Updated: Aug 19, 2020
Warning: This post may be triggering.
I lost my brother, Michael, in 2013 to suicide. From the moment I found out, life has never been the same.
There isn't anything I wouldn't do to get my brother back. I can't imagine how amazing it would be to see him walk into my family's Christmas celebration or some birthday dinner. I often think about what life would be like if he were still here.
Then, reality hits and I remember that he won't be at Christmas or birthday dinners. He's gone.
Eight days before my brother passed, he sent me a text message. He wanted to talk. If you've ever been around a person that is depressed or suffering from addiction, it can be overwhelming to be on the other end. This sounds horrible and insensitive, but if you've been in this position, you'll understand. It can be exhausting. Oftentimes, there isn't much you can say or do to make someone see something differently, especially if they are depressed and using drugs and/or alcohol. I will likely always be reminding myself of this.
So, when he sent me a text at 8:28 on a Sunday morning, I didn't rush to call him or text him back. Instead, I hung out with the kiddos and gave him a call around 11:00 and when I called, he was opening the bar (short story: he owned a bar, but was now helping my parents who owned it, aka not important). He said that he wanted to talk but my parents were walking into the bar so he couldn't talk. He asked if he could call me Monday and we could do lunch since we both worked in the same town. I said yes, give me a call, I'd love to do lunch.
We didn't talk or meet for lunch on Monday. Instead, a week passed and on Monday, April 22, 2013 (most likely), my brother killed himself. We didn't find him until Tuesday the 23rd when he didn't show up for his scheduled shift at the bar.
Every single minute of the evening of Tuesday, April 23rd, 2013 is forever etched in my mind. The sights, the sounds, the smells. The air was especially cold that night, a temperature that seemed to echo the entire state of the night.
Here are our last text messages. The first one is a note about how Emily was loving the birthday present he had given her. He was the best present giver. Then, his next text to me eludes how he knew things weren't okay but he was working on it. I tried to reassure him that we loved him because we did. More than anything. It didn't matter how often we were able to see him or what was happening in his life. We knew his heart and that was all we needed. Then, on 4/14 was the text message that I never got to see come to fruition. The one I left hang.
I haven't shared these text messages with many people. To be honest, I'm not sure that I've ever shared them. But, something is nudging me today to share this piece of the story. I'm guessing Mike is my nudge.
If you were to see my phone log, you would see that I tried calling him multiple times and when he didn't pick up my call, I knew he was gone. I don't know how to explain that feeling. It was as though unconsciously I had known how sick he was all along. I just never realized it until he didn't answer.
I don't have any confidence that I could have saved him. I will always wonder what he wanted to talk about. What was troubling him? I knew a lot of it, but as the weeks unfolded after his death, I would find out that I didn't know all of it. As much as I know that I shouldn't hold any guilt, I'm not sure there is a survivor of suicide that doesn't feel guilt. It's there, in the deepest parts of my soul. I do my best to acknowledge it and give myself grace. That is all I can do.
There is no sliding bar scale of how horrible or tragic a death is. Cancer sucks. Car accidents suck. Heck, even dying from old age is crappy. Yet, it can be such a magical thing for the person on the other end. When I lost my grandma, I knew she was ready to go. She told us so and we had time to adjust to the idea of life without her. When my family lost Michael, we had no time to adjust to the idea of it. Moreover, we were left with questions that we will NEVER have the answers to.
The reality of suicide is so daunting, so painful, and incredibly heartbreaking.
Life goes on. There is no way around it. I found a way to get through my days in between tears. I dealt with his financial struggles that inevitably came to a head when he passed. I'll never forget the companies that were unbearable to deal with (Frontier Communications comes to mind!) and the ones who knew how to handle it (Capital One, thank you!). I'll never forget the probate court visits and the incredible pain that brought me to my knees in a courtroom, a story for another day. Painful memories forever etched in my brain.
Then, on top of the emotional pain of loss, I experienced symptoms of PTSD. The 911 call replayed in my mind on a reel, along with the screams of my brother's girlfriend. I couldn't go into basements (my brother hung himself) for months and when I finally could, I ran back up the stairs as fast as I could. For years, I couldn't look under my deck after letting my dog out to the bathroom because I would see him hanging there. I am happy to say that these symptoms are much better today, but they aren't gone. Certain days, certain sounds and smells, remind me of him and bring me back to these dark places. I know many family members that experienced his death had similar experiences.
When I consider why I am sharing this part of my story, I know that I want you to see a glimpse of this side of suicide, what is left behind. But, I also want to provide hope. After my brother passed, I saw a medium several times and my brother relayed this message that life was hard and wasn't meant to be easy. It's been with me ever since. Michael also said that he regretted what happened that night and how much pain it brought all of us. But what happened had happened and he couldn't undo it. What I found in interviewing women for my book #WarriorsinRecovery, was that when someone had attempted suicide they realized when it was almost too late, that they did NOT want to kill themselves. They wanted to live. Each and every one of them.
If you are struggling with thoughts of suicide, please call the crisis line at 1-800-273-8255 or text the lifeline at 741741. I cannot tell you enough, YOU ARE LOVED. YOU MATTER.
Please share this post if you want to share this message of hope with someone today. You can make a difference.
I want to thank my brother for sticking by my side every time I share parts of his story. I feel him and his encouragement. I know that Rise Up Mission is our work together, not just mine.