And why it was a relief
I heard a statistic that over a million families each year bury loved ones who’ve succumbed to the demon suicide, but I never figured ours would be one of them. We’re a middle class family who values hard work and togetherness above all. Sadness and the inability to cope is buried under a pile of responsibility, and responsibility always overrules happiness. Always.
When we were children all I wanted was my big brother’s attention and love, but instead, I was the constant bag for him to punch. It wasn’t always the case, of course, there were many happy memories as well, but for the most part, I begged for something or someone to teach him a lesson for treating me so bad. A random dog attack maybe or a swift swat from our father’s belt, anything that would stop the onslaught I endured simply for being born.
As I aged I figured out that he was pissed I’d come along and dethroned him. He was the baby of the family for some seven years before my parents broke their promise and had another kid. When this bouncing baby girl showed up and relegated him to middle child role, the first nail was struck in his coffin.
Nail two came when he started hiding his feelings of dissatisfaction in drugs and alcohol. So cliche, I know, but its the truth. This young, athletic, multi-talented, guitarist, scratch golfer, 700+ series bowler, flirty, funny, best laugh in the world, brilliant young man never truly felt like he was enough.
His lack of confidence and self worth affected every-single-thing. No matter how hard he tried, or how far he climbed, his marriages, his career, his relationships with family, especially our father, all suffered dramatically.
But then my brother calmed and finally settled down. His life became ‘normal’ and he’d finally grown out of his wilder, sadder days.
Though he’d failed miserably with his first marriage, and was never a good father to his sons, he’d redeemed himself completely with his last marriage. He was doting, and faithful, and the perfect father to his adorable adopted daughter. His loved ones breathed a sigh of relief that he’d found his place in the world and we could finally stop worrying about him.
That lasted twenty years. But underneath it all, he was yet discontent. Even though he wasn’t searching, he was found. One faithful night excitement reared it’s ugly head in the form of a new, very lethal relationship. This devil, as our family has come to know her, enticed his emotional demons back to the surface and encouraged him to experiment with both prescription and street drugs, in search of his lost youth and the virility he so longed to rekindle.
It was fun! It was new! It made him Superman. It made him forget his undeniable inability to ever feel good just being himself.
It was the beginning of the end. I only detail the downfall to help others recognize the signs. Complete euphoria, followed by soul-sucking failure when he couldn’t keep up the pace, WAS A SIGN.
Dah, right?! The family watched as he laughed too hard and smiled too much. Denial and hope blinded us to the fact that his excitable behavior was not right. Not rational. Not sustainable. But man, was he ever having fun.
I’ll never forget the night I got the call. My husband and I had just moved into a new place, so I was exhausted. I shook my head when he held up the phone for me to talk. “It’s your Dad,” he said.
Now, I loved my father beyond all beings, but I just didn’t have the strength to talk for a half hour that night. “Tell him I’ll call him in the morning,” I pleaded.
“You need to talk to him, Rhonda. Something is wrong.”
My husband never calls me Rhonda. Unless. Well, you know.
The hitch in my Dad’s voice was all I had to hear to know something catastrophic had happened. “Who is it? What’s happened?” I slid down the wall and melted into the floor, bracing for the worst. But I still wasn’t prepared.
“I just got a call. They say your brother committed suicide. He hanged himself from a garage rafter.” This man, someone I’d never heard cry before in my life, dissolved in tears. I could actually hear the guilt choking him right through the phone.
“We’ll be right there.” I said the words, but my mind was numb, completely and utterly numb. I don’t even remember disconnecting the phone or my husband half carrying me outside so I could catch my breath. The lousy pizza we’d stuffed down for dinner was in my throat. Barn owls treed on either side of our yard, hooted at one another like they were talking about our family disaster. The January moon peeking out through fleeting clouds, added a display of light and dark as I wrapped my arms around my clenched stomach and cried.
But still I didn’t believe it. I tried to reason it out, as was my way. Maybe my brother was pretending he’d died to make us all feel regret for not giving him money. I was in shock and denial. No way he would ever have the guts to do such a thing. Ever.
Sadly, I was mistaken. Six months before my brother unceremoniously hanged himself, he’d unselfishly walked our mother through her hospice journey. Our family had allowed him to take charge, to give him the chance to make amends for all the worry he’d caused her over the years. It’ll be healing, we’d said. But we were wrong in this as well, as it turns out.
To say my brother and mother were close is a ridiculous understatement. She believed in him like no one else. She gave him chance after chance when he’d burned every other bridge. He was her golden child, her precious, sensitive son who took care of her until the bitter end. When she died, there was some part of him that died with her. The last person who cherished him for just being alive was gone. This, I believe, was the final nail.
So he’d finally had enough after one last fight with the devil. Desperate for relief from the angst that had become his life, he crawled out of bed, snorted a Speedball, closed himself in the garage, tied a lethal knot to a rafter, wrapped the noose around his neck and kicked away the ladder.
He called no one for help, nor did he leave a note. A friend found him dead at the end of the rope when he opened the garage later that night.
Now, almost five years since my brother’s death, after much soul searching, research, and counseling, I finally feel some relief. Relief for him for being free of his ever present demons, and relief for my family members who’ve overcome their guilt enough to release his soul into eternity. I find comfort in knowing he no longer suffers daily in the darkness of his faked happiness.
In the end, it was his decision to take his own life, even if depression and sadness helped him tie the rope. I pray there really is a God who holds him safe in the arms of heaven.
If you or someone you love suffers from depression, a lack of self worth, or any of the other signs and symptoms I’ve mentioned or others that you recognize as odd for them, get help. Call a hotline. Have an intervention. Listen. Love. Learn about the options. I would give anything in the world to have my brother back. Anything at all.
And if you’re too late to save them, save yourself. Find help. Talk to someone. Forgive yourself.