Carol Maxwell and her husband Scott have been married for 29 years and have seven children. Scott is the President/CEO of Culture of Life Family Services, a San Diego-based full-service medical office that provides free care to women in need with unplanned pregnancies.
Oct. 8, 2013 (LifeSiteNews.com) – “The van isn’t anywhere on the property!” my fifth son screamed as he barged into the house on the afternoon of December 3, 2012. Confused, I asked him what he meant. I wondered how he couldn’t spot our big green 12-seater Ford van on our fenced and gated two acres.
In disbelief, I walked to where I parked it on the driveway. Sure enough, it was gone! So was my 16-year-old son, Luke, who was cleaning it after a weekend of my husband hauling mud-covered teen boys on retreat. I was shocked that my homeschooled unlicensed son would take our van for a joy ride—he was a good kid. I called my husband and then the police, worried sick for Luke’s safety.
As I talked to the 911 dispatcher, my 13-year-old son found Luke’s phone—and the suicide note he left on it.
At that moment, I entered the eye of a tornado that never stopped spinning. I didn’t know what was happening or why. Homeschooling affords me the opportunity to spend every day with my children. Luke was always obedient, went to work once a week with his dad (the president of a pro-life medical crisis pregnancy center), was an altar server at Mass, prayed the Rosary with us every night and had holy faithful priests in his life, including his spiritual director. In addition, he adored his baby sister who was 6 years old at the time.
Luke loved to play piano, cook and spend time with friends. He didn’t have a TV, smart phone or social networking accounts. His favorite pastime was reading sci-fi novels recommended by other families. He was thrilled when his oldest brother visited from the Miles Christi seminary and would spend every waking moment with him.
At 16, it wasn’t unusual for him to read alone, and sometimes he was quiet and introspective. But after having four teenagers so far, we thought Luke was doing well at handling these difficult years. He never expressed anger or gave us any indication of the turmoil he was experiencing inside.
As I talked on the phone with the 911 dispatcher, I heard sirens in the distance on the busy two-lane street that runs for miles through the city and country. When a friend called me after she spotted our van, I realized the sirens were responding to my son’s collision.
As we pulled up to the crash site, I was struck by the devastation. Emergency vehicles were everywhere. A white SUV was severely damaged and sitting in a decline off the road. The front of our van was crushed, missing a tire, and smoking. Luke lay in the dirt, refusing to answer questions.
Still whirling, I was overcome with relief that my son was alive, but I immediately started to worry about the driver of the other vehicle, who had been taken to the hospital. I told Luke that our lives have been changed forever, I had read his suicide note and I still loved him no matter what.
After a head-to-toe CAT scan, full examination and lab work, it was determined that he was completely unharmed and not under the influence of any substances. He was placed under arrest for assault with a deadly weapon and transferred to a county mental facility.
Because he tried to kill himself, we weren’t surprised that Luke was diagnosed with major depressive disorder (MDD). What astonished us was that he didn’t exhibit classic symptoms, and he never told a soul. If our friends had concerns, they would have warned us, but they were astounded, too.
Since depression and related illnesses run through both sides of our families, he was genetically predisposed for the condition. For years, he had felt alone and blamed himself for being sad all the time. He didn’t think he’d ever improve. He became hopeful when we told him he had a treatable illness and he wouldn’t have to live that way forever.
When he was discharged, we focused on his well-being and treatment. We were scared that he would try to harm himself again, so I watched him during the day, and my husband slept in the room with him and two of his brothers at night. But Luke was recovering, and no suicidal tendencies reappeared.
Luke’s life started to turn around. He revealed a dynamic personality we hadn’t seen before, enshrouded by his unending despair. He began looking forward to his future and fully enjoyed the time he spent with family, friends, and at church. His writing became prolific, and his articles were published in our diocesan newspaper. Best of all, he was able to feel the love of God and understand the salvation through Jesus’ sacrifice. With abundant grace and mercy, Luke and the driver of the SUV have become friends.
It was important for Luke to meet other teens like himself through a support group. To my surprise, we couldn’t find one anywhere, not even in schools. When I asked County Mental Health Department employees, they said that teens are embarrassed to attend these groups because of the fear of being labeled by their peers. Instead, they self-medicate with alcohol, drugs, sexual promiscuity and self-harm to avoid the isolation and pain caused by depression.
Luke became insistent on helping others to prevent the epidemic of teen suicide, and he wanted to reach those at risk in any way. We contacted a local Catholic parish with an active youth ministry to host a teen depression support group and a parent meeting at the same time, and the pastor welcomed us. Luke and his brother made a stirring video of Luke’s experience to touch depressed teens by letting them know they’re not alone and encouraging them to seek help.
The circumstances of our situation make it tempting to pull down the shades and hide. Depression remains a taboo in this country, especially in religious circles. But we are a pro-life family, and suicide is a pro-life issue. We rightly fight to save unborn babies from abortion, the elderly from euthanasia and adults from assisted suicide. Burying teen depression in the shadows of darkness preserves our pride but doesn’t help these souls.
Luke propelled his story into the light to save lives without fear of what the world thinks. He knows that each life is precious and leaves an indelible footprint on this earth and for all eternity—and can’t be erased as though it never existed.
We are so grateful that he is our son and was given a second chance.
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