By ZOË WATKINS
Trigger warning: This article deals with suicide. If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts or any mental health crisis, please call the suicide hotline at 988. Help is available.
No parent should have to see a death date by their child’s name. But, all too often, it happens.
For Alexandria Morris-Kale, that happened in March of 2022 when her son, Lucas, died by suicide.
Even while she still grieves, Alex has found a way to bring grief support to the many others going through loss. She is starting a grief support group that is set to begin on Sept. 28 at 6 p.m. It will take place on the last Thursday of each month in Wartrace.
While the group can’t take someone’s pain away, her mission is for the group to provide a safe place where survivors can feel understood by others who are experiencing this unique type of loss; to guide them through what the phases of grief are and validate the feelings; to help survivors understand that a devastating act can’t always be rationalized; to serve as a resource for help beyond the group; and to instill a sense of more than just survival but also hope.
She knows because she’s been there herself.
All too familiar
They read Lucas’ name at graduation.
“He did it. But he wasn’t there,” said Alex.
A bright student, Lucas had finished high school a semester early at Cascade High. He had even been accepted to the University of Alabama-Huntsville to study in the computer arts program. Alex said she had put a payment down on his dorm room.
He had everything going for him. But hindsight is 20/20.
That day, Alex is the one that found him, in his room, unresponsive. She attempted some form of CPR, but she knew it had been too long.
“When I said his name, he didn’t move…I was in mom/nurse mode. It wasn’t quite either one…what my brain was telling me I was looking at versus what my heart…hopeless, helpless, shattered…” she said as tear after tear rolled down her face and her voice broke to a whisper.
“I had talked to him on the phone while I was still at work that morning. Everything was fine,” she recalled.
Like many parents of suicide victims, guilt and blame are part of the grief. And as a single mother, it seems all the blame falls on her. “I was working 70 to 80 hours a week. Here I was a single mom. If something happens—good or bad—you get it all. There is no one else. That guilt is there,” she said.
Could she have called instead of texted, or said something different?
“There is no rational thought in that moment. They’re not thinking,” Alex said. “Lucas didn’t want me to see how sad he was…and he hid it well. I can’t tell you why Lucas did it. I can explain his thought process down to the moments that he was thinking it…
“You’ll eventually come to a place where you have the realization that they didn’t want you know. No matter how much I would’ve looked or paid attention or tried to help, if they don’t want you to see it, you won’t.”
Instead, she carries Lucas’ memories on. She remembers his laugh and his love for superheroes. She remembers his care for others and especially his love for, her, his mom.
“I’ll see him. It’ll be a while. But, yeah…I’ll see him again.”
Finding a need
Two other suicides, also within the Cascade area, were reported within the year of Lucas’s death, with one being a 17-year-old and another a 12-year-old. A suicide of a 24-year-old was also reported in Unionville on Sept. 7. This is in addition to the tragic Shelbyville deaths of Israel Diego Pascual, 14, who was shot and killed on Sept. 13, 2021, and Esteban Sylvester, 13, who killed last July.
After seeing these recent tragedies—in addition to living in one herself—Alex decided that Bedford County needs a grief support group.
As a registered nurse, Alex already has a special touch of healing. But, today, she if focusing on a different kind of healing.
“I’ve had so many wonderful nurses in my life,” she said. “Nursing is different because you’re fixing a problem that not everybody understands.”
Not to mention, she also cooks for the Wartrace Country Store. The job was something she picked up in 2019 to give her something fun to do on her days off.
“I love to feed people. As far back as when Lucas was three, I was having Sunday dinners inviting co-workers to stop by,” she said.
It also helped her in beginning to heal after Lucas passed. “There were many mornings I would stand there cooking breakfast and just bawling my eyes out. I could do that there because my back was to the customers. They couldn’t see my cry.”
She also found wonderful support in the Patels, who run the Wartrace Country Store. “Probably the best people I have ever known…Taking time to grieve never bothered them,” she said.
Alex also received support through her long-time friend Brandy Pearson. “She has held me together and we both have grown this past year, she has truly been a light in this dark time for me.”
And her boyfriend, Seth Stovall, who she says has been the “most precious blessing.”
“He has been a source of strength, a place of refuge and a light when I haven’t been able to find my way.”
Finding support like this is good, and it’s what Alex hopes people can get through the group who may not have friends or family who can always be there.
In the month after Lucas died, Alex said she received overwhelming support and prayer from friends, families, and communities members.
“It is true when you lose someone, especially in this manner, everyone swarms you. You’re surrounded by all the love and prayers you could possibly need,” she said.
But, like everything else, people have to move on, even though your grieving continues for four months, six month, a year, and so on.
That is one of Alex’s goals with the grief support group: to be a consistent source for those grieving to keep coming back to in the months that follow the tragedy.
“People always say, ‘I don’t want to upset you.’ But I’m already upset…But if you want to talk and let me cry, that would be great.”
Alex is also looking to equip people with resources, such as “grief groceries.”
“That’s the last thing on your mind. No one wants to go to the store in that state because you’re going to walk passed their favorite snack or soda and then you’re going to be a mess in the middle of Kroger.”
And all too often, “grief attacks” will take you by surprise. Alex describes it as one day you’re driving along, the sun is shining, you’ve had a good day, and you think to yourself, “Everything is going to be ok.”
But in the next moment, you find yourself parked on the side of the road, sobbing uncontrollably.
“I want people to know that’s ok…if all you can do is cry, that’s ok. If all you can do is breathe that day, that’s ok. Because you’re still here.
“Talking to someone who is bereaved is so difficult because they cry, and no one wants to see someone cry. But these tears, they’re healing,” said Alex.
The grief support group will meet the last Thursday each month at 106 Fairfield Rd E in Wartrace from 6 – 7:30 p.m.