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Grace and Grief: Family of Eli Johnson hoping to erase suicide stigma

The family of 19-year-old Eli Johnson of Moorhead is hoping the loss of its much loved son and brother will spark a conversation about mental health, and the need to erase the stigma.

Eli Johnson, 19, of Moorhead died by suicide Sept. 11. His family hopes his death will prompt a conversation about mental health.
Eli Johnson, 19, of Moorhead died by suicide Sept. 11. His family hopes his death will prompt a conversation about mental health.

The family of 19-year-old Eli Johnson of Moorhead is hoping the loss of its much loved son and brother will spark a conversation about mental health, and the need to erase the stigma.

Eli died by suicide Sept. 11, and for his family, the warning signs were not there.

"He was the best person I know," said Madeline Johnson, Eli's sister. "I always joked he got the good looks and the athletic genes and the sense of humor."

Madeline recalled her brother as a kid, going along with her favorite games.

"We'd play Barbies and dolls and dress up, which he hated, but I loved it so we did," Madeline said. "He was the best brother."

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Eli's death weeks ago rocked the community. His parents and sister are still getting mail, adding to the tote boxes full of cards they received following his death. Letters from many other families who have lost loved ones to suicide, telling the Johnsons:

"Please don't spend your energy thinking you could have done more, or should have known, that is a waste of time," Madeline read from a letter. "He was an amazing person. Don't talk about the day he died but celebrate the years of life."

These days, Eli Johnson, No. 20, is missed at Concordia College's baseball practices.

"He was one of those guys," said Alex Erickson, Eli's friend and teammate. "When times were tough, we would look to him and he would be the one to get us through it."

"Eli can walk into a room and be everyone's best friend in a minute," said head coach Chris Coste. "He had it. The phrase, 'Come one, come all,' that is how he lived."

Eli was that kind of kid - a leader on any team: Moorhead hockey, baseball and here at Concordia.

The hope is that his story will spur others to start a conversation about mental health and depression, even though the red flags were not there for his family.

"The best thing we can do to help others is to not be ashamed because we are not ashamed," Madeline said. "We love Eli, and we would have done anything, and so if us sharing his story and our struggle and tragedy can help anyone, that is what we want to do.

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"Eli was loved, so much," said his mom, Annie Johnson. "And love doesn't cure depression."

  

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