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Goochland parents struggle to understand son's suicide: 'He was always smiling'

Posted at 11:40 AM, Feb 03, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-03 14:34:52-05

GOOCHLAND COUNTY, Va. -- Matthew Cabral was 13 years old when he died by suicide on December 18, two days after his birthday.

His parents, Lou and Julie Cabral said their son was a happy and well-adjusted teen who showed no signs of anxiety or depression.

"He was just such a caring individual," Lou Cabral said. "He had so many friends and we never had any concerns or any doubts that there was anything but happiness in his life."

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Matthew was in the gifted classes at Goochland Middle School and loved sports, being outdoors, and traveling with his family.

Julie Cabral said Matthew was excited about Christmas and was eagerly awaiting a trip to the Caribbean where he planned to go deep-sea fishing with his father and brother.

"In all the pictures we have, he was always jumping around, laughing and singing," Julie said. "There was nothing that we saw, there were no signs because he wasn't the kid that you'd expect to go off and do these things."

For the Cabral family, there remains the agonizing question of why did this happen? Why didn't we see the signs?

"We just will never know the answer, we just don't," Lou said. "He genuinely loved life. He genuinely enjoyed being around his friends and family."

"For me, especially the nights and the mornings are the hardest," Julie said. "The night is a reminder of like- OK- I went through one more day and then in the mornings, I've got to start one more day."

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The night before their son's death, the couple said they had a wonderful family dinner where they made jokes and planned for the holidays.

Julie said Matthew was shaking presents under the tree, trying to guess what was under the gift wrap.

When the Cabral parents left for work the next morning, it would be the last time they saw their son alive.

"He logged in for his first two classes and he had his lunch," Julie said. "My husband came home because classes ended at 2:20, and by the time he came home, he was gone."

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Suicide has become a devastating reality for more families.

Suicide in people between the ages of 10-24 has increased by 57% over a 10-year period, making it the second leading cause of death in young people, according to a recent CDC report.

In Virginia, the numbers are also staggering.

There were 200 suicides in the same age group in 2020, according to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.

A spokesperson for the Medical Examiner's Office said it was difficult to draw a comparison to the CDC numbers because there are slight methodological differences resulting in differences in totals.

The numbers for Virginia are as follows:

  • 2016: 172 suicides
  • 2017: 170 suicides
  • 2018: 197 suicides
  • 2019: 166 suicides

'It's OK to feel really awful'

Statistics show a statewide and nationwide mental health crisis that is growing even worse with the pandemic as children and teens struggle with the loss of independence and stability.

Kristin Lennox, a clinical therapist with Richmond-based Child Savers, said their organization is one of many experiencing a wait list for services.

"Because schools and peers are the primary lifelines for so many teens, finding ways to open up the conversation within the household or normalizing discussing mental health needs and normalizing discussing depression and anxiety, I think that's where it gets really difficult for parents," Lennox said.

Clinical therapists said it was important to not only talk openly with your children about anxiety and depression but to acknowledge their feelings and validate their grief.

"It's OK to feel really awful right now," Lennox said.

Therapists said future-oriented thinking or setting goals is another way to help teens cope with the helplessness that they may be experiencing during the pandemic.

Therapist Jan Williamson, a clinical supervisor with Child Savers, said it was important to encourage teens to think of ways to mourn losses while looking forward to the future.

"Creating your own family customs or rituals or activities can be important," Williamson said. "Those could be for fun or entertainment or for lifting your spirits but also related to grief or loss. It's important to allow kids and teenagers to design their own or think of their own ways of honoring the losses that they've had during the pandemic."

For some teens, the cries for help are visible. These teens socially isolate, lose interest in hobbies and activities, they also suffer from sleep or appetite loss.

But for some, especially younger teenagers who have a more difficult time expressing their feelings, the suffering may be in silence.

"There's so much increased isolation, where these kids just don't know how to cope, they don't have the tools to learn how to cope," Lou Cabral said.

The Cabrals are launching a foundation in their son's name that they hope will reach other families and prevent more teen suicides.

They've named it The Matthew Smiles Cabral Foundation.

"He was always smiling," Lou said.

The foundation aims to team up with other non-profit organizations to put more mental health resources in middle schools and to award sports and academic scholarships in Matthew's name.

"I can't let my kid be just another number somewhere, another life that was lost," Julie said. "There's got to be some good that comes out of this tragedy."

The Cabrals said they feared, more than anything else, that their son would be forgotten. They said his foundation would hopefully keep his light shining so another family never knows the devastation of losing a child.

They said parents should hug their children and talk to them as often as possible about mental health, even if they think they're doing OK.

"If you don't make that effort, you'll never know," Lou said. "Then you come home one day, and your son or daughter is no longer there and that's the ultimate tragedy. It's almost unbearable."

If you or someone you know has lost a loved one to suicide, the Comfort Zone Camp, a bereavement camp in Henrico County, is offering virtual support groups for teens and their parents every Thursday for the month of February.

To register or learn more click here.

The camp is also offering a virtual camp on February 20 to help teens with life-grief and coping skills.

See below for a list of local and national resources.

Local:

  • ChildSavers Immediate Response (804-305-2420)

We have clinicians On-Call 24/7/365 who are available to support with safety planning, de-escalation, and referrals to additional services/support for children and youth 2-17yo in the Greater Richmond areas.

  • RBHA (Richmond Behavioral Health Authority, (804-819-4100)
  • Chesterfield County Crisis Line (804-748-6356)
  • Henrico Residents Crisis Line (804-727-8484)
  • Charles City/New Kent residents Crisis Lines (877-264-8484; TTY 804-727-8496)

National:

  • Trevor Project Lifeline (1.866.488.7386)

24/7 crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBTQIA youth.

  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1.800.273.TALK)

Support and assistance 24/7 for anyone feeling depressed, overwhelmed, or suicidal.

A resource center for suicide prevention and intervention services

  • Crisis Text Line (Text 741741)

A free text line with 24/7 support available

Provides information, support services, and training around suicide prevention in people of color. Also includes online support groups for survivors of suicide

The segment is sponsored by WHOA Behavioral Health.