Pain all too familiar for Oak Grove familyBy BETH BUNCH,
Julianna and Robert Fitton of Oak Grove know all too well the pain another Pine Belt family is experiencing after the death of their child earlier this week. In November 2016, the Fittons’ daughter, Chloe, a senior at Oak Grove High School, killed herself outside the family’s home after the family went to bed. Her mother found her the next morning.
Fitton and Shannon Sterling, whose daughters were best friends, recently hosted a suicide prevention workshop at Oak Grove United Methodist Church. With the help of the church’s men’s club, the free event welcomed people from throughout the community to hear the program, More Than Sad, developed by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. The workshop teaches how to recognize depression and other mental health problems, how to initiate a conversation with children and how to get him or her help if needed.
After Chloe’s death, the women, along with Sterling’s daughter and Chloe’s best friend, Raven, attended a similar type event on the Gulf Coast.
“We felt we needed to bring something like this to Hattiesburg,” said Sterling, who continues along this path with her friend in trying to help make sure these senseless deaths don’t continue to happen.
As for the death earlier this week, “the kids need to be reassured there is nothing they could have done to prevent it,” said Sterling. “You don’t want others to fall into depression and attempt to do the same.
The one thing she stressed, “We’ve got to get a program for the kids in schools.”
For Fitton, hearing the news of the most recent student suicide brought everything back home.
“For me and Robert, the day it happened, we were just numb,” she said. “We couldn’t think.”
She credits the Rev. Philip Slusher of Temple Baptist Church “who swooped in like an angel and guided us – from accompanying us to the funeral home and helping with the services, to just consoling us. He never left our side. He was an angel.”
Fitton wants to be available to help this family. She’s already made the initial step and reached out, visiting with them on Tuesday. The hard part going forward is still to come.
“The family will have a lot of people coming by their home, which was overwhelming for us at times, but I understood it was out of love,” Fitton said.
The Fittons admit they were completely blindsided by their daughter’s death, but even moreso by the circumstances leading up to it – bullying. “It was a double shock for them,” said Sterling.
“If the family was blindsided like us, they are going to have so many questions and are going to play the final days in their heads over and over again to try and piece their loved one’s life together like a puzzle,” said Fitton, who has been there and knows those feelings
In Chloe’s case, because of the bullying Sterling helped Fitton get the word out to Chloe’s friends that this wasn’t their fault.
“Because teenagers’ minds are not fully developed, I was so afraid the guilt would eat at them,” Fitton said. “Friends need to be consoled and their parents need to sit and just let them cry and feel loved.
“Any time a child passes, it’s tragic, but when it is from suicide, you never have full closure. Every day you ask why.”
According to Fitton, unfortunately, they will never be the same people they were yesterday. “The journey has changed and it is a rough road,” she said. “I was different from other grievers. I had to hope it would get better, so I started to attend a grieving support group for parents who lost their children.”
Fitton said she could have gone to a suicide support group for family members, but knowing how Chloe died, she didn’t want to be around uncles, aunts, girlfriends, neighbors. “I wanted to be around other parents, so we could lift each other up.”
Fitton calls Debbie, the facilitator of the group, wonderful. “That is my only safe place; once a month I don’t have to wear a mask.
“I pray for the family and for strength through the journey they are on.”