In an honest obit, a discussion of mental health

The family of Thomas Kingsley Lawrence certainly had a difficult mission in writing the obituary for their son, who took his own life.

They met the challenge head on, and produced one of the most courageous and honest obituaries we’ve seen.

It appears in today’s Star Tribune.

Lawrence, Thomas Kingsley Age 22 of Mpls died in New Haven, CT by his own hand and was found on September 2, 2018. He had been battling manic-depressive illness (bipolar disorder) for nearly 5 years.

He is survived by his parents, Mary Gilbert Lawrence and James Arthur Lawrence; brothers, Christian John Lawrence and James Samuel Lawrence; and grandparents, Enid Gilbert Barness and James Bryson Gilbert. He was preceded in death by his grandparents, Gayle Kingsley Lawrence and Mary Sponseller Lawrence.

Thomas was born on February 5, 1996 at Yale New Haven hospital and died less than a mile away. At the time of Thomas’s birth, his family lived in Greenwich, Connecticut, and shortly thereafter, moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota. Thomas attended The Breck School through sixth grade and participated in South Minneapolis youth sports. His favorites were football and ice hockey.

In September 2008, Thomas moved to London with his parents where he attended The American School in London and made many friends of many nationalities and religions.

Thomas enjoyed supporting the Chelsea Football Club and playing youth rugby and ice hockey. From being a middling hockey player in Minnesota, he became known as a youth ice hockey superstar in London, where he was a leading goal scorer as a defensive player.

In Spring of 2010, Thomas returned to Minnesota to complete 8th grade at Breck. Thomas matriculated at The Lawrenceville School in New Jersey in September 2010. There he played ice hockey, captained the Cleve House football team to victory, and was a standout academically, winning the History Prize in his sophomore year. Thomas enjoyed the camaraderie of great roommates, many friends, excellent coaching, and outstanding teaching there.

Thomas’s illness first manifested itself during Spring Term of 2013, forcing him to withdraw two weeks short of completing junior year. That Fall, Thomas was welcomed into The Kent School in Connecticut. The academic excellence and Christian kindness shown by the Kent School community — students, faculty, coaches, medical team, and administration provided an environment where Thomas would thrive.

Following the successes of his Senior year at Kent, Thomas was awarded admission to Yale University. Thomas’s illness intensified greatly late in 2015, requiring him to take a 2-year medical leave from Yale. By January 2018, Thomas had recovered sufficiently to return to Yale where he was a political science major and was enthralled by several classes he took exploring ethics, sociology, and legal issues surrounding artificial intelligence.

Even as he appeared “fine,” Thomas continued to suffer greatly. He ended his life thoughtfully, carefully, and deliberately. His family and friends will miss his red hair, his wide smile, his capacity to excel, his curiosity, his kindness, and his gracious spirit. May he now rest in the peace he sought.

A memorial service will be held on Saturday, November 24th at 11:00am at Plymouth Congregational Church, 1900 Nicollet Avenue, Minneapolis. Remembrances preferred to any research program at a medical school focused on neuroscience, psychiatry, or behavioral health.

These are the sort of obituaries which eventually lead us to a more intelligent, thoughtful, and honest discussion about mental illness.

Related: Lawrence ’21 remembered as kind, generous (Yale News)