Normally when writing a blog post I would discuss the impacts that suicide has on those left behind, the survivors. As I’ve continued to work with families that have been impacted I also have spoken with bystanders who may have been indirectly impacted or knew the individual that passed through a friend, coworker or family member. There are lots of questions that run through their minds and it quickly becomes clear that there is a lack of understanding. Immediately people unrelated to the situation begin searching for a reason but as a survivor of suicide loss I have a clear understanding that it didn’t start when it all came to an end.

Individuals unrelated to the incident and even some survivors often look to blame someone or something immediately. Questions and statements such as:

  • Were there marital issues?
  • I heard they were struggling with money.
  • I know they had a drinking problem.
  • Well I heard they had this or that mental disorder.
  • Was there a note?

I’m here to tell you as a survivor of suicide loss these questions and statements don’t matter. It doesn’t change a thing. They won’t help diminish the grief felt by the loss, provide any clarity and frankly they are only going to make things more difficult for the family left behind.

Gossip is a natural part of life but after a loss by suicide playing the guessing game and creating stories is not the path to head down. When my own brother passed away there were plenty of questions and rumors that were brought to my attention. I did my best to provide clarity in situations where I felt it necessary but often, I found myself angry that this was even a topic of discussion. The fact of the matter is that he passed away and I will never be able to speak to him. If you are close enough to the family the answers you are searching for will be answered in time as I become more comfortable with my grief and our relationship. While this may be challenging to accept it is what’s best for my family and every other family that has been impacted by suicide.

Answering these questions not only made me angry but caused me to struggle through my own grief process. They made me question what really happened. In a time when I really just needed support and someone to listen, I was being confronted with rumors, gossip and questions I was simply not capable of answering. In fact, the only person capable of answering them was gone and never coming back. It wasn’t until I attended a support group and heard the leader explain suicide as a glass of water that I found a proper response to these questions. Each trial that a person faces throughout their life is represented by a drop of water in the glass. As the trials begin to compile so does the water in that glass. Eventually, that last drop causes the glass to overflow. There may have been one final drop but there were many other drops that filled the glass up to this point.

I’m not sure a better representation could be made of my brother’s life. His first several trials took place before I even knew him in Moscow, Russia. His mother was young when he was born and she struggled with alcohol abuse. His father was no where in the picture and so he was raised from birth to the young age of 11 before our family adopted him. 11 years of his life spent without parental guidance, emotional support and the love of a family. I’ll never truly know how many drops filled up his glass to that point, but I think it is safe to say quite a few.

Drop.

Drop.

Drop.

His next large drop came the day our family adopted him. Here is a family from the United States that doesn’t speak any Russian, takes him from the orphanage he spent his entire life in and moves him to a country where he doesn’t understand a word spoken. He is then forced to share a room with the likes of myself, an older brother just entering high school. Our only way to communicate is through body language, hand gestures, drawing and of course fighting. I’m sure just the stress associated with transitioning across the world and learning a new language added a drop or two into his glass.

Drop.

My brother was an incredibly resilient man and made it through those trials. His next drop came when he was put into the private school system with some understanding of the English language, but it proved challenging because of the communication barrier. On top of that, he now had to deal with other children or students and no friends to support him other than his sister. He never spoke to me about bullying, but I would imagine there were challenging times as just simply getting through school. Until other friendships were created his support structure through his elementary school years would have been minimal.

Drop.

Now this young man has spent almost four years of his life with a new family, in a new country, learned a new language and finally has some level of support built up. He feels comfortable letting loose, being goofy and has a room to call his own. Things are great but unfortunately, they don’t always stay that way. This support structure he has searched for his entire life now comes crumbling down as his adoptive parents go through a divorce. The divorce was difficult for all of us. My mom, dad, sisters, and I all struggled. It has been nearly 17 years but some of us still struggle to this day with it. After a few conversations I had with my brother I believe he may have struggled the most but didn’t show it. He bottled it up and didn’t express it appropriately. Part of that was my fault for telling him to suck it up and deal with it and not understanding his pain. Looking back on it, I can’t imagine spending 11 years of my life alone, finding that support and then losing after just three short years.

Drop.

Drop.

Now to this point, I think anyone who has experienced this much turmoil in their life at such a young age would have enough drops in the glass to create challenges and mental struggles. Unfortunately for my brother, the drops continued to pour in. He then struggled to graduate from high school, joined the United States Army and was deployed for a year, struggled with relationships, had a failing marriage and was separated from his newborn son.

Drop.

Drop.

Drop.

Drop.

Drop.

The point that I am trying to make through my brother’s story is that it doesn’t begin where it ends. The drops add up over time and cause that glass to eventually overflow. Is it easy for me to look back on these moments? No. I have regrets right now as I write this. I wish I could go back and change things and be the support he needed but I wouldn’t go back to the end. I’d go back to the very beginning. To the day I met him, and he couldn’t speak a word of English to me. The support I’d give him would be overbearing now and probably a bit intrusive, but he would at least know I was there 110%. I would never say to suck it up, deal with it, grow up or be a man. I would listen and be there by his side through his trials.

As you meet individuals struggling with mental health, I ask you to do me this favor and offer support. They are still here and need your care. Life with them is 10,000 times better than a life without them. Be that hole at the bottom of the glass that allows the water level to subside. It doesn’t matter what age, gender, race, background, profession or wealth level someone may have or be. Everyone can use a little help and if we can get to them sooner than later and let them know they are valued, loved and have the support of others maybe we can save a few lives in the process.

Last, as you meet new survivors of suicide loss, I ask you to keep all of this in mind. Don’t worry about what happened yesterday because it doesn’t matter anymore. The drops that led to their glass overflowing really doesn’t matter anymore. The drops will matter to the family and close friends but to you, the individual giving support, they don’t. Asking about them will only strain your relationship with them and cause added weight to their grief. What matters is that you are there to listen and not ask questions. Engage in conversation but truly just be that crutch for them to lean on, that shoulder to cry on. Forget about the gossip and just be present in the moment with that survivor. If you listen hard enough, you may just find the answers to your questions without even asking.

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