Coming through the rain


SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

When Haley Lynch was 9 years old, she says now, she envisioned herself dying in a car crash and finding some relief from the pain she felt.

Fifteen years and many doctors and hospitalizations later, Haley still deals with depression and anxiety, but she has found ways to adjust to her sadness and worry. The 24-year-old single mother of one has enrolled at Kirkwood, hoping to study criminal justice and better the lives of troubled youth.

She is a survivor. But one man — the father of her child and her partner for four years — was not. Bill Mirabella’s suicide two and half years ago — after battling mental illness for years — was a wake-up call of sorts for her, who says his death encouraged her to research and learn more about the illness they both shared.

Click here to view an exclusive photo slideshow.

(opens in new window)

Bill was a DJ and very charismatic, Haley said. He was generous, caring, and always put others above himself.

“He was just the type of person that he would smile so big that it was contagious,” she said. “He saw the good in everybody, even if nobody else could.”

On the day of Bill’s suicide, Haley was out with friends. Bill, she recalls, arrived home from work about a half hour before he was supposed to, and so Haley had not yet gotten home. He called her several times, and when she called him back, she said he sounded tense.

“I thought he was just tired,” she said. “He had been stressed-out. We were supposed to go on a trip that had fallen apart the day before, so I just took it as he was tired and stressed out.

“I got kind of agitated. I said, ‘I’m on my way home; I’ll be there.’ And I hung up on him. That still makes me kind of upset to this day.”

But Haley said Bill did not express anything to her about thoughts of suicide. She had no warning signs.

“Otherwise, I would not have gotten off the phone,” she said. “I would’ve had 911 on the other line — I would’ve done something.”

Haley was home less than 10 minutes later. When she walked in the door, she saw Bill on the floor of the dining room, lying on his back.

Her immediate thought was that he had suffered a heart attack. The two had been working out often, and he had recently lost a lot of weight.

“I hurried over to him, and I was getting my phone out to call 911,” she said. “I know CPR, so I was ready to resuscitate. It was when I was right there that I saw the rest of the scene, and that’s when it became clear to me that there was nothing that I could do.”

Bill shot himself in the right temple with a 9-mm pistol. It was only when Haley was right there, by his side that she could see what Bill had done. She called 911, and the officers told her to move the gun. She was afraid to touch it and remembers being tempted by the loaded gun. But her son’s defining presence reminded her she could never leave him.

“The gun was still there and [suicide] … it crossed my mind,” she said. “The thing that kept me from doing that was the scene — George’s toys were out.”

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 5 to 8 percent of adults in the United States will experience depression each year.

Men are about four times more likely to commit suicide than women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And two-thirds of people who experience depression do not seek help for their condition, according to WebMD. Unfortunately, Bill fell into this statistic.

The rest of Haley’s day was filled with phone calls and conversing with police. Haley said she remembers feeling devastated because while her world had been turned upside down, the weather outside was beautiful.

“This terrible thing had just happened, but the sky was clear,” she said. “It was like this gorgeous fall day, and it just didn’t make much sense to me.”

When Haley’s mother, Laurie Adam, got a call from her ex-husband about Bill’s death, she said she couldn’t believe it.

“I remember trying to get dressed, and I couldn’t function to put on my clothes properly,” she said. “[Haley’s dad] picked me up, and I rode with him up to Cedar Rapids. I just kept thinking she couldn’t be right … I kept hoping she was wrong — that he said he was going to [commit suicide] but hadn’t. But then I got to the house, and there were ambulances, and police cars, and yellow tape.”

One of Haley’s best friends, Stanzy Scheetz, said she had a hard time believing that Bill was dead at first, as well. She said because of how happy Bill was all the time, she never thought he would commit suicide.

“Knowing what I knew about Bill, I just didn’t think it was possible,” Scheetz said. “He was the nicest, kindest person you would ever meet. He just never struck me as someone who was struggling with anything or was depressed about anything.”

Bill’s death, which occurred in Cedar Rapids, had a lot of hearsay that came with it. Haley said there were people at the funeral who still didn’t really know what had happened to him. Finally, she became frustrated, and that’s when she began to share her story.

“I was hearing all of these theories about ‘what had actually happened,’ ” she said. “Other than the professionals, I was the only one who had been on the scene, so I knew 100 percent what had happened … I was getting messages and comments [on Facebook] … So I put it on my Facebook, and said this is what happened, and if you don’t like me talking about it, you can delete me, but if I don’t talk about it, I’m not going to be able to deal with it.”

From there, people began giving her feedback. People felt as though they could relate to her. She said people who she’d never met before were thanking her for sharing her story and messaging her.

“That’s kind of what encouraged me to want to branch out on more than just Facebook,” she said.

Soon after, Haley participated in the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention “Out of the Darkness” Walk. She heard speakers there, and saw how they affected the crowd. The following year, she gave her testimony to the crowd.

“I just got so much good feedback,” she said. “I made people cry, which made me feel bad, but at the same time, I [knew] they were crying for good reasons.”

Haley’s mother said it has been really neat to see her branching out and telling her story.

“Haley would definitely not be one I would’ve thought would ever be up in front of a crowd,” Adam said. “I’ve seen her talk a couple times now, [and] it’s definitely progressed. She’s not reading her story anymore, she’s telling it.”

Haley said she feels society had stigmatized suicide so much that it’s not talked about often enough. She hopes that by sharing her story, her fiancé’s story, and the story of her and her son, Georgie, as suicide survivors that people will think twice about the issue.

Georgie, who is 5 and attends Kinderfarm in Iowa City, talks often about his dad with Haley. He understands Bill’s death as if his dad was really sick and had to go to heaven.

On birthdays, Georgie and Haley bring balloons to Bill’s grave, or as Georgie calls it, “Daddy’s Special Place.”

“[We] take balloons there and let them fly to heaven so my dad can catch them,” he said.

Georgie told his mother that the two of them aren’t going to heaven for a long, long time, but he knows exactly what he’ll do when he gets there.

“If I went up there [to heaven], I would find my dad and give him a hug,” he said.

Haley herself began experiencing symptoms of depression and anxiety at a young age. In third grade, the feelings came on stronger.

“It was the first time that I felt like I would rather be dead than alive,” she said.

Haley’s mother said she had a hard time getting her up in the morning for school. She said it was hard to understand Haley’s depression because she was such a fortunate girl. Adam said she wants people to realize that depression can happen to anyone.

“Haley was a beautiful, intelligent girl with a nice house, family that loved her, good food to eat, and clothes to wear,” she said. “You’d think she had everything, but she wasn’t happy. It doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor; it can be anybody.”

Throughout Haley’s teenage years, panic attacks and more anxiety began to occur. Haley said from ages 14-17 she had four or five suicide attempts, and each time, she would attempt to overdose on pills.

Haley said each time she had a suicide attempt, if she wanted to, she could pinpoint reasons that may have caused her to do so. But often, she said, people want to find someone or something to blame. In reality, she said, she knew it was something more than that that caused her to want to take her own life.

“In elementary school, I had those same feelings,” she said. “It wasn’t so much suicidal, but I would plan out my own funeral and think about dying in a car accident. At 9 years old, I didn’t know what depression was; I had probably never heard of suicide, but I definitely had those feelings, so it was definitely a psychological thing.”

Since her teenage years, Haley has begun taking medicine for her condition, but she said the most important change was acknowledging that a problem existed.

“During my teenage years, I just didn’t care enough to get help, because I was in such a low place,” she said. “When I was 18, I finally decided, ‘OK. This is not the life I want to live.’ So now I talk about it … and when I’m going through a rough time, I can tell myself, I need more than just myself right now.”

Local physician/scientist Jess Fiedorowicz said there is a 30 to 40 percent chance that children with one parent who has depression will experience it themselves. Because Georgie has two parents who have battled this mental illness, he is at an even greater risk.

Haley is well aware of this, and she prepares now for what she can do to end the cycle.

“As the child of two parents who have struggled with depression and suicidal thoughts, Georgie is more likely to develop those same thoughts and feelings,” she said. “Part of why I do what I do is so Georgie will grow up knowing the signs and symptoms to look for in not only himself but in his future friends and peers. He will also know those feelings are normal and have the confidence in knowing he can turn to me for support.”

In today's issue:

Privacy Policy (8/15/07) | Terms of Use (4/28/08) | Content Submission Agreement (8/23/07) | Copyright Compliance Policy (8/25/07) | RSS Terms of Use

Copyright © The Daily Iowan, All Rights Reserved.