Jason and Katy Erwin have been forced to deal with a kind of pain they hope no parents will ever have to understand, after their teenage son took his own life in January.
Eli Erwin was 15 years old when died.
His flowing blonde hair was rivaled only by his smile, which is why Jason and Katy can’t explain or forget the early morning hours of January 20.
Jason knew something was wrong when he descended the stairs to the basement, in the same corner which has become his art studio he found Eli had taken his own life.
“I just walked into his room and found him in the closet. I still can’t believe it. That was it, he was gone,” Jason says holding back tears.
His mom Katy was just as shaken.
“So there’s this surprise element and the shock, the grief, the loss,” she says.
“I would’ve tried to convince him that there’s other solutions, there’s other options, other ways to go about thing,” Katy added about her son’s death.
Ten months later this now family of three is no closer to finding understanding. Eli had struggled with depression but like the canvas beneath his portrait, the signs were hidden.
“We were doing the best we felt like we were doing but maybe he saw it as we're just someone else who's against him,” Jason says.
And the Erwin’s are hardly the only parents in pain.
“You’ve got a whole community now that is at higher risk for suicide,” says Samantha Nadler from the Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network.
“We saw several students die in the Middle Tennessee are at the time,” Nadler adds.
Last year, 49 children under the age of 17 died by suicide in Tennessee, that's up from a 10 year low of just 31 in 2008.
“It is important that we're having this conversation because suicide is a silent killer and it is killing people because of the silence around the issue,” Nadler says about the silence which often surrounds suicide.
And there is no need to tell that to Jason and Katy Erwin.
“The days are just very empty. A lot of emptiness, we want him there,” Katy says.
So imagine how they felt when Eli started coming back home.
When Eli died, two thousand people packed St. Henry’s Church to say goodbye to the Nashville Christian Academy Sophomore. One of those people was Jean Marie Moles, a close family friend of the Erwin’s.
In her eulogy she told every person in the church to take out their cell phones, then she said this, “I told them to set a reminder on your birthday to write a letter to Katy and Jason telling them something they remember about Eli.”
That was back in January, the Erwin’s have been receiving letters every day since.
“I never met him but I know he was a hero,” Katy says reading one of the letters about her son aloud.
They don't come with priority postage but to Katy and Jason they are worthy of first class.
“I feel proud of him,” Katy adds.
Suicide makes little sense but in these letters, they've made some sense of Eli's death.
“It's comforting to know that people are coming around to the idea of 'well let's talk about this, let's figure stuff out,’” Katy said.
Suicide may be a silent killer but Katy and Jason know silence, is no way to be heard.
For more information about suicide prevention: http://tspn.org/. For the National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255