WEST ISLIP, NY. FRIDAY APRIL 2, 2010. Tom and Paula...

WEST ISLIP, NY. FRIDAY APRIL 2, 2010. Tom and Paula Pilkington talk about how they're coping with their daughter Alexis' suicide at their home in West Islip. Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa

Alexis Pilkington's parents are grieving, but they are not hiding from her suicide.

"She wouldn't want us to crawl in bed and put the covers over our head," her mother, Paula Pilkington, said.

"I'm starting to believe her upbeat personality was a mask for something she was hiding," said her father, Tom Pilkington. "The taboo thing is no one wants to say, 'Yeah, it's mental illness.' "

The parents of the spunky soccer star, 17, who committed suicide two weeks ago, are trying to cope with their pain through openness about her death, through consoling others and through humor.

Tom Pilkington spoke at his daughter's funeral and in interviews, and the couple appeared on the "Today" show.

Although speculation emerged that anonymous negative comments on social networking sites were a cause of her suicide, the parents have been adamant that cyberbullying did not push their daughter over the edge, even though that would be an easy target for blame.

"She dished it out and she took it," her mother, 46, said of Alexis' communications on social networking sites.

Almost daily, Alexis' friends and teammates stop by the cozy house in West Islip for a hug or a pep talk.

Her parents, high school sweethearts, will celebrate 24 years of marriage next month. They laugh easily with, and at, each other.

"Don't think that for one minute we're not sad," said Tom Pilkington, 48, who finds himself crying at random moments and is unable to drive past any soccer fields where Alexis played.

Tom Pilkington said they don't want to hide behind the stigma of suicide and hope they can help other parents deal with teenage mental health issues. Better, they decided, to confront the truth that Alexis was in such insurmountable pain that she ended her life, and to invite all the confusion and questions that come with that reality.

They don't know the source of that pain. Alexis was always happy and popular. She had a close relationship with her parents and brother, Jared, 22. She had graduated early from West Islip High School, was set to take her driver's test tomorrow and was looking forward to a July family vacation to St. Lucia. In the fall, she planned to attend Dowling College, play soccer and work toward her career goal of becoming a schoolteacher.

Like a typical teenager, Alexis had her struggles. She had been in counseling, her parents said, for reasons they called normal teen issues such as occasionally cutting class or incomplete homework.

So, although mental illness is not an easy answer to accept, for the Pilkingtons it's the only logical explanation. They want to warn other parents that there were no signals.

"I want parents to be aware that this can happen to anyone," Alexis' mother said. "The signs are hidden."

The Pilkingtons said they want any sad, angry or hurt teens contemplating suicide to consider the pain it causes others.

"Think about what you're doing to your family," Paula Pilkington said.

While the parents don't blame cyberbullying for Alexis' death, they say they cannot rule it out completely because no one will ever know for sure.

Their daughter's suicide first gained attention because of anonymous negative comments on her Facebook page and on Formspring.me. Some worried that those ugly remarks had pushed her to suicide. After her death, mean comments even appeared on her memorial Facebook page.

Paula Pilkington said she's not yet ready to look at those messages that came after Alexis' death. "These are evil, evil people who are looking to hurt us," she said.

One night last week, her husband sat at a computer and finally read some postings. After seeing the comments, the hardened New York City police supervisor decided to ignore them.

"I truly believe if you don't give them an audience and you don't pay attention to them, they'll just go away," he said.

Still, he worries that Alexis' youthful friends, including classmates who have protested Formspring.me, have taken the hurtful comments to heart.

The Pilkingtons are beginning to see how something positive can come of their daughter's death, whether it is educating people about suicide prevention or learning about the ways that Alexis' donated organs have saved lives.

While they are grateful that others are memorializing Alexis, they ask that those wanting to use her name for any cause contact the family at giveeverythingbutup@yahoo.com.

Life must go on, and "a lot of happiness is coming our way," Paula said. Their son's wedding is planned for next year.

They believe if Alexis had known how much pain her suicide would cause her parents, family, friends, and even her beloved cat, Ripley, she never would have taken her life.

"She regrets it," her father said.

"She made a mistake," said her mother, who wears a heart-shaped pendant that holds some of her daughter's ashes.

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