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Sunday, February 25, 2024

Fight for Life

There is just something about Lori Sullivan Lofton.

Her energy is palpable, her smile infectious, and she knows no boundaries when going after what she wants. But she wasn’t always such a powerful force — at least not quite this powerful.

“People say it is a passion,” she says with a shrug of her slight shoulders. “I don’t know if it is a passion really. I call it more of a mission. But whatever it is, I keep thinking about Brody. The mission is to make something positive out of a horrible situation, to save somebody, to help somebody. I just don’t want anyone else to ever have to go through what I’ve gone through. That is why I do all of this.”

This chapter of Lofton’s story started just two years ago, the day her son, 12-year-old Brody, ended his own life by suicide. By all accounts, it was a normal September day. He got off the bus, called his mom to check in, and began his usual afternoon routine of heating up a bowl of Ramen noodles and settling in at the kitchen counter to sift through a pile of homework.

But later, Lofton got a text that sent her spiraling.

“It was a long message. I remember I was on the Lloyd (Expressway) when I got it,” she says of her drive home from her job as a senior sales consultant at Viamedia in Evansville. “It was a deep text, not something a 12-year-old would normally send. He said he was sorry, told me how much he loved me and his brother but that he wanted to end the pain of life.”

Panic-stricken, she raced to Newburgh, Indiana, calling a friend on her way to check on him. She would learn Brody had instantly passed away from a single gunshot wound. It was a scene Lofton had never expected.

“He was popular,” she says. “He was the kid who gave high-fives to all the other kids getting on and off the school bus. He never met a stranger, and he was always in everybody else’s business.

“He was a happy kid, the center of attention. He made good grades, was on the track team, wore colorful socks and hats,” she says with a laugh. “But he was broken on the inside, and I didn’t know it.”

The void left by Brody’s sudden death Lofton has filled with information and statistics, ones she’s devoted much of her time to sharing with others to prevent more people — people of all ages — from taking their own lives.

She immediately joined the Southwestern Indiana Suicide Prevention Coalition; got involved with the HOPE (Helping Other People Everyday) organization, a group of professionals and survivors who offer immediate help and resources to those affected by suicide; and she has spoken to every church, women’s group, and civic organization that will have her. She even gave a talk to patients at the Evansville State Hospital.

“People ask me when I started talking about all this and I say, ‘That day, the day of Brody’s funeral,’” she says. “I grabbed a microphone, and I was going around talking to all these kids, telling them that they matter.”

Lofton listened and researched, committing herself to finding out as much as she could about suicide so she could help prevent others from suffering the same kind of pain.

Globally, she says, suicide takes a million lives each year. In the U.S. alone in 2016, 44,965 people ended their own lives by suicide. Last year, there were 57 suicides in Vanderburgh and Warrick counties combined, she says.

“It is staggering,” says Lofton of the numbers. “And I’m shocked when people tell me it doesn’t ever happen here. Because it does.”

But there’s one number that shook Lofton to the very core. Brody’s own father Andy — Lofton’s ex-husband — took his own life with a firearm in 2009. Brody and Brock, now a senior at Castle High School, took their father’s death hard, but Lofton had no idea the dangerous potential it held. A child is 400 times more likely to commit suicide if an immediate family member has, says Lofton.

“Four hundred times,” she says, reiterating the staggering number. “And of those, 70 percent do it the exact same way. That just went through me. I started asking myself, ‘What would I have done differently had I known?’ Well, I would have asked more questions. I would have looked at his phone more. I would have known that Brody’s behavior was classic masking. Then I thought, ‘I’ve got to get in front of people and tell them.’”

Lofton also got involved with Youth First Inc., an Indiana-based nonprofit that focuses on grief counseling, family therapy, and the placement of social workers in schools. Lofton now sits on the organization’s board and has made it her goal to get more social workers in Warrick County schools.

Parri Black, president and CEO of Youth First Inc., has been working alongside Lofton for the last two years. After helping to raise funds for the organization early on, she now sits on its 33-member board of directors.

Black called Lofton “a passionate and inspiring person,” and one she’s especially grateful for these days.

“I’m always touched by her desire to help others and try to prevent the same tragedy from happening to other families,” says Black. “She just cares so deeply about others, and even long before this tragedy she wanted to be a force in her community for good. Youth First is just fortunate we’re one of the organizations she wants to contribute to in a meaningful way.”

Lofton also started the Brody Lofton Suicide Awareness Fund, and during Castle High School’s annual Give Back Football Game last year she raised more than $20,000. She also has sold T-shirts featuring Psalm 50:15, a project that has garnered another $12,000. All of the funds raised go either to Youth First Inc. or to other education and prevention endeavors.

And her phone, it seems, never stops ringing as a result.

“That’s what I’ve been doing for two years,” she says. “People call me. They ask for my help. I’ve gotten calls from as far away as Florida from people desperate for help.”

Lofton has stopped at nothing to offer that help, even taking to the Internet in the middle of the night to find someone in need a mental health counselor or calling a principal directly about a suicide threat from a student on social media. She even broke up a suicide pact between a boy and a girl in Newburgh after a frantic call from a desperate father.

Through it all, she has evolved and healed. Her rhetoric has been transformed, over time, from one of grief and shock to finding a new purpose. And she has only just begun.

“It is still horrible. Every day,” she says. “Most days I go to bed thinking about Brody. I wake up thinking about Brody. And the guilt, for a long, long time, overrides your will to live. But I want people to know that it is OK to not feel OK. Go, talk to somebody. Tell somebody what you’re feeling. Then just breathe — take lots of deep breaths because life is hard. I just count my blessings every day, because it’s the simple things that can keep us going.”

For more information about the Southwestern Indiana Suicide Prevention Coalition, call 812-423-7791 or visit southwestern.org.

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