The Edmond Sun

January 21, 2013

Local woman shares story of despair, hope

Stakeholders offer Feb. 16 suicide prevention workshop

Mark Schlachtenhaufen
The Edmond Sun

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Margaret Wenger speaks adoringly of her son Curt.

“He was a very beautiful baby and a lovely child, obedient and for a long time he was very happy,” she said as she spoke on the University of Central Oklahoma campus, where she teaches English to international students for another organization.

In California, Curt enjoyed his teachers, school, loved to play soccer and was good enough to be on a team. He found joy in music, especially the classical genre. He mastered the clarinet and the piano, but also found pleasure in listening to music.

Wenger said her son was a well-behaved young man who was jealous of the attention his brother got for being awful. He was good at taking care of his brother.

“Curt was the ideal child,” Wenger said.

In junior high, Curt had a friend who even his mother thought was weird. He and his friend invented their own games. When he entered high school, Curt started losing his joy. He had a rocky relationship with a music instructor and gave up playing the clarinet, but still played the piano.

He had good friends, but he didn’t have a lot of them. He did not want to be “like the fellas,” but he received a lot of positive attention from older female students. He was an excellent mathematician like his father. He hung out with individuals who would be considered social misfits. He wanted to be different.

“He was used to being a nerd and he was comfortable,” Wenger said. “He cultivated that. He tried to be different.”

After Wenger and her husband divorced, Curt spent a lot of time with his father. At one point, when some concerns arose, he was examined by a psychologist who found him to be a normal person.

Curt began to dislike his mother. During a period of several years, he grew darker. His grades were fine when he dropped out of high school; he just didn’t want to go to school anymore. After receiving guidance from his parents, he would later get his GED.

Then Curt became uncommunicative. He would spend hours in his room. And he drew closer to the aforementioned friend from junior high, who became one of his few friends. When Curt was about 18 and not living with his mother, she learned he was drinking.

At one point, Wenger told Curt’s father that she thought they should intervene. After that, Curt began attempting to kill himself. His parents took him everywhere seeking professional help, but she was told they could not keep him since he was not a threat to himself or others.

One day, during an incident at her home, Curt became physical with his mother and was choking her. She was able to call for his stepfather. Curt stopped and left.

“That was the last time I saw him alive,” Wenger said as she vividly recalled the incident.

Wenger was an assistant principal at a California school, located about 53 miles from her home and about 40 miles from her ex-husband’s workplace. One day she went out for yard duty and saw her ex-husband standing there. She knew why he had come.

“I was numb,” she said of hearing that her son had committed suicide. “I didn’t cry. I hollered when he told me.”

Wenger said Curt had stolen a credit card from his father and disappeared. He bought many of his favorite things, rented a swanky hotel in upper-class Los Angeles by the week. He partied and drank. One night, when he had not paid for the week, the hotel manager noticed the door was locked and called the police. He was found dead in the room. Curt was nearing his 21st birthday.

Wenger closed off her emotions. Her mind took over and she started thinking about all the things she had to do before the end of the day. For a long time she focused on the moment: Administrative tasks to finish before she could leave, other tasks to do, planning the funeral, how to tell relatives.

After hearing the news she went home and found eight messages on her phone. She couldn’t bear the idea of answering them and tossed it across the room. Then she grieved.

Curt had saved papers he considered important — diaries, journals, essays — and kept them in a box. Wenger went through every line of every paper and often cried during the experience. What she read gave her insight into his emotional state of mind.

Wenger said when someone asked Curt’s brother how it felt that Curt was in hell (for taking his own life), his brother said, “You don’t understand. He didn’t go to hell, he left hell.”

“And I started to realize that that’s probably true,” Wenger said. “And that took away all the anger. It was his life and it was his private hell. He chose to end it that way. That was OK with me. That was his choice. I can’t say that I’m not gonna grieve, but I can say I’m not mad anymore.”

Wenger, now age 74, said she still is not sure that she has her head back together again. Several times during the interview she paused as emotions welled up inside her.

“Anybody who’s been through this will tell you time does not heal it, and it doesn’t,” she said. “It gives you coping mechanisms. It enables you to cope better with the pain.”

Forgiving her son helped free her from the pain, she said.  



HOW TO HELP, GET HELP

Members of a community suicide prevention task force are sponsoring a suicide prevention summit from 9:30-11:30 a.m. and 1:30-3:30 p.m. Feb. 16 in the Pegasus Theater, Liberal Arts Building, on the UCO campus. It is one of several that have been held in Edmond in recent months.

It has been a difficult year for many Edmond residents who have been touched by loved ones who have committed suicide.

“Together I feel that as a community we are starting to make a difference and in turn save lives,” said Ken Elliott, director of UCO’s Violence Prevention Project.

In 2012 Edmond Police officers responded to 13 suicides and 55 attempted suicides, according to the Edmond Police Department. Victims have been male and female and ranged from age 14 to age 60-plus.

Elliott said he is encouraged by the number of community stakeholders involved in the citywide effort. Individuals who have contemplated suicide are starting to hear the message that they are not alone and that there is hope, Elliott said.

The event will include a faith talk, a teacher talk and a faith talk. Participants will be taught QPR — question, persuade, refer — a method of suicide prevention. There also will be instructions for teens and for members of the LGBT community.

Elliott said if area residents or someone they know has experienced thoughts of suicide or experienced signs of depression, they are encouraged to attend the summit. They will receive information that could save a life, he said.

 

FOR MORE information about the event, call Elliott at 974-2388, email him at kelliott@uco.edu, or visit www.uco.edu/student-affairs/scc.   

FOR ASSISTANCE with mental health issues, call 2-1-1, HeartLine’s 24/7 information and referral line for health and human service needs. Callers can get help, hope and information from a database of more than 3,000 partner agencies and 6,000 individual services. Also, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255), a helpline answered by HeartLine in Oklahoma.



marks@edmondsun.com | 341-2121, ext. 108