Tell your loved ones you love them


by Jake Brend, Sports Editor

I lost one of my best friends to suicide on Feb. 3, 2018. 

Payton was one of the most uplifting and full-of-joy people I have ever met. I met him in middle school after he moved from New York, and before that Arizona. I’m normally a pretty shy person at first, so I never really go out of my way to talk to a new person, but on his first day of sixth grade at Indianola Middle School, I talked to him for some reason.

I will never know the reason why I decided to talk to Payton that day, he didn’t know a thing about sports, which was all I really knew what to talk about, but to this day, I’m so thankful that I talked to him for some reason. 

Payton decided to come to the youth group at Indianola Community Church, which is where we became actual friends. We did all of the normal things a middle schooler does at youth group, eat excessive amounts of sugar and make too much noise, but more importantly, we were in a small group that genuinely cared about the relationships with one another and God.

In our small group, I learned so much about Payton’s upbringing and past. Out of respect for his family and the confidentiality of our group, I won’t share, but he had a story that was filled with so much hurt and so much pain. It is a story that no person, let alone a kid, should ever have to deal with. 

What was so impressive about Payton was not only that he was so open about his story, but that he used his story as a way to care about others. Payton encouraged others to tell their story by making them feel comfortable, but more importantly, by just listening to them tell their story.

Those traits made him one great leader. As just a freshman in high school, Payton started a weekly Bible study for just our small group, no leaders or adults, just 15 of us. As someone who currently leads an eighth-grade small group, none of them could pull that off. That’s how natural of a leader Payton was.

He led by being vulnerable, but not in a way to just get attention or to get people to feel bad for him. He did it because, deep down, he knew that honesty with himself and others was the best way to grow as a person. 

His example of being vulnerable is one of the biggest lessons that I’ve ever learned from anyone. To be honest and vulnerable, it hurts to write this article a lot. I would rather be able to hang out with him right now instead of writing about the lessons I learned from him. But, there is nothing I can do about it now.

Clearly, Payton was a great friend and a great leader. He was so selfless and would really go out of his way to make someone’s day. In our first year of high school, Payton bought our entire class Casey’s breakfast pizza with his own money. Honestly, he probably didn’t have the money to afford that because if there’s one flaw that Payton had, it was money management. There was one time that Payton called me and asked if I could spot him for gas before he got his paycheck. I spotted the $30 but never got the money back.

But looking back on it, I would pay $30 of his gas money every single day for the rest of my life if he could just be here. I also know that if someone needed $30 from him, he wouldn’t have hesitated to help out, even if he had to steal money from someone else.

And that’s what still makes me the saddest today. Payton never had a problem sacrificing something to make someone else happy. Payton never had trouble making someone else laugh. Ever. 

But he must’ve felt like he didn’t get it in return. That’s what I feel is the most heart-breaking part of this tragedy even until today. Trust me, I know that the cliche saying is “there’s nothing that you could’ve done.” And despite the truth to that statement, there’s so much more I could’ve done. 

I could’ve gone out of my way to do what he did to others, let him know that I care about him more often, and reached out to him more when he was struggling. It’s all hindsight because no one really knew what Payton was feeling.

At the end of the day, no matter what I did or what others did, not much could have changed. There were a lot of serious mental health issues in Payton’s life that ultimately were too tough for anyone. 

The problem isn’t mental health itself. No matter what humans do, there will always be mental health issues, just like physical health issues. The problem is how we as a society deal with mental health issues.

According to the CDC, in 2015, suicide was the second-leading cause of death for individuals in the age range of 15 to 34-year olds. From 1999 to 2014, the suicide rate in America increased by 24%. 

In 2017 and 2018, just 27.3% of youth that suffered from severe depression received constant treatment. 

All of these stats make me sick because it highlights the stigma in our country against speaking out about mental health. 

It is okay not to be okay. It is okay to not look like you want to look. It is okay to struggle with anxiety or depression. It is okay to open up about all of these issues. 

The way that we can fix these issues is to be receptive to people when they open up about mental health struggles, not judge or belittle the issues. Everyone is human, and every human deserves to be cared about.

There is nothing I can do to bring him back, but I can still honor him. If the anniversary of his death, everyone decided to tell their loved ones that they love them, I think Payton would want that.

If Payton were here today, I know that he would be caring about everyone around him. Frankly, I wish he were. I miss him a lot.

If you or someone you know is struggling with a mental health crisis or is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-8255. It could save a life.