DALLAS — In 2017, Jason Dyke lost his 11-year-old son Carson to suicide.
He and his family were completely blindsided, there were no warning signs. Carson didn’t seem like the kind of kid to contemplate suicide.
“I had no idea why this was happening to my family,” said Dyke. “I was at a loss of what I was supposed to do next.”
At the hospital, after a nurse asked him to sign a form to release Carson to the medical examiner, he asked for a brochure or something that would tell him and his then-wife April what to do next.
“The nurse said that I should call a funeral home and they would tell me what to do,” said Dyke.
He walked out of the hospital that night without any real direction, and no one he knew could help him navigate the difficult and expensive decisions he and his family would have to make in a short period of time.
A few weeks later, he began thinking about how lost he felt in those moments immediately after Carson’s passing.
“I didn’t know how to plan a funeral, where to get a burial plot, how to write an obituary, or how expensive death can be,” said Dyke.
He felt very fortunate to have had a “village” of friends and family that took care of him, April and their two sons during that very difficult week.
He had friends who helped get him through the funeral and the challenging decisions they were constantly asked to make.
“I realized that not everyone has a village of support,” said Dyke. “Where did they go when they needed help?”
After googling and researching, he realized there was no organization in the United States whose mission was to compassionately support all aspects of what a family needs after the loss of a loved one with a live advocate.
“What I came to realize, was that bereavement services in the United States are sorely underdeveloped,” said Dyke. “It’s a topic no one wants to talk about, bereavement support is lacking, awkward, often inadequate and driven by the funeral home industry. This was a gap in services that I knew I could fill.”
Today, Dyke is the founder of Carson’s Village, a nonprofit organization designed to help families navigate the journey to what he calls “healthy grieving” after the loss of a loved one.
Carson’s Village provides a live advocate to support a family through the funeral or cremation and then keeps in contact with the family for up to a year to help foster healthy grieving.
“The village is the foundation of our grief support process,” said Dyke. “We provide both peer-to-peer and group support to those who need it immediately after the death of a loved one.”
Since the organization helped their first family in January 2018 they’ve provided their services to more than 1,300 families across the country.
“Our first month we had two referrals,” said Dyke. “This past September we had 81. That just goes to show there’s a huge demand out there.”
One person who said she would have been lost had it not been for Dyke and Carson’s Village is Jeanine VanSickle.
She unexpectedly lost 34-year-old Caleb Harris VanSickle in October 2018 to an accidental drug overdose.
“Caleb loved life,” said VanSickle. “We knew he’d struggled with addiction but he did not take his own life. Of that, I’m sure.”
Dyke remembers giving VanSickle advice on the cremation of her son. The funeral home they were using had quoted a price that was thousands of dollars more than what he knew another funeral home in the area was charging. When he called the funeral home and asked if they could match the price, they did.
“They went above and beyond,” said VanSickle. “Now, anytime I hear of someone passing that’s close, I refer them to Carson’s Village because I quite frankly don’t know how we’d have really been able to go through it.”
“People forget that funeral homes are businesses,” said Dyke. “Although they offer important services that help families grieve, they can sometimes offer things you don’t really need.”
While planning Carson’s services the funeral home offered an $800 casket spray of fresh flowers to sit on top of Carson’s casket. Dyke didn’t want to spend hundreds of dollars on the tradition of adorning the casket with flowers, but didn’t want it to appear he didn’t love his son.
His friend Jennifer who was at the funeral home with him and April told them they could save the money and cover the casket with a Texas A&M University flag since Carson had Aggie pride.
“That simple recommendation meant so much to April and I,” said Dyke. “I was having a hard time staying calm and Jen helping make that decision helped more than she knew.”
That kind of direction and advice is what he hopes Carson’s Village offers the families they help.
Dyke has worked to begin offering services in the workplace setting. He plans to have businesses contract their services so they can then offer Carson’s Village as a resource to their employees who have lost a loved one.
“Everything would be free to the families,” said Dyke.
He’s also working with the Houston Independent School District Foundation, for a pilot program where the foundation would provide Carson’s Village resources to the school district’s counselors.
“I think this is a great model that we’re piloting right now in Houston with hopes of rolling it out to other school districts,” he said.
Dyke said his family are still recovering and always will be.
They smile at memories of Carson, play Legos in his memory and cherish pictures and videos that remind them of the fun kid who left them too soon.
“Grief is intense, inconsistent, heart-breaking, surprising, and hard,” said Dyke. “I expect it will never go away for me. When you lose someone you love, grief is a life-long journey. My goal is that Carson’s Village can help families start their grief journey in the healthiest way so that long term they can learn to survive and thrive, with their loved one in their memories and their hearts.
For more information you can visit CarsonsVillage.org the service is completely free and their goal is to help families avoid many of the common pitfalls that come with an unexpected loss.