Sadly, back in 2001, my oldest brother Steve took his own life. He was 45 years old at the time.
From an outsiders perspective, Steve had the picture perfect life. He was smart, handsome and funny. He had a good job, a beautiful loving wife, 3 amazing sons, and a ton of friends. From the outside most would not know he was struggling.
During the time prior to the suicide, there were signs that Steve was not at his best, but I wasn’t aware that the signs Steve was showing were as critical as they ended up being. I did not think that he would end up taking his life. Receiving the call of this tragedy was not something I could have ever anticipated. In hindsight, I now can recognize warning signs. They weren’t so apparent at the time. When I reflect back, I can see that there were signs throughout his life that he struggled.
The last year before Steve took his life was a pretty intense period of time. He wasn’t open to having company which in itself was a big change. As a result, I didn’t see him much.
Although Steve did visit the hospital at some point during his darker times, he chose not to stay in the hospital even against the medical advice that he had been given. He didn’t feel that there was anything there that would really help him.
I visited Steve shortly before he took his own life. Although it was the middle of the day, I found him sitting in a dark room with the shades drawn. He was alone. I knew something wasn’t right. The Steve I knew was always well ‘put together’. He was always clean shaven, hair cut and had impeccably clean hands despite being a millwright where grease and grim were a part of the job. The Steve sitting beside me that day did not reflect that.
As he spoke, I could see he was pretty messed up, and in a dark space. He shared that he felt that he had already seen and done everything, and that he had accomplished everything that his life could have offered. He just couldn’t seem to see how much more this life would give him if he stayed. Seeing this stark difference in him and how he was speaking was a lot to take in and process. I knew he was hurting, but I would have never imagined that he was planning to take his life.
When I reflect back on the days prior to the suicide, I really wish that I had pushed my brother to talk to me a bit more about what was actually going on inside of him, but at the same time I was afraid that by pushing him that he would shut down or shut me out. It’s so difficult to know what to do in these situations.
I still remember when my sister-in-law called me to tell me that she had found Steve. I literally ran out of the house and got into the car with my shoes in my hand. Thankfully I wasn’t driving. It’s amazing the thoughts that run through your mind. I somehow managed to call 911 on the way over. Shock, sadness and disbelief filled me. Seeing my sister-in-law and being there with her as she told her children was certainly one of the toughest days of my life.
There were a few things that I feel were done well for those closest to Steve during this time. In the moments that emergency responders arrived they were accompanied by a few grief counsellors for the family. However, I must add that my sister-in-law and her boys were still processing the events that just happened and being in a bit of a state of shock, sadness and anger, I really don’t think that anyone was ready to talk about it with counsellors yet. I chose not to pursue counselling myself afterwards. Although this is going to sound weird, I actually sort-of felt a sense of relief for him. Just knowing that he wasn’t struggling through every day any longer gave me a small sense of peace.
I don’t believe suicide is a selfish act. I actually believe it’s the exact opposite. I really believe that for those that have attempted, or successfully died by suicide, that they truly think they are doing what’s best for everyone in their lives; that they really believe that suicide is the best decision they could make for themselves, and for those around them. To them, in that moment, I think it’s the only decision that makes sense.
Personally, I see a lot of importance in the science of mental health. I’ve often wished that a brain scan could’ve been completed so that we could see which parts of Steve’s brain weren’t functioning “normally”. I believe, especially reflecting on some of the most recent research conducted that brain scans, and active treatments with a doctor to examine these scans could help to prevent mental health tragedies like this one.
As a message to anyone out there that may be struggling through something similar, I want you to know that when someone close to you has taken their life, it’s not a decision that they’ve made lightly or made because of the other people in their life, but instead is about the internal struggles that person is living with every day. They’ve simply come to a point where they can no longer see another way to cope. I want people to know that even someone who seemingly has the picture perfect life can still struggle, and we all have to do our best to try and recognize the signs and intervene the best that we can.