After losing his 12-year-old son to suicide, one dad is attempting to promote mental health awareness amid a pandemic that has stolen the lives of old and young.
Hayden Hunstable was almost 13-years-old when on April 17, 2020, in Aledo, Texas, Hayden hung himself in the closet of his bedroom.
His dad, Brad Hunstable, believes Hayden’s suicide was a sudden reaction to a swath of circumstances.
“He wasn’t a depressed kid,” Hunstable, 42, shares. “He hated online school; he wasn’t around his friends. He was bored.”
As Hayden wasn’t able to see his friends, he would frequently play Fortnite on his Xbox. And his parents relaxed the rules regarding online time and even purchased him a new gaming monitor to make him feel more relaxed. Now, when Hunstable searches for answers to his son’s death, he thinks of the monitor, which, he later learned, his son accidentally broke just before his tragic death.
“Kids make more out of a situation than it is,” Hunstable says. “They don’t know the sun is going to come up tomorrow. In that second, you’re overwhelmed with this sense of passion of sorts.”
After Hayden’s death, “I didn’t know up from down, forward or backwards,” says Hunstable. “Literally, you’re in a fog.”
The family, including Hayden’s mom April, 39, and sisters Addy, 17, and Kinlee, 9, stayed temporarily with Hunstable’s parents after the tragic death, where they huddled by the campfire, “really grieving and crying and telling stories,” says Hunstable.
Two days after burying Hayden, Hunstable decided to share his thoughts and began recording on his iPhone. “I just felt like I needed to share my thoughts.”
“COVID killed my son but not how you think,” he said in the video, which he posted online. “I believe my son would be alive today if he had been in school. I don’t want his memory to be the last mistake he made. I want his memory to be that he made a big difference in the world, he lit a flame, a spark around the world.”
“The stories I get would just blow your mind,” Hunstable says. “People pour their hearts out about suicide and how no one talks about it. People just sweep it under the rug. And so that was the point, that maybe we have a platform and maybe this was Hayden’s mission.”
Since Hayden died — the family created a nonprofit, appropriately named Hayden’s Corner, which is dedicated to educating parents and kids about mental health. Hunstable’s focus is to provide resources to parents to discuss suicide with their children — “because not talking about it gets people killed.”
“We didn’t have that conversation with Hayden,” he adds. “And we loved him every day.”
Additionally, the Hunstables produced a short documentary, Almost Thirteen, that shares their story and started a PSA campaign around the slogan #ConversationsMatter.
And despite the pain — Brad says he continues to develop a relationship with Hayden.
“I still talk to him and pray,” he says. “Even if there’s nothing there — and I don’t know what’s there. You know, whether people believe in God or not is really not my concern. I’m going to choose the belief because that’s the only chance I have to see my son again, and be sane, frankly. That hope is important.”
When he thinks about his son being alive — Hunstable knows exactly what the two would be doing.
“We’d play football, play some catch,” Hunstable says. “We’d eat some wings. I’d kick his butt first, wrestle with him and tickle the heck out of him. And you know, just look at him, just watch him, and smile.”
With a background in the creative and educational fields, Amelia Finefrock is freelance writer, singer-songwriter and nanny based in Chicago.
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