WARRENSBURG-With somber faces, about 50 friends and relatives of Courtney Mae Swinton - a local teenager who took her own life last year - listened May 18 as the girl's mother, Evie Swinton, stepped up before them to talk about her daughter's death and the deep grief it prompted.
"On Feb. 20, 2010, I got the most horrific phone call a parent can get," she said, wiping tears from her eyes, shaded by sunglasses. "I didn't believe, or even understand the call when I got it - my daughter had taken her life."
The dozens of people were gathered for a memorial ceremony for Courtney, held on the grounds of Warren County Cornell Cooperative Extension on Schroon River Road.
The ceremony included planting a Japanese lilac tree memorializing Courtney, as well as relatives and friends describing the girl's character, and her vivacious, friendly, peace-loving nature.
But Evie Swinton's words propelled the ceremony further - to achieve a broader purpose.
She said she is seeking, in Courtney's memory, to help spare other area families from experiencing such awful anguish, by urging parents and friends to reach out to troubled teens, and establish heart-to-heart bonds. Also, she stressed to youth that suicide offers no solution.
"I urge parents to look beyond their child's words - look for behavior, for clues that something is not right," Swinton said. "And be open to your child; listen to them without judging them, so they will turn to you when they need to."
She also said that her daughter's suicide had changed her life radically, and plunged her into grief that hasn't receded with time.
"Not only did I lose Courtney, I lost myself, my family and my friends, because I have closed myself off from them," she said, noting that almost all her time is now spent shut in at home. "I do not feel I have the right to be happy - laughing and living without my daughter," she added, noting that suicide prompts deep pain in loved ones.
"Young people who are stressed, please turn to someone you trust for help - a friend, relative, teacher, pastor, anyone," she continued.
Evie Swinton's friend, Jamie Thackrah-Harris, echoed the point, as she talked about Courtney's friendly, fun character.
"To all young people who feel suicide is the only way out - It's not!" Thackrah-Harris said. "By ending your pain, you'll create more pain in more people than you could ever imagine - Seek help!"
Irv West of Thurman, who organized the event, called for people to advocate for changes in society that break down walls between people, and instead build profound, life-enriching bonds with one another.
Amy Molloy, area director of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, told the crowd about how suicide is a leading cause of death among teens and young adults.
"There is hope, help, recovery and healing," she said, adding that people can reach out to others to prevent such grievous losses of life. "We must be compassionate, we must be good listeners, we must be willing to ask for and receive help, and we must remember that we are not alone - I think that is the message that Courtney would want to share."