Hazel Lewis celebrated her son’s life on Aug. 10, marking the first year anniversary of his death.
“The reason I’m here is to promote the walk … to see if anyone would be interested in doing it to help those who may need help,” Lewis said of the way she’s honoring her son.
“Semaj still smiles,” she said.
His mother is sure of it as she and her husband, Stephen, devote their efforts now to bringing awareness to suicide prevention. They’ promoted the Out of Darkness Walk in New Orleans in New Orleans. It’s also part of the American Foundation For Suicide Prevention (SFSP)’s efforts to help.
“I’m able to be at peace with this,” Lewis said. “I want to share this with other people.”
To this day, this mother has no real answer as to why her son, a Hahnville native, took his life other than to say he dealt with depression and he suffered in silence. But his family struggles with the question of why when Lewis said they are the kind of people who addressed issues.
“This child didn’t come from a home that was broken,” she said. “We were parents who were there and if this can happen to us it could happen to anybody.”
They taught their children about doing good, bullying and peer pressure, but never discussed depression.
“We were blindsided and never had any warning,” Lewis said. “People need to admit that they’re vulnerable, find someone to talk about it and let them know ‘I’m not in a good place.’’”
Semaj was attending the University of Louisiana-Monroe on an athletic scholarship, which he’d earned after a stellar track and field career at De La Salle High School in New Orleans. He was state champion of the 60-meter dash at the 2015 LHSAA Indoor Track and Field Championship, where he qualified for five events. He followed in his father’s footsteps, who also ran track at De La Salle. Semaj was also a standout football star and had offers to play both sports at the next level.
“You met him one time and he always left a little nugget with you,” said his mother. “You’d never forget him. He had friends from all nationalities.”
Lewis said helping others helps her celebrate her son’s life.
“This is so fitting to do because he had a way of bringing people together,” Lewis said.
It’s been a long process for the family and talking to some people through the AFSP helped them work through the sorrow in many ways.
“Suicide is not something anyone really wants to do,” she said. “They’re in pain and they just want the pain to stop. My job now is to try to find understanding and bring awareness to people. Getting help doesn’t mean a person is crazy, Lewis said.
She and her husband have become advocated for suicide prevention. They’re working the AFSP in New Orleans, but hope to get something started in St. Charles Parish, which also needs the help.
“I’m learning to make this a new norm without him being here,” she said. “I’m so used to him calling me on the weekends and coming through the door and his joyful self.”
As Semaj’s 21st birthday approaches on Oct. 7, Lewis chooses to focus on celebrating his life and how his goodness may have brought them closer to an answer about his loss.
These days, they focus on her life’s mantra: “You can’t heal what you don’t reveal.”