Sept. 23 'Walk & Talk' to raise funds for suicide prevention.
It has been an unofficial tradition in the newspaper industry for many years not to mention the cause of death in obituaries, except in the case of celebrities like Robin Williams, Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade, if the cause is suicide or drug overdose. Instead, it usually says simply that the person “died suddenly.”
However, Leslie Newbold, a Wyndmoor native and Springside alumna, and her husband, William, an architect who grew up in Fort Washington and graduated from Germantown Academy, are choosing a different path. The Chestnut Hill residents who live near St. Martin-in-the-Fields Episcopal Church, where they are members, believe that the honest truth about their family's recent tragedy may help prevent other families from experiencing a similar nightmare.
On May 14, 2022, The Newbold’s son William took his own life.
And this Saturday, Sept. 23, they’re holding a “WILLPOWER 5-K Run/One-Mile Walk + Talk” in the Wissahickon. Registration begins at 8 a.m. for a 9 a.m. start at 200 W. Northwestern Ave., and all funds raised will benefit the American Federation of Suicide Prevention.
William, 22, a former captain of the crew team at Springside Chestnut Hill Academy, was a handsome, athletic, and very popular young man. In the family’s living room is a stack of photos of William with family and friends, and in almost every picture he is seen with a wide smile.
“We now know that he was suffering with very severe depression that he kept hidden,” Leslie told us. “We believe he just didn’t want to appear ‘weak,’ as many young males are taught through societal stereotyping. He was a thoughtful and extremely sensitive soul.”
His parents sensed he was struggling in 2021, when he was attending the College of Charleston in South Carolina.
“We would visit him about once a month that year, checking in on him, asking him how was doing, if he was okay, and what we could do to help,” Leslie said. “He would say he was fine, but just confused because he wasn't sure what he wanted to do with his life. We would assure him that those feelings are not unusual at his age, that he didn’t need to have it all figured out, and that we would always be there for him.”
According to Leslie, they would always leave satisfied that he was okay, asking only that he please keep in better touch so they didn’t have to worry so much.
They now know that they hadn’t recognized the pain he was in, she said.
“William had a happy-go-lucky personality, was always a lot of fun to be with, and could make anyone laugh with his sarcastic humor. He had perfected the use of laughter as a blockade to his sensitive heart.
“So where do you draw the line between the normal stresses that young adults feel and serious mental health issues?” Leslie continued. “It's very hard to know. We know he didn't have the vibrant spark we were used to, but he had great relationships with all his friends, was always going out and had even recently gone to Disney World.”
Will and Leslie finally got William to come home for good in December of 2021 and he applied to several colleges for the fall of 2022. He took a sales position with a retail credit card company and seemed to enjoy the freedom it provided but not the constant rejection. He started to see a therapist and was put on anti-depressant medication.
“We know now that while he said he was taking the medication, at some point he stopped taking it all altogether,” Leslie said.
It is critically important, Leslie added, that young adults understand the way medication works. They may take time to have an impact, may need adjustment and should never be stopped abruptly without a doctor’s consent.
“William had so much going for him, so much to look forward to. He was planning a trip to Greece with his brother and sister that summer, and he was looking forward to hearing back from colleges,” Leslie said, adding that they thought this meant he was “doing okay, that he was safe, and there were sunny days ahead.”
The Newbold family planted William's favorite tree, the cherry blossom, a symbol of optimism and renewal, at St. Martin's Church in his memory. William loved the cherry blossoms in early spring along the Schuylkill River, where he rowed.
Since William’s death, Leslie said, she’s found great solace in a Zoom support group and has discovered that most parents who’ve lost a child to suicide felt “blindsided” by it.
“Suicide is a forever decision,” Leslie said. “It affects so many people and causes so much pain.”
And now Leslie is on a mission to help parents connect with their kids on a deeper level, understand the warning signs of mental illness and true distress, and access resources and support groups.
She is developing an app, called “Wolfpact,” for small groups of individuals to prioritize their mental well-being together. She’s also writing and illustrating a book, titled ‘Never Gone,’ which she hopes will help those experiencing such loss to realize that while their loved one may be physically gone, their spirit remains.
“Grief is a kind of pain that no one prepares you for. It literally feels as though someone has put a clamp on your heart and twisted it, so much so I truly thought I was having a heart attack and I went to see a cardiologist,” Leslie said. “The emotional pain is not just your heart, it’s that heavy lump in your throat, the sinking feeling in the chest, the constant welling up of tears. These are feelings I hope no one else ever has to feel.”
To register for the Sept. 23 event, visit www.chooseyourperception.com
Len Lear can be reached at email@example.com