News

Having lost her son, a Palo Alto mother now scatters messages of hope

Painted rocks, left for others to find, raise awareness of mental health

Jennifer Turner holds a rock she painted with an image of her son's favorite Star Wars character, Boba Fett, with an inspirational message. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

Editor's note: Resources for any person who is feeling depressed, troubled or suicidal are listed at the bottom of this article.

She carries the rocks with her everywhere she goes and leaves them for others to find. At the Angel of Grief statue at Stanford University. At high school campuses. On the beach in Carmel. Outside her son's favorite restaurants.

"To the one who finds me: May you always feel loved!" reads one rock, smooth and small and hand-painted with a cheery bouquet of pink heart-shaped flowers.

On the other side of the rock, in her handwriting, are numbers for 24/7 suicide phone and text hotlines.

Jennifer Turner's son, Alexander, a Gunn High School senior, died by suicide in 2017 after battling and receiving treatment for depression and anxiety. His mother started painting rocks with inspirational messages and leaving them around Palo Alto as a means to work through her own grief, while also hoping she might lift others out of their moments of darkness.

What's local journalism worth to you?

Support Palo Alto Online for as little as $5/month.

Learn more

"It's all about saving a life," she said.

Turner got the idea for the rocks from a similar breast cancer awareness initiative. A self-described "crafty person," she was drawn to the idea of a simple, meaningful art project. She described it as her grief therapy.

"I was putting everything I could think of on the rocks. 'You were never a burden.' 'You are never alone.' All those things that depression makes you think that are not true," she said.

Jennifer Turner, whose son died by suicide in 2017, started painting rocks with inspirational messages and leaving them throughout the community to raise awareness for suicide prevention. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

She added the suicide resources on the back and the social media hashtag #AlecsArmy so people can find the Facebook and Instagram pages where she documents the project. (Her son, who went by Alec, wanted to join the military after high school.)

Turner left a basket of rocks at the Gunn wellness center, where her son received counseling support, for students to hold or take with them if they wanted. In February, for Gunn's mental health awareness week, she brought plain stones for students to paint.

Stay informed

Get daily headlines sent straight to your inbox.

Sign up

As the project grew, she brought painted rocks to other Palo Alto schools. For middle schoolers, she creates ones with lighter, more playful messages ("I love you a latte!" "Donut give up!") and images (including Baby Yoda, Snoopy and Winnie the Pooh). She finds inspiration for messages and images on Pinterest, in books she's reading or in a beautiful flower she sees while on a walk. She said she spends about 10 to 14 hours a week on the rock project.

Jennifer Turner places one of her painted stones by Gott's Roadside in the Town & Country Village in Palo Alto on May 20. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

Turner goes for frequent walks — at the Stanford campus, the Dish, local parks — and the rocks always go with her. Friends started asking her for stones to take with them on trips. The Facebook page is filled with photos of colorful rocks that have traveled far and wide: on beaches in Santa Cruz and Hawaii, benches in Central Park in New York City, outside La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, nestled in the grass in front of Notre Dame in Paris.

"To me, if it helps anybody it's just all worth it," Turner said. "If it just makes them smile, if it just makes them feel better for one minute, it is so worth it.

"If I could grab ahold of any of those kids that are really struggling, I would talk their ear off about how they're supposed to be here and this too shall pass."

The Turners moved to Palo Alto from Kansas City, Missouri, in 2014. By total coincidence, a Bay Area man found the very first rock she left in Kansas City, in a favorite park. He was walking through the park after his sister's memorial, who had died by suicide, Turner said. He brought the rock, decorated with yellow roses, back to the Bay Area and left it at the Golden Gate Bridge.

On the back of every rock Jennifer Turner paints, she writes the American National Suicide Prevention Lifeline phone number and the Crisis Text Line number for those in emotional distress. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

Spurred by grief, Turner has become an active advocate for suicide prevention. She participates in the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention's Out of the Darkness walks in multiple states and helped organize the Peninsula's first-ever Hike for Hope a year ago, which raised money for American Foundation for Suicide Prevention educational programs, research, advocacy and support services for suicide survivors.

She and her husband also have become a resource for other parents. She takes every phone call from mothers and fathers worried about children who struggle with or show signs of depression, anxiety or other mental health challenges. She tells them about the red flags for suicide and asks if they've noticed any changes in their child's emotional or physical state. She champions treatment, from therapy and medication to local outpatient programs for teens. But mostly, she said, she just listens.

She's also found community in a group of local mothers who have lost children to suicide. They usually get together once a month.

Turner said she's found comfort in sharing her experience openly and realizing that her family is far from alone.

"It affects everyone. Everyone has mental health," she said. "We are never alone."

Turner has painted close to 1,000 rocks, most of them unique. A trucker picked up one she left in Carmel, painted with the image of a peacock on the front and the resources on the back, and took it with him as he made his way from California to Chicago. He'd send Turner pictures of the rock as he drove through different states, telling her, "I'm just not ready to give up the rock yet."

Help is available

Any person who is feeling depressed, troubled or suicidal can call 1-800-784-2433 to speak with a crisis counselor. People in Santa Clara County can call 1-855-278-4204. Spanish speakers can call 1-888-628-9454. People can reach trained counselors at Crisis Text Line by texting 741741.

Additional resources can be found here.

Craving a new voice in Peninsula dining?

Sign up for the Peninsula Foodist newsletter.

Sign up now

Follow Palo Alto Online and the Palo Alto Weekly on Twitter @paloaltoweekly, Facebook and on Instagram @paloaltoonline for breaking news, local events, photos, videos and more.

Having lost her son, a Palo Alto mother now scatters messages of hope

Painted rocks, left for others to find, raise awareness of mental health

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Fri, May 22, 2020, 6:51 am

Editor's note: Resources for any person who is feeling depressed, troubled or suicidal are listed at the bottom of this article.

She carries the rocks with her everywhere she goes and leaves them for others to find. At the Angel of Grief statue at Stanford University. At high school campuses. On the beach in Carmel. Outside her son's favorite restaurants.

"To the one who finds me: May you always feel loved!" reads one rock, smooth and small and hand-painted with a cheery bouquet of pink heart-shaped flowers.

On the other side of the rock, in her handwriting, are numbers for 24/7 suicide phone and text hotlines.

Jennifer Turner's son, Alexander, a Gunn High School senior, died by suicide in 2017 after battling and receiving treatment for depression and anxiety. His mother started painting rocks with inspirational messages and leaving them around Palo Alto as a means to work through her own grief, while also hoping she might lift others out of their moments of darkness.

"It's all about saving a life," she said.

Turner got the idea for the rocks from a similar breast cancer awareness initiative. A self-described "crafty person," she was drawn to the idea of a simple, meaningful art project. She described it as her grief therapy.

"I was putting everything I could think of on the rocks. 'You were never a burden.' 'You are never alone.' All those things that depression makes you think that are not true," she said.

She added the suicide resources on the back and the social media hashtag #AlecsArmy so people can find the Facebook and Instagram pages where she documents the project. (Her son, who went by Alec, wanted to join the military after high school.)

Turner left a basket of rocks at the Gunn wellness center, where her son received counseling support, for students to hold or take with them if they wanted. In February, for Gunn's mental health awareness week, she brought plain stones for students to paint.

As the project grew, she brought painted rocks to other Palo Alto schools. For middle schoolers, she creates ones with lighter, more playful messages ("I love you a latte!" "Donut give up!") and images (including Baby Yoda, Snoopy and Winnie the Pooh). She finds inspiration for messages and images on Pinterest, in books she's reading or in a beautiful flower she sees while on a walk. She said she spends about 10 to 14 hours a week on the rock project.

Turner goes for frequent walks — at the Stanford campus, the Dish, local parks — and the rocks always go with her. Friends started asking her for stones to take with them on trips. The Facebook page is filled with photos of colorful rocks that have traveled far and wide: on beaches in Santa Cruz and Hawaii, benches in Central Park in New York City, outside La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, nestled in the grass in front of Notre Dame in Paris.

"To me, if it helps anybody it's just all worth it," Turner said. "If it just makes them smile, if it just makes them feel better for one minute, it is so worth it.

"If I could grab ahold of any of those kids that are really struggling, I would talk their ear off about how they're supposed to be here and this too shall pass."

The Turners moved to Palo Alto from Kansas City, Missouri, in 2014. By total coincidence, a Bay Area man found the very first rock she left in Kansas City, in a favorite park. He was walking through the park after his sister's memorial, who had died by suicide, Turner said. He brought the rock, decorated with yellow roses, back to the Bay Area and left it at the Golden Gate Bridge.

Spurred by grief, Turner has become an active advocate for suicide prevention. She participates in the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention's Out of the Darkness walks in multiple states and helped organize the Peninsula's first-ever Hike for Hope a year ago, which raised money for American Foundation for Suicide Prevention educational programs, research, advocacy and support services for suicide survivors.

She and her husband also have become a resource for other parents. She takes every phone call from mothers and fathers worried about children who struggle with or show signs of depression, anxiety or other mental health challenges. She tells them about the red flags for suicide and asks if they've noticed any changes in their child's emotional or physical state. She champions treatment, from therapy and medication to local outpatient programs for teens. But mostly, she said, she just listens.

She's also found community in a group of local mothers who have lost children to suicide. They usually get together once a month.

Turner said she's found comfort in sharing her experience openly and realizing that her family is far from alone.

"It affects everyone. Everyone has mental health," she said. "We are never alone."

Turner has painted close to 1,000 rocks, most of them unique. A trucker picked up one she left in Carmel, painted with the image of a peacock on the front and the resources on the back, and took it with him as he made his way from California to Chicago. He'd send Turner pictures of the rock as he drove through different states, telling her, "I'm just not ready to give up the rock yet."

Any person who is feeling depressed, troubled or suicidal can call 1-800-784-2433 to speak with a crisis counselor. People in Santa Clara County can call 1-855-278-4204. Spanish speakers can call 1-888-628-9454. People can reach trained counselors at Crisis Text Line by texting 741741.

Additional resources can be found here.

Comments

Wowzers
College Terrace
on May 22, 2020 at 8:39 am
Wowzers , College Terrace
on May 22, 2020 at 8:39 am
33 people like this

What a great story about a compassionate mother. Her son’s spirit is being spread all over the world.


Perception Is One's Reality
Stanford
on May 22, 2020 at 8:39 am
Perception Is One's Reality, Stanford
on May 22, 2020 at 8:39 am
10 people like this

[Post removed.]



NanaDi
Midtown
on May 22, 2020 at 10:34 am
NanaDi, Midtown
on May 22, 2020 at 10:34 am
29 people like this

Losing a child to suicide has to be one of Life's most bitter experiences. Brava to this Mother for using her grief and time to inspire others.


Stanford Sue
Stanford
on May 22, 2020 at 11:07 am
Stanford Sue, Stanford
on May 22, 2020 at 11:07 am
24 people like this

Thank you, Jennifer, for doing something so positive and loving with your painted rock project and for being a resource for many others in need.


YSK
Crescent Park
on May 22, 2020 at 1:51 pm
YSK, Crescent Park
on May 22, 2020 at 1:51 pm
14 people like this

What Jennifer is doing is beautiful. I'm not sure if I could be that strong.

As to the mental health system… it's a mess. Especially now with people locked in. Suicide prevention lines are overwhelmed. And, once you get past that initial call, unless you have health insurance you will not be seeing a psychologist or psychiatrist. If you have medi-cal you can see somebody once a month. Sometimes you'll be sent to a social worker and while I understand they can do good work; for people with more serious issues that need a psychologist or psychiatrist, that help is simply not there. It's kind of interesting because the very wealthy always donate to children's this and children's that, medical that deals with sickness within the body. They don't realize how bad the mental health system in this county, and all over the state, really is. Donating money to help the mental health system also helps children because whether they are the patient or the child of a patient, at least there is someone getting help.

I remember being a victim of extreme domestic violence and with the exception of being able to go to the shelter for group counseling, there is nobody to see. When you go to victim witness, no money is ever there. They give you a list of mental health professionals to call and every single one will turn you away. Same thing happened when I witnessed someone commit suicide by train. The sheriff's department gave me a list of people come again mental health professionals, in case I needed to talk to somebody. I called every name on the list. Just like I did when I was going through extreme domestic violence. Nobody will see you. In fact they will actually take the time to tell you that the state hasn't paid them in years and doesn't pay them enough.

Mental help requests right now is at an all time high because of the pandemic. People need help. A lot of people lost their insurance ance and jobs so they've been added to the rest of us who can't afford to get it. I hope some of these big companies will start donating or creating a foundation to be actually able to help somebody get help beyond 1 to 3 visits.


H
Gunn High School
on May 22, 2020 at 5:45 pm
H, Gunn High School
on May 22, 2020 at 5:45 pm
11 people like this

Turner's work is very impressive. I can feel how she feels when she paints carefully on each stone. Someone must have had the courage to live the world again with her stone message. I applaud her for this meaningful work.


Loretta
Greenmeadow
on May 23, 2020 at 12:26 pm
Loretta , Greenmeadow
on May 23, 2020 at 12:26 pm
4 people like this

What a lovely tribute to her son’s memory.
Today, all of us need messages of love and hope, so her art is truly a gift.


Anne Marie
Palo Verde
on Jun 11, 2020 at 6:40 pm
Anne Marie, Palo Verde
on Jun 11, 2020 at 6:40 pm
2 people like this

Love you Jennifer. Thank you for being so brave and for telling your story so many times to so many people. I have learned so much from you and I know so many others have too.


Don't miss out on the discussion!
Sign up to be notified of new comments on this topic.

Post a comment

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.