Obituary: Michael Clements / A life full of promise cut short by depression
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Michael Clements spent most of his young life either helping others people, or planning to help them. He started a Bible study club in middle school and coached youth soccer in high school. In his 20s, he made dinner several times a week for a lonely old woman in his apartment building, and ate with her to keep her company. He helped one brother kick an addiction to painkillers, and organized a weekend of whitewater rafting for his other brother's bachelor party.
Mr. Clements, a first-year associate at Reed Smith LLC in Pittsburgh, wanted to buy his mom a villa in Italy where someday she could sit on the porch and sip wine, and planned to work for an international aid group that saves women and children from slavery in Third World countries.
But for all his focus on helping people, the one person Mr. Clements couldn't, or wouldn't, help was himself. On April 3, after struggling for months with depression, Mr. Clements committed suicide at the age of 30.
His family and friends, devastated, are suffering, wondering what they could or should have done differently to save him. And they are hoping that somehow, someone hearing his story will make a different choice than the brilliant, loving, troubled man they lost, said his mother, Ava Clements of Washington, Pa.
"If we could just tell them not to listen to those voices, telling them they are worthless, that their life is worth nothing, if we could stop someone from doing that and let them know they have infinite worth in the eyes of God and their family and friends, then Mike's life would have been worth something," Mrs. Clements said. "It was worth something anyway, but I don't want any other mother ever to go through this."
Mr. Clements was born in Salem, Ore., on Sept. 5, 1981, but he would spend most of his childhood on the 10 acres of woods and fields the family soon purchased outside Washington, Pa. His father, James K. Clements, a well-respected doctor, built a successful medical practice there while his mother stayed home to care for their sons, Michael, Matthew and Jeremy.
It was largely an idyllic childhood, and Mike was the force that held them all together.
"Mike was just fearless," said his brother Jeremy, now 25. "He would go off the rope swing into the river and climb these pylons and jump off the pylons -- he was always the leader of the neighborhood."
Mr. Clements remained a leader throughout his school years, becoming class president and prom king at Trinity High School, from which he graduated in 2000. He graduated from the University of Richmond in 2004, then the University of Richmond Law School in 2007. In college, Mr. Clements was editor of The Collegian Newspaper, and a member of the Alpha Phi Omega honor society and Intervarsity Christian Fellowship. In law school, he was voted Most Outstanding Student.
After law school, Mr. Clements served as clerk for the Maryland Court of Special Appeals; staff attorney for the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia; clerk for the Honorable Gary Lancaster, chief judge in the U.S. District Court, Western District of Pennsylvania; and most recently as a first-year associate in the finance department at Reed Smith.
Mr. Clements was given the task of handling foreclosures for Bank of America. But the job overwhelmed him, and Mr. Clements, so used to leading and succeeding, didn't ask for help. Guilt-ridden at foreclosing on people's homes and anxious about the responsibility of handling the bank's money, Mr. Clements stopped sleeping, his mother said.
"When he got in there, it was too much," Mrs. Clements said. "He had such a tender heart, and it didn't suit his personality."
By late December, Mr. Clements couldn't take it anymore and walked out.
It was the beginning of the end for her son, who was already stressed about other things in his life: debt from law school, his father's deterioration from Alzheimer's disease, his feeling that he should have been married and started a family by 30, his worry that he had picked the wrong career path and it was too late to reinvent himself, Mrs. Clements said.
Reed Smith wanted him back -- the firm continued paying his full salary, and will pay through April to help with expenses -- but Mr. Clements couldn't believe that.
"When he walked out, he thought he lost everything he worked for and that they would never take him back," she said. "After that, he just didn't recover."
Mr. Clements descended into a major depression. Always outgoing and quick to make friends, he began to isolate himself and to lie about where he was going and what he was doing.
He began to make cries for help, his family said. He called his brother as he stood on a bridge in Shadyside, thinking about jumping, but then walked away. He put plastic bags over his face until he got close to passing out, then pulled them off. He swallowed pills, then drove around talking to family members but refusing to say where he was, until he vomited the pills.
"We felt that God had spared him that night and was going to take care of him," Mrs. Clements said.
His family members had dealt with mental health problems before -- his paternal grandmother committed suicide in her 40s, Matthew had suffered from depression during college and Jeremy had gotten addicted to painkillers after a football injury. Matthew got treatment, Jeremy worked through Narcotics Anonymous to get clean and the family sought help for Mike, too.
He was admitted to Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic for a time. He started seeing two psychiatrists, who diagnosed him as bipolar and prescribed lithium. But Mr. Clements was proud and stubborn and used to doing things for himself, and he didn't really participate in the treatment plan of counseling, workbooks and medication.
"He kept saying, 'I did this all to myself. I can get myself out of this,' " Mrs. Clements said.
Then, after an argument on April 1, Mrs. Clements asked her son to move out of their house. Two days later, his body was found by a family friend.
For a man whose lifelong motto had been "never, never, never give up," Mr. Clements' decision to quit his life showed just how ill he had become, his family members said. The Mike they knew had never given up on anything.
"At some point, the disease takes over, it isolates people and starts changing their thought processes," Jeremy Clements said. "He just got lost and forgot who he was."
First Published April 21, 2012 12:56 am