BEEKMANTOWN — No one knew.
Zander Shawn LaDuke celebrated Christmas with his family early last year, on Dec. 23.
He was excited about his presents.
He was happy.
That night, 17-year-old Zander took his own life.
FULL OF LIFE
That he was contemplating death?
“Nobody knew,” said his mother, Amanda. “Nobody knew.”
Not his friends in the medical careers New Visions Program or peers in Upward Bound, a program that helps ready kids for college.
Not his coworkers at Pine Harbour Assisted Living, where he worked part time.
“None of his teachers would have suspected it,” said Amanda, sitting in the kitchen of her parents’ home in Beekmantown.
“He was full of life.”
Zander had plans, big plans.
A senior at Beekmantown High School, he’d just been accepted at the University of New England to study pharmacology.
The school was his first pick.
“Anything Zander set out to do, he would achieve it,” Amanda said.
Zander’s life was very full.
“We talked about it all the time, if he was overdoing it, how he was feeling,” his mother said.
He wasn’t overwhelmed, he’d tell her. He was fine.
Just once, in early December, Amanda noticed her normally garrulous son had grown quiet.
She asked him if he was tired.
“He said, ‘No, Mom. Actually, I’m sad.’”
Amanda is familiar with mental-health issues, something a relative deals with.
She asked Zander if he wanted to talk to a medical professional right away. Or she could make an appointment with his pediatrician.
“I can wait,” he told her.
Zander went to that one appointment.
“Three weeks later, he took his life,” Amanda said.
Zander didn’t leave a note; he hadn’t confided in a friend. Police couldn’t break into his cellphone.
The LaDukes’ last memory of him, alive and laughing, is from that happy Christmas celebration.
“You’re left with the ‘why’ questions and the ‘what ifs,’” his mother said.
And the grief.
Zander ended his life at home; his family can’t bear to go back there.
Amanda, her husband, Shawn, and their other two children moved in with Amanda’s parents, Lori and Kevin Martin.
They will raze their house and hope to build new.
To start over.
STILL PART OF US
Not to forget Zander — never that, Amanda said.
“We talk about Zander as if he’s still here,” she said. “I think it’s important.
“Even though he’s gone, he’s still part of us.”
She keeps up a Facebook page about her younger son; she scrolls through to see what friends have posted, adds photos, videos of a vibrant, sensitive, smart boy with a captivating sense of humor.
Zander’s voice narrates a video for a New Visions assignment.
Zander and a friend chase each other around in another video, laughing.
Zander takes a bow onstage after a school musical.
“The moment that you left me,” Amanda posted Jan. 29, “my heart was split in two; one side was filled with memories; the other side died with you ...”
Talking about Zander helps Amanda; she can tell the story without breaking down.
“(But) when I’m in my own head, it’s different,” she said. “I don’t want anybody to feel this way.”
Zander’s sister, Lily, 16, has had trouble focusing in school.
“They call it adjustment disorder,” Amanda said.
For Shawn, she continued, “the financial piece is a big stressor,” as he worries about the cost of a new home.
“That’s his coping mechanism,” she said.
“To me,” she said of that unspeakable loss, “it’s still yesterday. It’s hard to watch people move on when I’m still stuck.
“The whole family is going to therapy now.”
Anyone thinking about suicide, Amanda said, “should know about the afterwards.
“Maybe if kids were more aware of what the aftermath would be — truly, not as it’s portrayed on TV,” they would think again, she said.
“It’s a lifetime of suffering for everybody else.”
Offhand comments about suicide — casual conversation, jokes on TV — serve as constant reminders.
References to it, said Amanda’s mother, Lori Martin, “make your whole body go tense.”
In a therapist’s office waiting room, Amanda suddenly realized another couple there were reading Zander’s obituary in the newspaper, speculating about how he’d died, sure it must have been suicide.
“I freaked out on them,” she said. “Of course, I was crying.”
Others in the room were crying ...
People lack sensitivity, Amanda said.
“You don’t know what’s going on in other people’s lives.”
But so many people have been there for the LaDukes, have helped hold them up.
The Beekmantown cheerleaders (Amanda is a former coach) set up a gofundme page for the family.
Assemblyman Billy Jones, who knew Zander from Upward Bound, found photos of the teen and sent them to his family.
The dean of admissions at the college Zander will never attend mailed the LaDukes a sympathy card, Amanda said, “which was heartbreaking but so thoughtful.”
She checks in on Zander’s friends; they check in on her.
Family and friends are organizing a spaghetti-dinner benefit to raise money for their new home.
The Beekmantown Eagles softball program is holding a paper-airplane launch fundraiser.
When people don’t know what to say, Amanda tells them, “There truly are no words. And that’s OK.”
And she thanks them for being there for her family.
Some brought food; others offered to take them out to lunch. A friend might just check in to see if they’re OK.
Little gestures help, Amanda said.
Amanda talks about Zander to raise awareness. To encourage parents to check in with their kids. To help them realize that even if they seem fine they might need to share some trouble they’re having.
She knows her son would approve of her efforts.
“If he was put in my shoes, he would be doing it himself,” Amanda said. “That’s the kid he was.”
She also doesn’t want him to be forgotten.
“He was only 17, so how much of a legacy will he leave?” she said.
“I want to make sure it’s a huge one.”
Email Suzanne Moore:
FOR THE FAMILY
A Spaghetti Dinner fundraiser will benefit Zander LaDuke’s family at 11 a.m. Saturday, May 4, at Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1466, 327 Spellman Road, Beekmantown.
Dinner cost is $10, adults; $5, children; free, 5 and younger.
Also live music, Chinese auction, raffles, 50/50 and bake sale.
WHERE TO GET HELP
Seek help if you’re considering suicide.
For emotional crises:
National Crisis Text Line: 74141
Text: got5 to reach a crisis counselor in New York state.
The toll-free 24-hour North Country Crisis Helpline number is (866) 577-3836. That number is answered by members of the Clinton County Mobile Crisis Team Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Outside those hours, it is answered by an on-call crisis service.
Out-of-county calls are accepted but other options are:
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, (800) 273-TALK (8255).
The Essex County Mental Health Association Hope Line, (800) 440-8074. That number is staffed 24-7; leave a message and your call will be returned within 10 minutes.
Visit the Clinton County NY Coalition to Prevent Suicide’s Facebook page for education and resources.
If a friend of yours posts suicidal content on Facebook, let someone know — an adult, the police. And visit http://tinyurl.com/nuvnm29 to report it.
National Alliance on Mental Illness: Champlain Valley is a resource for suicide-survivor support. Call 518-561-2685.
For counseling, contact:
• Clinton County Mental Health, 518-565-4060.
• Behavioral Health Services North Adult Clinic, 518-563-8000 (staffed around the clock).
• Essex County Mental Health Clinic, 518-873-3670; after-hour emergencies, (888) 854-3773.
• In northern Franklin County, around the clock, 518-483-3261; southern Franklin County, 891-5535.