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'It was so well hidden' - Family remembers Daniel Dudgeon after suicide death
Daniel Dudgeon
A private service for Daniel Dudgeon, 20, will be held on Sunday, May 3 at 3 p.m. and will be streamed online at JohnsCreekUMC.org/memorial-live-stream. - photo by For the Forsyth County News

Daniel Dudgeon, 20, is remembered by his family as being caring, mischievous and fun to be around, qualities that gave the family no indication he was struggling with depression or considering suicide.

Daniel passed away on Saturday, April 25, after weeks in North Fulton Hospital following his initial suicide attempt. A private service will be held at 3 p.m., Sunday, May 3, at Johns Creek United Methodist Church and will be streamed online at JohnsCreekUMC.org/memorial-live-stream.

“All of our family and friends have been crushed by this unnecessary tragedy. He hid his depression so well that we were all shocked," said his dad, Mike Dudgeon, policy director for Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan’s office and a former state lawmaker representing south Forsyth County. “Every single family member, every single friend, was just absolutely stunned because there are, sadly, kids that suffer from depression and adults that you know suffer from depression, and then when this happens, it’s still a tragedy, but with us, it was so well hidden that everyone was stunned.

How to get help

The national suicide prevention hotline can be reached 24 hours per day at 1(800) 273-8255 or go to suicidepreventionlifeline.org for information and resources.

Daniel is survived by his parents, Mike and Lori; brothers Brandon and Matthew; grandparents Jim and Annette Dudgeon of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, Buddy and Doris Wyatt of Nashville, Tennessee, and several uncles, aunts and cousins.

The youngest of three brothers born within four years of each other, Daniel was the mischievous one, Mike said, and a big sports fan. Daniel, who graduated from Lambert High School, grew up playing soccer and was a big supporter of the Georgia Bulldogs and Atlanta Falcons.

“He was mischievous enough to insist that we go to a Philadelphia Eagles night football game versus the Falcons a few years ago wearing Falcons jerseys,” Mike said. “If you know anything about the Philadelphia fan base, it was quite the experience.”

Mike said Daniel choosing to go to the home turf of one of football’s most notorious fan bases was an example of the independence, spirit and fun he brought to situations.

“He definitely had a very helping and friendly soul, but he also was just a heck of a lot of fun to be around,” he said.

Even after his death, Mike said the family continues to learn more about the role Daniel played in others’ lives, including members of past church trips and other students at UGA.

“He was like a best-ish friend to lots of different people who felt he was the one who listened, and they called him with their worries and concerns,” Mike said. “I put in the obituary that the sad part about people with depression is a lot of times they are quite good at caring for other people but can’t quite care for themselves.”

Many already may know Daniel and his family’s story, as his parents kept a public, online journal giving updates on Daniel’s condition, his surgeries and procedures, what the family was hearing from doctors and experts and ultimately Daniel’s death.

“Lori and I made the decision early to be transparent on our Caring Bridge page, and that made our story touch a lot of people,” Mike said. “We’ve heard from hundreds of people that we don’t even really know but have been touched by the story. By being public, we’re hoping that as you raise awareness, a lot of the people sort of see what this kind of tragedy can be, that hopefully it brings some good and somewhere does something that prevents one of these things or brings some healing somewhere.”

Initially not a candidate for organ donation due to medical protocols, Mike said he and a doctor at North Fulton Hospital were able to organize a new way to retest Daniel. His heart, liver and both kidneys were able to be sent to those in need, though the family doesn’t yet know who the recipients are.

“We prayed all along for this for a miracle and the miracle of recovery and didn’t get that,” Mike said, “but I think we got a miracle on this second chance of organ donation.”

Mike said the coronavirus pandemic likely led to Daniel feeling even more isolated, an impact he feared for others dealing with the disease. 

“We believe that the COVID lockdown … had him even more stressed,” he said. “I worry about all the people who suffer from depression right now because in this news environment and this pandemic and with the bad economy and all that stuff being forecasted, it just can’t help people with depression.”

In Daniel’s memory, the family has set up the Daniel Dudgeon Memorial Endowment for Depression Research, which Mike said would go toward promising research to find better ways for treating and identifying depression.

As of Friday afternoon, just three days after the campaign began, donors were less than $2,000 away from the family’s initial $30,000 goal. Mike said the family is determined to make the endowment “not just a short-term thing during this mourning period” but to continue with a larger campaign with future fundraising. 

“When Lori and I thought about how we could do something in honor of Daniel, we thought we would do a little different take, which is can we endow and give grants to academic researchers who are really looking at the root causes of depression and novel treatments because we know more and more and more that it truly is a disease of the brain and there’s a strong genetic component to it.”

A site in Daniel’s memory has been set up at RememberingDaniel.net. Links to information on organ donation, donations to the research fund and a site where those who knew Daniel can leave their memories are available at the site.