The Palo Alto community is still grieving the loss of young lives after two suicide clusters in the past seven years.
Now, the father of a Gunn High School senior who took his life last year is speaking out to parent and urging them to take seriously the threat of mental illness.
TC Lee has visited two churches with a cautionary tale after the death of his son Harry Lee.
Lee says his 17-year old son was a joke-telling, artistic student who loved to help others. Yet, he confessed to his parents he was depressed. Just a month later, Harry committed suicide in his home in January 2015.
“It was a shock for me,” said Lee. “We didn’t know [depression] can be so dangerous until it hit us. But it can hit anybody.”
Lee has spoken to congregations about the need to keep teens safe from academic and cultural pressures.
“The Asian, Chinese culture, and also a lot of high achieving culture here, is performance based. So your kids have a good score, go to good school, and has very good achievement, you praise it. But if they have something they are very proud of themselves but cannot necessarily lead into a good career, or good school, then we don’t think that’s important,” Lee said. “I think the most important thing is to praise your kids and accept who they are, not what they do. To accept them today, not what they’re going to be in the future.”
Lee, who has since moved from Palo Alto, says speaking out is a way of honoring his son. He has also changed his hairstyle and gotten piercings and a tattoo in honor of his son. He says he was displeased with his son’s physical expression, but has now mimicked it to communicate to Harry he fully accepts who he was.
“Harry, dad is very proud of you. I wish I could say that before he passed away. I wish I could say to Harry your hair is beautiful.”
Lee, who is a religious man, says he struggled deeply after his son’s passing. He prayed to God for a sign that his son’s spirit was ok.
Around the same time, Lee says he had been having dreams of a watermelon that was cut from a vine. In the recurring dream, the vine produced a new vibrant watermelon that spreads seeds throughout farmland.
He says soon after crying “bitter tears,” a package was delivered to his home. Someone had given his family old drawings and letters from Harry. In the first envelope, was a drawing of a watermelon. Harry’s signature was next to the image.
“Harry became like that watermelon,” Lee said. “He died, but spread the seeds.”
Lee is considering more parent talks in the future, though none are currently scheduled.