As another May comes to a close I have decided that this year I will do something different. This year I will use my experience and emotions to help others. Most people know that May is Mental Health month, but what most people don’t know is May 7th was the day my little brother was born. This year that beautiful boy would have turned 30 years old but, instead, he will forever be 19. It will be 11 years this August since we lost him to suicide. May always seems to weigh a little bit heavier on my shoulders. It is something that others cannot always understand. I can honestly say thank goodness they have not had to experience this same type of loss. When May 7th comes around each year there is an empty pit in my stomach and I often feel like that day somehow has more than 24 hours in it because the hours seem to pass by so slowly. Friends and loved ones often say, “Don’t be sad, he wouldn’t want that,” or “We should celebrate. He would have wanted that,” or “It has been so many years- it should be easier now.” I forgive these comments because I know they are not said to hurt me. They are said because people just don’t know what to say. I can’t blame them and I know that now. I wish every year I could go out and buy him a birthday present. I often wonder if he were still alive what things would he have wanted for his birthday. Would he still have been a music lover and wanted an iTunes card? Would he have bought his own car shop or wood-working shop and needed something for his work? I satisfy my need to get him a present by buying a balloon and writing him his birthday card, which I watch drift up into the sky and get smaller and smaller as it makes its way to its destination. And I can’t help but smile knowing that wherever he may be he will never go a year without receiving a birthday card from me.
As a survivor of suicide, we are often faced with these types of specific dates that trigger a flood of emotions. We are also faced with questions that trigger these feelings as well, but they are probably not the questions that you are thinking of. I love meeting new people and am one of those people that, from a very young age, could strike up a conversation with anyone around me. As an adult, I talk to strangers differently now and am more cautious about the themes I choose to ask about or the way I choose to answer. When I meet someone new, those simple questions people often ask make me cringe and I find myself assessing the person and situation to see how to answer. A question like, “How many siblings do you have?” or “Is your sister your only sibling?” can make my heart pound a little faster. Of course I have more than just my sister and I always will, but the line of questioning that follows and the awkward silence at the end can be deafening. There have been times when I just say ‘yes, I only have a sister’ because I can’t handle, “How old is your brother?” When people find out he passed away, they then ask, “Oh how old was he when he died?” Then, when they learn he was young, they ask, “What did he die from?” And finally from more people than you would think the unthinkable question, “How did he do it?” or “Did your family know what was going on and try to help?” It is amazing how many people ask that but they really do. Like I want to spill all the horrible details about the worst day of my life for all to hear when I first meet someone. This is the point in the conversation where it abruptly dies and crickets can be heard in the silence. This is also the point where I get THE LOOK. Those who have lost someone by suicide know which look I am speaking of. The look where they are judging, questioning and at a loss for words.
The stigma behind suicides is real. I did not have a horrible childhood; in fact, it was actually just the opposite. My siblings and I were very fortunate and grew up in a loving home with two supportive parents. We went on family vacations, had water fights in the backyard, and snuggled on the couch on Christmas day to watch movies we got from Santa. We supported my brother in every way possible. He was in and out of treatment but nothing made him feel better. I remember borrowing different cell phones at night from friends in my dorm when I was away at college just so he would pick up an unlisted number and I could hear his voice and see how he was doing. When someone dies by suicide so many people ask, “Didn’t he/she see that so many people loved them?” and the answer is no. Depression is an illness and they are not able to see that love. They are not able to shake it off. They are not able to think of their families or their children because the thought of getting themselves out of bed in the morning is unbearable. The question, “Why didn’t their family do more to help them?” You can’t help someone who doesn’t want the help. We would not ask these questions about someone who has decided to no longer receive treatments for their cancer, so why does it change when it comes to depression? I hope and pray for a day that the stigma no longer exists. A day when talking about my wonderful and beautiful little brother does not stop the conversation like a needle coming to a scratching halt on a record. It has taken a long time to be able to share all of this, but I do it to support all those who struggle with mental illness and for all the families who have gone through what I have. I know wherever my brother Stevie Joe is right now he is no longer suffering and he is with me every day in everything that I do. I know when I started reading other people’s experiences it helped me heal and know that I was not alone. I hope that this helps others know they are not alone either. Happy Birthday, Baby Boy!