the pitch, the other hitting an imaginary home run with only his nose to swing.
But, I’m here to talk about more than my father’s unusually large nose. He was also an incredible, sweet, and loving person who everyone thought of fondly. Never a bad thing was said about him in his short 56 years on this earth. He had a positive outlook on life unlike any I’ve seen since. When I would cry after mean boys made fun of him, he would say, “It’s ok! When God was handing out NOSES, I thought he said ROSES, and I said give me a big red one!”
His pep talks to encourage me to “look on the bright side,” ”buck up,” and "don’t be sad,” came on the regular. Even though I knew, as the loving father he was, he would have been open to listening to the reasons behind my teen angst tears, I’m not sure I had much to say about it. A lot of it was based on thinking everyone else was happier than I was, more included, had more friends/boyfriends, that everyone basically had it more figured out than I did.

His propensity to cheer me up made that Saturday when I fell into his arms at age 16, crying and screaming, even more memorable. His first reaction to my behavior was questioning whether it was warranted, “Come on now, what are you crying about?”
I was choking on my tears, so it took a minute.

Finally, I got the words out: the boy down the street had shot himself last night.

It had happened less than a block away from where we were standing. He felt the weight of it as much as I did, and we both fell to the floor. This kind of senseless death was a story that I came to learn was not unusual. The class clown, everyone’s friend, a prankster… masking what was inside. How could HE have been sad or depressed? It was an inconceivable shock.
Then, I was hit with the memory of the afternoon before.
I left school that day, missing the last period to go to a work/study job, just as I had done over the entire past year. I exited the building, then walked on the sidewalk across the grassy expanse, separating me from the row of windows holding the students who were still in class. Usually uneventful, the walk was short to get to my car. But that day I heard a knock on the window. At first, I ignored it, and kept walking. Then, I heard it again. I looked over and there he was, sitting next to the window, and he just waved at me. I confusingly waved back, feeling the eyes of everyone inside looking at me, and thought to myself, “how weird…””

By the next morning I was getting the call to say he was gone.
None of us knew or understood how or why something like that could happen.

It was explained to me back then that when someone is in that state of mind, it’s like they have a paper bag over their head—they can’t see the future or the person right beside them; they can only see back inside of their own head. If only he had an outlet to find someone who understood what he was going through, or someone who recognized his symptoms for what they were. If only he felt like he could talk to someone.

As I’ve grown older, I’ve realized the good about my childhood. Thankful for amazing parents who loved unconditionally, as I’ve had friends who were not so lucky. I also thought that “time of teenage angst and sadness” was contained in a box that could be moved beyond, but it stays with you, and for some, it’s more than that. Having had more friends take their life since age 16, one as recent as 4 years ago, I realize it is NOT something you grow out of. It is something that should be talked about before it’s too late.

If you're struggling right now, you aren’t alone. It can be scary to reach out for help and it often feels like people won’t understand—but that's exactly why the WhiteFlag App exists. There are people there who also struggle and who will understand what you’re going through. You don’t have to do this alone.


Get support. Give support. Download the app today.


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