For Susan and Alan Fish, their world was irrevocably changed on Oct. 10, 2017, when their 22-year-old son Jackson died by suicide. In the months since, they've been able to lean on others who have lost children to suicide in part through the Ross County Suicide Prevention Coalition, a resource they're helping to bring to their hometown in Waverly.
"Chillicothe, Waverly, you've got such a tight knit small community where people know each other, and maybe that's bad because everybody knows what you do, but it's good because everyone cares,"We've had a lot of outpouring from family and friends. It's been comforting and it's been very nice."
Jack, as most called him, was just 8 when he had his first brain surgery due to cancerous tumors. By time he graduated from Waverly High School, he'd had a second brain surgery in addition to rounds of radiation treatment and a gamma knife procedure.
Although finally cancer free, Jack's vision had been impacted to the point he couldn't get a driver's license. He was well over 6-feet tall, but he looked much younger because his hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis didn't work properly.
"When he'd go out with us to have a beer he'd get carded. It was hard to get girls when you look 12," Susan said.
But people liked Jack - his sweet smile, his big heart. He loved kids, animals, and computers.
Not wanting to be "cancer boy" anymore, Susan said Jack worked to reinvent himself at Marshall University. He was a founding father of Marshall's chapter of the Kappa Sigma fraternity, but he left after a few years and went to Shawnee State for a semester.
Once he returned home, Jack worked at Kroger, he tried learn how to whittle, bought a violin - was flitting from thing to thing looking for something to grab his interest.
"He was just kind of drifting," Alan said.
"You could tell he wasn't happy," Susan added. "He wasn't happy with where his life was going, and he didn't seem like he knew how to get out of that hole."
Oct. 10, 2017, was the 14th anniversary of his first brain surgery and the day when Jack completed suicide. Studies in recent years have shown indications that survivors of childhood cancer are at a higher risk of suicidal thoughts than the general population.
"Hindsight is always 20/20, but I think now I'd have been a little pushier because I did notice (something)," Susan said. "He used to come and hang out with us and we would have friends over and he'd come out and he'd hang with us and he just didn't do that anymore. He was spending more and more time by himself, more and more time on the computer ... Now looking back, yea, he was pulling away. He was isolating himself."
Out of the shadows
After Jack died, his parents and younger sister Natalie began searching for an outlet for their grief.
"We were looking for something, if you can make anything good out of losing your son," Susan said.
With the help of friends and family and the First National Bank of Waverly, they were able to renovate the playground area at the V.A. Memorial Stadium where Jack had spent so much time due to his love of the Chillicothe Paints. He'd been a bat boy for the team, participated in programs they had, and worked for them off-and-on until he was 21, so it seemed a fitting place to remember him.
Jackson Conner Fish, aged 22, born July 2, 1995, son of Alan and Susan Fish, and brother of Natalie Fish (and special friend Riley Cannon), died Tuesday, October 10, 2017 at home. He was a 2013 graduate of Waverly High School and the Verne Riffe CTC, where he studied computer technology. He attended Marshall University, where he was a founding father of the Kappa Sigma fraternity, and Shawnee State University. He was a member of the Grace United Methodist Church of Waverly.
Jack is the grandson of Anthony and Judy Fish of Waverly, and Peggy Hedges of Mt. Olivet, Kentucky.
Jack was preceded in death by his grandfather, Dan Hedges.
Jack is also survived by his uncle, John (Lana) Fish of Ross County, Ohio, aunts, Elizabeth (Jack) McPherson of Sevierville, Tennessee, Catherine (Matthew) Fish-Robinson of Amsterdam, and Rebecca (Marvin) Schalch of Mt. Olivet, Kentucky. Jack was employed at the Kroger in Waverly.
Jack's smile will be missed by all who knew him. He overcame four brain tumors, and was tumor free at last. He loved his video games, dogs and his new kittens. He was very loved and will be missed.
A memorial service will be held at a later date at the family's convenience.www.boyerfuneral.com
Published in the Chillicothe Gazette on Oct. 13, 2017