On May 15th of 2022, my brother Larry took his life. I’m sharing this publicly because this topic isn’t discussed near enough…. and tragically affects a large portion of our society. It’s this unspoken shame we carry, which only serves to perpetuate the issue for those struggling with mental health. So I’ve chosen to share my grief, my thoughts, a bit about who my brother was, and my personal experience moving through the loss of my brother, in the sincere hopes that this helps at least one other person either questioning their own existence, or for someone affected by this most tragic decision.
I quite honestly didn’t believe I would ever be forced to make sense of this kind of death. Who does? I don’t think anyone sees this coming, and when it does, it rolls you like a 50 foot wave in the iciest of ocean waters. During those first few days, and indeed, in those first few hours, in between the onslaught of endless tears, I remember moments of the strangest emptiness. A void so large it felt like a chasm, and I was balancing a fine line between clinging to the hand of my partner, and falling in.
To say that those first days were like a nightmare is truly not even scratching the surface of the absolute gut-wrenching grief that I and everyone in our family who loved Larry were wading through. Suicide is a harsh ending because along with it comes guilt. I’ve lost many people, including may parents, and their deaths while painful, were understandable. I did not have to wrestle with guilt along with all of the other emotions that surface when a loved one dies. With suicide, I think the very first emotion that jumps up and waves its arms franticly in your face, is guilt. What did I miss? Why didn’t I see this? What could I have done differently?
After his death I wrote a eulogy, as did his two daughters, my beautiful nieces. We shared our words at his memorial service that week. The out-pouring of emails, comments, and phone calls we received showed us how well loved my brother was, and of course the thought that accompanied that was, why wasn’t that enough for him? Why couldn’t he hang on one more day? What was it that pushed him to that final decision? The questions were endless, as was the pain, and on the heels of all that came anger.
I don’t think anyone talks about this part; the anger. I think people are afraid to acknowledge the aftermath the people left behind have to deal with. Acknowledging that we’re angry is another layer of guilt for us. Who is going to find them? I can imagine that would be burned into your memory for the rest of your life, and I feel compassion for the people who found my brother. My brother was found alive and taken to the hospital, where he unfortunately died hours later, but still… finding the person is traumatizing.
When the person is gone, several things spin into motion. Was there a will in place? Is there debt? What is in place for a spouse and children left behind? Honestly, and this may be an unpopular opinion, but I’m going to say it because it bears weight. What chaos is the suicide leaving in its wake? It’s devastating enough to lose a loved one through a car accident, heart attack or some other tragic event. But by choice? When my brother chose to die, I understand he was choosing to end the pain he was in. The thinking is, everyone will be better off without me, and I’ve learned that these thoughts are paramount. What he was unable to consider in that moment though, was the pain his actions would put all of us in, and I know he wouldn’t have wanted us to be in pain. I know he wanted the opposite of that.
Over the past seven months I have replayed his last days in my head thousands of times, searching for clues, confirming timelines, looking for answers and explanations… truly any small shred of detail that could possibly explain why. He’d been going through a separation, and I knew this was part of it. Perhaps he couldn’t fathom being alone. Perhaps it was watching that ex-partner move on. Perhaps I’ll never know this answer and I’m not meant to know.
I used to teach post-secondary education and in 2010 a past student of mine took her life. Her husband contacted me and asked me if I would write and read a eulogy at her funeral. He said she spoke often of me and felt it would be fitting. I remember thinking, I have no idea how you and your son are surviving this, and absolutely I will be there. Now I know. You survive someone you love taking their life, day by day. Sometimes, when you need to, minute by minute. For this kind of grief is unknown territory until you’re slammed into it; a dark place that squeezes you until its hard to breathe, clawing at your stomach and heart until they’re in shreds.
I think of the recent death of Stephen Laurel Boss (tWitch), and how everyone commenting said no one saw it coming. He was so happy! He had a loving wife and two wonderful children… why would he take his life? What I can tell you is, while none of it makes sense to us… to the person struggling with mental health, the answers are clear. I reflect back on the people who have taken their lives and I do see a recurring theme… they loved to bring joy to others and my brother was no different.
Larry loved to make people laugh. It brought him such joy and he was always the first person to comment and reach out to help cheer someone. I see now perhaps, he was also filling himself up to bury the sadness we both shared from a very difficult youth. I was coping a different way than him, and I truly see now he used laughter to bury the pain. I will forever feel bereft that he didn’t feel he could call me in that hollow moment, and the guilt I feel in our shared demons at the hands of my father will haunt me for the rest of my life.
If it weren’t for my father’s abuse, this likely would have turned out very differently, and for that Larry, I am eternally sorry.
To lose a sibling is a different kind of pain. We were a team; sometimes opposing, and other times in complete unity. Larry was my conscience and confessor, teammate and cheerleader, bully and bodyguard, ride or die and taunter, co-counsel and prosecutor, cellmate and jailer, advocate and critic, and always, my compass and anchor.
There will never be a replacement. Larry was a singularly unique character who filled this role and the loss of my brother will echo for the entirety of my life. From this point on my life is marked in two simple words; before Larry took his life, and after.
Once the dust settles and the shock subsides, I will remember you and speak your name often, for as long as I do, you live in the laughter and memories. Not even suicide can change who you were for me Larry. I won’t allow it to steal my memories, our laughter, our secrets, our banter. Death stole one moment and that is all I will allow it to take. The rest belongs to me, to him, to us.
You were my hero growing up, and I was in awe of you. You would let me ride on your shoulders when I was little, and taught me not to be afraid of water. You rode horses and skied, and taught me those skills as well. You flew Cesnas and had me co-pilot and I will never forget the memories of racing down the runway, exhilaration in my stomach as we rose up into the air! I was oddly never afraid, because I trusted you completely to take care of us.
Gymnastics was a big love for both of us, and man was he magnificent. Watching him on the still rings hold his iron cross was incredible, I appreciated the strength it took to do those maneuvers. He really was my superhero, and it seemed he could do anything he put his mind to.
The biggest love we both shared turned out to be photography. Larry took endless photos and would mount the ones that were special to him on the walls in his house. Camping trips, beautiful scenic views, and birds. He always loved capturing different birds and funny enough, I do the same thing now. I’m certain it was his idea to get me my first SLR when I went to College to study journalism, and photography quickly grew into a passion for me as well. Every time I look through the lens now, it’s hard not to think of him, and wonder what he’d think of that shot.
I am frequently reminded that he’s not here when I’m watching something I think he’d like to see. I don’t know how long this will be a part of my days, and I suspect these moments will never quite leave me. What I’m praying does fade is the lingering guilt over not answering his last call two nights before his death. Rationally, I know it wouldn’t have mattered, and I’ve been told by a few people now that when someone’s mind is made up, there’s nothing you could say or do that would change it for them. I understand that their thoughts make perfect sense to them, and they feel we’d all be better off without them. I know all of this… and yet… I still wonder. If I’d been able to say to him, please Larry, I promise you if you wait this out, you will feel better… just wait this out with me, I will talk you through this… I can’t help but feel it would have been enough.
I wish I had the power to turn back time and play it all out differently. I wish so many things. I wish you had gone on your exciting adventures in your new truck, towing your new home; attended your cousins wedding in Montana as their ring bearer and then to Nova Scotia to stay with us and experience the beauty of life here with Lara. I know we would have built the coolest chicken house. I wish you could have watched me marry the love of my life in December, because I know in my heart you always wanted me to find that right person.
I wish you could have believed in just one more day. And then another, and another. I am trying to understand that in the end, you were tired. You were just too tired. I cannot fault you for that. I can only find compassion in my heart for you my beautiful, precious brother.
Most of all Larry, I wish you peace. I hope you are with our Mom and your Dad who both thought the sun set on your shoulders… as did I.
Most most of all, I hope you see how so incredibly loved you were by everyone whose life you touched.
If you have been touched by the loss of someone you love through suicide, or are experiencing suicidal ideation, please know help is available. Talk Suicide Canada is a 24/6/365 help line. 1-833-456-4566 or text 45645.