ORLANDO – “Let’s make sure we put a music symbol and Jamaican flag patch on the jacket to represent what he loved”, says AnnMarie Wong-Allen. She’s decorating a denim jacket in her 22-year-old son, CJ’s, memory. “He loved the ocean, let’s add this wave and this one with the beach.”
AnnMarie has a dual message to share today. One to raise awareness for organ, eye and tissue donation. The other, suicide prevention. September is Suicide Prevention Month. It remains the second leading cause of death among all adolescents.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suicide deaths among Black and African-American teenagers and young adults have increased more than 45% between 2012 and 2019. There are many factors that lead to someone taking their own life. For CJ, it was battling depression from rejection and bullying. “When talking about bullying, we always think about kids bullying. But adults bully too,” she says, “We have to be more aware of the things that we say, the things that we do.”
AnnMarie says CJ felt rejection within his family, which also contributed to his depression. “He never had a close relationship with his father,” she says, “So I think he was looking at his step-father to fill that gap, but his step-father was emotionally and verbally abusive.” AnnMarie quickly divorced because the relationship was too toxic for her and CJ. “I saw him just changing from night-to-day, just so quickly”.
So, AnnMarie bravely moved to Florida with no job, no friends, just CJ. “I left my comfort zone because I had to save him.” CJ was a good student in high school and aspired to be an EMT or pilot. Right before his death, he was a delivery driver for the world’s largest package delivery company. AnnMarie fondly remembers a conversation she had with him a short time before he took his own life. She says, “He told me, Mom, give me a few months, I’m going to move you out of this apartment and into a house.” But that never happened.
AnnMarie says one night, after a long day of delivering packages, CJ returned to the fulfillment center and a supervisor snapped at him, embarrassing him. She recalls CJ calling her on his way home, upset. “He called and said Mom I don’t know why people continue to treat me this way.” AnnMarie says he came home that night, never said a word to her, walked into this room, turned on his game and took a shower. She said she didn’t think anything of it because that was his routine. But the next thing she heard was a gunshot.
“I think he purposefully did not want to look at me or say anything to me because he knew what he was going to do.” She thinks he wanted her to be present that night and she’s grateful she was. “He could have gone somewhere else in his car and done it. But you know what, I’m glad it happened that way, because he didn’t die immediately and because of that, I was able to say yes to organ donation”.
CJ was later declared brain dead at the hospital. But because he remained on a ventilator, he was able to save four lives through organ donation and provide sight to two people with his corneas. “I wasn’t able to save him, he wasn’t able to save himself. But through him others will live.”
So AnnMarie wants to encourage people to always be kind and considerate when talking to strangers or even friends. “There’s a saying that sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt. But that’s not true. Words do hurt. You don’t know what someone’s going through. It wasn’t that his brain was wired a certain way and that caused mental illness and depression. His depression was caused by the way people treated him. And he didn’t know how to deal with it”, she says. She deals with her loss by taking comfort in knowing that CJ still lives on.
“He lives on through them (recipients), someone’s heart is beating. Because of him someone has a better quality of sight. Someone has a liver. Someone has a kidney that functional. Just knowing that others have life because of him, gives me a sense of knowing that he’s still here.”