The DetailsMy beautiful son, Spencer Watson Seupel, of High Falls, New York, took his own life in his fraternity room at Penn State, State College, PA early in the morning of Friday, February 17, 2012. He was 21 years old. Spencer is survived by his brother, Taylor, his mother Celia, his father Herbert, and his grandmother, Genie Watson. Spencer’s funeral was held at Copeland Funeral Home, Inc., 162 South Putt Corners Road, New Paltz, NY 12561 Thursday, February 23, 2012. Thank you to the many friends and relatives who came to the Celebration of Life Service .
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Spencer loved to be always moving. As a baby, he could be held close only in sleep. As soon as he could stand, he was jumping. As soon as he could walk, he was running.
Once, when we were in New York City’s Central Park, we came upon a ring of people listening to the haunting Peruvian flutes. Spencer, who was two, ran into the empty space and began to dance. He turned round and round, he jumped, he rolled on the ground and came up waving his arms. Spencer loved to dance and later even studied dance in New Paltz.
But he gave up dance for baseball, the more manly sport. Later it was lacrosse and football. Spencer, like all boys in our society, began looking for ways to be a man – as if being himself were not enough. I remember the rage and frustration he felt in Little League when he struck out; the unbearable self-hated. My unending gratitude to Frank Coddington, a coach who saw something special in Spencer and helped Spencer develop what he could be good at – his speed. Spencer was always fast.
It seems early on Spencer felt he was not good enough. I don’t know why, but I do know it is something many young people feel today. How much teen and youth suicide do we have to endure? In 2007, suicide was the third leading cause of death for young people ages 15 to 24. There is despair among the young of our society that springs from a misapprehension of what it means to be human.
Every human needs to feel special, to feel that he or she belongs as a valued member, to feel appreciated and honored by others. But so many of us don’t. In our huge anonymous schools and conformist youth culture, in our adult world of fame and wealth, social climbing and cool, competition and winning seem to be the only means of finding what we need. We have lost our way.
Love and tolerance is the way – the antithesis of teenage culture. As adults, we preach love and tolerance at school, then fail to lead by example. In business, in sports, in entertainment, in personal relationships and in the media … how often do adults place people before profit, a helping hand before blame, caring ahead of winning, others ahead of self?
Spencer’s true nature was one of extreme sensitivity. He was easily and deeply wounded; he cried when others were cruel. When Spencer was in sixth grade, he told me he thought he should see a doctor because at times, “water” came out of his eyes. Of course, he was not crying; that was not manly.
But Spencer was very smart, resourceful, ambitious and determined. As he grew, he built a new and tougher personality: a personality of cool, of fun, of hard work and goals. He built stubborn walls to protect that fragile self. He constructed a defensive, brittle confidence. He made friends; he gave parties; he got drunk; he achieved Eagle Scout; he drove fast.
What Spencer really wanted, more than anything else, was closeness. He wanted to be a doctor so he could help others; he was an EMT. How ironic; how typical: His own walls and drive to be the best kept him apart from the closeness he craved. Ever determined, he worked hard on understanding what he was doing wrong, how he could be a better person, a better friend. And I think he was really beginning to get it.
Drinking sabotaged all that: seductive, deadly alcohol. The drug that brings down the walls and helps us feel close – as long as we’re drunk. The drug that circles back and rakes out your heart.
The afternoon before Spencer died, he called me between classes. He was thrilled and excited about a lecture he’d just heard about nanotechnology and medicine. “This is the future,” he said. “This is what’s going to pull our country out of recession.” Spencer had just won an internship for the summer. He was planning on applying to a med school that emphasized the special relationship between doctor and patient. He was excited about his future.
That night, Spencer got very, very drunk. Binge drinking at college has been a regular thing since freshman year. Why didn’t he get the proper help?
Thursday night was one of those binge nights at the frat. He had a fight with his best friend. He said he was going to kill himself. He locked his door and did it. He did not leave a note. He did not look for help. Alcohol brought down those prefabricated walls, and all that was left was thoughtless pain.
It was stupid and impulsive and he would not have done this thing if he had not been drunk. Spencer had plans and goals and family that loved him. He knew this. We talked about it –Spencer said he would never do such a thing. But he did. Because of alcohol. The drunken impulse in a moment of despair that can never be taken back.
Kids drink this way because they need to escape their own false personalities. They strive to be the best, to be cool, to be popular and successful. Underneath, it’s all about the same old human needs: to feel valued, to feel important and special, to belong, to be loved.
Lectures and platitudes to the young will never change their society. We must all be the agents of change. Our society, as it gets bigger and more global, must evolve just as our species has evolved. Each of us, at work in the office, at home, in the post office, at the grocery store and in the government, must honor and value each person we encounter. How would your day be if, instead of trying to be right, you were trying to help?
In the media, we must pay homage to the ordinary hero: not the superstar, but the man who goes to work and loves his kids, the person of integrity who has the courage of his convictions. The culture of children in huge schools should not be left to run amok with misguided values, churning out young men and women who believe that social status is the measure of their worth. It is more than destructive; it is brutal, a de-evolution of humanity.
Now Spencer, finally, is at rest, and I hold him close within me. Please hold him close, as I do, in your mind and your spirit. Remember the meaning of this tragedy. If a young man or woman says maybe I’ll kill myself, tell someone. Don’t leave him alone. If a young man or woman drinks too much, say something. It’s not a game; it’s a symptom. And let us find and encourage within ourselves, within our society, those gifts that make each of us special: not star power, not intellectual prowess, but the ineffable mystery and extraordinary beauty of the simple human heart.