My brother, the statistic.

If you or someone you care about is in a crisis and need help right away:

Call this toll-free number, available 24 hours a day, every day: 1-800-273-TALK (8255). You will reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, a service available to anyone. You may call for yourself or for someone you care about. All calls are confidential.

He was two years older than me, the oldest of the “four younger ones” in my family, with dark brown eyes and even darker curls. He was a twin to the boyhood photos of my father. He was determined, brooding, and hungry to be seen as a man, even as a small boy.

And, on February 12, 2010, he became a statistic.

He loved his bow and arrow set, a gift when he was young. Was he 8? Maybe 9?  He let me shoot it, only once, at the round target set up in the backyard before the landscaping was complete and the yard still felt like a wild wonderland. When he discovered a black widow hiding behind the shield of hay, he “saved” me by knocking it off and crushing it under his shoe.

And, on February 12, 2010, he became a statistic.

Around the age of 10, there was a drum set under the Christmas tree and a passion was discovered. From then on the kitchen table, a school book, the couch, the bathroom sink, and his knees would never be anything more than practice pads to him. He took lessons. He gave lessons. He played in the school band and rock bands. He bought sets and hand-built custom sets. Throughout his teen years, a set of sticks was a permanent fixture in his back pocket.

And, on February 12, 2010, he became a statistic.

The adolescent and early adult years were painful for him and for those who loved him. He was angry and lonely and struggled with self-acceptance. He withdrew and bit at the hands that tried to help. He found refuge on his bike and spent hours riding. He rebelled against the house rules, dropped out of college, fell in love, and married young. Together they had two children. Still, he fought with those that tried to help him, rejecting direction and authority. But above all, he fought with himself and the demons that plagued him.

And, on February 12, 2010, he became a statistic.

As an adult, he fell and picked himself up many times. He struggled through a divorce and bounced back. He raised two kids, much of the time as a single parent. His pride always came before the fall. He refused offers for help that came with terms of accountability. He lost jobs, gained jobs, and rode the associated waves of financial highs and lows. He was estranged from my parents when my dad died, but reconciled with my mom before her death. We had conversations when he seemed to be on top of the world, and others when he cursed the world and everyone in it. Twice he moved to a new state in hopes of a fresh start, but the demons always moved with him. When their voices grew louder, alcohol became his escape. Despite the 2000 miles between us, it hurt to see his anger grow. I retreated from regular contact with him, angry at his version of our childhood and fearful of his rage.

And, on February 12, 2010, he became a statistic.

I don’t remember the last time I talked to him; it was sometime in January of 2010.  I sent him an email around Christmas, and we talked a few weeks later, but our call was brief. Perhaps there were warning signs, but it’s a blur now, shrouded in the guilt of would haves, should haves, could haves. Like the old cassette tape message machines, our last call was erased, recorded over by a subsequent call. The day was bright and the weather crisp and clear. Both of my girls were of an age I could leave them to do their schoolwork independently, so I planned a coffee date and Costco run with a friend. Funny how the silliest of details are frozen in memory when a wave knocks you down. When the phone rang, I thought it was my friend, cancelling or delaying our trip, but the voice was only vaguely familiar. It took a moment to reconcile the voice and name on the other end; it had been years since I talked with my brother’s ex-wife. Her tone was amiable (we had always gotten along) but tempered. She got straight to the point, and though her words were direct, they swirled around in my brain, senseless and confusing. He was found in his car in the garage. My brother left behind a daughter, a son, an ex-wife, 6 sisters, 2 brothers, and a note.

And, on February 12, 2010, he became a statistic.

According to the National Vital Statistics Report, Vol. 61, Number 4, there were 2,468,435 deaths in the U.S. in 2010. Of those deaths, 38, 364 were by “intentional self-harm” or suicide, and 4 years ago today, my brother became a statistic among those who decided life was too hard, too painful, and too hopeless.

According to a report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2008 (the study year) an estimated 8.3 million adults (18 and older) contemplated suicide in the preceding year, while 2.2 million adults reported making plans and more than 1 million made an actual attempt. Sadly, these numbers tell only part of the problem; not reflected are teenagers for whom suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death.

In the days following my brother’s death, I shielded myself from the people who suggested he was selfish, or sinful, or  (fill in the blank with judgment).  I fervently didn’t and don’t believe people who commit suicide are selfish or sinful. Instead, I mourned the passing of a big brother, an archer, drummer, and conflicted soul.  I ached for the boy I once knew and the man I didn’t. I mourned for the children he left behind and for the ex-wife who was still one of his closest friends. And, at my deepest core, I cried for the man who saw no other way out of the pain.

Being left behind carries a burden. In the days, weeks, and months following his death, “what if’s” bounced around my head. Spontaneously, waves of guilt washed over me and tears streaked my cheeks. Unexpected anger knotted my stomach before giving way to profound sadness. In the stillness of the night, I pondered missed warning signs, his life-long pain, and the effects of alcohol and depression. And, I cursed the void he left.

Being left behind, I’ve decided, also carries a responsibility. I can show greater compassion to those struggling with mental illness, alcohol or drug dependencies, to those who battle the demons of worthlessness and hopelessness. I can shine a light on the face behind a statistic and illuminate the resources available to help. Hopefully, I can reach the hand of someone who is lost in the dark.

There are warning behaviors of suicide, and there are resources available to help. Often times, those who stand in witness have already been hurt by the words used as weapons and the maneuvers to remain invisible, leaving them afraid to offend or alienate by stepping in.  However, as I recently told a friend worried about a loved one, I’d gladly live with a brother who hated me, refused to talk to me, and was alive than the reality I live with today. Reach into the darkness, even if/when your gestures are rebuked. Hold fast and hold tight to the one in pain and, if you are concerned, become informed and call on the public and private resources available before someone you love becomes a statistic.

From the Suicide Prevention Lifeline website:

The following signs may mean someone is at risk for suicide. The risk of suicide is greater if a behavior is new or has increased and if it seems related to a painful event, loss, or change. If you or someone you know exhibits any of these signs, seek help as soon as possible by calling the Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

  • Talking about wanting to die or to kill themselves.

  • Looking for a way to kill themselves, such as searching online or buying a gun

  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live.

  • Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain.

  • Talking about being a burden to others.

  • Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs.

  • Acting anxious or agitated; behaving recklessly.

  • Sleeping too little or too much.

  • Withdrawing or isolating themselves.

  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge.

  • Displaying extreme mood swings.

If you or someone you care about is in a crisis and need help right away:

Call this toll-free number, available 24 hours a day, every day: 1-800-273-TALK (8255). You will reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, a service available to anyone. You may call for yourself or for someone you care about. All calls are confidential.

For my brother, who would have turned 53 this year. You are loved and you are missed.

24 thoughts on “My brother, the statistic.”

  1. I’m so sorry for your loss. Your post is a beautiful tribute to him and a testament to your love for him. My brother died 15 years ago unexpectedly, and, though the pain fades, I still miss him terribly. It gets better slowly. I promise.


    1. Thank you so much, Laurie. I’m so sorry for your loss. The pain does fade, and it does get better. However, my thought is that if my words help one person lost in the darkness, my brother’s death was not in vain.


  2. Thank you for such a beautiful story about my father. I miss him every day, but especially this time of year of course, and I’m glad to know others are thinking of him too. He always loved you so much. As much as I wish he was still with me now, I can only hope he has found peace at last.


    1. Dear, dear, Aubrey,
      I am so glad you read and know that, like you, I miss him everyday. I loved him so much, too, and ached as I watched him hurt. I know he loved you and your brother so very, very much. I do believe he has found peace at last. Not long after he passed, I saw him in my mind’s eye, and he had the biggest smile I had ever seen on his face, bigger than any I had ever seen when he was alive. I took that as a sign that he had. Much love to you, your brother, and mom. xoxo


      1. Mary,

        Thank you for this beautiful tribute and for keeping the link between us strong, a connection that is and always will be important. I will never forget the phone conversation you describe–the shared grief and tears. I love you for the good, early memories of family dinners (unusual as they often were!) and continue to love you for being a dear aunt to my kids and sister-in-law with whom I will always share a strong bond.


        1. Dear Dawn,
          Your comment (and Aubrey’s) brought tears to my eyes. I’m so glad you both read my words as they were intended–from a place of love for him and you, and with concern for others that feel suicide may be the only way out. I will never forget that conversation either. And, I love you and always will.


  3. Mary, You are making a difference every time you share his story. I’m so sorry that you lost your brother. I can’t imagine the loss of one of my sisters, especially to suicide. My thoughts and prayers are with you.


  4. Oh goodness, what a beautiful post to come out of such a sad situation. As someone with two brothers, and as I lost my dad a few years ago, not by his own hand, but an out-of-the blue accident, I can very much relate. There are so many things you just wish you said. Or could have said, if only you knew you didn’t have that time. Anyway, thank you for sharing your story with us.


  5. Mary what a moving and inspiring piece this is. You are a gifted writer and story teller. I’m so sorry for your loss. I must have forgotten that this happened. I hear you loud and clear when you said you would rather have a living brother hating you vs what you are going through. I’m a firm believer in AA and ALON and encourage anyone who has a problem with alcohol or drugs or loves someone who does, to check out these organizations. I know many people are in DENIAL – “don’t even know I am lying ” about what’s occurring for them. It is a fine line of knowing when to continue to assist them and when you need to stop because you could be enabling them and interrupting their journey and learning. Oh my heart goes out to yours and wraps it with love. I know you Mary and I’m confident you did the best you knew how at the time and your brother knows that as well. AND from this very educational blog you have written, you are assisting others to do the best they know how with additional information and tools. You are amazing Mary. Love and light to you.
    Your friend, Penny


    1. Oh my goodness, Penny, thank you! I lover your definition of DENIAL. I believe I did the best I could, with the skills I had–at that time. My greatest hope, and what I firmly believe, is that he is in a better place now and that he has finally found the peace he couldn’t find during his time here. xoxo, dear friend.


  6. Very well written! I think the suicide prevention group is correct in their statistics of underlying depression and addiction. I would add “not talking” (though it is indirectly addressed under isolation) and the newer sign is self injury. I think with this new knowledge the days of judgement, blame, and labeling are mostly gone. What is not gone is the guilt that lives on in members left behind. This is the next area that needs healing. When one is in a hopeless frame of mind, loved ones are often the last to be told. For all my friends and loved ones who have shared their stories with me – shared the signs, shared the knowledge, shared the pain, THANK YOU! Thank you, Transitioning Mom. Do not delay to get help for addiction, depression, bullying and then love unconditionally…


  7. Mary, what an incredible gift this post is to the world. Your ability to shine a light on so many aspects of suicide helps those of us who haven’t been touched by it directly to feel, see and think.
    Anniversaries can be so difficult to navigate, please know I send you love and hugs from afar.


    1. Thank you, Elin, so much for your comment. My hope is these words will help someone in crisis or perhaps another that was left behind to curse the void, but my biggest hope of all is that my brother is at peace, finally. xo


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