The night of September 28, 2014, I received a phone call as I pulled into my driveway. I expected the voice on the other end to radiate positive energy as I had grown accustomed to over the years. Katelyn Katsafanas is the type of person I aspire to be, day in and day out. When my name comes up on someone’s phone, I want to give off that energy too. Unfortunately, when I answered, the conversation that happened was not what I had expected. Katelyn needed my help. A brother needed my help.
Katelyn was dating my pledge brother and best friend, Parker Jordan.
To say Parker and I were close would be an understatement. We received our bids to join Theta Chi Fraternity at the University of Alabama together and from that point on, we forged a relationship that could rival George Strait and Pat Green’s any day. Everyone knew it—we were Texans and like any person blessed to be born in the greatest state in the Union, we were damn proud of it.
Over the years, Parker would come to my family home in Mobile for Mardi Gras and I would play golf with him at his home course in Fort Worth. It was obvious; we were put here to entertain each other and to make lasting memories throughout our time at Alabama. More than friends, we were brothers.
The conversation that came from that phone call shocked me more than anything up to that point in my life. She told me she was worried about Parker. More than worried, actually. She was scared he may hurt himself.
Parker and Katelyn were always upbeat, happy, fun, loud, and the life of the party. She was an amazing match for him, and from the outside looking in, things were perfect in their often glowing little world.
We didn’t know about the demons waging war inside of him. The treacherous mine field Parker was living in was something none of us could comprehend. Katelyn knew I needed to be with Parker in that moment and I could feel it in my bones, she was right.
I remember the conversation we had that night. We talked about school. Parker was in a grueling intermediate accounting course and his ability to think clearly was starting to fade. The stress just intensified the feelings of self-doubt already blurring his thoughts. He was worried he wouldn’t make the grades he needed to get into our local Accounting Honor Society. Parker was making A’s and B’s on all his tests, but still he was overwhelmed. I felt like he was better after we talked it through. Sometimes, we just need someone to talk to. I wanted to sleep on his couch that evening but he insisted he was okay. Before I left, we set up a meeting for him with our Dean of Students office and talked about how Katelyn contacted his family.
He promised me, in a tear filled hug, he would not hurt himself. I told him I loved him and headed home.
At this point, an entire support system was beginning to form around Parker. Our Vice President of Health and Safety, Johnston Watkins and a few brothers noticed Parker wasn’t himself and began to check in on him, regularly. This group didn’t even know about the rest of us doing what we could to help Parker. They knew the oaths they took to watch after each other and were living our creed. This was the Fraternity in its most pure form. Brothers looking out for one another and doing everything they could to help. We are our brother’s keeper to the best of our ability.
Parker took his own life, 2 years ago today.
As I write these words, tears still fall. Two years later the pain is still very raw and very real, but I firmly believe on that day, Parker knew he was loved. Mental illness is scary. Modern science still struggles to understand all of its intricacies, just as we do, with those we love suffering from it every day. We will never understand why Parker choose to leave us but the events which followed that horrible day provide comfort for us all.
I have never felt the full breadth of our brotherhood as I did in the days that followed Parker’s death. I was the Chapter President at the time and the outpouring from brothers from around the country was astounding. Hundreds of emails, calls, and texts flooded my phone. If you are reading this today and were one of those people who sent your condolences: Thank You. Your love and support is what this Fraternity truly embodies.
Over the past two years, tens of thousands of dollars for mental health research have been raised in Parker’s name. Right now, a Parker Jordan Memorial Scholarship is being created. Dedicated people who loved Parker have managed to create some good out of this tragedy.
Nothing will bring Parker back. I desperately wish I had the power to do that. The power I do have is to honor him by living the life we often discussed together.
For the readers still with me here, I hope this inspires you to never take a moment for granted. To be cognizant when considering the health, physical and mental, of those around you. Recognize the signs of depression and suicidal tendencies early and never hesitate to act.
Marcus Gibson (Alpha Phi/Alabama 2015)
Editor’s note: It is important to recognize the signs of depression and suicidal thoughts. Below are a list of warning signs as well as resources for yourself or those you know who might be in danger of hurting themselves. Make sure you understand your role and promote the intervention of professionals. If someone tells you they want to take their life, offer help and compassion but know there are ways to ensure their safety too. You can report the threat to the police and in most situations, they can physically intervene and take them to a safe place.
According to the Mayo Clinic, suicide warning signs or suicidal thoughts include:
- Talking about suicide — for example, making statements such as “I’m going to kill myself,” “I wish I were dead” or “I wish I hadn’t been born”
- Getting the means to take your own life, such as buying a gun or stockpiling pills
- Withdrawing from social contact and wanting to be left alone
- Having mood swings, such as being emotionally high one day and deeply discouraged the next
- Being preoccupied with death, dying or violence
- Feeling trapped or hopeless about a situation
- Increasing use of alcohol or drugs
- Changing normal routine, including eating or sleeping patterns
- Doing risky or self-destructive things, such as using drugs or driving recklessly
- Giving away belongings or getting affairs in order when there’s no other logical explanation for doing this
- Saying goodbye to people as if they won’t be seen again
- Developing personality changes or being severely anxious or agitated, particularly when experiencing some of the warning signs listed above
1 (800) 273-8255 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline