Editor’s Note: The Accent is publishing this story with the consent of the family, which hopes that sharing their experience will help others whose loved ones are struggling with emotional instability and/or mental illness.
Fourteen-year-old Hudson Baker loved making people smile, according to his father, Andy Baker, an assistant professor of applied technology. The teenager accomplished that goal by wearing bright-colored outfits and unique accessories.
“I think he loved to stand out whether it was with a weird hat, or having his hair long or wearing [a] bright, different pair of socks for every day of the week,” the father said in an interview with the Accent while reflecting on his young son’s life. “I think he enjoyed making other people happy and feel good by his goofy little moves.”
Andy Baker made the comments in his office at Southern Adventist University about four weeks after the loss of his son to suicide. As the Thanksgiving holiday approached, the family struggled to heal and cope with the roller coaster emotions associated with the untimely death. However, they remained grateful for the love and support they received from the Collegedale community in the wake of the tragedy.
“My wife and I have been blown away by the love [and prayers we received],” Baker said. “It’s been a month ago now. The amount of support from the college, from the boys’ school, from our churches, it has been a lot. It has been overwhelming. We are definitely riding the wave of a prayer.”
Hudson was the middle-child in a family with three boys, an eighth-grader at Collegedale Academy and a dedicated student. His father said he enjoyed learning and worked hard to achieve good grades.
The teenager also had a compassionate spirit, according to those who knew him. After his death, his family received a flood of letters from parents recounting how he impacted their children’s lives. The letters depicted Hudson seeking out and befriending bullied, lonely and friendless schoolmates, revealing his kind spirit.
“We have been told how Hudson would be the one that would be nice [to other children], or that he would give them a part of his lunch,” Baker said. “And that’s a very interesting thing, because Hudson never told us any of this.”
On Oct. 21, the family held a memorial service to celebrate Hudson’s brief life. The event drew hundreds of people, including many of the teenager’s schoolmates, teachers and friends.
While memorializing his son, a visibly emotional Baker stood in front of the audience and recalled his son’s active imagination, which engendered various theories and mind-bending conundrums.
“Hudson had all these crazy ideas; [they] would wear me out,” Baker said. “He was the ‘what-if’ guy: ‘What if cars could go under water?’ … But so many of these crazy ideas would come to life.”
One day, Baker was half-listening to Hudson brainstorming about one of his ambitious projects, but Baker’s mind was somewhere else. The next day Baker returned home to discover that the concept Hudson envisioned had become a reality. Using a mountain bike, some rope and a ladder, Hudson had created a simulation device to practice popping wheelies. Baker said it was exactly how Hudson had explained it, and he [Baker] had blown it off as just another “wacky” idea.
Baker also recalled his son having a special bond with his mother, Wencke Baker. During the memorial service, he referred to their relationship, saying, “She just got him.”
Though Baker had a little more difficulty understanding his son, he said he and Hudson worked together on many projects.
“We just moved into a brand new house, and all my boys worked on it,” he said. “I mean, we built it all. Other than just roofing, masonry and drywall, we did everything. And so we framed it, put the windows in, put the hardwood in, trimmed it … We did a lot of neat projects and things.”
In addition to ventures at home, Baker said he made it a point to take one of his sons on a trip every other year. He and Hudson went to Alaska when Hudson was in second grade, which did wonders for their relationship.
“I was really happy that we could have that one-on-one time,” he said. “On that trip something happened, like we got very bonded. We came back, and it was just different. We were really buddies.”
Hudson loved books, so much so that his parents would have to make him quit reading at night. And he loved playing baseball.
“He played on a really good baseball team that actually won the championship,” Baker said. “He was definitely not the best player on the team, but he was good. And in the last playoff game, and then in the championship game, he played his best ever. He played great, and I think he took so much pride in that. He loved it.”
Yet, even with all of the positives in his life, the teenager experienced emotional turmoil.
Baker said Hudson often worried about what people thought of him, and as an eighth-grader, he told his parents he thought maybe he wanted to die.
“And we jumped on this,” Baker said. “We jumped on it right away. We talked to people at the school to let them know what was going on and ask for help.”
Hudson began seeing a counselor at the school, “and he really enjoyed that. I think it really helped,” his father said.
“He and I made sure that we would have our time in the evening where it would be a completely judge-free time, where he was encouraged to express what he felt and what was going on, and it was great.”
Just prior to Hudson’s death, everything seemed to be going well, according to his father. His mother had made an appointment to take the counseling to the next level, and Hudson was looking forward to fall break. He wanted to just play in the woods, which he thought would be beneficial to his mental health.
“We had fall break, and it was great,” Baker said. “… Even on the last day, which was Sabbath, we had a good day. He had a brand new outfit that he had liked and wore to church, and we had a good afternoon, [but] that night is when he just made a choice.”
Baker said his son’s decision to take his life has caused other parents to reach out to him and his wife about their families’ mental health challenges. At the funeral, several walked up to him and whispered in his ear that their children were having suicidal thoughts, he said. He even heard from one parent who said they struggled with such ideations.
Baker said it broke his heart hearing the stories, and he hopes his family’s experience will help bring awareness to the issue and, ultimately, healing to other families. At the funeral, he encouraged people with questions about his son’s struggle to contact him.
“You know, we on the outside probably looked like what most families I would think want to be,” he said. “We were the perfect American family, you know, boys playing baseball, whatever. So, if there is any positive [outcome], maybe it got a family talking, maybe it got a kid talking, maybe it got a mom and dad talking.”
Now that Hudson is gone, the house that he and his brothers built with their father seems too big, Baker said. The family misses the boy’s vivacious spirit and the joy that he brought to the home.
In the wake of the tragedy, they continue to cling to their faith while working through the pain together.
“Things have very much changed,” said Baker, as he grieved the loss of his son. “We’re very broken. … And we’re going to have to learn who we are now.”
If you, or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide, help is available.
For the Suicide Crisis Lifeline text or call 988 to speak with a trained crisis counselor.
If you know of someone who is having suicidal thoughts, Healthline provides the following tips:
1) Don’t be afraid to ask them directly, and encourage them to talk about it.
2) Offer support and encourage them to seek professional help 3) Stay with them 4) Involve others 5) Let them know they are not alone and have been heard