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Denial over Lance Lundsten’s death

Timothy Kincaid

January 25th, 2011

Suicide can devastate a family, especially when the one who takes their life is a youth with great potential. Some of those left behind wonder what they could have done differently, what they contributed.

But it is not unusual for other family members to find peace by adopting a position of denial and looking for any other possible explanation, a scenario in which they can be absolved of their self-imposed guilt. This might be by finding another culprit to blame (“her bad-influence friends”) or by simply pretending that the suicide never happened (“that was an accidental overdose”).

So I did not find it surprising that Lance Lundsten’s father had declared that Lundsten had not ended his own life but rather had died due a coronary edema brought on by an enlarged heart. According to the coroner this was simply not true, but undoubtedly the discovery of this incidental medical condition allowed Lance’s father to concoct an alternate reality in which there was no blame or shame or regret.

But denial is not healthy, and there are times when it is appropriate to ask oneself, “Did I contribute to this, should I change?” And in the story of Lance Lundsten, I am finding more than a few, family and community alike, who are unwilling – or afraid – to look at themselves too closely to see what part they might have played in Lance’s death.

The coroner’s toxicology reports are not in and at this point we simply do not know the cause of Lance’s death. And even if suicide is determined to be the cause, it is not possible to identify which specific pressures were felt the greatest or what incidents contributed most to his state of mind. But we can readily identify some facts of Lance’s life that would be troublesome to most teens.

Lance’s family life was not without complication. Although his father has asserted his role as family spokesman, Lance actually lived with his grandparents and comments he made on his Facebook page suggest that his relationship with his parents was strained. Further, this tension appears to be due, at least in part, to religious differences, likely due to his sexual orientation.

We also know that the administration at Jefferson High School is not supportive of gay students. The school policies do not ban anti-gay discrimination or harassment, and fellow gay student Caleb Shafer reports that the school would not protect him from bullies. It is telling that District 206 Superintendent Terry Quist released a statement about Lance’s death that went out of its way to avoid any mention of Lundsten’s sexual orientation or bullying of any kind and suggested that the “respectful” way to “honor Lance’s memory” would be to ignore all of the concerns his friends have raised.

But the denial and refusal to consider Lance as who he was, rather than the person they wish he was, extends beyond his parents and his school. The community in Alexandria seems determined not to address whether their gay kids are being tormented and refuse to see Lance’s death as a means of introducing that discussion.

The local newspaper, aptly named the Echo, went so far as to run an editorial in which they repeated the father’s assertions, even though the coroner had disputed them, and chastised Lance’s classmates and the local TV news for suggesting otherwise. (Echo)

Before people started gossiping and drawing conclusions on the Internet, they should have stopped and considered the family. They should have asked themselves if they would have liked the same kind of unsubstantiated rumors swirling around about someone in their own family.

Unfortunately, whipped up by the Facebook frenzy, the distorted story of Lundsten’s death took on a life of its own. A TV station reported about the Facebook speculations and it snowballed quickly from there, getting reported by other media outlets as well – a sad case of media reporting what other media were reporting, even though it was untrue.

Some Jefferson High School students threatened a walk out, believing the school wasn’t taking the bullying issue seriously enough.

Anti-bullying groups were quick to pick up on the death, spreading the story further. U.S. Senator Al Franken called attention to the incident to drum up support for anti-bullying legislation. Images of Lundsten connected to headlines of bullying and suicide popped up all over the Internet – even on a website in France.

It shouldn’t have happened this way.

Although the editorial never once uses the word gay or mentions that Lance publicly identified as such, it isn’t too hard to figure out who the Echo means by “anti-bullying groups” that didn’t “consider the family.” And they clearly feel betrayed and angry at KSAX for daring to suggest that perhaps something is amiss in Alexandria. (CityPages)

It’s true that Lundsten’s death has not yet been ruled a suicide–toxicology test results aren’t expected back for more than a month. But the Echo Press has been insisting all week that Lundsten’s death wasn’t a suicide, without even bothering to pick up the phone and call the medical examiner. Isn’t that rush to judgment exactly what they’re accusing Lundsten’s classmates of doing on Facebook?

“Absolutely not,” Edenloff told City Pages today. “I’d much rather report what a family member said than a bunch of kids who didn’t even know what he was all about.”

Edenloff says the coverage by KSAX and the internet response to the story have painted Jefferson High School and the city of Alexandria unfairly.

“The school and the city have been portrayed as really backwards on this,” Edenloff says. “The idea that we’re a backwoods little punkwood town that doesn’t know how to deal with these issues is totally false.”

Suicide can devastate a community, especially when the one who takes their life is a youth with great potential. Some of those left behind wonder what they could have done differently, what they contributed.

Others, like Lance’s father, the administration of Lance’s school, and the local newspaper have adopted a position of denial. They don’t want to know whether they played a part. They would rather tell themselves pretty stories than consider what they could have done differently, what they contributed, or how they could change.

Comments

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Priya Lynn
January 25th, 2011 | LINK

Edenloff told City Pages today “I’d much rather report what a family member said than a bunch of kids who didn’t even know what he was all about.”.

In my experience and the experience of all I knew in school, the kids know far better what their friend was all about than the parents do.

Candace
January 25th, 2011 | LINK

Cardiac edema isn’t a condition. It’s a SYMPTOM of end-stage heart failure. Because one side or the other (or both sides) of the heart becomes enlarged due to disease, there is a fluid backup that begins first in the feet and ankles, then progresses to the legs, then the abdomen, then the lungs, and then the heart. It isn’t something that happens quickly and the symptoms are so awful that an afflicted person would be hospitalized and completely immobilized– they have severe tachycardia, cough up bloody froth and literally choke to death. I just don’t see this poor guy being able to walk around in a condition like this.

I understand the heartbreak of a child’s untimely death–trust me on that one– and I understand that a grieving parent goes through every form of denial possible… especially with a suspected suicide, because we believe that to be the ultimate failure as a parent.

But respecting the father’s grief doesn’t mean accepting the father’s denial and rationalizations. His son deserves better than that.

Throbert McGee
January 25th, 2011 | LINK

Tim, what evidence do any of us have that Lance’s death was a suicide?

How do you know it wasn’t, for example, an accidental OD brought on by an injudicious combination of vodka and Robitussin, imbibed for purely recreational purposes by a young man who fully expected to wake up the next day, albeit with a hangover?

Reading between the lines in the medical examiner’s comments, it seems to me that they suspect a substance overdose, but they need to wait for the toxicology report before making an informed guess as to whether Lance deliberately and knowingly consumed lethal quantities of [whatever], or if this was more likely a case of teenage “fun” gone tragically awry.

At the present time, you don’t have any basis for excluding an accidental cause of death — and when you say that Lance’s dad is “in denial,” what it sounds like to me is that you’re merely griping because Mr. Lundsten won’t go along with the Gay Teen Suicide Narrative that you’ve latched onto.

Erin
January 25th, 2011 | LINK

Timothy acknowledged we don’t yet know the cause of death. No one should jump to conclusions, nor should we tell a grieving parent how to deal with a tragedy. However I need to point out that like it or not the gay teen suicide “narrative” is actually a real issue, not just a popular story, and I think it’s rather low to accuse Timothy of hoping that was the case so it could better fit the point he’s trying to make.

John
January 26th, 2011 | LINK

So the feeling of semi-estranged family members means more than the truth?

Regan DuCasse
January 26th, 2011 | LINK

Throbert, this boy was in a difficult and stressful family and school situation. This would have put serious and excessive stress on a preexisting medical condition.
Let’s not disregard this, in favor of a scold on whether young Lance committed suicide or not.
His situation was heartbreaking (literally) as it was.

Marie Osmond’s son jumped from a high rise building in downtown LA. The speculation on his estrangement from his father was fair and that such a situation was due to the boy’s sexual orientation.

Gay boys have an especially difficult time with their fathers when they need them the most when it comes to being gay.

I’ve noticed that some parents turn their pain into action regarding the recent rash of suicides due to anti gay bullying.
Tyler Clementi’s family has been rather silent in comparison. Which might lead us to FAIRLY speculate that Tyler’s family wouldn’t accept his orientation and likely punish him for it. Like cutting off support for school.
Seth Walsh’s family, on the other hand, are speaking out and becoming activists. Just as Carl Walker-Hoover’s mother did.

We do not come to these conclusions without merit. We do not rush to judgment based on no clues or no evidence, or lack of experience.
We speculate in ways that make MUCH more sense than the anti gays who are in denial. Whether they are the parents, or the schools that did nothing to fight against the bullying.

People this young have a depth of feelings, passions, pain and sensitivity that can hurt us too, just by looking at them and knowing what they must be going through.

A person assaulted like Lance was, and abandoned by his parents, was living in a world of hurt anyway. His heart was broken in more ways than physically.

And there were other gay children who knew him, or at least experienced something very similar and lived to tell about it.
Whether he committed suicide or the strain of being deliberately tormented, his heart was suffering.
Another beautiful boy is no longer with us and for the same reasons as other beautiful children broken against the wheel of unrelenting judgment on their orientation.

I don’t care if it was suicide or a heart ailment. What he endured put him at risk. And THAT is what we cannot accept.

Brittany Young
June 23rd, 2011 | LINK

Lance wasn’t gay or bullied.
I know, because I’m his best friend.
Stop making stuff up, people. You act like you understand and you know what’s going on.
Not a one of you has a clue.

Priya Lynn
June 23rd, 2011 | LINK

Brittany said “Lance wasn’t gay or bullied.
I know, because I’m his best friend.”.

Sure you are(were) Brittany. And I’m the queen of England.

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