Alumnus uses poetry to overcome friend’s suicide

– by Gabriela Polanco

August 6, 2014 is a day that alumnus Christopher Mazzara ‘15 will never forget. While still an undergraduate student, he lost his best friend to suicide. Searching for solace after the event, Mazzara turned to poetry as an outlet.

Mazzara said he and Christian Jeannot had been best friends since the sixth grade. Jeannot was the boy who sat in the front of the class, always raising his hand to participate, while he distinctly remembers sitting in the back, feeling as though the new kid was making him look bad. The two developed a friendship where they competed in everything, but it wasn’t long before they became the best of friends.

“They’d say we looked like brothers ‘cause we looked out for each other,” Mazzara relates in “Chris Cobain,” the spoken word poem about Jeannot. “And the kids didn’t like him–they loved him! They followed his every move because he refused to be anything but himself.”

Mazarra describes Jeannot as outgoing and friendly – a guy who was handsome and always went out. But in December 2013, he began to see changes in his friend. He became isolated and withdrawn, not wanting to leave his bedroom.

“He never spoke about it, never brought it up,” Mazzara said. “I never thought he would do it. He went from being a devoted believer to a full-blown atheist.”  

Mazzara hoped his friend was going through was a phase, but it went downhill from there.

“I was the one who found him,” said Mazzara.

Three months after Jeannot passed, Mazzara participated in Stand Up and Speak, a performing arts event for people affected by suicide. While he received positive feedback from other participants on a spoken word poem he had written, it wasn’t enough for him.

“I knew I had to do something much bigger, much better, for him,” he remembered. “This piece was more important to me than any other I wrote.”

Mazzara found inspiration in the documentary “Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck.”

“Like Cobain, Christian found being happy in a world where he felt the pain of others so deeply, extremely difficult,” he said.

He recalls Jeannot often comparing the high standard of living in the United States to that of Puerto Rico, where his family originated. Jeannot came from a wealthy family, but dressed modestly and drove a 1992 Toyota Corolla. He refused to live extravagantly knowing so many people had less than he did. Jeannot would repeatedly ask Mazzara,  “How can so many people have so little while we worry about what we will buy next?”

It took Mazzara several tries to get the poem right, and finally finished the piece in January 2016. He admitted a long time passed before he could accept what had happened and share Jeannot’s story with others. “Now, everything I do is with the purpose of being the change I want to see in the world,” he said. “With my art, I try to inspire people to find their purpose by sharing my experiences.”

Mazzara hopes that others who share Jeannot’s world view can leverage their perspective to instill progress. “My advice, for Chris specifically, would be: if the world is so messed up and change needs to happen, lead that change. If you feel you’re not qualified to lead that change, find the people who are and help them. Everyone has a purpose, whether they haven’t found it or don’t understand it, they do.”

Click here to register for the Out of the Darkness Campus Walk.

How to help a friend who may be at risk for suicide:

  1. Listen, provide support
  2. Do not invalidate the reasons for which they are feeling suicidal
  3. Remove firearms or other means of self-harm (pills or weapons)
  4. If drunk, help him or her regain sobriety as quickly as possible. Alcohol and drugs reduce our survival instinct.
  5. Ask them to commit to get help
  6. Bring the person to Counseling and Psychological Services, to a trusted professor, administrator, or resident life member who can connect them to on-campus services
  7. If you don’t feel confident about helping them out, call 911, campus security, or a suicide hotline for advice.

Suicide Prevention Resources

  • CAPS (MMC): 305-348-2277 or (BBC): 305-919-5305
  • University Police (MMC): 305-348-5911 or (BBC): 305-919-5911
  • Switchboard of Miami: 305-358-HELP (4357)
  • Florida Initiative for Suicide Prevention, Inc.: (954) 384-0344 or (954) 383-1384
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK

In an emergency, always call 9-1-1 immediately.

For help coping with a loss, CAPS counselors are available.