I reached out to Alysia and Dean Valoras in April, about a month after it was reported in local media that their daughter Alexandra had died by suicide.
Since then, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has released a report stating that suicide rates have been rising in nearly every state, and the nation was stunned by the suicides of two celebrities who personified success and achievement, designer Kate Spade and travel and food writer Anthony Bourdain.
Starting in April, Alysia and Dean hosted me for hours of conversation at their kitchen table. They put me in contact with some of Alexandra’s friends and other people who knew her.
And they shared a copy of their daughter’s journal. I quote in this story about 20 passages from the journal, each of them reviewed with Alexandra’s parents before this story was published. They are not the most painful entries, but they are fairly representative of more than 200 pages of her diary notes. The point was to produce the fullest possible portrait of Alexandra, revealing both her buoyant outer life and the lacerating voice of her inner self.
The Valorases are profoundly sad, and their sorrow can at times be overwhelming. But as Dean put it, they are not ashamed. They do not think the topic of their daughter’s death should be taboo.
They participated in this story because they hope someone who reads it may recognize themselves — or someone close to them — and realize they are not alone.
“I think there’s something good to be done here,” Dean said. “There were two points: One is selfish and one is more compassionate. I would like my daughter’s story to be known. Because when it’s written it can last longer. Time goes on. I know it has to. But I want to be a little selfish and give her time. I know it’s not [showing her] in the best light. But there is a story there in how great she was.
“The second part I’m hoping to achieve is that when someone reads this they say, ‘Boy, she sounds like a wonderful girl. I know someone who’s feeling this.’ Or, ‘I’m feeling this.’ Or, ‘What the hell can we do in this day and age where we have higher [suicide] rates?’ I’m thinking of the masses of people who are living in a more anxious world.”
Said Alysia, “I think it will create a lot of conversations with parents who let their kids read the article and a lot of conversations with parents, period. The whole social, emotional piece of kids today — I think parents don’t even know some of the stuff we have to talk about. It definitely has to be different. The amount of kids that have anxiety is changing. The amount of kids with depression is changing. And there are kids like Alexandra, where I guess there was some anxiety she was showing, but, boy, she didn’t show she was suicidal.
“The number of families that have come forward [since Alexandra died] and have told us that their family has an issue is staggering.
“If this can cause a conversation, it could impact so many people.”