Remembering Jordan

A Tribute to Courage and Resilience in the Face of Loss

In the quiet suburbs of Louisville, Kentucky, a heartrending story of love, loss, and courage unfolds—a story that resonates deeply in the heart of anyone who has witnessed the struggle of mental illness up close. Stephanie Renner, a mother recently bereaved by the loss of her son, Jordan, to suicide, embodies a resilience that is both inspiring and instructive, particularly during Mental Health Awareness Month.

Jordan William Gilford, born on July 23, 2005, in Lexington, Kentucky, was a vibrant and brilliant young man. He carried within him an insatiable curiosity and a compassion that reached out to embrace everyone he met. Jordan’s interests were eclectic and intense—from the fictional worlds of Harry Potter to the intricate beats of New Edition’s songs. His life, though tragically short, was a tapestry of deep connections, intellectual pursuits, and heartfelt moments.

The tragedy of Jordan’s passing is a stark reminder of the silent battles many face. Jordan identified with the LGBTQIA+ community and grappled with mental health challenges that ultimately proved overwhelming. His death on May 12, 2024, is a profound loss not only to his family but to all who dream of a society where no individual feels so ensnared by despair that they view suicide as their only escape.

In the wake of such a loss, Stephanie’s strength is remarkable. Just days after Jordan’s death, while texting with our mutual friend and colleague JP Davis, I learned that she had asked JP to accompany her to the PGA tournament in Louisville, KY. Having endured the grief of my own mother’s loss of a child, along with other close friends and family members who have also lost children, I felt compelled to call Stephanie because I simply could not comprehend her having the strength to face both familiar and unfamiliar faces. Surely, we must be mistaken. After four long rings, Stephanie’s voice came softly through the phone. “Umm, Stephanie,” were the words I uttered, and before I could put my foot in my mouth, she offered, “I asked JP to join me in taking my son to the PGA, not because I want to, but because I am driven by a commitment to him. I need to be present for my surviving teenage son, Trevor.” I was in a chokehold. What kind of superhuman strengths did she possess? Her ability to be present for Trevor, despite her profound grief, highlights a crucial message: the importance of remaining connected to life and loved ones, even in the depths of mourning.

The challenges Stephanie faces are emblematic of the struggles encountered by many parents of children with mental illness. There is often a pervasive, silent fear—a worry about the “inevitable” losses that may lie ahead. This fear is compounded by the misconception that mental illness can somehow spread through proximity, an idea as harmful as it is unfounded.

Stephanie’s response to her son’s death—her determination to continue engaging with her community and supporting her remaining child—provides a powerful counter-narrative. It shows that even in the darkest times, there are steps we can take to heal and to help those around us heal.

Jordan’s obituary, which will be shared at his funeral, emphasizes this point. It invites us all to engage openly in discussions about mental health and to support organizations committed to preventing suicide, such as The Trevor Project and The American Society for Suicide Prevention. This call to action is vital. It encourages us not to shy away from difficult conversations about mental health, as these discussions can be life-saving.

Furthermore, Jordan’s story is a poignant reminder of the unique pressures faced by LGBTQIA+ youth, who often confront significant mental health challenges due to external prejudices and internal conflicts about identity. The support of family—like the love and acceptance Jordan received—plays a critical role in navigating these challenges, but it is also clear that broader societal changes are necessary to prevent such tragedies.

In honoring Jordan, we not only remember a soul lost too soon but also reflect on the broader implications of his life and death. It underscores the necessity of accessible mental health resources and the importance of supportive, informed communities.

Stephanie’s courage in the face of unimaginable sorrow serves as a beacon to all those who find themselves in similar situations. Her ability to prioritize her son Trevor’s well-being, to continue stepping forward each day, offers a model of parental love and resilience that can inspire us all.

As we remember Jordan, let us also take to heart the need to be vigilant and compassionate guardians of our loved ones’ mental health. Let us talk, let us listen, and let us act before another light is extinguished in the shadow of mental illness. Through such actions, we honor Jordan’s memory and contribute to a world that he would have been proud to live in—a world that embraces all individuals, supports them through their struggles, and celebrates their unique contributions to our collective story.