Originally appeared on CHW on May 7, 2018.
***Trigger Warning: Article Contains Suicide and Drug Use***
On April 25, 1989, at 5:17 a.m., my father placed a handgun in his mouth, pulled the trigger, and ended his life. He was forty-five years old. His forty-sixth birthday was only twenty-three days away. My younger brother’s thirteenth birthday was only five days away.
Unlike some people, my father didn’t leave a note explaining to us why he wanted to take his life. So for years, ravaged by the guilt that ate us from the inside out, my family and I speculated on what caused him to commit such a violent act. We still don’t have an answer, and after twenty-nine years, I’ve accepted that we never will.
The lives of my family and I are changed. The trauma and turmoil that ensued were heartbreaking. At times, so painful, my younger brother turned to cold medicine to help him sleep at night. He also drank and smoked cigarettes. From there he experimented with street drugs for about ten years until he finally shot heroin.
The heroin was a game changer. It destroyed my brother’s entire life. He lost his high-paying job, his car, his daughter, and his self-respect. He became a recluse who tried many times to clean up his act. Like other addicts, he was in and out of rehab and mental hospitals. He also began the methadone program, but apart from keeping him high, it did nothing to help him get sober.
During this time, his mental health continued to deteriorate. He had severe anxiety, major depression, and chronic insomnia, who became his closest friends.
He struggled with these debilitating illnesses for many years. Ashamed of who and what he’d become, he cut himself off from his friends and I. Since my mother and my youngest brother lived with him, they were the only two people who saw him every day. They knew the true depth of my younger brother’s suffering.
In the early months of 2017, my younger brother and I reconnected. He wanted to reclaim his life and make a fresh start. He’d gotten off the methadone and had gone to therapy regularly. His therapist was helping him make plans to volunteer and learn a trade.
My brother and I hung out together. We watched movies and listened to music and talked for hours like we’d done when we were kids. At first, I was hesitant to let him back into my heart. I was afraid to let him get too close and lose him again. I’d spent years mourning his absence. During that time, he had overdosed several times, and I had quietly prepared myself for his death.
But, after two months of watching him fight through his struggles and make steady progress, I believed maybe, just maybe, he started living again. Unfortunately, that was not meant to be. On April 30, 2017, he celebrated his forty-second birthday. Hours later, on May 1, he relapsed and died of a drug overdose.
The biggest regrets I have about my father’s and brother’s deaths are I never got to say goodbye.
I wish I could offer advice on how to deal with the loss of a family through suicide and drug overdose, but like life, grieving is a process. I believe every death we experience teaches us a vital lesson about ourselves. My father’s death taught me I am resilient. My brother showed me that, while losing someone you love is sad, you can rejoice in knowing their suffering has ended.
If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255, text Crisis Text Line at 741-741, or call 911