Story headline: Rewriting the epilogue
Story headline: Rewriting the epilogue
story by JULIANNA LOWE photos by ALLIE HENDRICKS illustrations by BREE GRAVATTE

TRIGGER WARNING: The following story contains graphic descriptions of violence, self-harm, suicide and suicide ideation that some people may find disturbing. Reader discretion is advised.

One midnight in early February 2020, Amanda Marris awoke to see her 15-year-old daughter, Kaylee Harrod, standing over her, holding out her blood dripping, cut up arms. Harrod had made her first suicide attempt. 

That April, Harrod attempted suicide again by ingesting two bottles of prescription drugs from her stepmother’s medicine cabinet while staying at her father’s house. Harrod’s older sister and her sister’s boyfriend found Harrod with 24 pills in her body, unable to successfully shake her awake.

"I was not waking up. I was stuck in a dream"

-Kaylee Harrod

Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the U.S., killing almost 48,000 people in 2019 according to the Centers for Disease Control. However, among individuals between the ages of 10 and 34, suicide was the second leading cause of death.

National Suicide Prevention Month rolls around every September, fading in and out of social media timelines in the blink of an eye. Meanwhile, survivors of suicide attempts and those that have lost loved ones to suicide — called survivors of a suicide — fight for suicide prevention and awareness constantly.

“A suicide that is treated with shame, secrecy and anger might be more likely to cause someone to feel even more depressed, hopeless and afraid to ask for help, which could lead to an increased risk of suicide,” said Karl Laves, associate director at the WKU Counseling and Testing Center.

A suicide in a family can lead to an increased risk of suicide in other members of the family, but the correlation is not strong and too many other variables affect suicide, Laves said.

Years before Harrod made her two suicide attempts, her mother attempted suicide.

While going through a divorce with Harrod’s father, Marris, an occupational therapist in Louisville, was hospitalized as the result of her suicide attempt. Later, Marris would be the one to save her daughter from taking her own life.

During the first week of February 2020, Harrod was staying at her mom’s house. She waited until everyone was asleep to make her attempt.

“She had some girls calling, starting some drama, and one of the girls made her feel less than,” Marris said. “I don’t know what went through Kaylee’s head at that point, but about midnight she came and woke me up.”

Harrod had created cuts from her elbow to wrist, five to 10 times on each side. She was covered in blood, Marris said.

Marris’ wife, a nurse, stopped Harrod’s bleeding. Marris and Harrod’s father decided to take their daughter to the hospital in the morning, after she had rested, Marris said.

“She slept in bed right next to me because I wouldn’t let her out of my sight,” Marris said.

Marris took her daughter to Our Lady of Peace, a non-profit psychiatric hospital in Louisville. Harrod returned to school after two days at the hospital, and she fell back into her normal routine, attending school and playing basketball.

Amanda Marris (left) and her daughter, Kaylee Harrod, both attempted suicide at different times in their lives — Marris in 2016 and Harrod twice in 2020. Marris did what she could after her attempt to stay healthy for her family. “I was trying to focus on myself and my kids, and what I could do to help myself for them,” she said. Their family now talks openly and watches out for certain triggers and signs. “I didn’t take it serious the first time,” Harrod said. “After the second time, I knew I didn’t want to put my family through that again.”

Most of Harrod’s family knew about her suicide attempt, but outside of this circle of people, only her closest friends were aware, Marris said.

“I wore a sleeve over my arm because I didn’t want people to see it,” Harrod said. “I got the courage to stop wearing it after my arm healed back up.”

Now that Harrod is more comfortable talking about her attempt, most people in her life know about her scars and the story behind them, Marris said.

A couple of months later, in April, Seneca High School was not in session due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Harrod stayed with her father on the night that she attempted suicide for the second time. 

“Somebody got underneath my skin, and I just started thinking and thinking and thinking,” Harrod said. 

After Harrod’s older sister and her sister’s boyfriend found her that night. They were the ones who called 911. The paramedics that arrived to take Harrod to the hospital saw the bottles of medicine that she had taken, and they told her sister that she had no chance of coming out alive, Marris said. 

Once at the hospital, Harrod had woken up and became combative. She was given several shots of Ativan, a sedative, to calm down, while eight nurses and two security guards restrained her, Marris said.

“She was definitely not the same Kaylee,” Marris said.

Harrod remained at Norton Hospital in Louisville for a week before going to Our Lady of Peace for her daily outpatient visits. Every day for a month, Harrod engaged in an eight-hour mix of therapy and school sessions, working on getting better while continuing her education.

“I know that I scared everybody, and I made a promise to myself that I would never, ever put my family through that ever again,” Harrod said. “I knew that anytime I felt alone, I needed to put myself around somebody and talk to them about what was going on inside my head.”

Marris said that the majority of Harrod’s anxiety and depression stemmed from her younger years, which were spent in a small Catholic school.

“She knew from an early age that she was different from the other kids because she’s gay,” Marris said. “She had a hard time trying to figure out friendships. Now that she’s open with being out, she’s more coming into herself.”

Through Harrod’s two suicide attempts and her own suicide attempt years ago, Marris has gotten closer to her daughters, Kaylee and Madison. She is now more attentive to their needs, Marris said.

“It’s made me stronger,” Marris said. “I know that I need to be more aware of my own actions.”

Harrod still struggles with both anxiety and depression and currently takes Zoloft to manage her mental illnesses.

White House, Tenn., freshman McKenna Adams lost her father to suicide when she was 3 years old. She has missed having a father at special events and in everyday life. “It affected me mentally,” Adams said. “Suicide is different when you lose someone to that over something else.”

McKenna Adams lost her father, Joshua, to suicide when he was 22 years old. Adams, a freshman from White House, Tennessee, was just 3 years old when her father passed away, but his suicide left an imprint on her life.

“It left a hole in my heart that I still carry with me today,” Adams said. “This is a death that has impacted my life and will do so until the day I die.”

Adams said her father’s death was unexpected.

Most of what Adams knows about her father, she learned from those close to him, she said.

“He was a kind-hearted, genuine person who had a smile on his face constantly,” she said. “On top of this, his life was just getting started as he had just welcomed his child into the world.”

One year before he died, her father Joshua lost most of his physical abilities in a car accident.

After the car accident, Adams said her dad was left with bleeding in his brain. He had to start taking medication to heal, and he was in physical therapy relearning all of his basic motor skills. He didn’t even know how to walk, she said.

Undergoing this trauma was difficult for her dad, Adams said. She said that it nearly made him a different person toward the end of his life.

Not only was Joshua recovering from the car accident, but he also struggled with depression throughout his recovery. His physical and mental struggles were kept private, Adams said.

“Despite his struggles, he took care of me always,” Adams said. “We had a very close relationship the whole three years I got to know him, which I am beyond thankful for.”

After losing her father, Adams said she lost other parts of her life. She missed out on having her father around for daddy-daughter dances, Father’s Day, prom, learning to drive, school events and more.

“Being around friends who had their dads show up for events throughout school was really hard for me and still is as I am getting older,” Adams said. “I still struggle with knowing my dad is not here to watch me grow up. I want a family and to get married, and it pains me to know my father won’t be a part of any of that.”

Adams’ maternal grandfather became her only father figure, taking her under his wing and offering to walk her down the aisle when she gets married. He died earlier this year.

There are three patterns that are commonly seen in survivors of a suicide, Laves said. One of the most common consequences of suicide is the lack of understanding about it in society, leaving people that have lost loved ones to suicide feeling like outsiders.

“Suicide continues to be a taboo topic for many people, and it has a significant amount of myth, stereotype and bias associated with it,” Laves said in an email. “So many survivors struggle with not being able to grieve openly about the death.”

Adams expressed that it is difficult to openly mourn her father.

“Young people feel alone and like they can’t talk to anyone,” Adams said. “I struggled with it all my teenage years.”

In Adams’ experience, talking to a counselor about suicidal thoughts leads to the counselor telling the parents, and sometimes, opening up about suicidal thoughts is thought as young people seeking attention. Even schools and social media are not open about suicide awareness or prevention, Adams said.

Laves said survivors are often afraid of experiences like shame, bullying, judgement and bias. Occasionally, families do not want to have a funeral because they feel ashamed about the cause of death, he said.

“Some families will lie about the death; there are instances of law enforcement, medical professionals and coroners making a false report of the cause of death,” Laves said. “For quite some time, high schools would not allow students to hold memorials for students that killed themselves fearing a contagion effect.”

Suicide contagion, as defined by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in 2019, is the phenomenon of direct exposure to suicide or suicide ideation causing an increase in the spread of suicidal thoughts or actions.

Survivors of a suicide also bear a hefty weight of guilt for their loved one’s suicide or suicide attempt, Laves said.

“The horror of losing someone leaves many survivors wondering what they could have done to prevent the death,” Laves said. “When we feel that much pain, we wish it was our fault just so we could prevent it.”

Adams said that a tsunami of emotions consumes the loved ones of someone who commits suicide. Of those feelings, he said the strongest are anger, sadness, abandonment and rejection.

“I personally struggled with wondering why my father left me, and I still do sometimes,” Adams said. “I always wonder why I wasn’t enough to keep my father alive.”

The biggest pattern of change for survivors of a suicide is that they feel like they are outsiders, unable to fit in with the people around them. Their lives have been interrupted, and they can’t ever go back, Laves said.

All survivors of a suicide cope in unique, personal ways, Laves said.

“Some survivors cope by suppressing or disavowing their feelings which can lead to depression,” Laves said. “Some become advocates. They get involved in suicide prevention activities, which are growing every year.  Some turn to religion, while some surrender their religion.”

As a young woman, Adams said she has found it hard to open up to a masculine figure. Her mother has been the one to step in and fill the void left from her father’s death, teaching her the things that her father would’ve been there to teach her, she said.

“All I can do at this point is try to spread awareness and learn more about suicide,” Adams said.

As an advocate for suicide awareness and prevention, Adams has found a voice on social media, advocating for schools and parents to pay closer attention to the mental health of their children. She also advocates for kindness to everyone, and for speaking up, unashamedly, about suicide.

“You may not know it, but everyone is struggling with something they may not talk about,” Adams said. “Some of the happiest people you know could be fighting a suicidal battle. That’s why it’s beyond important to be generously kind to everyone you meet.”

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
Lifeline Chat, for those who are deaf or hard of hearing: