“I hope this helps someone in some way, but I can’t promise anything. I am not sure I offer any solutions here, just experience.
In the same way that it’s impossible to explain the exact nature of my alcoholism (I have been sober in Alcoholics Anonymous for over 15 years, yay!) to non-alcoholics, I presume it’s hard to truly convey the depth of suicidal thoughts, impulses – and ultimately – actions to those who don’t understand. I have had suicidal thoughts for sure, but to what degree is that normal? It is such a taboo subject, suicide or, more specifically, suicidal feelings. I can say to my mates that I had an urge to walk up to the foreman outside a building site and say, “Go and bring out your hardest bloke!” (I am no fighter, by the way); or can easily talk about the imagined buzz of jumping off a high building to see what it feels like; but i could never say to my friends: “I felt like killing myself last night”. That said, maybe I never have had truly suicidal thoughts; maybe I have been stopped due to witnessing the impact of my own brother’s suicide. Who knows? I don’t tend to analyse it too much.
One guess I would make is that the same way I can’t explain to a social or normal drinker that when I start drinking I just can’t stop – or that nor are the consequences, however dire, of sufficient strength to stop me – similarly it must be hard to explain how it truly feels to be suicidal, especially when to the outside world you appear to have everything to live for. Life isn’t always rational.
Anyway. This isn’t about me. It’s about my brother. He never asked for help. And he never really seemed fulfilled or happy.
I can’t pretend my Irish family background was ideal. There was divorce, lots of issues, but we were a hell of a lot closer before my brother’s death than we are now. It was hard to discuss problems before he died, believe me, but the immediate and on-going pain and grief of his early passing at the age of 30 was only ever really discussed with the lubricating aid of alcohol. Then soon forgotten the next day.
It is hard still, 25 years later, to even feel comfortable using the word suicide. It could have been an accident. Unlikely, but it could; he didn’t leave a note.
For years I have observed the impact of his death. My mother has never, ever been the same. A part of her died that day as well. Now that I have my own children whom I love more than anything in the the world, I can understand, yet my brother’s death is still never discussed. It’s been left unresolved. Other than for my brother, I suppose.
For ages I felt guilty for not wanting to speak to him when my mum attempted to contact him in the days before he died: she would call and I would say “Nah” if she asked if I wanted to speak to him. We never spoke again.
I remember the last time I saw him and, with the amazing gift of hindsight, how i noticed a certain look in his eye, but I didn’t feel able to say anything. Unable to offer any help. He was my big brother, after all.
I felt guilty about how I had been embarrassed by him because he wasn’t as cool as me; guilty at how I had wanted to disassociate myself from him when he came in the bar I worked at. All normal things to feel towards your siblings as a kid, I suppose, but the opportunity to grow up and work through these adolescent phases of our relationship were taken away from me the day he died.
There is an unease to this day when people ask me how many brothers and sisters I have; the social awkwardness of saying, “I did have XXX number, but one died”.
I was 20 when he died, which was also when the nation was in the throes of acid house. Soon after his death, I would be out in clubs, warehouses and fields – coming up on drugs – and swamped with “if my mum and brother could see me now” shame.
I felt further shame when, because by brother died just before my 21st, I got more birthday money than usual from my mum that year, due to her grief. I was momentarily happy. And then destructively self-condemning.
There is a complete lack of, for want of a better word, ‘training’ in how you deal with this kind of grief. There was a girl I had fancied for ages at my Uni. I was chatting to her in the Uni bar perhaps a week or so after hearing the news about my brother. She asked how I was and I said, “My brother died last week.” She didn’t know what to say, poor girl. And that pretty much ended that romance.
I have never known exactly how many of my family’s issues have been shaped or affected by losing my brother to suicide. I just know that they have.
One thing I definitely know, though, is that I could only stop drinking, only start to recover, and be open to support from others when I finally found the strength to utter the oh so difficult but magical words: “I need help”.
It was the hardest thing I had ever said in my life. I never asked for help. Sure, I’d ask you to help me stick some shelves up or mend my car, but never something that risked me looking emotionally vulnerable, or not in control.
Please, if you need help then just ask someone. Anyone at all.”
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