This article/video discusses suicide, which may be distressing for some to read/watch. Resources and assistance are available: 988lifeline.org.
LEXINGTON, Ky. (Jan. 29, 2024) — We, as humans, are inherently hardwired to make sense of the world around us — to analyze, formulate and reason.
You could say, we’re continuously mining for meaning.
Yet, there are complex moments where logic fails us, and explanation is simply out of reach.
We’re left wondering, how do we make sense of the senseless?
This is especially true in times of tragedy.
“I remember getting out of the bed. I put my gray robe on, tied it. Then, I walked out of my bedroom and turned down the hallway,” Taylora Schlosser said.
“It’s still dark in the house. And the coroner and a deputy sheriff are standing there. In my mind, I thought, ‘Why are you standing here.’”
There’s that moment — the one every mother of a little girl dreams of.
“Helping her pick out that white wedding dress,” Taylora said.
It’s April 28, 1996, and Taylor Rae Nolan has just made her debut into the world. Her wedding day is easily decades away. But for her mother, Taylora, the promise of that day is the promise of a future — and everything in between.
Taylora would anxiously await wedding dress shopping, and also beg for time to stop, as she watched her bouncing baby girl grow into a vibrant young woman.
Pleading for time to speed up and stand still, perhaps, that’s the complex beauty of motherhood.
“I always told Taylor, you will have a lot of friends growing up. But one day, there will come a time, I’ll be your best friend.”
As the only girl, Taylor very quickly became the “princess” of the family. Her signature blonde hair with spiral curls shined as bright as her smile, which made her easy to love.
“Even though she was younger, she was the sister that all three of the boys looked to,” Taylora said. “They would do anything for her.”
Growing up in the small town of Springfield, Kentucky, Taylor had a knack for making friends everywhere she went.
“She had a bubbly personality and really liked helping people,” Taylora continued. “One young man once told me, ‘She was the only person who ever smiled at me in school.’”
In spring of 2017, the little girl who was all spunk and smiles graduated high school in the top 20 of her class and was set to become a Wildcat at the University of Kentucky that fall.
“I was so proud,” Taylora said. “But it was also a reminder that she’s growing up.”
It’s a sunny August day on UK’s campus in 2017.
Taylora has that sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach. Soon, she’s going to have to let her little girl go.
Naturally, there’s excitement and apprehension as she helps Taylor unload box after box and move into Haggin Hall.
“When we got in the car to leave, I knew from here on out, it would be different,” she said. “But that’s how it’s supposed to be.”
It wasn’t long before Taylora realized she didn’t have much to worry about. At UK, Taylor quickly found her “home away from home.”
“She jumped right in,” Taylora said.
Taylor established her major in Integrated Strategic Communication (ISC) and Digital Media and Design. She was also active outside of the classroom. Taylor joined the Chi Omega sorority and was elected a freshman senator to the Student Government Association (SGA).
She excelled at both.
Even while balancing her demanding academic and social life, Taylor often updated her family through text messages, phone calls and visits home.
“I remember her calling me up and telling me she was elected to student government,” Taylora continued. “And I was pretty darn excited that this little bitty girl from this little bitty town was one of four freshmen senators.”
During her second semester, Taylor was appointed chair of the SGA Senate Operations and Evaluations Committee and was eventually elected an SGA senator-at-large.
From the outside looking in, Taylor’s life was picture perfect.
“That’s what’s so hard. You see these pictures and hear these stories of these beautiful people,” Taylora continued. “One day they’re here. Then, you get a knock on your door.”
As soon as you walk through the front door of Taylor’s childhood home in Springfield, you’re greeted with walls of pictures — many of them are of Taylor beaming from ear to ear.
The photos and artwork are how Taylora chooses to remember her only daughter. Because Taylor’s final moments are far more heartbreaking.
“It was, and always will be, the worst day of my life.”
On Jan. 8, 2019, the day before Taylor is set to start the spring semester of her sophomore year at UK, she woke up and went to her job at iHeart Radio (where she had just received a promotion). She also made plans to meet a couple of friends after her shift ended.
All seemed well.
At 6 o’clock that evening, Taylora was at home — sitting in the same chair she’s sitting in now — when she received a text message from Taylor that simply read, “I love you.”
Taylora smiled and responded, “I love you too, baby.”
Those were the last words they would say to each other. Taylor died by suicide that night.
She was 19 years old.
“When the deputy was standing in my doorway, I said no, I don’t believe you. You got it wrong. And I meant that with my whole heart,” Taylora recalled. “You beg for this to just be a nightmare.”
Taylor’s closest family and friends knew she had been dealing with depression and anxiety for some time. “I remember her saying, ‘Momma, as much as you prepared me to live on my own, it’s just different.’”
But to everyone around her, it seemed like Taylor was taking all the right steps, which included seeing a therapist and accepting support.
“I have people who ask, ‘What happened?’” But the reality is, I don’t have the answers. Sometimes I wonder if I missed something.” Taylora said. “But I know there are other people out there who suffer silently. And if someone else can be saved, I want them to be saved.”
The saying goes, “We are not defined by tragedy, but instead, by how we respond to it.”
Taylor’s family soon decided they would turn their tragic reality into a movement with a critical mission. “My son said, ‘Momma, we’re not going to be ashamed of Taylor — we’re going to do something.”
By the end of February 2019, the family had established a non-profit, and Rae of Sunshine was born. In Taylor’s name, they work to eliminate the stigma associated with mental illness and suicide.
The foundation also brings awareness, gives back and partners with schools, churches, institutions and other groups across Kentucky to provide support and training that stresses the importance of mental health.
Taylora started by speaking to Taylor’s Chi Omega sisters. “I knew we had to change something,” she said. “I didn’t want another mother to live through what I live through every day.”
In the five years since Rae of Sunshine’s inception, Taylora has spoken to more than 70,000 people across the state and has an audience of nearly 15,000 followers on social media.
Even more importantly, the foundation has awarded $50,000 in scholarships to future mental health professionals.
“I’m really proud of this work,” Taylora said. “It’s really important this continues to grow, because mental health issues don’t discriminate.”
Additionally, through Rae of Sunshine, dozens of schools have launched SMILE Clubs, including UK. The goal is to promote acts of kindness and positivity.
“I want to make sure there’s not people walking around in a world every day where no one smiles at them,” Taylora said. “Smiling and making people feel comfortable, that was Taylor’s legacy. But what is our legacy going to be?”
On a January afternoon, as we continue our tour through the family home, Taylora leads us upstairs.
There, you’ll find Taylor’s childhood room — untouched. Filled with clothes, notebooks and photos. It’s preserved in time and serves as a reflection of who Taylor was.
“She’s not coming home, and I have to spend every day of my life trying to figure out how to live without her.”
It makes you wonder; how do we make sense of the senseless?
For Taylora, there will be no more family photos of six and no more white wedding dress. “And I still grieve for all of those moments I looked forward to when I had that baby,” she said.
But today, and going forward, Taylora chooses to cherish the memories and not focus on the “what ifs.”
She still has dreams of Taylor and a vision for her legacy. “If I can dream about her when I sleep, that’s the best day,” Taylora continued.
“And, like Taylor, if we can be kind, I think it would make the world a little bit nicer — a little bit sunnier.”
If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, there is help available. You can call or text the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, previously known as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, at 988.
If you are a UK student, the TRACS (Triage, Referral, Assistance and Crisis Support) hub is a physical and virtual one-stop shop where students can come for a quick referral to support services or receive direct clinical support for a range of mental health needs, basic needs and crises. You can show up in-person (third floor, east wing of the Gatton Student Center), call 859-21TRACS (859-218-7227) or fill out this form for assistance.
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