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Out of Darkness: "I Miss Michael"

See Special Section, Out of Darkness

David Valentine's five-year-old niece Amanda said what 600 of Michael Valentine's family, friends and loved ones have felt every day since June 18, 2002.

"David, I miss Michael," she said.

"I couldn't say anything. I just wanted to cry," said David, 16, a student at Walt Whitman High School.

David's brother Michael Valentine, 21, died of suicide in June.

"We're the ones who have to explain it to the ones who can't understand it," said Shannon, the sister of Michael and David, and mother of their niece Amanda.

OVER TWO MONTHS after Michael's death, Michael’s father Bill Valentine keeps trying to make sense of it; he says his journal reads like a crime log, that he's still in the "investigative stage." He keeps looking for further answers, keeps hoping a conversation with the coroner, one of Michael's friends, or a psychiatrist will uncover something that gives him some relief.

But a psychiatrist told Bill Valentine what he must come to grips with.

"He says, 'Mr. Valentine, make your time lines, ask your questions, verify them again, but you'll come back to the one final question, why? The only person to answer that question is not available to you right now.'"

VALENTINE AND HIS FAMILY are left simply to grieve.

Nighttime is the most difficult, said Pam Valentine, Michael's mother.

"You're looking at a shattered mirror forever," she said.

"I watch him cry, and her cry, and the kids who come to the door cry and I want to say, 'Michael, did you ever realize this would be the end result?’" said Bill Valentine.

Over 60 percent of all people who die by suicide suffer from major depression, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

"Michael was very good at putting on a happy face, helping his friends. Everybody talks about what he did for them, but he didn't slow down long enough to do something for himself," said Pam Valentine.

Michael was active in sports and the outdoors, according to his family. He loved soccer, basketball, skiing, swimming, hiking and camping. When he attended Whitman High School, where he graduated in 1999, he was elected to the Homecoming Court three years in a row.

Even with all the friends he had, depression kept Michael from feeling good about himself and from realizing how many of his friends truly cared.

"He said his friends didn't like him. How can you say that on Sunday and less than 48 hours later, more than 600 people show up [at the funeral] to say what a great kid he was, how many times he helped them?" said Bill Valentine. "I call it the demon of depression; it's in charge."

He said a colleague gave him a description of depression he uses.

"Have you ever had a toothache? A really bad toothache? Imagine the toothache continuing, continuing and continuing and you can't go to the dentist. And, after a while all you think about is the toothache. That's all you can think about. That's depression."

"I view it as being down in a hole in a very black place and reaching up and trying to grasp something to hold onto," said Pam Valentine. She said she wishes something the night Michael died of suicide reminded him of David, his niece, or something to hold onto.

Experts say depression is a treatable disease.

"He didn't have enough faith to keep going. I remember I called here and he would cry on the phone because he said that he didn't feel like he deserved the help," said Shannon. "I tried to make him understand that there was light at the end of the tunnel. It didn't matter what you did, who you owed, what was going on, you would come out of it, that you have to give yourself time. You have to keep fighting."

Bill Valentine says what "tears him up inside" is thinking "how alone [Michael] must have been, how bad he must have felt" the hours after he last used his cell phone, a little after 10 p.m., and his death in the early hours of the next morning.

"We're convinced of this. The boy we sent to [the University of] Maryland we knew pretty well. I don't believe the boy we sent to Maryland was depressed particularly. I don't believe the boy we sent to Maryland was lacking in self confidence or that he deceived himself of his capabilities of his wants or desires, but the kid that came back, the kid that killed himself, was a different Michael."

SHANNON, WHO LIVES in West Virginia, brought Amanda back the house a few weeks after Michael died. She said Michael always came to visit with Amanda when they returned no matter how busy he may have been.

Pam Valentine said she and Shannon both talk to Amanda about Michael.

“I wanted Amanda to understand when her mom is sad, or her dad is sad, or when one of us is sad, or when she comes over that everyone one of us is going to have our moments and she has the right to be sad and angry.

"She cried and said she missed Michael and asked if she could go outside and scream," said Pam Valentine.

Amanda's actions echo the advice Michael's psychiatrist has for Bill and the family.

"He said, ‘You have every right, sir, to be mad as hell at your son … because what he did is wrong, it has caused everybody problems right now, it has caused pain, financial burden, anguish to people.

But, on the other hand, you have to love him and miss him.’"