It’s every parent’s worst nightmare; the stuff that keeps you up at night. Your child is being bullied. Your child is in pain. Your child feels helpless, like she cannot bear to live another day. And then, one day, she’s gone.
This is the tragic reality for one family from Bedford, Pennsylvania. At just 15 years old, Sadie Riggs took her own life on June 19, and in her obituary last week, her family decided to send a pointed message to those who bullied her.
Like most obituaries, Sadie’s opens with listing the many family members who loved her, as well as her many interests and hobbies — softball, reading, drawing, and music. But that’s where Sadie’s takes an unexpected turn.
Oftentimes, an obituary written for a person who commits suicide or dies from something drug-related omits the cause of death. The family may not want the public knowing the truth, for fear that the person who died might be unfairly judged. They may want the obituary to only reflect positive memories.
But Sadie’s family chose differently.
“Yes, Sadie took her own life, she hung herself,” the obituary from Giesel Funeral Home reads. “Sadie was seeking help, she was in counseling and taking medication, but it was all too much for such a young soul to live with … Sadie had a tough life and until a recent incident at school she handled everything life served her. For a young lady so excited about going to the High School things sure went terribly wrong for her. For the bullies involved, please know you were effective in making her feel worthless.”
But while Sadie’s family does place some blame on the classmates who mistreated her, even alluding at one point to a specific “incident” that was a possible trigger, they also provide some advice, telling them that “it is not to late to change your ways.”
“To all the bullies out there, I just want you to know that as much as we despise your actions never, ever do we wish for you to feel the paralyzing pain that engulfs our bodies, a pain so severe that it makes the simple act of breathing difficult or the guilt that leaves us wondering what we could have done differently — or that struggle to remember the last words we spoke … Our hearts are beyond broken.”
And perhaps most fittingly, the obituary closes with one last request: “In lieu of flowers, the family of Sadie ask that you be kind to one another.” Because it really is that simple. Why were kids cruel to Sadie? What did they stand to gain from it? Status with each other? Was she somehow threatening to them? This child who’d already seen pain in her short life? This teenage girl who just wanted to attend high school like any other kid? Why is kindness sometimes so hard for kids?
According to the CDC, suicide is the second leading cause of death for adolescents ages 10-24. And each day, an alarming 5,240 suicide attempts will be made by teens in grades 7-12. In other words: We need to be doing more.
Sadie will not be the last heartbreaking obituary we will read that tells the tale of a heartbroken teen who simply could not take the pain any longer. But we can learn from her story, and ensure that her death was not in vain. Steps such as creating a school mission statement, establishing a code of conduct, school-wide rules, and a bullying reporting system, will foster a climate in which bullying is not acceptable.
Also, schools need to bridge the gap between and talk to parents, helping to ensure that tolerance and kindness is modeled at home, as well. Bullying, especially cyberbullying, is rampant among today’s youth. Today’s kids are facing a level of cruelty we didn’t have to deal with. We, as today’s parents and educators, are in uncharted waters — but we need to wake up and do something.
Whether or not Sadie’s family ever receives answers, explanations, or apologies from those who bullied their daughter, their reality is a future is less bright without Sadie. We thank them for using her obituary as a platform to help stop bullying and spread kindness instead. Hopefully, parents and kids everywhere will read this and think about their own actions.
Rest in peace, Sadie. I do hope some of your peers spread kindness today in your honor. I know I will.