WAHIAWA, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - A graduation is usually a time to celebrate, but an upcoming ceremony will be bittersweet for a Wahiawa mother.
Symphony Belisario’s son, Eleu, took his own life last year. She is now at odds with Leilehua High School in a difficult debate.
Eleu was the youngest of four children. His parents had recently gotten divorced when the 17-year-old junior ended his life last June.
“He always had that smile, always,” said Symphony Belisario. “It was hard to tell that he was in so much pain.”
Belisario is a lei maker who planned to donate more than 350 lei for Eleu and his classmates to wear during the graduation ceremony in May. She had done the same thing for her daughter’s class in 2014. Symphony still wants to give each student a lei, but the school initially turned her down.
"He just told me that it would be too sad or it wouldn't be proper," she recalled.
"Because of things that had happened in the past with schools, that it could trigger something that they weren’t capable of handling.
Administrators also don’t want to include an individual photo of Eleu in the graduation video shown to the class before the ceremony, even though there have been memorial pictures in the past for students who died from other causes, according to Symphony.
Mental health experts Marya Grambs said that striking the right balance can be challenging.
“I think it’s important to honor the person who has died. That’s important for the people who loved that person,” she said.
“At the same time, you don’t want to elevate it to be too big of an effort or an event.”
The Hawaii State Department of Education issued this statement:
“The loss of any child is devastating and deeply impacts a school community. When a situation like this arises, school and complex administration work collaboratively with the family to come up with appropriate support for those impacted while adhering to guidance based on best practices from school behavior experts and community organizations that specialize in mental health education.”
An online petition urging the administration to include Eleu's memory has more than 6,900 signatures.
Belisario said she reluctantly accepted a compromise recently about the lei. Students will choose whether to pick one up from a table after receiving their diploma.
As for the video, she was told that he’ll appear only in group photos.
Suicide is a serious problem in Hawaii, according to mental health advocates.
“Suicide is the leading cause of injury-related death among people age 15 to 24,” said Grambs. “What that means is, every other day, a young person kills themselves.”
Belisario now plans to form a suicide prevention group in her son’s name.
"It's not going to exactly fill the hole in my heart, but it would help me live with it."
According to experts, warning signs may include dramatic changes in personality, eating and sleeping. The student’s grades may also plummet.
If you need help, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text HOME to 741741.