This Saturday, November 23, is International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day. Also known as Survivor Day, the day was designated by the United States Congress as a day on which those affected by suicide can join together for healing and support. It was determined that Survivor Day would always fall on the Saturday before American Thanksgiving, as the holidays are often a difficult time for suicide loss survivors.1
The story below is an excerpt from Joshua Rivedal’s book, i’Mpossible Project: Lemonade Stand. This story is about Hank and Susan Ashby, who lost their son Jay to suicide. Through their loss, Hank and Susan created the Jay’s Hope Fund to provide awareness, education, and advocacy for patients and families impacted by severe mental illness. Here’s their story:
“Valentine’s Day 2010, we received a frantic call from a halfway house in Daytona Beach. Our twenty-five-year-old son, Jay Ashby was missing. Later that afternoon, we received a visit from law enforcement authorities notifying us that Jay was dead. He had ended his life by jumping off a high-rise building.
Weeks earlier, Jay had been released from a state hospital, where he had stayed for a couple of months to regain his competency, so he could stand trial for missing a court-ordered mental health treatment. After the hearing, Jay was released into the community, where there was no proper receiving facility for someone with his condition. A halfway house was the only place that would accept him.
We were in shock. This was a parent’s worst nightmare, and our family was devastated. The tremendous outpouring of support from family, friends, our church, and the community was overwhelming, and it provided some comfort. However, it was our faith (Philippians 4:13: I can do all things through Him who strengthens me) that helped us get through the most challenging time of our lives and later found new purpose.
Florida’s mental health system was broken. They lacked proper and adequate facilities and services for mental health treatment. They enforced HIPPA laws that made no sense in the case of patients who cannot reason for themselves. Florida also lacked crisis intervention training for law enforcement and suffered from severe funding limitations, long waiting times for receiving desperately needed services, non-existent long-term housing, and no continuum of services. The list goes on-and-on.
At that time, Florida was ranked forty-ninth out of fifty states by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) as far as services available for those suffering from mental health problems. Jay had been on a long waiting list for help when he ended his struggle.
So what does a family do after suffering such a horrible loss? Initially, we were very angry. We wanted to sue the state for its negligence in not providing needed services. However, after a few months and prayerful consideration, we decided to focus on a more positive path to help others families like ours. We decided to start Jay’s Hope Fund (administered by the SMA Healthcare Foundation) to provide awareness, education, and advocacy for patients and families impacted by severe mental illness. This would honor the memory of our son and channel energies in a positive way.
Prior to his illness, Jay had been a delightful son, a great brother, a friend to many, and a model child who was very much loved to the end. Like most young men, Jay had a dream of making his mark on this world. He had many gifts and talents and led a “normal life” until the onset of his illness in his mid-teens. Jay was a good student and a talented musician and artist. He was a fine athlete, excelling in soccer, basketball and golf. His favorite hobbies were surfing and fishing. He spent countless hours in the waterways and ocean in Florida. Our garage frequently smelled like a bait bucket from Jay’s fishing adventures. Jay’s favorite musical instrument was the upright bass, which was a tall, “macho” instrument. Maybe it helped him compensate for his feelings of being on the short side. You could often use us driving around town with an upright bass protruding out of the sunroof of our car when hauling Jay to orchestra practices.
It was Jay’s plan to complete college. But then his illness, diagnosed as schizoaffective disorder (a combination of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder) robbed him of his functionality. Before finally receiving a diagnosis, we wondered why the same parenting principles and guidelines that had worked with our other children did not work with Jay. As parents, we were in uncharted territory. We went through some very dark times with Jay, thinking his rebelliousness, poor judgment, and run-ins with the law were likely caused by drug use.
After his diagnosis, we realized it was mental illness causing these behaviors. We later saw unusual symptoms that were unlike anything we had witnessed before —hallucinations and delusions, episodes of mania and depression, withdrawing from society and friends, obsessive/compulsive actions, and problems with personal care. At the height of his illness, he disassembled all the electronics and ceiling fans in his house thinking someone was “spying on him.” Other symptoms included speaking in different voices, shuffling his feet when walking, and grimacing with his mouth. During one of his episodes, Jay once said, “Don’t be surprised if you read a headline about me jumping off a building.”
Left untreated, in his condition, we knew he could potentially harm himself or others. Jay could no longer distinguish between what was real and what he imagined.
The family used to call Hank “Daddy Fix-It”, but Daddy found that he was totally unable to “fix” Jay’s problems, despite his best efforts. Life became unpredictable as we bounced from one crisis to another. Seeing our child’s health rapidly deteriorate and not being able to help him surely contributed to Hank’s heart attack, exactly one year before Jay’s death.
We thank God for the gift of Jay. We try to stay focused on all the good times and memories we shared with him. It is our desire to bring hope to the “Jays” of this world through Jay’s Hope.”
For more information on Survivor Day, visit https://afsp.org/find-support/ive-lost-someone/survivor-day/
For more information on Jay’s Hope Fund or to donate, visit https://www.whoisjay.org
For more information on the i’Mpossible Project, visit http://www.iampossibleproject.com
- International Survivor of Suicide Loss Day: https://afsp.org/find-support/ive-lost-someone/survivor-day/