When I first received the news of my brother’s suicide, I wasn’t sure what to say to others. Just months before I lost a friend to a suspected suicide- but this was never confirmed. For anonymity purposes, let’s call this friend “John”. John’s family and closer friends were silent “out of respect”, they said. I don’t know John’s official cause of death, and I probably never will. But, I would imagine that it was accidental or intentional suicide.
John actually had a background with drug addiction, just as my brother Erik did. John had a much longer history with it though. He had tried rehab across the country and had ended up homeless countless times. He had asked a lot of us for money over the years. I, along with many others, sent it to him- he told me that thanks to me, he would be able to get lunch that day.
When I first learned that my brother had moved on from more “mild” drugs and onto using methamphetamine, I reached out to two old friends. One of them helped get people into rehab for a living and was a recovering addict herself, and the other one was John. Drugs were so out of my wheelhouse that I just did not know what to say to my brother and how to help him. So, I asked John- “what should I say to him? what would you have wanted to hear?” Ultimately, he told me to treat my brother “with love and compassion”. Ultimately, though, he expressed the importance of rehab to me, which my brother never ended up attending. Regardless, when John passed, no one said how. To me, it seemed like there was shame surrounding the loss, and so that’s what we guess- suicide.
I try not to place blame in the loss of my brother. Something that helped me a lot was understanding that it took a “perfect storm” of bad situations to bring him to that place, and no one person or incident is responsible. I know this to be true. But, one of my wishes is that John’s family would have spoken out. I watched Erik walk a similar path to John. If I had known how his final days went or with certainty how he was lost, maybe I would have been able to see more red flags. I will never know if it would have made a difference, but I believe that there is a chance that it could have.
So, a few days ago, when someone asked me if it was “ok to share” parts of my brother’s story, it made me think of John. I understand that some families have a hard time accepting suicide. I even realize that results may have been inclusive. I even have family members that questioned my brother’s suicide for months- suspecting foul play from the other addicts in his home with him. But, ultimately, I want to be an open book for suicide and suicide loss. If one thing that I share can save just one person, then I have served my purpose. If, in fact, John was lost to suicide, then imagine the crushing stigma his family must have felt to not want to share.
On February 9, 2016, the day we lost my brother, I also did not know what to say. If I shared the truth, would it hurt my mom? Would it hurt my family? I only took about 24 hours, and then I think my mom might’ve even taken the lead. But after one day, I knew what the right thing to do was. I shared. I shared everything I knew. I shared every observation I had. I even shared details for anyone who asked. I do not know what will and wont help people. But, what I do know, is that sharing is going to help someone, and it certainly helps me.