They had never even met before the first funeral. But now two Wake County mothers who lost their sons to suicide are united by common grief and a common goal.
On Saturday, Allyson McNeill and Dona Arrington of Wake Forest will work to prevent teen suicide while celebrating the passion their sons had for skateboarding.
Dylan McNeill, 18, killed himself in February 2011.
Soon after that, Dona Arrington began organizing a skateboard event that would honor Dylan, her son Cody’s best friend and fellow skateboarder. Cody created the logo for the benefit and placed second in the advanced skateboarding competition.
“I had never seen him skate so well; it amazed him every time he landed,” Arrington said. “I remember his smile.”
Cody and another friend of Dylan’s both won competitions and said afterward that they thought they could feel Dylan’s presence.
“They said they felt like he was watching over them,” Arrington said.
Then in September 2011, Cody, 19, killed himself.
So this year, the mothers find themselves planning the second annual Skate for Life benefit and competition, which will take place Saturday at Marsh Creek State Park, in memory of both of their sons.
They are working with their sponsor, Rival Skateboarding, on the event, which will feature disc jockeys, graffiti artists, raffle prizes, food vendors, a b-boy dance competition and skateboarding competitions that award cash and prizes.
The benefit is raising money for HopeLine, a nonprofit based in the Triangle that offers crisis intervention services and a Teen TalkLine, a crisis hotline specifically for teenagers.
HopeLine also plans to use the proceeds to launch a media campaign that will raise awareness of the support that is available for teenagers or young adults suffering from depression or considering suicide.
‘It’s OK to talk about it’
Courtney Worthen, executive director of HopeLine, says suicide is the third leading cause of death among teenagers and young adults. HopeLine has invited other nonprofits that provide suicide education and awareness resources to attend Skate for Life.
“The one thing we want to be able to communicate to these kids is that when they get to a point of such helplessness or blackness that there are people out there who care and can reach out to them and be a resource,” McNeill said.
Part of the mission of HopeLine is to provide resources for recognizing the warning signs that a teenager might be considering suicide. Experts say teens considering taking their own lives often withdraw from family and friends, change their sleep and eating habits and lose interest in school and other activities.
McNeil and Arrington say that teens will often become very negative, especially in social media postings, and that they may also provide verbal cues to friends and family. These mothers say take what someone is saying seriously and begin a conversation.
“It’s OK to ask if they are thinking about hurting themselves. That’s not going to put the thought into their head,” Arrington said. “It’s OK to talk about it.”
And Worthen says be forthright.
“We tell the volunteers to use the word suicide. It is what it is and it’s important that you are straightforward,” Worthen said.
McNeill says react to what teens say quickly, because they are reacting quickly to changing situations in their own lives.
“We want to get the message across to these kids that it’s just a moment in time,” McNeill said. “Just give it a day or two weeks and things will be completely different.”
When the skateboarders gather at Marsh Creek Skate Park, it will be to celebrate life. And Alyson McNeill and Dona Arrington say in the years to come, they want the event to continue, but they don’t want to add any other young people to the memorial roll call.
Through laughter and tears, these two mothers are united by their shared experiences.
“Nobody can understand better than she can, as horrible as it is,” Arrington said. “The blessing in this is the friendship that we’ve gotten.”