On September 11, 2018, I awoke early with the plans to take my brother (Rafer) out to run errands. He had been in a car accident and his car was totaled, so he enlisted my help. There were many ways he had been getting help from me for quite a while. Allow me to give you a little back story.

Six months after mom was placed in the skilled nursing facility, my father ended up in the same facility. My world became crazy busy. It was up to me to see to their finances and health care. I began visits as close to seven days a week as I could. Rafer had lived with them and now as he was on Disability he would need section 8 housing. He was put on a two year wait list! Every morning I would awaken at 4:30 trying to resolve his housing issues. I made calls, visits to facilities, spoke with social workers and more. He lived in fear of becoming homeless.

Maintaining balance had to become a priority for me. I used every tool I could imagine and even took classes to learn more.

This past July, Rafer was hit by another driver and his car was totaled. It became my goal to help him find a replacement, yet he never seemed to buy. The burden of helping him run errands, visit with my parents and look at car lots was simply too much. By September, his problems (while real) could not become my problems. So, I set boundaries. Therefore, I told my brother he had to find something/anything, and our trips would be less frequent. Our next day to run errands and look at cars was set for 9/11/18.

As I mentioned previously, I woke early that morning. I picked up my tablet and began to look at my email. There was one from Rafer and it was marked urgent, so I opened it first. In the email he gave a detailed account of how to care for his dog and where to find the dog’s food, supplements and other dog supplies. He ended the note with the statement that “he made this decision and he wanted no memorial or funeral!”

I panicked, wanting to head immediately to the house, however, I called 911 and they told me to stay put until they contacted me. While it was a couple of hours before the sheriff was at my door, it seemed like hours. My brother had suicided. He used the same efficient method as Robin Williams, Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain.

My husband drove me to the house to pick up the dog and his supplies. My younger brother who lives in Georgia was packing and on his way to us. He was a tremendous support to me in many ways. He was also able to be here for the next devastating hit. Two days after Rafer died, my father died of natural causes.

Initially I was numb, in shock.

I promised my husband that if I felt overwhelmed with the grief, I would seek help through Hospice counseling, the same way I encourage my clients. Meanwhile, the “take charge” part of me attended to all the details that follow a death. Being busy was necessary, also it was cathartic.

However, the image I had created in my mind of my brother wouldn’t go away. That is when I made the call to see a grief counselor. Those visits were priceless. The therapist reinforced that I wasn’t responsible for my brother’s decision. Something my husband and younger brother had said, but the counselor doesn’t love me, so it became a valid point of view and not just a need to protect me. He reminded me of tools I use with clients, such as letter writing, mindful walking and self-hypnosis.

For the image, he mentioned something that sparked a recall of a tool I use regularly with my clients. It involves specific eye movements combined with redirecting thoughts. After that session, when I got in my car, before I started it up I used that method briefly. The image was neutralized. When I got home, I repeated the process. The image stopped showing up for me.

Last weekend we were saying good bye to a friend who is moving out of state and my husband mentioned Rafer’s death and in the context it was given, that gruesome image began to creep back in. I immediately went to the bathroom and used the method. Image gone again. With regular self-hypnosis sessions I am really feeling the new normal without feeling so much pain.

I share this with you, not to solicit any sympathy from you.

To me it is important that people understand that suicide is not a reason for shame. It sucks, really sucks for the survivor, but it can’t be kept a deep dark secret. I urge people to seek help, get more tools to help the healing whether they are the person contemplating suicide or the survivor of a loved one’s suicide. Too often, suicide is something we feel shame about and so we keep it a secret. When we keep a secret, we empower shame.

According to a report written by Harvard Medical School, “After a homicide, survivors can direct their anger at the perpetrator. In a suicide, the victim is the perpetrator, so there is a bewildering clash of emotions. On one hand, a person who dies by suicide may appear to be a victim of mental illness or intolerable circumstances. On the other hand, the act may seem like an assault on or rejection of those left behind. So, the feelings of anger, rejection, and abandonment that occur after many deaths are especially intense and difficult to sort out after a suicide.”

After any death, there are the inevitable “what if” questions. However, after a suicide the questions often become more extreme and self-punishing — unrealistically condemning the survivor for failing to predict the death or to intervene effectively or on time. Experts tell us that in such circumstances, survivors tend to greatly overestimate their own contributing role — and their ability to affect the outcome.

Research suggests that suicide survivors find individual counseling and suicide support groups to be particularly helpful. There are many general grief support groups, but those focused on suicide appear to be much more valuable. I chose the route of individual counseling as I mentioned above and I am so very glad I did. It is truly my intention that anyone who is facing a challenge in mental wellness seek help. There is no shame in needing help, it is a crying shame to not get help.

Two articles that are helpful:

*Practical Information for Immediately After a Loss

*Support After Suicide