WOODFORD COUNTY, Ky. (LEX 18) -- Mason and Ethan Gilbert were your typical Woodford County, Kentucky teenage boys.
"Mason loved to work out. He loved to lift weights. He was a prankster. He always had a smile on his face, " The boys' aunt Erin Hawley said. "Ethan was just a little bit more reserved but just as much fun."
But on the inside, unbeknownst to their close-knit family, the brothers were struggling. Each of them ultimately dying by suicide just 23 months apart.
"What our family has been through is honestly so unbelievably hard to even put into words that I can't," Hawley said.
The boys' aunt said through the tragic losses, they have channeled their pain into a foundation called Brothers' Run. Its mission is to spread suicide education in schools and prevent future tragedies.
The foundation was formed just two years ago, and even during a pandemic, they raised over $20,000 through their virtual 3k to donate to various school programs across the area.
"Mason and Ethan were just like any other teenage boys, they had lots of friends. They were social, they had lots of fun, but they were struggling, and we didn't know," Hawley said. "And I think for a lot of families. I would just say take the time to talk with your kids. Open the door for them to come to you because if you're going to wait for them to open the door for you ... I don't know if that'll ever happen."
Dr. Melinda Moore, associate professor in the Department of Psychology at Eastern Kentucky University said Hawley is right on the money. She said it is important to create that dialogue with kids, especially as we head into the holidays during this unprecedented year.
"I'm noticing that you know you're not quite yourself, can we talk about it? Can we talk about what's going on? And then also not being scared to ask the question, 'are you having thoughts of suicide?' because we don't know what's going on in their minds unless we ask, " Moore said.
She said the same idea goes for managing your child's expectations this Thanksgiving and Christmas on the heels of so many other changes and sacrifices that have had to be made.
"This is an opportunity for us to remind ourselves and to remind our children what the meaning of this time is, you know, what we have, how we can connect in different ways, virtual ways maybe, and then it's not going to last forever," Moore said.
As for Hawley, she said during the holidays it's important for her to make a plan, so if she or her kids find themselves struggling, they have support in place.
"Thinking about taking a walk or reaching out to someone. Let's do a Zoom call, and just really thinking about what I could do to make myself feel good because I know I'm going to start thinking about what we used to do and those memories of our family," she said. "It's still great to talk about those things, but just kind of knowing that I could reach out to my other family members and I know that they might be feeling the same way."
It's advice that could save a world of hurt and maybe even a life.
Brothers' Run is planning their third annual 3K Run for Sept. 11, 2021. Click here for more information.
If you or someone you know is in crisis, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255, or text 741-741.
This article was written by Claire Couch for WLEX.