Karissa's Story

Tina Smith, Karissa's mother writes:

When you are asked to write a story about your child's life, you think that it will be easy, because every mother knows that you can sit down and talk about your child for days on end...but when your child has lost her life to suicide, then the tables turn, and it brings your life to a screeching halt.  October 7, 2007 is the day that life, as I knew it, ended for me and my family.   I look back upon my daughter's short lived life and ask myself all the time, did she know the day she was going to die?  Did she get to do all the things one wants to do before she died?  I have no answers to these questions because she did not leave me a note to even begin to explain the"WHY." 

Karissa was born on February 9, 1990 at Ireland Army Hospital at Fort Knox, Kentucky.  I was briefly married to her father who was, and is currently, a soldier in the Army. He left us, and has not seen or communicated with Karissa or me since she was 18 months old. The man that Karissa considered her dad was my husband, Kent Smith. After we were married, we had her name legally changed.  As a small child, it was very hard to keep Karissa still. She was all over the place, doing silly things that made us all laugh.  At the age of three, she was kicked out of dance school because she had her own way of doing the dance. She didn't want to hear what the instructors had to say. We always laughed, because that was pretty much her personality. She was known for her awesome dance moves, and her brother, Trenten, always referred to her as his dancing star. Karissa was never a girly girl. Her Aunt Robin tried to turn her on to pink by buying her Barbie dolls, but she would just cut their hair and have them out in the next mud pit she could find. You could not have long pretty blonde hair and chase after GI Joe in the mud or swing from tree to tree in heels, she would tell me as she played with her childhood friend, Adam Quinton.

I would have to say that up until middle school Karissa's was a totally normal, happy child.   When she graduated 5th grade she was in the top ten at Old Mill Elementary.  There was never a shortage of friends for Karissa because she loved everyone. She had a smile that could light up any room.  I cannot tell you how many times I would get a call from the school that Karissa was in the office, and I needed to come and get her because she was not following school rules.  What they considered "not following the rules," I considered one of Karissa's best qualities--she NEVER let anyone pick on the people around her.  Karissa always took up for the underdog, no matter what the cost.  I would come to school and she would cry--not because she thought she was in trouble--but because another classmate or friend was being picked on, and she could feel their pain.  Karissa loved everyone and everyone loved her.  

When Karissa turned 14, the man that she considered her father and I decided to get a divorce. The impact on Karissa was terrible. She took an overdose of prescription of pills in an effort to end her life.  I thank God everyday that what she took only made her sick. I knew she felt like the divorce was her fault, even though I told her over and over that it was not. Karissa attended counseling and also spent time at Bellewood Children's Home while she was getting the help she needed.  We attended family therapy every week. I talked to her on the phone and visited every chance I got.  Finally, Karissa was ready to come home. She had met all her goals, was on target to graduate school, and just had made a huge turn around in her life.  

Karissa was a sophomore at Bullitt East, the night she called  screaming in the phone that Rachael was gone. I did not fully understand what she meant or what had happened until she and her friends came over to the house.  It devastated Karissa because she loved Rachael. She just could not accept the concept that Rachael would never be back...suicide is forever.   Almost six months to the day, I got a second phone call from her. We had lost Kristin "Sissy" to suicide.  Kristin was our neighbor and one of Karissa's best friends along with Kristin's sister Brittney.  This was more than Karissa could handle, so we stepped up counseling and also started her on antidepressants. Karissa spent a lot of time with Kristin's family. She made it her mission to watch out for them and be there no matter the cost of her own feelings.

On October 6, Karissa attended a wedding with the Settles/Peak family.  I picked her up the next morning, and we had breakfast on the deck of our new house that I had just bought on October 2nd.  We were in the process of moving that weekend.  I spent the day with my daughter as we moved her room little by little over that day.  I felt that she was having a hard time with the fact that she would not be "on call" for her friends down the street and that was really bothering her.  I tried to give her as much support as I could by telling her that she could go there after school, and I would pick her up on my way home from work.  I left her for the last time to move some more things to the house. I told her I loved her, and that I would be back in 15 to 20 minutes to get her...it was OK mom.   I came back like I said I would and when I did she was gone...my baby...my life...my child was gone.  The neighbors and EMS and the hospital did all they could to save her, but it was too late...she had taken her life.  

I believe in my heart that Karissa did this on an impulse decision and did not realize the finality of it.  When I left her she was reading Kristen's obituary crying and I told her that Kristen would want her to continue to be there for her family and live her life.  I think the pressure of it all just came to a head, and she took the way out to be with her friend, just the way her friend had done.  It is still as painful now as it was at 4:00 pm on October 7th. Karissa is survived by her brothers Trenten and Trever, her foster sister, Airika, and her nieces, Kristianne and Emily.  We have become a closer immediate family through this tragedy. I am aware of the devastation it has taken on all of the family and her friends.  Not a day goes by that I do not hear a story from someone in this community about how wonderful my daughter was and to me still is.  

I tell her story in detail because I feel it is important for everyone to understand that suicide is so final. I feel like people that chose that route do not understand the finality of it.  Our lives will never be the same, but we must continue to educate everyone we can about the signs and symptoms of suicide to prevent this tragedy from happening to another family.  I want to add that I carry the responsibility of my daughter's death on my shoulders everyday because I should have known...I am her mother. Why didn't I know.  I did not see the signs, but the signs were there.  I am aware of them now. I have come to realize that I cannot blame myself for her death, but it is hard not to.  My mission is to keep my daughter's memory alive by spreading the word about suicide and being involved in my community through Make a Difference for Kids.  We all have regrets in our lives and my regret is I left her for 15 minutes...if I could only turn back the hand of time.  Karissa Marie Smith will always be remembered and never forgotten and forever loved.  I hope by telling her story that it will touch another child or family and prevent this from ever happening again.


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Kentucky State Rep. Linda Belcher filed an amendment to HB51 to rename it "Rachael's Law"

HB51 was signed by Governor Beshear on March 4, 2010

This law requires that every public middle and high school administrator disseminate suicide prevention awareness information to students at the beginning of each school year.

Read "The Forever Decision" by Dr. Paul G. Quinnett.

Dr Quinnett is a clinical psychologist and the Director of the QPR Institute, an educational organization dedicated to preventing suicide. His book, "The Forever Decision" is available in a free electronic format to anyone in the world who wishes to read it or share it with others. Electronic copying, translation and distribution is strongly encouraged.

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