Remembering Jeremiah Hargett seven years after his death

Earlier this month - Nov. 12 - marked seven years since Jeremiah Hargett lost his life to suicide. I started writing this blog post on that Monday, two weeks ago, but it took me this long to finish it. I kept coming back to it because I wanted it to be perfect. But I know nothing short of being able to give him his life back would be good enough for what he deserves. And, unfortunately, I don't have that power. So here's this post, the best I could do to memorialize his amazing but too short life:

Whenever I see a photo of Jeremiah Hargett, I picture lines beginning to form around his eyes. I see creases around his mouth from all the moments he spent laughing. Then I blink and I realize that those lines, those signs of aging, aren't there. Because, unlike me or you, Jeremiah will forever be 20 years old.

My life has intertwined with many people who knew and loved Jeremiah, a graduate of Lake Orion High School. But I was never lucky enough to meet him myself. But his family and friends have kept Jeremiah alive through their stories. So it feels like I do know him, and I like to think, if I had met him, we would have been friends.

To mark the seven-year anniversary of his death, his mother, Mary Reyes, posted on Facebook, "(Jeremiah) was the most beautiful, genuine and lovely person inside and out and oh so talented. I only wonder and imagine the things he would be doing and how full his life would be in these seven years."

"I miss him every single day. I don't show it because I know my life has to go on. But today I get to mourn him. I get to cry; I get to be angry. I get to crawl into my shell and close out the world and just focus on everything about him - this one day that I had to give him back to God. He was my life and it will never be the same without him."

When Jeremiah died, I was 23 years old - only three years older than him. At the time, I was working at The Oakland Press, and, during our morning news meeting, I volunteered to write the memorial article about him. I didn't know that, by volunteering to write this article, I would be forever changed.

In that first article I wrote about him, I learned that Jeremiah suffered from depression for about a year prior to his death. Pastor Dominic Russo officiated Jeremiah's funeral and said he was "one in a million." He told me, "Jeremiah never said a negative word about anybody. He was always out for the underdog, somebody who was hurting. ... Depression is 1,000 times greater than you or I could ever imagine. ... It opens up the door to horrific thoughts. (He couldn't) control it."

I know, firsthand, how depression can change you. I suffered from a pretty bad bout of depression this year. Looking back on it now, only a few months removed from that depression, it doesn't even feel like it was me. My depression was like an outside force, telling me, "Your life is pointless. Nothing will get better. Nobody actually likes you. They just pity you. Everyone's life would be better off if you weren't here."

During those low moments, I thought about Jeremiah. I thought about how Jeremiah's depression probably made him think those same thoughts. And in the midst of my debilitating depression, Jeremiah gave me the hard dose of reality I needed.

I thought about how, years later, my Facebook newsfeed is still filled with posts about Jeremiah from people who miss him just as much as they did when he died in 2011. These people - they will miss him for the rest of their lives.

Thinking about Jeremiah while I was in the lowest part of my depression reminded me that, just like when Jeremiah's depression told him nobody would miss him, my depression was also lying to me. I truly believe, when I was going through this depression, Jeremiah was my guardian angel. I know, 100 percent, that if Jeremiah could have seen into his future and known how many people would miss him, he never would have done it. But Jeremiah was looking out for me and, because of him, I got that glimpse of my future and it kept me from making that split second, permanent decision. Jeremiah made me realize that, if I died, those closest to me would be ruined by my death just like they were by his.

I'm lucky - because of Jeremiah's mom and other advocates around the world - mental illness is far less stigmatized than it was even seven years ago. For Jeremiah, I don't think he knew what was happening to him because we didn't talk about depression nearly as much. For me, I was lucky because I knew what was happening to me. Because of the work of Mary Reyes, I was able to realize that what I was feeling was depression. It made me realize that depression is an illness that was controlling my mind and that the things my depression was telling me weren't true. Because of Mary's work, I was able to seek help before it was too late.

That's why it's so important to talk about mental illness. That's why I started this blog in the first place - about a month after Jeremiah's death.

I may have not know Jeremiah - but he changed my life.

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