The day Cody E. Butz killed himself, “he kissed me on the cheek and told me he loved me,” his mother, Carin Trecannelli, remembered.
That was atypical behavior for him. Usually, Cody licked her face playfully instead of kissing her.
It also wasn’t normal that Cody, 18, was awake before his mother left for work at 7:30 a.m. that day and that he had made coffee for her. Later in the day, he did all of his laundry.
“He was saying goodbye to me and I didn’t realize it,” Carin said.
She and her husband of two years, Stephen Trecannelli, said Cody struggled for years with depression.
He was admitted to Brook Lane, a mental health-services provider, in 2010 and again in 2011, they said.
At-home counseling helped, but Cody, a senior at Clear Spring High School, masked his mental illness.
“He fooled everybody into thinking he was OK,” Carin said.
Carin tried not to leave Cody on his own and sometimes paid someone to spend time with him.
But on Dec. 21, 2011, he seemed OK. It wasn’t until late in the morning, when Carin replayed Cody’s earlier actions in her head, that she called Stephen to share her concerns.
When she got back to their home on Broadfording Road, Cody was dead.
According to state data, 23 people died of suicide in Washington County last year. Carin said survivors struggle with unanswerable questions — namely: why? — and often don’t know how to cope.
She is speaking out about her son’s death, hoping to encourage other families to feel more comfortable about sharing their pain.
One of her main goals is organizing a suicide survivors walk at Byron Memorial Park in Williamsport in June 2013.
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, a nonprofit organization, sponsors Out of the Darkness Community Walks across the country. Carin Trecannelli is taking part in one in Annapolis on Nov. 10.
Half of the money raised through a walk goes to the national office and half goes to the local chapter, foundation spokesman Wylie Tené said.
The foundation offers programs and films to help educators and parents learn more about suicide. It also supports research, sponsors International Survivors of Suicide Day and trains volunteer advocates.
Life takes a U-turn
Carin said her life took a U-turn, out of a black hole, when she channeled her grief into beneficial causes.
She credited her husband for assuring her that God will help heal her. She became a born-again Christian.
She has collected $1,500 from people dropping spare change in a bucket at her home.
Around the one-year anniversary of Cody’s death, she will give the money to Donald Edwin Thompson Funeral Home in Clear Spring, which handled his funeral arrangements. The money, she hopes, will help cover the funeral costs for another family burying a child.
Carin also has gotten involved with The Dragonfly Project, sending sympathy cards to parents who lost a child.
One side effect of Cody’s death has been a change in relationships. People who were friends “don’t talk to us,” Carin said. “They just don’t know what to say.”
Besides the Trecannellis, Cody is survived by his father, Guy Butz Jr., of Havre de Grace, Md., a sister and two brothers, according to his obituary.
Bill McPherson, a chaplain for the Washington County Sheriff’s Office for 14 years, said he probably has responded to dozens of suicide cases, including Cody’s. The youngest victim he knows of was 11 years old.
Besides the Trecannellis, he said, he remembers only one other time a family called him later to talk or ask for help.
“Carin is a living miracle,” he said. “Her ability to refocus her pain and anguish and energy to do good for others is truly remarkable.”
McPherson, the pastor of Word of Life Fellowship, said the goal of connecting survivors, easing guilt and shining a light on suicide is a noble one.
“I think families are more disconnected than ever before,” he said.
Too many young people spend their free time on electronic devices, by themselves.
“That’s actually a loss of our humanity,” he said.
The Trecannellis said Cody was a giving person who liked hunting and the Dallas Cowboys, but also faced bullying while growing up.
“If he thought one person didn’t love him, it was the end of his world,” Carin said.
Sometimes, that caused him to act out at school. He’d keep quiet at home and refuse offers of professional help, especially once he turned 18.
“I think he was in denial, sort of,” Stephen said. “His depression would overwhelm him. He didn’t know what to do with it.”
Stephen built a memorial garden in the front yard to honor Cody. Carin said it comforts her because Cody’s grave is two hours away.
The garden has become a place of quiet contemplation. His friends sometimes drive over and spend time there, too, Carin said. The couple lets them be.
Carin hopes the walk and the money will give solace to other survivors. She wants to chip away at the secrecy, guilt and shame of suicide.
“I’ll tell people: My son took his life,” she said. “I want people not to be afraid to say the word suicide.”
Suicide is a top cause of death for young people
Nearly 37,000 people died of suicide in the United States in 2011, making it the 10th leading cause of death, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
For those ages 10 to 24, suicide is the third leading cause of death, the CDC says.
State vital records show that there were 550 suicide deaths in Maryland in 2011. The rate was 9.1 per 100,000 population, up 8.3 percent from the 2010 rate.
In Washington County, 23 people died of suicide in 2011 — 20 males and three females. An age breakdown is not included in the report.
The CDC’s 2009 Youth Risk Behavior Survey found that among U.S. high school students, 17.4 percent of females and 10.5 percent of males considered suicide in the past 12 months. In the same survey, 8.1 percent of females and 4.6 percent of males attempted suicide.
— Andrew Schotz
Where to turn
The National Suicide Prevention Line (800-273-8255) is a free, 24/7 service for people who are suicidal or for those around them.
Hospice of Washington County runs a support group called Survivors of Suicide
If there are enough people, the next survivors group will start meeting in January, said Amanda Witmer, a bereavement care specialist.
On Nov. 17, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is holding its 14th annual International Survivors of Suicide Day. Hospice of Washington County has invited survivors to attend a program at the hospice office that day at 747 Northern Ave. in Hagerstown.
Light refreshments will be served at 12:30 p.m., followed by a DVD presentation at 1 p.m.
Call Hospice of Washington County at 301-791-6360 to reserve a seat.
— Andrew Schotz