‘Every day is a struggle for us now but … it’s our wish that her death would not be in vain’

‘Every day is a struggle for us now but … it’s our wish that her death would not be in vain’

By Grace Thornton
The Alabama Baptist

In hindsight, there’s always “could’ve” and “should’ve.”

But for Joseph and Patrice Bright, in the months and weeks leading up to their 14-year-old daughter’s suicide, the signs were just not there, they said.

Anna was a cheerleader and a talented artist and musician. She wrote an entire fan fiction novel and drew impressive sketches. She was smart and creative — she made all As in her AP classes.

“She was a girl who looked forward to the future,” Patrice said. “She wanted to be a forensic artist and she made everybody smile. She had a tender heart for people and befriended everybody.”

Anna had a voracious desire to learn — she taught herself sign language, photography, several musical instruments and art.

“We went on a family trip to Disney in March, and she learned every Disney song she could before we left for that trip,” Patrice said.

That trip was a precious time for their family — Joseph, Patrice, Anna and her 11-year-old brother, Samuel.

They had no idea that less than three weeks later, Anna would take her own life.

After school on April 18, Anna called her mom at work while she walked from the bus stop to the house, just as she always did.

“We talked about her day, just like normal,” Patrice said. They talked about an art project Anna was working on — a family crest.

Then Anna got home, and Patrice told her she would see her in a little while. They both said, “I love you.”

That was the last time they would talk.

When Patrice pulled up at the house a couple of hours later, it was swarming with first responders. Her heart sank as a policeman asked her to park and get out of her car. She saw Joseph walking toward her, a policeman under each arm, supporting him as he walked.

Life was forever changed.

“I couldn’t believe it — still can’t,” Joseph said. “Not only was she a happy girl, she was scared of needles, spiders, getting hurt. I couldn’t believe she would ever take her own life.”

Reasons why

The Brights spent the night at a friend’s house that night, then spent three months living at a hotel — they couldn’t bear to go back in the house.

They leaned on God. They tried to keep breathing. And they tried to piece together what had happened.

On the sidewalk outside his house on April 18, Joseph had gasped out the words, “How would she have known to do that?”

A policeman standing nearby gently told him that, though not exactly the same, Anna had modeled her death after the teenage girl on the Netflix series “13 Reasons Why,” a graphic show about a teenage girl who commits suicide.

Without her parents’ knowledge — and without their permission — Anna had watched all 13 episodes of the show.

“We had talked about the show and I told her I didn’t want her to watch it,” Patrice said.

The two had talked about the show when Anna brought it up, and they had talked about suicide before too.

Patrice said she and Anna always had their best deep discussions about life and God on the way to school in the mornings, and the subject had come up before, after actor Robin Williams had committed suicide in 2014.

“She had asked if people who committed suicide went to heaven, and I told her that God’s hand is a big hand — nothing can snatch you out of it if you are really His,” Patrice said. “But I told her it cuts short the life God meant for you to live, and it hurts the people who love you.”

After Anna’s death, a classmate turned in a journal that Anna had left with him. In it, she had described deep struggles against the darkness she felt. She threw the journal in his locker at the end of the day on April 18 as she was leaving school and told him to read it the next day.

When he did, he found she had written about what she was going to do.

“We have talked to counselors since and found out that she likely had major depression that was hidden behind her infectious smile,” Patrice said. “We now know that she was determined to hide the spiritual warfare within her.”

It’s crushing, Joseph said. As parents, they did everything they knew to do to raise their children well. They were present. They asked good questions. They taught them to know God, and Anna had professed faith at church and in the journal where she wrote about her struggles.

But as parents, they still fight against deep guilt.

“Sometimes we feel like we are going to come unglued but God reels us back to truth and Scripture,” he said.

And both of them can see God’s hand at work caring for them. They found a new house. Someone donated four burial plots to the family. Several people came to faith at Anna’s funeral.

“God has left stamps on our lives,” Patrice said. “He has met every single need we’ve had, even when we wake up and don’t know how we will even survive the day.”

Just weeks before Anna’s death, Joseph had resigned as pastor of a small, rural Baptist church, feeling it was time to get his family in a place where they could be involved in a youth group and be more a part of the community where they lived.

Incredible support

“We feel like God was getting us to the place where we needed to be in order to be ministered to at this time,” Patrice said. Their church, The Branch at Mission Hills, Alabaster, has supported them in an incredible way, she said. A group of men have come around Joseph to hold him up, just as a group of women have for Patrice.

School counselors, teachers and friends have rallied around Samuel too.

Patrice has even been able to share their story a few times, most recently with a church in a neighboring community and at a townhall meeting on mental health.

“This journey is not something we would’ve ever chosen for ourselves but we want God to use it,” Patrice said. “Every day is a struggle for us now. But it’s our desire that her life be a testimony to those around us. It’s our wish that her death would not be in vain.

“Giving people hope no matter what they are facing is our new life mission.”


For more information on the Netflix series “13 Reasons Why” and ways to help prevent teenage suicide, click here.