Things were starting to look up. Ivey Mustaki seemed more like herself. Happy. Hopeful again.
Her mom, Lauralyn Mustaki, could hear the cheer in her voice as they talked on the phone, making plans for the weekend. It was the same way the next day when Ivey talked with her grandmother from the kitchen and the two of them agreed on poached eggs for breakfast.
Ivey seemed to be in a good place. Then just moments later, her grandmother heard a noise in the bathroom. She found Ivey inside with a gunshot wound to the head.
It was March 16, 2018. Ivey, the youngest of the Mustakis’ three children, was dead. Eighteen forever.
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The inclination is to look for someone, something to blame, but Lauralyn Mustaki refuses to entertain such thoughts even though no one would blame her if she did.
“Ivey took her life,” she says simply.
Ivey Mustaki was blessed beyond measure. She said so in her own writings. She felt grateful for the life she had. Friends who felt like family and a family that loved her. She credited both for shaping her into the person she’d become, for every laugh and cry, and every up and down.
“She was an amazing young girl,” her mother said. “She was inclusive, empathetic and compassionate. She mentored special needs students, becoming quick friends with a beautiful girl named Katie. She invited Katie into her inner circle and on the varsity cheer team.
“She had her whole life planned out. She was accepted into the honors program at Georgia Southern to study nursing, then to Emory or Columbia in New York. She wanted to be a nurse anesthetist.”
Truth is Ivey’s life wasn’t that much different from a lot of middle- and upper-class suburban kids who take their lives. From the outside looking in, it would seem they have everything to live for, but that’s one of the great mysteries of suicide. It’s next to impossible to know why or if or when one moment becomes more unbearable than another.
Lauralyn Mustaki believes a number of factors led Ivey to take her life, including betrayal, lost friendships and a sexual assault that Ivey kept secret for more than a year.
She found out about the latter only after she and Ivey’s dad decided to seek professional help for their daughter after noticing the light had left her eyes.
Ivey loved the outdoors and being a varsity cheerleader, but by her senior year at Cambridge High School, she’d given both up. She wasn’t eating or sleeping.
By late fall 2017, Ivey was almost in a “catatonic” state. By December, the Mustakis were so concerned they took Ivey to see a doctor who performed brain scans. She was still on the table when she told them she’d been sexually assaulted 18 months earlier during a coed sleepover at the family’s Milton home.
In late January, Ivey’s dad found her in her car in the garage writing a suicide note. This time, the Mustakis enrolled her in Peachford Hospital, where she remained in treatment for 10 days.
After 12 more days in outpatient care, Ivey seemed to be making a comeback. In February, she returned to school. And though her friends and classmates shunned her, she still seemed OK. A little off her mark but OK.
She was at her grandmother’s in Cumming when she found a gun, went into the bathroom, locked the door behind her and shot herself.
Suicide is the second-leading cause of death for ages 10 to 24, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Indeed, more teenagers and young adults die from suicide than from cancer, heart disease, AIDS, birth defects, stroke, pneumonia, influenza, and chronic lung disease combined.
RELATED: Are suicides really preventable?
That’s the first thing Lauralyn Mustaki wants us to remember. Confront it. Deal with it. Do whatever you can to help prevent it.
“People need to talk about this,” she said. “Get rid of the stigma, because this is happening to so many young people.”
The second thing she’d like us to know is if you or someone you know is sexually assaulted, tell someone immediately. The horror of that moment lived in Ivey for more than a year, and it destroyed her. Doctors believe that’s why she suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Which leads me to Mustaki’s final message. If you sense a friend is struggling with something, “move into them, not away from them.”
“Ivey’s friends didn’t know what to do, so they didn’t do anything,” Lauralyn said.
But don’t blame yourself, because the Mustakis don’t.
“Ivey had a beautiful life,” her mother said.
The family hopes you’ll join them in building a Milton park arbor and creating a scholarship that will be a lasting memorial to Ivey. They are raising funds through GoFundMe for Ivey Leigh Mustaki to tell her story and to raise awareness about suicide prevention.
Both are good ways to remind people that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.