By Beth Galvin, FOX Medical Team reporter – FOX 5 Atlanta
FULTON COUNTY, Ga. – Being a teenager today is not easy. There’s pressure to get the right grade, get in the right college, make the right friends. Sometimes the pressure is too much. That’s why one Fulton County family has taken on a mission to help teens reach out to each other when they need help. On the outside, Will Trautwein lived a pretty charmed life. His parents say he was good a sports, good at music, good at making friends. But in October of 2010, they lost Will and that’s when the Trautweins made it their mission to make sure other teenagers know they’re not alone.
John and Susie Trautwein say Will, the oldest of four, had a grace about him. Everything – music, sports, friends – came easily. “He just liked everybody, all types, all sorts,” said John. They saw it when Will was only about 8, playing basketball, when an opposing player grabbed the ball away. “He chases the kid to the other end of the court and touches him, and the guy turns around and he says, ‘That was awesome! You rock!’ He gave him [a fist bump] right in the middle of the game,” said John.
But the fall of 2010, Will’s freshman year at Northview High School in Johns Creek, the 15-year-old who was always smiling was also quietly struggling. “Will had so many things he was looking forward to the very next day. The very next week. Big things, like driver’s permits, and getting braces off,” said John. “We could go crazy, crazy just thinking about all of that.”
Because in a moment the Trautweins will never quite understand, Will hung himself in his bedroom. “I find it strange that with all of us here, right here, brothers right next to him, that he wouldn’t snap out of it and go, ‘What am I doing? Gosh.’ But that’s unfortunately how quickly it can happen,” said Susie. If there were warning signs, John and Susie didn’t see them.
“So, there was nothing big, that you would think, ‘Oh, gosh if we would have just stop and called time out.’ And the hard thing, and probably the most important thing is that’s very, very normal,” said John. “Everyone here can’t believe it, except the experts. And the experts say, ‘Yeah, every day. Every day a kid like Will, who everybody loved, and everybody thought had the world, is struggling.'” That’s why the Trautweins created the Will to Live Foundation: to teach teenagers how to connect with each other and recognize when a friend is in trouble.
“That whole idea came from the weekend of his death and I saw all these boys hugging each other saying ‘I love you.’ And I said, ‘Man, if they just would have done that beforehand, or did Will know how loved he was,'” said John. The goal of Will to Live is to teach teens to see each other as life-long teammates, who can talk about anything, even suicide. “Parents need to be aware it is a real thing and 60 percent plus of kids, teenagers think about it,” said Susie. “Ask them about it. Have you ever thought? Have you ever considered it? If you give them that route to talk about it… they’ll just understand that you get it.”
The Trautweins say the Will to Live Foundation has helped them begin to heal as a family. “It was my way of keeping his spirit alive, perhaps,” said John. The Will to Live Foundation trains teens to take their friends seriously if they talk about hurting themselves and to tell an adult.
Will’s father John is a former Boston Red Sox pitcher. The Trautweins have created “Life Teammates,” encouraging teams to wear wristbands and helmet stickers to remind teens to turn to each other. This spring, the Will to Live Foundation began training all Fulton County teachers and administrators how to recognize the warning signs of suicide. To read more about Will Trautwein’s story and the Will To Live Foundation, go to www.will-to-live.org