Betsy Primos and other mothers
find hope after losing sons to suicide
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article could trigger traumatic emotions and memories, whether you have struggled with suicidal thoughts or love someone who has. Use prayerful discretion.
“Truett was a live wire from the time he was born,” says his mother, Betsy Primos, sitting in a rocker on the front porch of the family cabin in Flora. “His little mind wouldn’t slow down” long enough for schoolwork, she says.
At 10 years old, Truett gave his life to Jesus, though like most believers, he questioned things as he got older. He grew into a kindhearted man – the type who would drive a stranger home and not tell his momma about it till afterward.
Truett loved to hunt, fish, socialize, and especially spend time with his brother, Houston, who was only 18 months older. Truett always had to be surrounded by people, which speaks to some anxiety. But Betsy never knew about any deep emotional struggles he had.
That’s especially weird since “I talked to Truett Primos till 2 or 3 in the morning two or three nights a week (when he was at Ole Miss),” she says. “He would just call me and talk about this, that or the other.”
Once, he called and asked her to get him a pocket Bible, and gave her exact dimensions.
But he made mistakes. He fought alcohol more than Betsy knew. Someone took a video of him drunk at a bar in Oxford, and the footage wound up on a national website.
“That affected him till the day he died,” Betsy says. “He (told me), ‘I shouldn’t have been drunk. But I don’t understand why this would’ve been sent out all over the place.’”
Betsy and her husband, Houston Sr., took Truett out of the University of Mississippi after two years, after finding he’d become addicted to prescription Xanax. After completing rehab, he came home and started working for B&B Electrical and Utility Contractors.
On October 6, 2017, Truett seemed like his normal carefree self as he failed to get ready in a timely manner for a rehearsal dinner. At the dinner, he made people laugh.
Later that night, Truett went to a party and got drunk. The cops were called due to general disturbance, and Betsy was notified, so she ran over.
She was just in time to see her 22-year-old son shoot himself.
She can only imagine he did it because he thought he’d be arrested. Because he didn’t want to disappoint the family.
Not six months before Truett’s suicide, Betsy finally acted on a conviction, one she’d felt for several years, that God wanted her to be baptized. She’s glad she did it. She thinks it better prepared her to walk with God in her grief.
“God will get you through it,” she says. “I feel like God has given me a life to live even after Truett.”
The memory of Truett himself also has helped.
“I cry about every night,” she says. “The first thing I felt like doing was getting in bed and not coming out … But I just kept thinking, ‘Truett wouldn’t want me sitting around in a depressed state.’”
A couple weeks after Truett’s suicide, Betsy went back to work at Meadowbrook Preschool in Jackson. When asked about the school, her face lights up with a smile:
“Preschool has saved me in so many ways,” she says. “I do get emotional about my coworkers, because they have been there for me from day one. The first two people I saw at my house (after Truett’s death) were two girls I worked with.”
The kiddos themselves help heal the soul, too.
“To have a child on my lap … and to hear the little songs they sing (is so special). I’m a hugger, so it’s going to be hard knowing I can’t hug them (due to COVID-19),” she says.
“It’s probably one of the five biggest blessings in my life, to go into that school.”
She hopes to go into other schools — ones with older kids — to talk about suicide, maybe next year. She’s already been asked, but she wants to be able to do it without crying. For now, “Facebook is my main platform,” she says.
In God’s timing, she’ll keep speaking out, thanks to His presence and “an unbelievable support group,” she says, including not only her colleagues but her mother, “big Houston” and “little Houston,” faithful friends, and other mothers who’ve lost children to suicide.
“There is just an instant bond when you meet someone who’s lost a child.”
For more photos of Truett and his family, click here.
Kysia Owens smiles when talking about her son Zeremiah. Even when remembering his dark times.
“I think about the goodness of him, and he smiles through me,” she says.
Before he was born, Kysia herself struggled with suicidal ideation for 20 years, though she never made an attempt.
“I was having some of those thoughts, and then I got pregnant and thought, ‘I can’t abandon my child.’ Then I was having the thoughts again, and I got pregnant again,” she says.
Zeremiah, the younger of her two sons, started experiencing depression and anxiety at 14 or 15 years old.
“He liked to stay isolated. He took the TV out of his room. He didn’t care to have lights on. He would engage when we did things as a family, but if you allowed him to stay to himself, he would,” Kysia says.
She put him in therapy, got him on medication. Talked to him.
“It was a regular conversation for us,” she says. Starting at age 15, he attempted suicide five times before succeeding on the sixth. He’d go maybe a few weeks, or a few months, but never a year without things getting bad.
But Zeremiah also had strong faith in God, Kysia says. He could quote scripture, even though a reading disability kept him from reading the Bible well. He attended church with the family on Sundays, and with his grandmother on Wednesday nights.
He prayed about his desire to leave this world, Kysia says.
“He’d pray, ‘Lord, I’m ready to come home. This is just a traveling place.’ It was mostly when we were getting ready for bed,” she says. “It happened very frequently in the last year (before his death), maybe 10 times.
“The first time, I just overheard it … We had a conversation about it. Then I would listen. You know how you listen at (your kids’) doors.”
Kysia knew she was doing everything in her power, but she also knew it might not work. She would ask God to heal Zeremiah, whether in this life or the next. And she would say, “If You allow him to come home, help me not to cry every day, but to help someone else.”
Zeremiah graduated high school and enrolled at Hinds Community College in Pearl to study video and photography. He was visually talented and loved taking pictures, Kysia says.
In the year before his death, Kysia — who works at Jackson Public Schools — started taking calls at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. This helped her further understand her son.
The week before Zeremiah’s freshman year ended, on April 6, 2018, Kysia was in her car on her lunch break when her mother called.
“When she kept saying, ‘the tree, the tree,’ I knew,” Kysia recalls. Zeremiah had hung himself from his favorite tree in his grandmother’s backyard. Kysia and her sons lived next door to her mother at the time. Zeremiah had waited until all the family left.
He was 20 years old.
Kysia never got angry with God over Zeremiah, she says.
“One, I know God makes no mistakes,” she says. “I knew my baby was in pain (and) I knew God would take better care of him than I could, in the state of mind he was in.”
She’s never been “big on therapy” for herself, she says, but she went to therapy after Zeremiah’s death. What helps her most, though, is having a purpose. She still works for the national hotline, usually about three days a week.
“Some people call if they just need to vent. Some people just need to hear another human voice. Some people have their own answers to their questions, but they need to verbalize it,” she says.
“The struggle for most people is finding their purpose, their push. When I talk to people on the phone, we try to find their goals,” she says. “When I hear people say, ‘I’m going to keep pushing,’ that motivates me to keep going, and it helps me continue to heal.
“I don’t want anyone to go through what I went through.”
She’s even started an organization called Branches of Faith: Zeremiah’s Safe Haven, and is pursuing her master’s in social work in order to open a foster home in his honor.
“He was always so helpful. He loved helping people,” she says. “I’m finishing what he started.”
Kysia also shares her story as an executive board member for the organization Self-Discovery: Pain, Positioning and Purpose (SDPPP), and in the book “The Voices Behind Mental Illness: Destigmatizing the Myths,” edited by SDPPP Executive Director Venessa D. Abram. The book is available on Amazon.
For more photos of Zeremiah and his family, click here.
Janet Ingram went to high school with Betsy Primos. Less than three months before Truett Primos committed suicide, Janet’s son Ben (who didn’t know Truett) did the same.
“Ben was always such a happy kid,” Janet says — until ninth grade.
As a child, Ben wanted to be a preacher at one point. Later, when Janet visited her kids as adults — twin sons Ben and Lee, and daughter Liles — they still had the Bible-verse magnets she’d gotten them. Even in Ben’s suicide note, he wrote about having seen a vision of the Trinity. She firmly believes he’s in heaven.
Ben and Lee were often “cut-ups,” Janet says. As teens, they accidentally pulled away from a gas pump with the nozzle in their tank. Gasoline went everywhere, as the station didn’t have automatic shut-offs. The fire department came and sprayed white foam all over. Ben called and texted friends to come see.
“Ben was hilarious when he was feeling good,” Janet says.
When he started experiencing anxiety and depression, “I kept thinking, ‘Ben is going to grow out of this. He’s just hormonal.’”
He started seeing a therapist. In college, he got on Zoloft, which seemed to help, but only to a degree.
Three years before his suicide, a tearful Ben told Janet, “I’m just so lonely,” and begged to get a dog. Janet believes Charlotte the mutt saved Ben’s life for the next three years.
The summer after Ben graduated from Ole Miss, he emailed a suicide note. Later, he verbally told his parents and Lee on separate occasions that he wanted to kill himself.
“We were not equipped to know what to say (when he brought it up),” beyond begging him not to do it, Janet says.
After sending the note, Ben tried twice to hang himself. The first time, the belt broke. The second time, he stopped the process after hearing God say, “Stay.”
In Ben’s final months, he seemed better. On a Tuesday, Janet invited him to lunch with her and her niece and nephew. When she saw Ben having a staring contest with her nephew, and sneaking bites of the kids’ desserts, she felt she could stop worrying. Ben was happy.
He was going to start a new job the following Monday, and then visit his sister in Texas that next weekend.
“When we left (lunch), Ben gave me a big hug and said, ‘I love you, Mom.’”
Four days later, on July 22, 2017, Janet was helping decorate for a wedding reception when her phone rang. Her husband, Reed, was “inconsolable,” she says. Ben had hung himself using Charlotte’s leash, two months shy of his 24th birthday.
Now Janet knows why Ben was so happy earlier that week. “He knew he was going to get out of his misery and go be with the Lord.”
Janet watched the video of Ben’s funeral every day for over a month.
Then a friend invited her to a worship service. At one point a woman in the congregation raised her hand and said, “I hear crickets. I’m hearing them, and I’m visualizing them. I don’t know why.”
Janet knew why. Ben had been working at a cricket farm when he died. That sign — and that service, full of praise and worship, prayer, and teaching — was exactly what she needed.
Other friends, neighbors and family loved on Janet and prayed for her, which was especially powerful since “all I could get out was, ‘Jesus, help me.’” None of those things cured her grief.
“I’ve honestly just prayed for God to take me,” she says. “I wondered how God was going to use me now. How was I going to move forward without my son?”
But eventually, through time spent with other believers, her dogs (including Charlotte, whom she adopted), and especially the Lord, Janet started to heal.
“All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be,” Janet reads from Psalm 139:16b. Even though God doesn’t want anyone to commit suicide, He still ordained Ben’s days.
One possible reason God allowed Ben to leave, she says, was so others could see that suicide is not the way out. Also, she wants those who’ve lost loved ones to suicide to find hope in Jesus.
“Your life will never be the same, but God will reveal His love in ways you’d never see otherwise. He will be with you in your suffering.”
For more photos of Ben and his family, click here.