It’s a Sunday, and normally Bill MacLafferty would be donning old clothes to mow the lawn one last time before winter. Then, he could relax and watch football while his twin eighth-grade daughters finished their homework.
Instead, he is in Brian’s room, looking at the posters and pictures his son left behind.
“We’re not really making it into a shrine,” the father said. “Because it’s going to be a guest room someday, but we have things that belong to him stored there.”
Brian loved music, especially Chicago and Dave Matthews Band. Their posters hang on blue walls. Brian’s silver and gold trumpet, the one he played in high school and at IU, rests in the closet in a case lined with crushed ruby velvet. This year, he was going to play in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade as an alumnus with the Madison Scouts Drum and Bugle Corps.
Instead, one of the scouts carried a memorial banner at the parade bearing Brian’s name.
The last time Bill saw his son, he was helping Brian move into his apartment. Classes were going to start the following Monday.
A few weeks later, Bill called his son while on the way home from work, just to catch up.
“We had a really nice conversation. He seemed happy and content with the semester, a lot more talkative than usual,” Bill said. He swallows as his eyes water. “I thought he was in a good place.”
A day later, Brian shot himself. It was World Suicide Prevention Day.
Donna, his mother, had dreaded this possibility ever since Brian was diagnosed with depression in high school. She thinks he was aware that he killed himself on a day of prevention.
“He’s proving how silly it is to have a day of suicide prevention because that’s not enough,” she said. “Really the issue is mental health.”
Both parents agreed that the University’s response to Brian’s death was thoughtful. IU refunded Brian’s tuition for the semester.
“I honest to God didn’t think they would really care, but they really did,” Donna said, remembering the flowers sent and the professors who attended the funeral. “They have just been really nice about it. They didn’t make me feel like he was another number.”
She said she doesn’t think it’s the University’s responsibility to keep careful records of how students die; after all, their primary purpose is to educate. But it could help track of problems, she said.
“They should have more open lines with the students and let them know about the resources for mental health,” she said. “We’ve got to help get over the stigma of mental illness. We have to get past that.”