Chesterton Tribune

Chesterton parents who lost son to suicide: 'Don't let this happen to another parent'

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By VICKI URBANIK

The family of Michael Albert Carrasco didn’t see it coming.

Michael was a quiet, thoughtful teen who largely kept to himself. He enjoyed making video movies and was very close with his younger brother. His parents were concerned, though: After moving to Chesterton from Portage, Michael seemed to have problems adjusting. He started letting his appearance go. But he also asked his dad about going to baseball games.

He may have been giving signs. Or maybe it was just the normal ups and downs of a teenager’s life.

One day Michael told his mom that he was sad. “I told him, well I’m not really happy myself,” Maria Carrasco said. She thought she was comforting him, letting him know that everyone sometimes has bad days. But what she didn’t know was that her oldest son was struggling with depression.

On April 8, 2009, Michael’s younger sister, Miranda, now 13, found him in the family garage. Michael took his own life by hanging himself. He was 16.

More than a year later, his close-knit family members are sharing their experience. They say they know the pain will never go away, but that it’s starting to get easier to talk about what happened. And now, with suicides steadily on the rise in Porter County, they want to share their story in the hopes of preventing another teen’s death.

“If we can save just one life, it will be worth it,” Maria said.

The Carrasco family lived in Portage for nine years. Maria and her husband, Albert, thought that moving to Chesterton would be ideal. Michael was about to go into high school at the time.

But Maria said she now feels that if Michael had already been suffering from depression, taking him out of an environment that he was well familiar with and moving into a brand new town was a “big mistake.”

“He struggled for two years,” she said.

There were signs something was very wrong. He starting letting his appearance go and wasn’t eating right at all. “He liked being alone,” Albert said.

But it wasn’t that clear cut. “There were times he did seem happy,” Albert said, remembering how Michael like writing scripts and had his family members dress up as they performed a mystery he wrote, which he then video taped. Michael also loved baseball and asked his dad if he could go to baseball trials with him. If Michael had been in a slump, his parents thought he may have gotten over it. “Everything to me was looking fine,” Albert said.

Maria said she and Michael were very close. But she didn’t know he was suffering. Had she known Michael was struggling with depression, “I would have grabbed him, taken him to a doctor, put him on medication. But he never came to us and said he was depressed.”

What happened that April day shocked the family to the core.

“We didn’t see it coming,” Albert said.

Moving On

After Michael died, his parents went through his room and looked through all his writings. He loved to write, and his writings revealed to them the depth of his struggle. They knew then that Michael wasn’t just having some bad days, but was dealing with a real illness that they heard about but never understood.

The neighbors in their Abercrombie Woods subdivision showed overwhelming support and compassion for the family and arranged a vigil shortly after Michael’s death. “They all remembered Michael as having a huge heart,” Albert recalled.

There have been times over the past year that the family has found comfort. Michael’s younger brother, Anthony, played a song that he and Michael used to listen to, “Mad,” at the funeral. One day, Albert said he heard the song three times in a row at his various stops. He thought that was unusual, until it occurred to him that that was the song Michael liked.

When Albert got the news about Michael, he was at bay 93 at his job at U.S. Steel Gary Works. Everytime he passes that bay, he says a little prayer in Michael’s memory. There was something about that number that stuck with Albert but for the longest time he couldn’t figure out what. Then one day, it dawned on him: Michael was born in 1993.

Michael liked eating Burger King hamburgers plain -- with just a burger and the bun. After the funeral, Albert told his family they were going to Burger King and that he would order a plain burger in Michael’s honor. When he got the burger, he found it very odd that it looked as if someone had taken a bit out of it.

“I feel like Michael has been sending us a lot of signs,” Albert said. “The signs are like Michael’s way of saying that everything is going to be fine.”

Never Again

Maria said losing a child is a tragic experience that no one can fully understand unless it happens to them. She wonders if she and Albert would even be here today -- if they’d even try to go on with life -- if it weren’t for their need to help their other children. The pain never goes away, she said, but “you learn to go on with life.”

Members of Michael’s family have sought counseling following his death, but Maria said there’s a noticeable lack of programs specifically aimed at teens dealing with loss and grief. She said she has found nothing that’s targeted to teen siblings of suicide.

And that’s why Maria and Albert want to share their experience, in the hopes that schools, non-profits and other agencies address the special circumstances facing teens who are either contemplating suicide or who are living with the loss from suicide. Porter County had 35 suicides last year, and about 10 so far this year. “Porter County is going through something,” she said, shaking her head in disbelief.

On April 8, the one-year anniversary of Michael’s death, the Carrasco family hosted a candlelight vigil. Maria said so many people turned out that they ran out of their supply of more than 100 candles.

Albert and Maria are also taking their message directly to teens. They want to remove the “taboo” of suicide in order to have open, honest dialogue. They would like to see posters made up that could be put in schools with the message: If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, talk about it. Don’t keep it to yourself.

Maria said teens don’t seem to fully comprehend the finality of suicide -- problems tend to be temporary, but suicide is permanent. If any kid is thinking about taking their life, they want them to know that they must, as hard as it might be, to tell their parents or other trusted adult. “Talk to your parents. They want to help you. Go and get help,” Albert said.

And if a teen hears from a friend that the friend is thinking about suicide, don’t blow it off. The friend must tell an adult -- even if their friend told them not to tell anyone.

“The right thing to do is to tell an adult. If you don’t want to tell us (the parents), then go to your own parents. Don’t keep it a secret. You need to tell someone,” Albert said.

“You might be saving a life,” Maria added. “Don’t let this happen to another parent.”

 

 

Posted 4/30/2010