How To Get Over the Suicide of a Loved One (Hint: You Can’t)

October 9 is a tough day for me.

I was in college and living at a house I shared with several other students. It was a particularly lovely autumn day. The leaves were just showing their fall colors and the air had that wonderful coolness that is such a relief after a Southern summer. I hadn’t been home long since my year away in Boston.

I remember being out in the driveway with one of my roommates when my mom pulled up. Mom and I talked for a few minutes and then she left to go on to our family home, about forty minutes away.

I watched her face closely as we talked, searching for an unspoken message. I detected nothing unusual. She seemed much more relaxed and peaceful than she had been for the previous two weeks.

I decided to go check on my dad. I knew exactly where to find him in town.

I pulled up in the hospital parking lot by my dad’s car, surprised to see him loading a balloon bouquet and a large hand-lettered Get Well poster into the trunk of his car.

Since the end of September these things had decorated my little brother’s room in the Intensive Care Unit. Not that he had been able to see them.

I was a little slow on the uptake. “Daddy, why are you leaving?”

“He’s gone. It happened about an hour ago.”

“I need to tell Mama. She was just at my house.”

“She knows. She was here.”

My mother had come to tell me my brother had died and couldn’t do it.

On September 24th, for several different reasons, my sixteen-year-old brother took a shotgun and shot himself in the face. On October 3rd, he turned 17. On October 9th, he died.

The aftermath was as painful as those fifteen days, but for different reasons.

Some of the hardest things to deal with were:

  • Facing the gossip and speculation in our community about the question everyone has—“Why?”
  • Cleaning up the place he did it. Our childhood home was now a crime scene and straight out of a nightmare.
  • Dealing with his friends and girlfriend at the funeral. I blamed and hated them.
  • Listening to a teacher, who never contacted my parents while there was still time, say that she had Seen This Coming.
  • Reading the guest book from the funeral home. His girlfriend’s father wrote a message to my dead brother that would have hurt my mother if I’d let her read it.
  • Coming to terms with loving a brother who was both murder victim and murderer.

I am still damaged. Broken and humbled in so many ways. Afraid of so much. Pained by certain songs, smells, memories.

Loving the family I made for myself since then, and being loved by my husband despite my weakness has been very healing.

I fear going through the loss my mother experienced, but her faith and strength every day since 1989 makes me hope I could summon the courage to get through devastating loss.

What helps me deal:

  • Focusing on never causing my parents one moment of pain or concern, as far as I can, while still living authentically. They have cried enough.
  • Taking any cry for help seriously and taking action. I have called suicide hotlines for others and will always be unashamed to ask “Do you have a plan?” Listen. Ask. Act.
  • Being an advocate for mental heath care and for the removal of shame from mental illness and depression. My brother wasn’t mentally ill, but so often it goes hand in hand with suicide.

I’m still a work in progress. I’m too sensitive. I cry too easily. I’m difficult to live with this month.

I hope my brother is at peace. I love him very much. We were only two years apart in age, but in so many ways he was my own little baby.

Knoxville, TN. 1973 or 1974.I have few pictures of him. When I did a google search on his name, I found a picture on FindAGrave.com.

It’s in a military cemetery and one day my father will share the same headstone, the same grave.

The stone is hard for me to look at, but I still have a copy on my computer hard drive.

I’ll keep that sadness to myself, but I will share a picture I do have.

He’s one or two, riding on Daddy’s shoulders. He’s wearing a quilted bib that has an embroidered clown on it. His face is faded from the opening in the frame.

He is smiling.

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Comments

  1. Thank you so much for sharing. Suicide has affected my life as well, but not as closely and directly as it has yours. My heart aches for your brother and your family.
    Thank you for being real and honest about how horrific and painful it is for the survivors of a suicide victim. So many don’t realize that the family has to clean up afterwards, and how deeply that can scar someone.
    Your family and your brother will be in my thoughts and prayers.

  2. Thank you for sharing such a personal thing. My cousin committed suicide when I was a sophomore in high school. I remember spending Thanksgiving that year looking at funeral photos b/c I was unable to travel to it. I remember beingmso hurt and angry and sad and shocked and confused. I wrote him a letter telling him all the things I was feeling and all the questions I had. I still think about him nearly 20 years later. Good grief, hasmit been that long??? I still swear I see him all over the place.

    • You get it. There’s such a mix of anger and sadness.

      I’m so sorry for the loss of your cousin.

      Funeral photos–we don’t do that in my family. It thought makes me feel so strange. Permanent record of the worst day of your life.

  3. icklepay says:

    Thank you for this.

  4. Thanks for sharing. I’m sorry you have that pain in your life. You are in my prayers.

  5. My brother also died at age 16. Not by his own hands, but by a freak accident. No matter, the pain is horrible regardless. My heart breaks reading this story but my heart soars when I read how you are LIVING your life now!

    • Oh, Bruce, I’m so sorry for your loss.

      Because I’d been gone so far away for a year, I was never plagued with thought of “what could I have done to prevent this?” A comfort.

  6. He looks so much like you.

    This made me cry for you, for him, for your family, for all that never was because of something a young boy did without realizing that suicide is forever.

    People are stupid and they say stupid things, and I’m so sorry about that for you.

    I’m glad you wrote this; I’m sure it will help others who’ve walked in your shoes. I love you, my friend.

    • Don’t cry for me, Chloe-tina.

      It was a powerful lesson of what not to say to a grieving person.

      If only I could learn not to ask strange women when the baby is due.

  7. I see the impact this has had on you, and I wonder about the what ifs: what if this had never happened to your brother, or by extension, to you. I wonder about decisions you might have made, or might never have made, and if due to those, we might never have met.

    I’m so sorry, so very, very sorry for all the pain this has caused you.

    I know how awful suicide is.

    I hope that in telling this, it will bring you one step closer to feeling a little more whole.

    No: we never get over it. But we do move forward, we do look for ways to take what life hands us, and ultimately make of them the best that we can. I see you doing this.

    Your “sister-that-you-got-to-pick”.

  8. Stephanie (Just Me) says:

    You know, sweet Anne, I see in you a depth of compassion, a thoughtfulness, a willingness to truly extend grace to people who are struggling, a passion for defending those who can’t defend themselves… and I wonder how much of that is due at least in part to the suffering you’ve walked through. While I see redemption at work, I’m still so very sorry you’ve had to experience such pain. Like Susan, I hope that telling your story will bring you deeper peace and release.

    • I was always a sensitive child, but I think this made me even more so. I do love an underdog.

  9. I am so sorry for your loss. I can’t even imagine. (((Hugs)))!

    • I would hate for you to imagine. Thank you for commenting. I appreciate it.

  10. I know that these anniversaries can be so challenging. Thank you for sharing your heart. May you and your family find peace as time goes on.

    • I’m so touched that you would read and comment.
      I wish the same for you.

  11. I am in tears…. I am so sorry you had to go through that, and I’m sure it’s still hard. My uncle committed suicide too, and though I was too young to really know what was going on, I know what it can do to the family. sending all my hugs….

  12. Chris says:

    Oh, Anne. I wish, wish, wish that none of us ever had to know this grief.
    I’m so sorry for your loss, and pray for your family this mont

    • Thanks for your kind words and prayers, Chris.

      Sometimes I think all the pain we experience in life helps us leave it gratefully when our time comes.

      If it were always perfect, we would never want to go.

  13. Chris says:

    Oh, Anne. I wish, wish, wish that none of us ever had to know this grief.
    I’m so sorry for your loss, and pray for your family.

  14. Julia (jmmom) says:

    Anne, what a wonderful poignant post. I wish that those who are struggling could know the pain and the impact on their family and friends if they succumb to the thoughts of “I wish it was over.” I wish that our schools and churches and society could help struggling people and not hurt them more by making them more isolated. And I wish that you had not had to experience this.

    I have worked with many who attempted suicide, and helped some grieving children whose parent succeeded. It is hard. Very very hard.

    Grace and peace to you, especially during this month.

    • Thank you,Julia.

      You know, I don’t think he thought of us once.

      He left notes and a mix tape for his friends, but not for my sister and mother who were in the house.

      It hurts. I doubt those people think of him much, if at all.

  15. Awful. No parent should outlive their child. Thank you for the reminder to listen carefully to anyone who is calling out for help.

    • Listen and act. “Do you have a plan?” is a powerful question and you will be surprised by what people say.

  16. I had no idea, Anne. I’m so sorry. :hug:

  17. *HUG* I haven’t been online at all this weekend and just now saw this.

    I love you, friend!

  18. I can’t even pretend that I have the right words to say to you, but please know that I care very much. Big hugs!

  19. My husband’s first cousin (from a very tight family) committed suicide almost one year ago, on October 20th. It was a huge shock to everyone who knew him. My husband was overseas and it was so hard to tell my kids who had just seen their cousin. I just hope with all my hear that he, like your brother, is at peace.

    Thanks for sharing such a personal story.

    • I’m so sorry for your family’s loss. I bet the anniversary will be tough for them.

      Thanks for stopping by. I really enjoyed your blog.

  20. Anne,

    I am so sorry. Words don’t do justice. If you were nearby, I would hug you and let the hug in silence speak words. Praying for you tonight, and for your mom and dad. How are they doing this week with this anniversary too?

    Warmly,
    Jennifer Dougan

    • Thanks, Jennifer. They are okay. We have a don’t-mention-it policy on the days. We all know what day it is.

  21. Elizabeth / Liza Lee says:

    I’m so sorry.

  22. Oh, Anne, thank you for sharing your heart here. I’m sorry.

    I just heard a story on NPR yesterday about “mental health first aid” training. They said the same thing: always ask “Do you have a plan?”

    Mental health first aid

    • Thanks, Lisa. It’s a powerful question and you’d be surprised what people tell you when you ask.

  23. I’m so sorry.

  24. Wow. I am so sorry. I admire your strength and willingness to share.

    I really hate that a teacher claims to see it coming yet remained silent. I hope that the girlfriend’s dad finally found the strength to approach your parents and apologize (even if they don’t know what he wrote). I think they could easily forgive him for striking out in his moment of fear for his daughter, her heart and her life. Even if it was even harder for your family.

    I pray for your heart.

    • I don’t know why the teacher would confide that in me. It was upsetting to hear at the visitation with my brother’s coffin in the room.

      Girlfriend’s father–never seen him since. Her either.

      Her mother goes up to my father every once in a while and makes sad “how are you doing” noises and then tells my dad about her living daughter’s kids. It’s wrong how bitter I am. Everyone copes differently.

  25. Wow, that’s sooo tough. I can NOT believe the insensitivity of people. Beyond me.I’m so sorry for your loss.

    • Thank you, Mimi. Lots of people were really sweet, kind and thoughtful.

      I see now that people don’t know what to say and do, so withdraw. I get it. I have those feelings too.

  26. so sorry dear friend. my dad killed himself when I was 19, something I can rarely say out loud. i admire the courage it took for you to talk about this and pray for healing for you and your family.

    • Omg, Linda. I had no idea. I am so sorry. I was 19 also.

      No coincidence I was married and had a kid within two years.

      Thank you for your kind words.

  27. CJ (AUSTRALIA) says:

    17 months ago I lost my dear brother Johnny to suicide… I can honestly say to this day it still feels like a dream and Im going to awake and he will still be here..sounds crazy I know but maybe that is the way I manage to get by day to day.. I still have those horrible memories of the police coming to tell me he had taken his life…I had only seen him 3 hours earlier and as far as i knew he was going to visit my sister and her family instead he drove to a bridge in Melbourne sent us all messages telling us that he loved us and he was sorry…then he jumped leaving us with all the Why questions…for me my answers lead back to one person his wife I have family and friends saying sometimes to forgive is to start the healing… but her words and actions have taken away a very vital link in my family…I have not seen her or my nieces since the day of the funeral and even though several emails I have sent asking to see my nieces the requests have just been ignored… I can say it has gotten easier… I cope by writing Johnny a diary tellng him what I feel about his loss..I think healing is a long way off as now there is going to be an inquest… but as long as there is tomorrow there is always hope..

  28. SS says:

    Hi,

    I came across this post while searching for help with my own suicide loss..the best guy I had ever known. I just wanted to thank you for your candor…I related to so much of what you said, especially about taking any cry for help seriously. Sometimes it just helps to know I’m not alone.

    • It’s sad how not-alone you and I are. Thank you for leaving a comment.

      Despite writing a blog, I am a private with my feelings.

      This was hard for me to write because it is so personal. The reason I did write it was in the hope of helping someone.

      I am sincerely sorry for your loss.

  29. carmen says:

    im dealing with the same it’s been a 14 months since i lost my little brother, i still broken, dont know what to do, my family it’s tearing apart, anything it’s right… i miss him a lot

    • admin says:

      I promise you, you can get through this. You will have happiness in your life again. Try to remember the happy times to keep them alive in your memory.
      As for your family, just love each other, be kind to each other, forgive any slights, hurts, blame. The most important thing now is that you help each other.

  30. Oh, Anne, this post….beautiful and heartbreaking.

    I saw its title after I read the post you wrote today (11/12/13) and nervously clicked on it. I knew it would strike cords. I lost my brother not yet 3 years ago. His ex-wife (and still close friend) called me and I would spend the next 11 hours of my life on the phone calling my 7 other siblings. The questions, the disbelief, the pain still real, as our my prayers he is at peace.

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