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On Our Minds is the name of KERA's mental health news initiative. The station began focusing on the issue in 2013, after the mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. Coverage is funded in part by the Donna Wilhelm Family Fund and Cigna.

After Their Own Tragedy, Coppell Family Helps Others Navigate The Sudden Loss Of A Loved One

Jason Dyke is a proud Aggie. Visit his home in Coppell, and you're greeted with a maroon Texas A&M University flag outside the front door. About 15 years ago, he and some of his college friends pooled their money and bought an old Texas A&M school bus. Dyke calls them his "bus family." 

They get together every football season.

"We all converge on College Station, we go pick the bus up, and then we drive it to the game and to the house we stay in," Dyke says. 

Over the years, Dyke and his bus family have celebrated milestones and supported each other through tough times. They rallied around him when he lost his 11-year-old son Carson.

A note to readers: this story mentions suicide. If you are in a crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Family tragedy

Carson was a sharp kid. He tutored classmates in math. He loved Star Wars, Jurassic Park and Legos. When he tried out for the school band, he passed on percussion instruments to form a trombone gang with his friends. And he wanted to be an Aggie, like his dad.

The Dyke family. Carson is second from the right.
Credit Courtesy Jason Dyke
The Dyke family. Carson is second from the right.

Dyke says the night in April 2017 when they lost Carson started out like any other.

"My wife was home, and my middle son Ryan was here, and Carson was here, and Carson had a bad day," Dyke says. "He had gotten into an argument over a couple things at school. We're still not totally sure what happened."

The family went down the street to visit a neighbor. Carson didn't want to join. They weren't gone long and came back home around dinner time.

"Ryan and I got in the car and drove back over here to come get Carson, and by then it was dark," Dyke says. "I went upstairs to get him, and I found him."

Carson had died by suicide. Soon, police and paramedics descended on the house. The Dyke family rushed to a nearby hospital. They left empty handed.

"And as I was signing him out, I was kind of half joking, but I asked for my brochure, and they said, 'What brochure?' and I said, 'The brochure that's going to tell me what to do,'" Dyke said. "And they said, 'Well, if you call a funeral home, they'll walk you through the process,' and that was it."

The next few days were a haze. Dyke's bus family rushed to Coppell to be by his side.

"You're so low, and you just don't know how to think or what to do when you're at the funeral home," he says. "And at one point, they tried to sell me this big $800 spray of flowers to go on the casket, and I remember thinking, 'I need to buy these flowers because I don't want people to think I didn't love my son,'" he said. "That's how low you get. And our friend said, 'No, instead we're going to put an A&M flag on the casket because we're all Aggies.'

"That meant more than a bunch of dumb flowers ever would have."

Helping others navigate

Dyke thought families like his could use more support. His wife, April, wrote a Facebook post detailing how they got through the loss of their son, to try and help others. 

In the months that followed, the Dykes launched Carson's Village, a nonprofit that walks families through the aftermath of a sudden death at no cost. Today, they get referrals from hospitals, police, religious groups and more all over the country.

Carson Dyke.
Credit Courtesy Jason Dyke
Carson Dyke.

Some families need help with funeral arrangements. Others need counseling to process their grief.

Ola Iromini didn't know who to call when she lost her baby girl this past January. At 32 weeks pregnant, she suffered a miscarriage, and most of her family was in Nigeria.

"I was by myself," Iromini says. "I am new in America. How was I supposed to make an arrangement for the burial of the baby?"

The staff at Parkland Hospital told her about Carson's Village. The group helped Iromini set up a website to honor her daughter, who she named McKenzie. Iromini wrote a post about her expeirence and shared photos of McKenzie. It saved her the pain of having to relive her miscarriage, one phone call at a time. She emailed a link to the website to her friends and family, and within five days, her loved ones donated enough money to cover the funeral costs. It gave Iromini a sense of closure. 

"It made me feel like I wasn't pregnant to get nothing in return," Iromini says. "It still made me feel like I am a real mother."

To date, Carson's Village has worked with more than 100 families. Jason Dyke says this work helps him heal. Carson lives on in the details — from his photo in the group's brochures to the Lego figurines Dyke keeps on his desk. They were Carson's favorite, and he passes them out to families he works with.

It makes Dyke feel like Carson isn't really gone.

Syeda Hasan is the Elections Editor and Reporter at KERA. Before moving into that role, she covered mental health at the station. A Houston native, her journalism career has taken her to public radio newsrooms around Texas.