THE WOODLANDS, Texas — Parents remember the milestones in our children’s lives. The first crawl, the first step, the first word.
A family in The Woodlands has fond memories of their daughter. Until the day that left them shattered and changed their mission in life.
“Cassidy truly was the girl with a smile on her face,” Kim Hess remembers. "She was the sweetest, funniest little baby, and turned into a cute little toddler with rolls and rolls of fat.”
"You know, for her to just lay on me when she was sleeping, was just my favorite part of the day,” Dad Judd said.
Cassidy was Kim and Judd’s first born, the oldest of their three kids. Their little girl became a bright, loving and determined teenager.
She was soaring as a member of Woodlands Elite cheer squad. But behind her smile, there was sadness.
It was December 20, 2015.
“It was just a normal day,” said Kim Hess. “I gave her a hug and a kiss and told her I loved her like I did every morning."
The family later learned from classmates at College Park high school that their 16-year-old daughter was having a bad day.
“I wasn't around her that day, but we heard she was very sad and people kept asking her what was wrong, and she kept saying, ‘I'm OK,’" said Judd Hess.
She was not OK and late that afternoon, Cassidy tried to take her own life at home. The family was blindsided.
"Did she seem out of sorts, anxious upset, not herself?’ we asked.
"You know, looking back now, I can see some of those signs, but at the time we didn't, because a lot of those signs are signs of being a normal teenager," Kim said.
Cassidy was rushed to the hospital, where she was put on life-support. Her family says rumors were flying as to what happened, so they decided to be transparent.
“We just put our story out there,” said Kim. “We didn't hide behind what happened. We made it very clear that she tried to take her life, which was very shocking to anyone who knew Cassidy."
So what was going on with Cassidy? The family noticed she was sleeping more and was anxious about school. Her grades were slipping. But her mother says she was always guarded with her feelings.
“Hindsight, now that I know some of these signs, could be more than just being a typical teenager, yeah we would have done something differently,” said Kim. “We would have dug harder."
Six days later, the family made the difficult decision to take Cassidy off life-support.
Anguish and grief slowly turned into a mission.
“No one wants to talk about mental health, and no one certainly wants to say the word ‘suicide,’" Kim said.
Kim helped create the Montgomery County Suicide Prevention Task Force and over the years, has talked withdozens of families in crisis.
“You get your child talking to you, some don't know how to start, but it's easy,” Kim said. “Ask 'Are you OK?' And don't dismiss it, like Cassidy, who said ‘I'm fine,’ when you know they are not. You have got to get them help."
That help is in the form of counseling and therapy, and she keeps working to end the silence and the stigma.
“One day at a time, one speech at a time, one training session at a time, it's time to talk about it,” Kim said.
This Saturday, there's an event called ‘Hope for the Holidays," a fun Christmas variety show with dancing and singing. It raises money for awareness about mental health and teen suicide. It takes place at Cassidy’s school, College Park High School in The Woodlands.
You can get tickets by going to CassidyJoinedforhope.com