The velvety voice of Delilah Rene Luke is known far and wide for offering life-learned advice to her 8.3 million late-night listeners, but now the popular syndicated romance radio star is the one in need of support following the shattering death of her teenage son Zachariah to suicide on Oct. 3.
Speaking out for the first time since sharing the news on Facebook, the mom of 13 opens up to PEOPLE in this week’s issue, offering details of 18-year-old Zack’s life and recent struggle with depression in hopes of raising awareness for other family’s at risk.
“He was my wild child; 13 broken bones, umpteen trips to the hospital with appendicitis, tonsillitis, a fractured skull. He was wild but so so so sweet,” the Port Orchard, Washington-based star, 57, recalls of raising son Zack (one of her three biological children, the other 10 were welcomed through adoption).
And like his mom, Zack, who was a senior in high school, had the gift of compassion. “He was a faithful friend to the outcast and the troubled. Dozens of his friends have written to me and told me he was like a counselor to them,” says Delilah, adding that in the wake of his death, the mom of one of his friends reached out saying “he saved her daughter’s life when she was battling depression and anorexia, insisting the girl tell her folks and going with her to do that.”
His own struggle began recently, following a December 2016 car accident. “The event traumatized him,” she says. A painful breakup and an illness followed suit and soon Zack found himself behind in school.
“When he found out he wouldn’t graduate he spiraled into depression, and was honest about it,” says his mom, who quickly “found him doctors, a fabulous counselor and support group.”
Just before the end, “He was doing so well,” she says. “He was looking forward to making up his missed credits, graduating and starting film school. He was fascinated with science fiction and time travel and began to talk about the book A Wrinkle in Time and quantum physics.”
While Delilah declines to share the manner of his death, she says Zack left behind a message. “His goodbye note did not mention sadness, anger, angst or depression, just a pressing madness about feeling like this world was not his home.”
“She’s devastated,” says Delilah’s rep. This is yet another round of sadness for the radio star, who after struggles with her own parents and three failed marriages, wed business owner Paul Warner in 2012. That same year she lost 16-year-old son Sammy to complications from sickle cell anemia.
Now, with Zack’s passing, she’s taking a leave of absence from her radio show to mourn and turning towards her husband, family and millions of listeners for comfort. Says the rep, “The lady who is there for everyone else every single night now needs our love and our prayers sent right back to her.”
For more on Delilah’s painful loss, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.
Suicide Prevention: What to Know
Experts say some common warning signs of suicide include discussing a desire to die or feeling anxious or hopeless, like a burden, or trapped or in pain; withdrawing from others; extreme mood swings, including anger and recklessness; and abnormal sleep patterns (sleeping too much or too little).
Many suicides have multiple causes and are not triggered by one event, according to experts, who underline that suicidal crises can be overcome with help. Where mental illness is a factor, it can be treated.
Reaching out to those in need is a simple and effective preventative measure, experts say.
If you or someone you know is showing warning signs of suicide, consider contacting the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK, texting the Crisis Text Line at 741741 or seeking help from a professional.