Category Archives: suicide
Like a Great Tree Felled
you crashed to the floor, broken
and forever stilled.
© 2009 by Magical Mystical Teacher
An Open Letter to My Brother
The deputy coroner told me that your neighbor had borrowed a toaster from you, and wanted to return it. He assumed you were home because your car was in the driveway. When you didn’t respond to his repeated knocking, he called law enforcement. Sheriff’s deputies arrived to perform a welfare check. When you did not answer the door, they forcibly entered your house and found you fully clothed, facedown on the living room floor. You had been dead for some time.
I remember your being facedown on another floor many years ago. It was in the spare bedroom of our grandparents’ house on the prairie. I was 4, you were 2, and our sister hadn’t been born yet.
It was a cloudy, sultry afternoon, the kind of weather that precedes a thunderstorm. Distant lightning flickered in the sky as Mom tucked us in bed for a nap. We hadn’t been lying there long, when the heavens opened up and a deluge of biblical proportions poured from the heavens. Lightning that had been miles away only minutes before, now flashed directly overhead. Thunder shook the little white clapboard house like a terrier shaking a rat.
You jumped from the bed, terrified, and started screaming, “Mommy! Mommy!” But rain and hail slammed against the little house and thunder roared so ferociously that she couldn’t hear you. You tried to crawl under the bed, but there wasn’t enough room, so you lay facedown on the bare wood floor, sobbing and crying out, “Mommy! Mommy!”
Protectively, I laid myself down on top of you and whispered in your ear, “It’s all right, it’s all right”—but I doubt you heard me over the roar of the rain and hail pummeling the tin roof. I stayed on top of you until the storm subsided, and I was sure that you were safe.
This morning I read these words from an ancient Hebrew poem: “For he will give his angels charge of you to guard you in all your ways” (Psalm 90:11, RSV). Is it too outlandish to imagine an angel spread protectively over you in your final moments as you lay facedown on the floor? Perhaps you even heard a gentle whisper: “It’s all right, it’s all right.”
The Classroom of Bereavement
I’m in a different sort of classroom this week, the classroom of bereavement. There are no rules here. Anything goes. The student may do pretty much as he or she pleases, so it pleases me to write about my brother’s death, and to try to make some sense out of what appears to have been a completely senseless act.
My sister was the first to break the news to me. She said that her son had received a phone call from one of his cousins, saying that her father was dead; my nephew then passed the news along to his mother. When she told me, I said, “What if it wasn’t J? What if it was some homeless person and J paid the coroner to keep quiet? What if this is all a scam so he can assume a new identity?”
If you knew our brother, you’d know that the scenario I imagined was not at all farfetched. Indeed, when I talked to the deputy coroner this morning, he told me that a number of people had called his office, concerned that J had faked his death.
But as I listened to the deputy coroner’s story unfold, I became more convinced that it was the truth—especially when I heard that J’s body had been positively identified by his ex-wife’s current husband, a law-enforcement officer.
There is so much more that I want to know, so many questions that I’d like to ask my brother: Did you really kill yourself, as the coroner has ruled, or did you underestimate the power of the two drugs you took at the same time, one an anti-depressant, the other an antihistamine? You tried, dramatically and unsuccessfully, to kill yourself on two separate occasions many years ago, once by slitting your wrists, and once by cutting your throat, so why “go gentle into that good night” with a mere overdose of drugs?
My brother will never answer my questions, of course. But as every good teacher knows, asking questions does not necessarily presuppose that there are easy (or any) answers. Teachers pose questions to stimulate thought. In fact, when my students don’t know the answer to a question I’ve asked, I don’t permit them to shrug their shoulders and say, “I don’t know.” Instead, I invite them to probe deeper by saying, “I’m not sure, but I think….”
I’m not sure about so many issues surrounding my brother’s death, but I think that if I keep listening to the Spirit of truth, one day I will see some good come out of this tragedy.
My Brother Is Dead
My brother J is dead.
He took his own life two weeks ago.
Inexplicably, his daughters chose not to tell any of the rest of our family until a few hours ago.
I have been estranged from my brother for many years. He was a chronic liar and could be incredibly cruel to anyone—including family—he believed had crossed him.
Still, he was my brother, and I have spent a nearly sleepless night, haunted by memories of our carefree and innocent boyhood together.
What happened? How did the little boy who adored me, and even said as much in a letter he wrote to me last year, turn into such a bitter, spiteful person?
Two months ago I discovered that he had committed identity theft against me by opening a credit card in my name and using it. Still, I cherished the hope that one day—maybe 10 or 20 years from now—he and I would be reconciled.
Now that will never happen.
My brother J is dead.