Family looks to help teens after daughter’s suicide

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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich--  She was a junior at Grand Rapids Christian High School. She was a talented photographer who loved the outdoors, mountain climbing and whitewater rafting.  She had an infectious laugh.

But inside, she was hurting.

Last December, Vivian Pennock could fight no more. Battling depression and anxiety, she eventually took her own life at the age of 17.

To this day, her family and friends are still unsure why.

Vivian Pennock

She's described as an amazing, vibrant girl - a lover of poetry and books.

"If I had ten more minutes with Vivian today, it would never happen. But, I’ll never get that," said Eric Pennock.

He's overcome with grief, struggling with the devastating loss of his own daughter.

"It’s on my mind every moment I’m awake," he said, adding that there are no words to describe his pain. "I haven’t moved on. I’m stuck."

It's a death everyone is handling differently, but something many agree on is that they didn't see it coming. In an effort to help others, Vivian's family reached out to FOX 17, hoping that through their family's darkest hours, Vivian can bring light and hope to others.

Vivian and her father, Eric

Christina Bouma was Vivian's best friend. They met freshman year of high school. She told FOX 17 she knew Vivian was sad, but didn't think it would go this far.

"I don’t think anyone thinks it’s going to go that far," Bouma said. "It's a lot to take in."

Vivian's aunt, Missie Polakovich, agrees.

"It’s been awful. There are no words to say how bad it is to watch your brother be lost and not know what to do," Missie said. "If she would have just known that there was so much help."

Her family says Vivian was hospitalized about a year and a half ago at Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services. After her time there, Vivian's father said, "she seemed to grow out of it [depression]," adding that she didn't talk negatively and the poetry she was writing wasn't so dark.

"We had gotten to a point where we thought she was out of the woods. She didn’t want to take medication anymore. She didn’t want to go to counseling anymore. The way she expressed it to her mother and I that 'she was better now,'" Pennock said.

But Pennock says he still had something in the back of is mind.

"So many kids hide their pain from other kids or from adults in their life due to whatever expectations those people have on them," Pennock said.

Suicide in the U.S has surged to its highest levels in nearly 30 years, according to the New York Times.

According to Pediatric Psychologist Adelle Cadieux from Spectrum Health, four out of five kids considering suicide will inform someone that they're thinking about it, but it's not always an adult.

"There may be a lot of reasons why kids might not actually tell their parents what they’re feeling and thinking. Sometimes it may simply be, you know, they’re feeling really down, like they’re a burden to others, so they don’t want to burden anyone else with their feelings of suicide, or how depressed you are," Cadieux said.

Although statistics suggest adults are at higher risk for committing suicide, Cadieux says the teenage years can be difficult, especially if a child has depression, anxiety, is abusing drugs or getting teased.

"For some of those kids, the pressure of getting good grades, the pressure of maintaining all of those friendships and being active and doing all of the things they’re trying to do, sometimes that can be too much," Cadieux said.

Cadieux says it's important to talk to your kids about how they're feeling, but know there's only so much you can do. Cadieux added that it's important to recognize you're not at fault.

"A loss of a child is so difficult to begin with," Cadieux said. "Really looking at the supports within your family, within your community, within your friends is so important in reaching out in that support, so you’re not grieving that loss alone. It wasn’t something you did wrong. This was not your fault. You did not cause it and for many parents, that’s really hard to come to terms with."

If your child is depressed, you'll see changes in their mood and behavior. They'll be withdrawn and no longer engage in activities they used to enjoy, according to Cadieux.

Eric's advice, love your children with all of your heart.

"I don’t have any big solutions or I would have used them," he said. "Spend time with them. Love them. Accept them for wherever they are. Try and make yourself available to listen, so they know you would listen. Spend time with them, even if they don’t want to spend time with you."

Vivian Pennock

Vivian Pennock

Now, the very family that's lost in tragedy is using heartbreak to drive their mission: Keeping Vivian's memory alive.

"I want kids to know, 'you’re not alone.' The problem is it’s not talked about and people don’t say, 'it’s okay to be sad'," said Alex Polakovich. "Showing emotion is a part of being strong, talking about it is a part of being strong."

After Vivian passed away, Alex made it her mission to talk to kids and teens about suicide. She wants kids to know they're not alone.

"The hardest part for me is that I can help all of these kids and I can talk to hundreds and hundreds of kids, but I couldn’t save my cousin, and that’s hard knowing that," she said, adding people need to talk about depression and anxiety more.

"People don’t talk about it [suicide] because society says, 'you have to be a winner. You have to be really good. You have to be successful.' And you know, you have to take a step back and say, 'okay, the people who are the most successful are the one’s that have failed the most'," Alex said.

Okaytosay is a great resource for both kids and parents who need information on suicide and suicide prevention. You can also call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.

Learn more about Vivian Pennock in her obituary, here.

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1 Comment

  • Yup

    I was there in a part of my life. To the parents you where there we know you loved us and you cared but we hurt in different ways you could not fix. I tried a few times but not successful and now I’m better but know you didn’t cause or provoke it. it’s a demon that we only see our actions have no reason and we know your love is true. I’m sure God and her are at peace. Trust me as being someone close to the end we love our families but try to flee life. May god be with you always and know your angel is among you.