Even if you’re a baseball fan, there’s a chance you’ve not heard of John Trautwein. That’s OK. He understands. Trautwein appeared in nine major league games as a right-handed pitcher for the 1988 Boston Red Sox.
What matters is that you hear FROM Trautwein. He has a story of promising life and unthinkable death. You need to hear it. Your opportunity is at 8 p.m. April 12 at Redbird Arena as part of Illinois State’s Speaker Series. Admission is free.
In October 2010, Trautwein said goodnight to his 15-year-old son, Will. As Will headed to his room in their suburban Atlanta, Ga., home, Trautwein told the oldest of his four children, “Love ya man.”
Will was a popular high school freshman, a talented athlete and musician outwardly at peace with who he was. At 6:30 the next morning, Trautwein and his wife, Susie, found him dead in his room. He had committed suicide.
Trautwein asked himself over and over. Now, he has stopped.
“When someone dies of suicide, 90 percent of the time it’s the result of depression. It is a mental illness,” Trautwein said. “I’ve learned to treat it that way and to be honest, it helps. It (suicide) is not a choice or a character flaw. It was something that was the result of a disease or an illness. That’s really why we started the foundation.”
The Will To Live Foundation is a non-profit founded by Trautwein and his wife to raise awareness and educate people about mental health.
The focus is two-fold … make adults aware of how difficult life today is for teenagers and college students; and two, get teenagers/students to talk to one another, trust in one another.
“When you’re a teenager, it is easier to talk to a friend than to a parent in most cases,” Trautwein said. “Also, the friend is the one who understands your life better than the adult. The adult did not grow up in 2017 with cellphones, the internet and the 24-7 barrage of information, most of it negative.
“No one loves you more than your parents, but who really understands what you’re going through day in and day out? It’s so logical … kids talking to kids. Why not teach them it’s OK to not only talk, but also to listen?”
Trautwein wishes Will had talked to a friend, a teammate, anyone. Trautwein can only speculate his son was embarrassed by whatever he was feeling, didn’t want anyone to know.
His death left family and friends devastated.
“We would have been so willing to help,” his father said Tuesday.
Trautwein and his wife began forming the foundation a week after Will’s death. While delivering his son’s eulogy, Trautwein saw Will’s high school lacrosse teammates hugging and telling each other they loved one another.
It motivated him to do something to promote that spirit of communication and caring. He introduced the concept of “life teammates.”
“There may be kids who are not on the textbook definition of a team, but I tell them, ‘Yes, you are,’” Trautwein said. “Your family is a team. Your friends are a team, your classes, your work group. You’ll be on teams your whole life. You have teammates when you don’t think you do.
“If I can get kids to not be afraid to say I love you to each other, I can get kids to not be afraid to say, ‘Hey, I’m struggling.’ ”
Trautwein has provided the acronym ACT for young people who become aware of a friend in need: Acknowledge there is a serious issue; Care for the friend; Tell an adult.
The hope is it leads to a doctor’s care and treatment.
“I was a baseball player and when my arm was hurt, I had physical therapy and medication,” Trautwein said. “This is really the same thing. With mental illness there is therapy and medication. And it’s OK. It’s treatable and quite normal.
"One in six of the kids I speak to suffers from some sort of depression. That means they’re struggling a bit, and that’s what I never knew (before Will’s death).”
Trautwein shared his family’s story through his book, “My Living Will — A Father’s Story of Loss & Hope.” It provides the gut-wrenching details of Will’s death, but also the hope of helping others.
President of a global IT company, Source Support Services, Trautwein will tell you he never thought teen suicide could happen in his family. His words are powerful and just might prevent it from happening in yours.
You should hear them.