One brother speaks about his loss to suicide. Beautifully and painfully moving, please take a moment to read.
‘I will never forget Jan. 17, 2002. I was at my fraternity house at Washington and Lee University when Justine, my girlfriend at the time and now my wife, burst into my room frantically telling me I needed to call home. I could tell she was shaken, but mostly I was confused. When my father picked up the phone, I could tell that something was clearly wrong.
The sound of his trembling voice, which normally booms with confidence, is seared into my memory. He asked me if I would sit down for a moment. Then he said it:
“Son, your brother has taken his life.”
I immediately responded, “Dad, is he going to be okay?”
In retrospect, it seems strange to ask, but I literally could not process what happened.
“No, son, Tyler’s gone,” he said.
I simply could not believe that my brother could do such a thing. No way. Not suicide. That is not supposed to happen. Suicide happens to people in bad situations, not people from loving families. It happens to people who are bullied or isolated, not the captain of the football team who everyone likes.
In the coming years, I would come to realize how wrong I was, how my assumptions stemmed from my own arrogance, and how I had no idea about the reach and devastation of suicide.
I remember flying home almost immediately. I saw ice forming on the plane’s wing as I looked out into the darkness of night. I never wanted to land and face what was waiting for me at home. The weather was so bad that the plane was ultimately forced down in Huntsville, and I drove the rest of the way to Nashville.
When I arrived, they had already taken his body. Some specialized company had already cleaned up our shared bathroom where my brother shot himself. The only details they missed were the shotgun pellets imbedded in the crown molding.
Being a brash college sophomore, I figured I could handle it. I could help my father and mother manage the funeral arrangements. I would ensure that my brother and sister were all right. I was tough, overconfident and completely unprepared for the long painful road ahead.
What broke me were the uncontrollable wailing cries of my mother. They clawed at my very soul. I have tried unsuccessfully for more than a decade to forget them. I never understood that sound until the birth of my first son. It marks a loss so deep and profound that words cannot describe it.
We buried my brother shortly thereafter. The last time I peered into the casket and saw his body, I could barely recognize him.
We put him in the ground with his parents, grandparents, and even a great grandparent at the graveside. Hundreds of friends and family were there with us. Some of them hugged their children tighter that night, they asked their friends how they were doing with a little more sincerity, and faced the reality of a life cut short.
So many years removed from that darkest day, I read about suicides with disturbing frequency, especially during the holidays. I know what it means for those families and friends. Suicide does not discriminate. It promises a grand lie, immediate peace for a soul in pain who will easily be forgotten. That could not be further from the truth. The years of hurt, suffering, second-guessing and doubt that stemmed from my brother’s instantaneous decision are not the legacy he would have wanted.
Every time I started to talk or write about Tyler’s suicide, I would think to myself, “It is not their problem,” or “It will just make them uncomfortable.” The irony is that so many people who have suffered through the pain of someone else’s suicide or have thought about it themselves have stifled their stories the same way.
Suicide thrives on silence.
I miss my brother. I think about him often, and, when I wrestle around with my boys, I think of how much Tyler would have loved them. I choke back the tears and remember the good times we had as kids, but he is forever missing from the lives of his family and friends.
I will never presume to understand or be able to judge the mindset of someone capable of making such a terrible choice. If there is a possible silver lining of losing my brother, it is that I have gained tremendous empathy for those walking through dark times in their lives. Working through the pain of my brother’s suicide has shown me how little I know, that assumptions are frequently wrong, and that I would rather have the people in my life than agree with their politics, perspectives or life choices.
I have always wondered what would have happened if just one teacher, one friend, or even I had been able to reach my brother in that dark place. How could I have known? In the new culture of personal image projection, so many people paint a pretty picture while hiding their troubles. The only way to see their pain is to know them deeply and show them our struggles and scars as well. Even then, we still might miss the depths of their sorrow.
The bottom line is that in a world more “connected” than ever, far too many of those we call our friends, neighbors and colleagues are alone and struggling to wake up the next day. Real relationships are messy, difficult and time consuming, but they give life so much of its value.
I cannot undo my brother’s suicide, but I also will not allow suicide to thrive on my silence any longer.’