Sophie’s Story

As told by her mother Julie McNeill

Sophie was 22 when she passed. The 20s are very vulnerable for our kids. It’s a very stressful time. You know, they’re coming into adulthood, kind of coming to grips with what they want to do, and maybe they don’t know whether they can do it. There is a lot of stress, I think.

Sophie, graduated with honors from St. Louis Catholic High School in Lake Charles, La. She was a well-liked girl, you know, had lots of friends, went to every school dance. She was popular, kind, pretty, funny. Just everything. But she decided to go to LSU Baton Rouge two hours from where we lived and go into chemical engineering.

That was kind of a shock. Like, why are you going into that? Why that, you know? Previously she had thought, “Oh, I’m going to be a dentist or I’m going to be a nurse, I’m going to do that.” But she was like, “I want to make a lot of money.” I don’t make a lot of money. She didn’t come from a wealthy family with a lot of money. But she said, “I think I can get a four-year engineering degree, and just graduate not have to go on and rack up more student loans, blah, blah, blah. I can do this.. I can do this.”  But it was hard.

She struggled with it. And after like two years, and she lost TOPS, which is a scholarship program in Louisiana, if you keep a certain grade point average and  a certain number of hours, you basically have your tuition paid for. She lost TOPS because of lack of hours because she would have too much on her plate and she dropped some classes. She was struggling and finally after, like, two years, I was like, Sophie, why don’t why don’t you just change your major? It’s okay. I mean, I couldn’t have gotten as far as you gotten.”

But you know, in her book, it was just another failure, I guess.

She did finally switch her major. She got into the associate sociology program. She wanted to be a clinical sociologist, help people. But then the pandemic struck, and classes became online, and Sophie did not learn well that way. She was better with at live teachers and in a group setting. I mean, I would have a hard time I think getting a good degree online.

She did well, for a little while, but the last year? Well, the last semester really, January 2021 and so forth. Towards the end, I think, she just… something happened because she did not do well in her classes, which just doesn’t really make any difference. It makes sense though, knowing. I guess her depression really altered the way she could cope.

She didn’t do well. She actually wrote her note, on the back of a letter from the LSU financial aid office, basically saying, we noticed that you either didn’t drop classes in time, or didn’t complete classes. We’re going to do an accounting of your financial aid, and you may owe money.

I never knew this. I thought she was doing okay. I thought it was going to take her a little longer time to graduate because she wasn’t taking many classes at the time, which I was fine with. I had encouraged her at one point during this whole pandemic thing to take a break. Just take a break, work and go back later. But she didn’t take a break.

I asked her at one point, “How did you do this semester?” And she said, “Oh, good. Good.”
“So you kept your GPA up enough to be able to get the financial aid?”

And she was like, “Yeah, yeah.”

After she passed, I looked on her My LSU account, and she had failed her classes. And surely she had to know that when she told me that. Maybe she just didn’t think it had come to pass yet, I don’t know. That’s why I believe she wasn’t thinking logically.

In colleges and universities in the United States, suicide is one of the most common causes of death among students. Each year, approximately 24,000 college students attempt suicide while 1,100 students succeed in their attempt, making suicide the second-leading cause of death among U.S. college students.

– Deborah J. Taub; Jalonda Thompson “College Student Suicide.” New Directions for Student Services.

I don’t know if the letter came that day, or if she opened it that day and saw it and realized. The fact that she couldn’t handle the classes that she was taking says more to me than anything, because she was a smart girl. And that was surely the depression.

I found out more after she passed by just reading some of her journals. Reading, you know, like just not being able to get out of bed. It was an accomplishment for her to get out of bed, change into something else to wear and move to the living room.

Even though she was she was in major depression, I just had no clue how bad it was. I knew she was depressed. She was on medication. So many people struggle with depression and anxiety these days, but they seem to manage it with medication and therapy.She had been in some therapy, from like October of 2020. through January, in this program at Jefferson Oaks Behavioral something or other in Baton Rouge. And she liked the group therapy. She had texted me in January, saying, “Hey, Mom, I just want to let you know that I’m feeling really good lately. I’m feeling like my old self.” And I said, “Oh, honey, that makes me so happy. What do you attribute it to?” And she said, “You know, group therapy, exercising. I know that taking care of my body helps my mind and getting into my spirituality.” And I said, “That’s great.”

They had an intruder in their house in March, which had prompted Sophie to go buy a gun, and that’s what she used.

It was a really creepy thing, like some homeless guy in the neighborhood had gotten into this house they were sharing. This person had been like watching the house and it freaked Sophie out. They got alarms, ring cameras. I remember even asking her, do you want to stay there? That’s another point where it’s like, why didn’t I get her out of there? Why didn’t I just get her out of there? But she calls her uncle and her dad. Her uncle works for the Calcasieu Parish Sheriff’s Department. They both advised her to buy a gun. And I was like, oh, Sophie, please don’t do that. Please don’t buy a gun. You don’t really need a gun. If she wouldn’t have had that gun, would she be alive now. or would she have found a different way? There are so many horrible ways.

The majority of suicide attempts use poisoning or overdose, and result in a fatality only two percent of the time. Firearm suicides, however, result in a fatality in 85 percent of attempts.

Harvard School of Public Health

The day Sophie died I was worried. I worried about Sophie. She would even say, “You don’t worry about Chloe” (her sister). But I do worry about Chloe. A mom worries about her kids. When Chole’s at a concert, I want her to get home. You want your kids to be safe. But with Sophie, we had some episodes where she wasn’t answering her phone and had just cold turkey stopped taking her medication and couldn’t get out of bed and was in a bad spot.

She had a couple of those times when I could not get a hold of her and I started calling her friends. And then a friend would go check on her. And she said to me, “Mom, you can’t. You’ve got to stop calling my friends. It’s inappropriate. Stop.” and I’m like, okay. I wanted to give her the confidence. I’m like, okay, I don’t want her to think that I think something’s wrong with her.

She had come to see me in Houston where I moved after we lost our house in Lake Charles to Hurricane Laura. She came to see me the weekend before on June 8, 9 and 10. She just did it. It was a Sunday and she says “I’m on my way to Houston. My anxiety is so high. And I’m basically all alone. My friends have gone to their hometowns.” And I was like, “OK, come.”

But what she said wasn’t entirely true. She had been working. She worked at a little restaurant. She was a waitress and she liked her job. I thought she was getting ready to go on a road trip with friends on that Wednesday, which she did. But when she came to my house, I could just tell she was just down. I wish I would have delved more into it then.I have a lot of guilt about that. I had a couple of days where she was in my sight and I wish I would have just like, grabbed her and said, “Sophie, what are you feeling?”

But I thought, well, she’s just feeling down again. She’s going to go on this road trip with her friends. She said she wanted to go. And I thought, well, when she gets back she and I will go on a little trip and I will get to talk to her more.

I thought I had time. I thought we were going to go on a little trip. And then I would talk to her and it’s haunting. You know, there, she was sitting on the side of my bed that morning, she was sitting on the side of my bed and looking at some pictures I have on the bedside of like me when I was a little girl with my dad, her sister a picture of her, you know, and the way she was sitting there looking at those. I came into the bedroom and I saw her but I just let it go. But the way she was sitting and stuff, it was like I don’t know what was going through her head. I can only imagine now like she was just looking at those pictures and just feeling really sad.

And she did say when she came to see me, she says “I want to finish up at U of H (University of Houston). I want to move to Houston.” And I was like, “Okay.”

But then I slept on it and I thought, well, she’s got the financial aid at LSU. Let her just do her undergrad finish up and then she can move to Houston. So I sent her a text the next morning. I said, the more thought I’ve given it, why don’t you just finish it LSU. Just finish up. And she didn’t really say. I don’t know if she had already read the letter and knew. Well, I kind of screwed that up.  

“She looked at me when I was going to work that Tuesday morning before she headed out. And I said, ‘Honey, you look so tired’ because she did. She had circles under her eyes and she was just… She said, ‘I’m always tired.'”

Julie McNeill

She always knew she didn’t have the financial aid. It was going to be a problem going to school because I just don’t have the money. And, and I don’t even think I could have gotten private loans, you know. So that was a barrier, that was a problem for her. And I could tell she was just not herself. She was feeling really bad. And you know, with me being in Houston and her being in Baton Rouge, I only saw her twice in the year 2021. I saw her at Easter when I had gotten settled into a new little place. She came for Easter and then she came to see me that time.

She looked at me when I was going to work that Tuesday morning before she headed out. And I said, “Honey, you look so tired” because she did. She had circles under her eyes and she was just… She said, “I’m always tired.” I’m sure I kissed her and hugged her before I left because I always did that. I just can’t remember. I know I did because I usually kiss both cheeks and then her forehead. I told her to drive safe, call me when she got back. Let me know. And then she went on the road trip on Wednesday, was back in Baton Rouge on Monday and Wednesday night she was gone.

I had a fear in my gut for a long time regarding Sophie and her depression. When she was 17, she went to a therapist because of a breakup with the boy. She was devastated. And she was like, I need a therapist. I need a therapist. I found her a therapist, and she really loved that therapist.The therapist called me one day and said, Do you have a gun in the house? And I said, yes, I do. Someone had bought me a gun when I was 25. She says, well, you might want to get rid of it. And I said, what? What? She says, Sophie’s not suicidal, but we talked about suicide. And she asked Sophie if she would have a plan. And Sophie said, Well, I guess I’d use a gun. The therapist said Sophie was not suicidal at that moment, at that time, but just in case, get rid of the gun, which I did. I emptied it and I then I hid it.

I don’t have it now. My family took it from me after Sophie.

Published by Tim Rowden

The Grief Project is dedicated to sharing the stories of suicide loss survivors as well as information and research on suicide, mental health, advocacy and prevention. I’m a suicide loss survivor, husband, father, writer and journalist, with 33 years experience as a reporter and editor. I believe sharing our stories can help help others who are struggling, whether they are loss survivors or struggling with depression or other mental health issues. We honor them and honor our loved ones by sharing our stories.

3 thoughts on “Sophie’s Story

  1. The stories we all have. Sophie looks like a very marvelous soul. Sending hugs momma. I truly know your pain. So many parts of your story are the same as mine. I don’t even really cry anymore over my boys. I haven’t had a chance to grieve really. I’m raising my grandson for my son Alex who passed.

    Like

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