Grieving Mother

Grieving Mother Says Just Say No to Suicide

Bob Hill - Louisville Courier-Journal

No one who knew Nathan Eisert will ever be able to resolve the joyous, victory-dance photo taken of him last November after his Western Kentucky University Hilltoppers beat the University of Kentucky in basketball with the image of a depressed young man who took his own life two weeks ago in his dorm room.

"Everybody who knew Nathan said he was the one they went to when they had a problem," said his mother, Jan Ulrich. "So why couldn't he go to them when he had a problem?"

Ulrich and her husband, Stephen, were seated at a kitchen table in their southern Jefferson County home, talking about Nathan.

Searching for reasons -- and meaning -- they had learned that 86 people a day commit suicide in this country. It is the third-leading cause of death among 19- to 24-year-olds, and 30 percent of college students' deaths are suicides.

Yet, we don't want to talk about it -- or do anything about it.

"THIS IS at a time when we think kids are having the best time of their lives," said Jan Ulrich. "I didn't know we needed to talk about this. . . . I had no clue."

Nathan Eisert, 20, had been an honor student and a good basketball player at Seneca High School, though with little hope of an athletic scholarship. But he did well at a summer camp and caught the eye of WKU basketball coach Dennis Felton, who took him as a "walk-on."

Nathan worked hard, played little, but endeared himself to his teammates and coaches. When a player dropped off the squad, Nathan was offered a one-year scholarship for his sophomore year. That same day, he seriously sprained an ankle, setting him way back athletically.

For whatever reasons -- and every college sophomore deals with a lot of personal pressures and conflicts -- he began cutting classes. He lost his scholarship and his spot on the team, told several people about it, but couldn't find a way to tell his mother and stepfather -- with whom he was very close.

In retrospect they believe he was worried about school, a personal problem, was missing basketball and feared he had become a financial burden for his parents. The cause of death was a self-inflicted gunshot.

LOOKING BACK , Jan and Stephen Ulrich can see moments where Nathan had shown signs of depression, but they had considered it part of teen-age life.

Dealing with guilt, they have examined and re-examined the "what ifs." What if they had been more aware of his depression? What if they'd been told he was off the team? What if they had known the statistics of teen-age suicide?

Fearing Nathan's death might trigger similar incidents among his peers, Jan Ulrich somehow found the strength to stand up at her son's funeral and say this to his WKU teammates and friends:

"I do not want to dishonor my son, but if you think you want to commit suicide, then you get this image in your head of your parents having to walk into a room and pick out a coffin like you're at Wal-Mart. . . . You have to walk through and have to decide . . . light green . . . dark green . . . do you want one with extra padding? . . . I was so upset, I collapsed to the floor."

For now, the Ulrichs are focused on ways to make us all aware of suicide statistics, to find ways in school systems filled with messages on drugs, teen pregnancy and smoking to also deal with depression -- and suicide.

They've begun with SPANUSA, a suicide-prevention advocacy network ( based in Georgia. They are working with Frankfort health agencies. They will spend the rest of their lives as advocates for suicide awareness and prevention.

"I found out about Nathan's death on a Monday night," said Jan Ulrich, "and by Tuesday, I knew I had to say something, do something. . . . I knew then that some of my salvation would have to come by going down these roads."

Bob Hill's column runs Tuesdays and Thursdays on the Kentucky page, and Saturdays in Scene. You can reach him at (502) 582-4646 or e-mail him at


 Nathan Alan Eisert Foundation    

Mission: Identify or Develop then Implement Suicide Prevention & Awareness Programs


© Stephen Ulrich 2013