By Katie Collins News Eagle Reporter
HAWLEY- The world became a lopsided place, March 2, 2012 for Sheila and Chuck Whitman, after their 18 year old son, Tyler committed suicide. Today, Sheila said the world seems, "tilted, off balance and everything looks different."
A freshman at the University of Pittsburgh, Tyler was expected to return home for spring break, but he never did. Instead, the family’s worse nightmare came true, when they received a phone call at 1:30 in the morning, telling them that their son was dead. Sheila said she fell apart, while Chuck said he was knocked off of his feet.
Tyler was studying computer science, but he wasn’t happy and there were plans for him to transfer. His mom said it was difficult, because he went from having a group of close-knit friends at home, to writing in a journal, that at school he was alone in a city. Chuck said the pressures of life and college added up.
Prone to depression, Sheila said the journals made it clear that Tyler was clinically depressed, as they discovered he researched depression and had the number for the suicide prevention hot line in his room. The parents do not believe he ever called the number, but because of privacy issues, they don’t know for sure. On a search for answers, Sheila said, "my thought was, who’s going to complain, he’s not here."
Chuck said it was like pulling teeth to get information from the university. Today, aware of the problems his son was having, Chuck said that Tyler was disoriented, waking in the middle of the night and going to classes at 2:00 in the morning. He asked, "what did we miss?"
A funny guy and a great older brother, Tyler’s passing, Sheila said, has affected everyone, but his younger sister who is 14, has responded to her brother’s death by staying busy, and on June 13, she will speak about suicide prevention at the middle school. But still, Sheila said, there are moments where her daughter is upset. Trying to explain what happened, Sheila said, "Tyler was in such a hole in his own mind, that he couldn’t get out of it." The pain, she added, "was greater than trying to live."
Although the Whitman’s have received a lot of support, like a tennis scholarship named after Tyler, there has also been a lot of ignorance. Disgusted with the stigmas attached to suicide, Sheila said the things people have said is unbelievable. The worse though, she specified, ‘if you commit suicide you go to hell.’ Displeased with the statement, she said, "show me where it says that in the Bible." Or, Chuck said, people treating the family like they have leprosy.
Losing a son, Chuck said, has made the normalcy of life disappear. He added that, "all we have to do, is try to get as close back to that as we can," which isn’t easy. Never again though, do the Whitman’s feel they will be normal, but there is hope, that at some point the family will be able to cope with everything.
Despite their feelings of helplessness and guilt, the Whitman’s are on a mission to keep their son’s name alive and educate others about suicide and the effects it has on people. The family has created the Tyler Paul Whitman Memorial Scholarship for students at Wallenpaupack Area High School, because it was "something that had to be done, to keep his name alive," Chuck explained. June 2, the first ever, "Hawley Spring Run," will take place in Bingham Park to raise awareness about suicide. Shelia said, she is a shy person, but because of her mission to, "help anybody avoid this path," she has had to "push my boundaries majorly," because she wants people to be aware of the fact that, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide in 2010 was the 10th leading cause of deaths for Americans.
A junior at the high school, Nina Breuer has decided to do her senior project on suicide, by helping the Whitman’s with the walk and having an informational booth at the race. Breuer said she chose the topic of suicide because she feels not enough people talk about the issue, and she too, has been affected. Of Breuer’s project, Sheila said it is a good example for her daughter, that people can move on with their lives and still help others.
On May 18, the Whitman’s will travel to a ceremony in Pittsburgh, where the Center for Organ Recovery & Education (CORE) will have its yearly ceremony to recognize donors. Tyler was a tissue and cornea donor, which meant that he "was helping someone in the long run," Sheila said proudly.
Sheila said the loss of her son has been, "the most devastating thing, a child you gave birth to, is choosing to end their life, it’s a difficult thing." But now, she said, she tries not to dwell on it because the despair isn’t good. Instead, Sheila has started running every day, but "I just miss him," she said. Chuck said kids need to talk about their feelings, because it’s nothing to feel guilty about. The most important thing a person can do, is to talk, he added.
The course of the race, will be the same as the Hawley Library’s, "Run to Read," race. Rain or shine, the race will happen, with registration starting at 12:30 on June 2. People can register the day of the race or online at
http://hawleyspringrun.eventbrite.com. All of the proceeds will go to the Tyler Paul Whitman Memorial Scholarship. For more information, call (570) 689-3345.