The story behind the cover

popular-woodworking-cover-e1498335691494for blog

When Megan Fitzpatrick at Popular Woodworking Magazine asked me to write a project article about an Arts and Crafts style bookcase three years ago, I had something Stickley-ish in mind. I pictured something long and low in amber maple, designed to fit behind an antique settle in the home of some clients in Chicago. There was just one catch: My clients hadn’t yet found the right settle. There was no telling how long or tall the settle would be until they had it in hand, which meant the bookcase had to wait.

After a few months, I decided to forget about trying to combine the article with a commission and just build a bookcase. My husband and I are hardcore bibliophiles; we can never have too much storage for books. But we decided that this bookcase, which would be the loveliest one I’d made to date, should have a special purpose: to commemorate our son, Jonas, who died shortly before his 16th birthday. We would call it the Jonas Longacre Memorial Bookcase.

Some people can’t bear to mention those they’ve lost, but Mark and I love to talk about Jonas. He was a self-motivated learner who excelled at school. He was always game to do his part around the house. He wanted to learn Latin and started a Latin club at his school (even though he was the only member). In fact, he was fascinated by languages of all kinds, including computer code; after his death, we found a blog post written that morning in which he proudly announced to the world that after several months of effort, he had just finished creating an online translation tool. Of course he could have used a similar tool made by someone else, but he found it more exciting to figure out how things work. Books were some of his favorite things.

Jonas with carving for blog

Jonas at 13 or 14 with a piece of limestone on which he carved a description of students at his school, using an old railroad spike

Tragically, it was just this curiosity that caused his death. I came home after work on the night of January 2, 2014 to find him lifeless. Amid the cognitive dissonance, I happened to notice that even though he had a rope around his neck, suggesting he had hung himself (which made no sense, considering how eagerly he was looking forward to the family reunion that weekend and the new semester at school), his feet were on the ground. He had also padded the rope with a t-shirt. Neither seemed consistent with intentional hanging, but I wasn’t analyzing these details as I stared, disbelieving, at his body while I waited for an ambulance to arrive. Thanks to the insight of a friend and conscientious work by the detective who came out to our house that night, we learned that Jonas had died while experimenting with the choking game.

Since that day I’ve learned a lot about the choking game, especially from Judy Rogg, who lost her own son the same way, and Trish Russell, an MD who also lost her son to this practice. Although boys are statistically more likely to die while playing this game, girls do too. Many fit a similar profile: They’re excellent students, curious about how things work, athletic, creative, and they tend not to be interested in alcohol or drugs. Hence one nickname for the practice: “the good kid’s high.”

Along with Judy, Trish, and others, I now make a point of spreading the word about this dangerous activity. Hence this post. If you have children or know others who do, please inform yourself and others.

Here’s an instructive editorial by the editor of Bloom Magazine, who knew Jonas.

Mark and Jonas at the beach - Copy

Jonas with his father, Mark, on the Delaware coast at Thanksgiving, 2013

 

About nrhiller

cabinetmaker and author
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22 Responses to The story behind the cover

  1. Wow, I did not see that coming. I can’t even imagine. I am so sorry for your loss.

  2. jmac406 says:

    Thank you for your forthrightness and bravery. Peace be with you and your family.

  3. anfaith says:

    Thank you for sharing. I also have a very curious and good son and I don’t worry about the typical potential dangers like drugs and gangs and reckless behavior, but I do worry about these fads that run through schools which seem like a “safe” way to explore boundaries. Sharing this with him will hopefully open his eyes even more to the very real dangers of these things. Thank you again, and he sounds like he was an amazing kid.

  4. steverennells says:

    I don’t have the words to properly express how this post hit me. I haven’t stopped thinking about it since reading it the first time, and I’ve read it a few times since. Finally I just went down to my humble little workbench and started making shavings.

    Thank you for sharing your story, Nancy.

  5. kv41 says:

    Thanks for sharing. I’m so sorry for your loss.

  6. mbanda55 says:

    There are no words. On those quiet nights hold on to each other.
    And may peace fine you both.
    M

  7. pfollansbee says:

    thanks for writing that Nancy.

  8. Deniseg says:

    Brace and true and hopeful.

  9. antinonymous says:

    Life holds nothing worse for any of us than to lose a child of our own. It is something that should just never happen. I’ve known a few people who have had to endure that terrible loss, and my heart aches for them always. Now it aches for you too.

  10. johncashman73 says:

    That bookcase has been on my short list for a while now. I need to make one deep enough to hold the deluxe Roubo volumes. Just the other day I was looking at some antique reclaimed window glass for it.

    Whenever I look at the bookcase, I’ll think about Jonas too.

  11. meghanlostartpress says:

    Thank you for being so open to talk about such a hard issue. You are brave and inspiring. I thought so the first time I read your book and that is only reinforced by this post.

    I also hope that Camp Palawopec brought him as may incredible experiences as my brother and I had there.

    • nrhiller says:

      You’re a fellow “pecker”?! That’s fantastic. Jonas adored that place. He was going to be a … whatever it’s called … something like a counselor, but a junior one, the summer of 2014. Because people so often want to donate to a cause at a loved one’s memorial, we specified Camp Palowopec as the main recipient.

  12. misterlinn says:

    Crikey, that was a shock. I’ve no means of imagining what that must have been like.

    Also, I’ve never heard of this game, neither have I seen it in the news. Is it a local thing?

    Come to think of it, though, there was a spate of inexplicable hangings amongst teenagers a few years back in South Wales. Maybe that was due to something similar?

    People use the phrase “there’s nothing worse than..” in a throwaway fashion to describe something trivial. But the death of your own child is the actual definition of there’s nothing worse than. Sorry.

    • nrhiller says:

      It’s anything but local. Since Jonas died, I have read about kids who have died from this practice in South Africa, Scandinavia, Northern Europe, Britain, and the United States.

      • misterlinn says:

        You’re right. I searched the BBC site (wish I’d done that before posting yesterday) and there’s quite a few instances of deaths amongst young people reported around Britain. It’s also known as the “passing out challenge”.

        It made me stop and ponder on the deluge of dangerous nonsense which is poured out from the internet onto some of the most vulnerable people.

  13. Jeremy says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your story; a few weeks ago a father I know experienced a similar tragedy with his daughter and has been struggling to find an explanation for what occurred. This is the first I’ve ever heard of this, but might fit the pattern and help him find some solace. My heart goes out to you and your husband.

    • nrhiller says:

      Jeremy, please do look up Erik’s Cause online, as well as “GASP” (Games Adolescents Shouldn’t Play). Both are excellent sources of information.

    • nrhiller says:

      Really… No parent needs to be told that his or her child died from “suicide,” in the sense of intentionally killing him/herself, if that is not what happened. For the first 24 hours or so, we had no other explanation and were doubly staggered. You feel like, “What? I thought I knew my child. Why didn’t he come to me if there was a problem of this magnitude?”

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