June 23rd will mark the 11th anniversary of my youngest brother’s death–by suicide. I have written some about this before. However, in light of Anthony Bourdain’s suicide, Kate Spade’s suicide, and the impending anniversary of my brother’s death, I feel it pertinent to write about depression and suicide in more depth.
My brother was 20 when he hung himself from his bedroom rafter. He punched a hole through the ceiling and then tied a rope over the rafter to do so. My ex-stepmother found him. I can’t begin to imagine what it would be like to find your own son hanging from the ceiling, dead.
My brother had a complicated life, in my eyes. My father would disagree. Because my brother had financial stability, lived in a 4000+ square foot home and never had to worry about material items, my father could never understand why my brother was upset about anything. It was as if my brother wasn’t allowed to show any emotion other than elation because he didn’t have to worry about from where his next meal came. My father, unfortunately, didn’t have much compassion or empathy; he still doesn’t.
My brother was like an only child. My stepbrother and I were almost nine years older than he. I lived full-time with my Mom, and my stepbrother lived full time with his father, so my brother was almost a full time only child. He didn’t like it. He loved it when my older step brother and I were home. Loved it. His favorite thing to do was to irritate and annoy us; a typical little brother. He thirsted for real attention. My father, and now ex stepmother worked a lot, and didn’t get along well, themselves. They never saw eye to eye on much and were very cold. My Dad only feigned interest in things that he, himself was interested in. He would often tell my brother and I that he wanted to get a DNA test done to see if we were really his children. My brother and my thought process, our politics, beliefs, interests, and likes differed enormously from my father’s.
My brother and I were, and are both liberals who loved hiking in Colorado and loved vegetarian food. We both abhorred materialistic reverie and the good ole boy Texas attitude. My Dad LOVES Texas, beef, the suburbs, BBQ, and some of the good ole boy network. My brother and I prefer authenticity, a level of grit, and have non conformist ideals.
My brother felt very out-of-place, lonely, and unloved. It would hurt my Dad to know that my brother felt unloved, but he did. My step mother semi worshipped my step brother, and talked about how she missed him all the time. She also berated my brother for having facial expressions like my Dad. My brother was a slight build, incredibly fit and muscular, but a slight 5’9–not big. He played football to please my father. My father played football, watched it all the time, talked about it all the time, and wanted my brother to play. My brother didn’t want to play. He was more into track and rock climbing.
But, alas, to receive “attention” and “acceptance” from my Dad, he played, only to have his back broken at age 16. My brother was in the hospital for a while, afterwards. I only found out about my brother being in the hospital because he called me, “secretly”, to tell me and to reach out and talk to me when my Dad had to go home for a bit. My Dad didn’t want me to know that my brother was in pain or was hurt. In my Dad’s world, you don’t talk about emotions, pain, or admit to any vulnerability. I had also, months prior, expressed to my Dad that football was not a good choice for my brother and that he was only doing it to please my Dad. My Dad didn’t care. I love my father dearly, but he has very narcissist qualities.
My brother expressed to me on the phone that he was very depressed, that he was worried that my Dad wouldn’t love him anymore if he couldn’t play football. His statement devastated me. I called my Dad, to share this with him. My Dad was more upset that my brother let me know that he was in the hospital, than he was about hearing my brother’s fears. My father also couldn’t even understand that by isolating my brother and telling him not to reach out to others during this difficult time, that it was incredibly harmful to my brother. My father didn’t try to comfort my brother or to squash his fears of feeling unloved if he couldn’t play football.
My brother missed a lot of school due to his back going out, and ended up in an alternative school to help him catch up. Having to go to an alternative school only increased his sense of isolation and loneliness. Almost a year after my brother broke his back, he tried to kill himself for the first time. He swallowed two bottles of pills, and my stepmom found him in just enough time to get him to the hospital and have his stomach pumped. Of course, I only knew this because my brother, again, “secretly” called me to talk. He begged me not to tell our Dad that I knew. I was furious that my Dad tried to keep my brother’s pain a secret, and that he was again isolating my brother. My Dad saw my brother’s struggles as a weakness, and therefore, a poor reflection on himself (my Dad), so he didn’t want anyone knowing, not even his daughter.
After my brother’s attempted suicide, he had to go to a hospital for mental well-being and my father and step mom were required to attend counseling sessions with my brother. Well, my Dad tried to attend one session, only to storm out (only a few minutes into the session) and to yell at the counselor telling the counselor that he himself didn’t need to be in counseling, since it wasn’t he who had tried to kill himself. My Dad couldn’t step out of his own comfort zone for the benefit of his son. My Dad refused to attend anymore sessions. To my brother, who was barely 17 at the time and who didn’t have enough life experience to see the real truth, it seemed like he (my brother) didn’t mean enough to my Dad to try group counseling again. My Dad didn’t want to hear how my brother felt or how he was struggling. Why? Because my Dad thought that that insinuated that he, as a father was a failure. Again, my Dad thought that because he was financially secure and provided external necessities that my brother should be grateful, should never complain, not ever struggle, and not ever not feel lucky. My father didn’t recognize that my bother was his own person, with his own struggles, and that that was ok. Just because my brother had most of his basic needs taken care of, didn’t mean that he didn’t struggle, or that he didn’t have valid feelings.
My brother was put on medication at the hospital for depression, understandably. My Dad and step mom were not fans of this, as they didn’t really care for modern medicine. I understand that it’s best not to take medication unless it’s a true necessity. But, in my opinon, the medicine was necessary to help my brother. After high school, my brother refused to attend college. He just wanted to work. Of course, my Dad was not happy about this, and daily criticized my brother. My brother worked on cars (which my Dad hated), and worked as a salesman fulltime at Best Buy. My Dad is a salesman, and my brother grew up around it, and again, I think by becoming one, he thought he’d please my Dad. Instead, my Dad talked about how my brother would never be as successful as he because he had a degree. My brother became the top salesperson in North Texas, as a 19 and 20-year-old. It’s pretty impressive.
My brother was really not the corporate type. He was kind of a wanderer, and he didn’t really like being a salesperson, but he did it, and he succeeded. His girlfriend had applied to the University of Colorado at Boulder and was accepted. My brother decided to apply, too. He loved Colorado, nature, animals, and the free spirit of the state. Well, he didn’t get accepted, and the day he found this out, his girlfriend broke up with him. At this time, I wasn’t aware that my brother wasn’t taking his meds. His insurance ran out, and he didn’t have coverage. IF I had known this, I would have bought them outright for him. You don’t just go off depression medications cold turkey. You have to wean off them. My Dad and stepmom knew, and thought that since he was now 20 yo, that it was his responsibility to figure it out. I am all for people taking responsibility and for not enabling people. BUT, when your son is only 20, has a history of depression, and has tried to kill himself once already, you get him his fucking meds, no matter what!!!!!!!!!!
I received a phone call June 23, 2007, with my Dad bluntly telling me that my brother had hung himself and was dead. “Hi Katie, this is your Dad. Your brother hung himself and is now dead. Just wanted to let you know.” Click. I was hysterical. Hysterical. To this day, I am saddened by the pain and the struggles that my brother felt and experienced. I wish I could have done more, I still blame my Dad and ex step Mom for not doing more (I know this is not healthy), and I tear up anytime someone mentions suicide.
My Dad was mad at my brother. My Dad feels that he was robbed of his son and can’t understand why anyone would take their own life. I was sad, so sad. I feel horrible that I couldn’t do more to help my brother’s pain, to comfort him, to give him hope. I know it’s not my fault, but I feel like, in some ways, my brother was given some shit cards emotionally, and he just didn’t have the makeup to cope with what he was dealt.
People don’t like hearing about other’s woes. “Be positive, smile, everyone says!” Fuck that sometimes. Let me hear your real worries, your pain, your struggles. I am here. I’m listening. I feel you. I want it all, not just the positive one liners that sometimes make me want to puke, but the nitty-gritty, the obscene, the depths of moroseness. People say they want to help, but how many truly listen if it’s not comfortable to hear, how many truly want to hear the bad? You have to be there for both, even if it makes you uncomfortable. (I know I sound like a broken record here, but it’s true)! Life is not all sun shines and rainbows, and please don’t pretend that it is. Sometimes it’s absolutely marvelous, and sometimes it is unfair, dark, and downright shitty.