My Uncle’s Suicide

My uncle committed suicide the week before Thanksgiving.

He was 67, and just days before he walked out to his driveway and shot himself in the chest, he told my mother that he was looking forward to spending the holiday with us.

Instead, my family spent Thanksgiving evening and many days preceding it sorting through the things left behind in his crumbling old house. As I write this, it’s Friday — Black Friday — and we’re working out last-minute payment details with the mortuary. Tomorrow, we bury him.

I’m writing this for the catharsis, and publishing it for the record. The things you write can haunt you forever, and I never want to forget the gut-wrenching anger I feel towards my uncle.

His decision to take his own life was selfish. He carefully considered the intricacies ahead of time: he lied to my family about selling off his gun collection, he kept an itemized, multi-page “Things To Do When I’m Gone” list, and moments before stepping outside on his last Monday morning he wrote a brief, trite suicide note.

What he failed to consider, out of either ignorance or disregard, was the effect his decision would have on his family. My mother, typically a confident and self-assured matriarch, has not been the same since his death. Thanksgiving, traditionally a warm and convivial familial holiday for us, will never be the same again.

When I come home for the holidays I hug my mother (now in her early 60s) and ask how she’s feeling; her traditional response is some variation of “Oh, I’m doin’ just fine.” This year, she slumped in my arms and tried to hold back tears as she told me how she missed her brother. Her voice cracked, and for a moment it was the voice of a little girl again.

As we age we do our best to fit into a series of different bodies and different responsibilities, until all the people we’ve been are stacked up inside us like human matryoshka dolls.

My mother is now in her early 60s; she has built up many layers. Yet the weight of her grief has cracked them all, temporarily revealing the child within to be badly hurt and crying out for answers. My uncle has forced my mother to step inside a new role —younger sister to a suicide—and I cannot yet forgive him for that.

I will, though. Some day. Every suicide account I’ve ever read has been pervaded with forgiveness, sadness and a desire for understanding. None of them said anything about the anger; about the gut-twisting rage that can never be shown, the disgust that drives you to sweep every photo of the deceased from your shelves, the fury that makes you want to grab the body by its carefully-arranged shoulders and heave it up out of the casket to demand answers when you should be paying your respects.

Nobody told me about that part. I wish they had, because I wasn’t ready for it. I admit it here so that I won’t forget, so that others might be better prepared, and so that maybe someone who thinks their life doesn’t matter to anyone will take a moment to reconsider.

Please. Don’t commit suicide. If you or anyone you know has suicidal thoughts, talk about it. It’s not weird. Call someone. If you’re in the U.S., try giving 1–800–273–8255 a ring. I’d consider it a personal favor.

I bet you know about that hotline. You’ve probably read a variation of the preceding paragraph a dozen times before. If so, I’m sorry to put you through it again; I do it because up until last week I was sure my shy, awkward uncle would never consider suicide. I was sure he’d think it abominable, one of the most cowardly and selfish acts imaginable.

Right now, I don’t feel sure of anything.

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