The news seems to unfold like a something slowly falling off a shelf. First it just sort of hangs there, and you aren’t sure what is happening, then it begins to move, and before you know it, the thing hits the floor. That’s how it was with Vylit Vander Giessen.
First, there was a report on Facebook, Thursday afternoon, of something happening at the Lion’s Head apartments, over by the High School. Low rent apartments often mean crime, so it wasn’t a huge surprise. Still, this is a small town, so when the police show up somewhere in numbers, it’s news. By the evening we were hearing that a teenager had passed away. “What could it be?” we wondered. Drugs? Alcohol? A fight? Then someone said a teenager shot another teenager? “What the hell?” we thought. Then on Friday morning we learned the truth: a middle school girl had been found dead in her apartment. Before our kids were off to school we learned that Vylit, a friend of our daughter, and in the same grade (7th), had hanged herself.
I had never met Vylit. She’d never been to the house. She was good friends with girls our daughter is good friends with. Though Moriah and Vylit were not close, the news was devastating for us. We learned that Vylit had struggled with kids teasing her. Some called her “Violent Vylit.” One kid is reported to have told her she should just kill herself. Moriah told us that kids teased her without mercy. Though we don’t know for sure, the general consensus from family and friends is that the bullying and teasing is what led to her decision to end her own life.
This hits close to us because we have been helping Moriah through some bullying at school. We’ve tried to encourage her to ignore the kids who tease her, to remember that all kids in middle school are uncomfortable, and that probably the bullies had first been bullied. It is hard not to imagine Vylit’s fate befalling our little girl.
So, like many other families in our little town, we’ve had to come to grips with this thing. It has been a week, but it still brings many emotions. I write about them here in part to deal with them myself.
I am hurt. I cannot stand the thought of a poor little girl, who barely understands the world around her, feeling so lost and alone that she felt the only way out was death. We were not created to live alone. If only I had known…
I feel guilty. What have I done in my community to reach little girls whose lives are miserable? As I said in our church council meeting on Monday night: “In three years of serving on this council, I have not participated in a single decision, the results of which make it less likely that someone who is lost and hurting will take their own life. Not one. What the hell are we doing here?”
I am angry. Who teased that poor girl? Who the hell do they think they are? Why didn’t her parents do more? Her grandparents? The school? This is irrational, I know. Everyone gets teased in middle school. Suicide almost always happens in the context of deep mental illness, as I am told. So it likely wasn’t just the teasing. But anger is a powerful emotion.
I’m afraid. Have I done enough to protect my daughter? She is at a vulnerable age. She is going though that girlish change (if you know what I mean). Is she at risk? Have I loved her enough? Hugged her enough? Told her I love her, enough? I’m afraid.
More than anything, I feel a call to action. I am a Christian. I am called, first and foremost, to seek the lost, the broken, the hurting, and show them that God loves them. Have I been doing that? Or have I gone the way of the typical American Christian? Wringing my hands about things that don’t matter? I want my life to mean something to the people around me.
I know that good articles are supposed to have a good ending. I don’t have one. There isn’t one to this story, not yet. Our family has not fully processed this terrible tragedy. But we are working on it. If you are a praying person, please pray for us, for our daughter Moriah, and especially for little Vylit, and her family.