Monday, June 26, 2017
My mother and her husband had flown into Minnesota from New Jersey on June 21st to see their latest grandson. My wife and I were trying to entertain them while also managing our son, Hugo, who was not even six-months old yet. We had all been attempting to contact my brother during those days and he was proving difficult to pin down by either text or telephone call. I sent him a text the night before because I was worried about him, “Busy weekend?”
I wish I would have included more thoughts – something like, “Busy weekend? We miss talking to you. Give us a call.” Or, “Are you alright? Is there anything we can do to help?” But I didn’t write any of those things. I had attempted some calls during my mom’s visit and he did not answer. It was a nice visit with my mom and her husband over the weekend, and we spoke about my brother often. She was also worried about him, and was encouraging him to get help and take medication as prescribed by his doctor. I mentioned that it seemed like he was avoiding us, and I was annoyed by that.
I should have known….
It was Monday and my mom planned to be in town for a few more days.; she and her husband agreed to stay at the house and take care of Hugo while my wife and I went to work. I had a busy day with four patients scheduled and a supervision session with our program’s postdoctoral fellow. Once in the office, I worked with a patient and then met with the fellow, who was consistently prepared and on top of things each week. The next patient was new to me and I went through the intake process with the individual. I had to write my notes for the early patients, and get ready for the afternoon.
The day was zipping along.
Things started to go sideways later in the morning when a close friend from high school, Chait, called me. Chait asked me if he could pass along my number to our mutual friend, Jazmyn, that I dated briefly in college. The only time I communicated with her these days was if I bumped into her while visiting New Jersey or exchanged a pleasantry on Facebook. I found it odd that she was asking for me, and my buddy is known to pull stunts from time to time for chuckles, so I figured he was joking.
Chait insisted he was not joking – and I got a bad feeling.
I knew Jazmyn worked in some capacity for Atlantic City. The last time I had heard from her was over a year earlier when she had some details about an award my brother was getting from the city. I tried to relax through the gathering storm in my nervous system, and sent her a message on Facebook, “What’s up?” She responded quickly, “Hi Mike, a lot is there a good number to call you at?”
It had to be about my brother; she knew something. My mind started to race as I sent a reply, “You were trying to get in touch with me. What’s wrong?” She sent me her number and I called her.
Jazmyn did not share much information as she wanted me to call a Chief in the Atlantic City Fire Department. I was making the calculations in my head – my brother is either hurt badly, or dead. And his injuries either happened in a fire, or he attempted to end his life. I feared it was suicide. I had worried about suicide and spoke with him directly about depression (multiple times) and suicide two months earlier.
I called the Chief, and he passed the phone to Mike, a retired State Trooper in New Jersey; he is a long-time friend of the family and now functions as a liaison during traumatic situations involving police, fire, and rescue personnel. Mike was trying to ensure I was calm and in safe place while I was trying to get answers. I knew now that it was about my brother, and that something terrible had happened.
Mike told me there was a situation – my brother was hit by a train. I heard the words over my cellphone, and I interrupted, “Was this a choice he made?” He hesitated and then offered, “Yes, it appears that is the case.”
I knew it.
I fucking knew it. I was right about my brother, and yet I was completely ineffective.
My brother was dead.
My brother planned for this moment; that realization arrived quickly. He waited until my mother and her husband were out of town and with me. He knew my sister was taking care of his dog, and his ex-wife had his two sons. This was not a spur-of-the-moment decision. It was deliberate.
I was sitting in my office in the clinic, sweating and trying to figure out the next step. My mother did not know; I had to be the one tell her. That was the only point of clarity I could find – I had to get out of my office and get home safely to be there when my mother found out. Her oldest son ended his life earlier this morning in New Jersey, and she was babysitting my son in Minnesota. Getting to my mother before she found out from someone else became my immediate goal. Mike was worried about me, and trying to make sure I was in a rational frame of mind. He wanted me to wait until an officer could pick me up from work. I ensured him I was capable of driving.
I called one of my clerks and told them to cancel my afternoon patients. I had to call and tell my wife. I didn’t think I could wait until we were face-to-face. She answered the phone with no idea her world was about to be forever changed. I told her over the phone; it was heartbreaking. She was crying; we were both crying. I did not allow myself to totally break down as my office is in the middle of a primary care clinic. The world continued to move along as normal outside of my small office of horror and despair. I told my wife I was going home to reach my mother before she found out some other way. I gathered my things I went to talk to my supervisor.
The feeling of walking out of my small office through our clinic and down two floors to meet with my supervisor was disorienting. My world had been thrown off its axis though everything around me operated normally. Coworkers and patients were doing what they always did in the building while it required immense concentration and focus for me to simply put one foot in front of the other. I reached my supervisor’s office and bluntly told her my brother committed suicide this morning and I was going to be out of the office for some time. She listened and told me she would support me with whatever I needed. I thanked her and tried to stay composed as I walked out of the building and through the parking lot to my vehicle.
Mike wanted me to meet up with local police as they had arranged a chaplain to come to my house along with me to provide additional support for my mom. We also had to inform my sister, and Mike planned to drive to her house in New Jersey to be there with her when she found out. I drove to the police station that’s only a few block from my home in Minnesota. I believe I turned the radio off; I just remember trying to take deep breaths during the drive. The last thing I wanted to do was get into a car accident trying to race home. I drove slowly and mindfully; I had to concentrate. I reached the police station and my wife was already there. We embraced and cried. I spoke to the officers and we drove a brief distance to my house.
Thankfully, my son was asleep for his afternoon nap. My mother was upstairs on the couch reading and her husband was out back relaxing and smoking a cigar. I had to get her husband to come inside so he could be with my mother when I told her. I’m sure it was strange to them that I was back home. I wanted them to be together when I told them. My mom saw the officers with me.
She’d been in this position once before with my father when she learned he was shot and killed in the line of duty in 1985.
We told her that Albie ended his life. That he was dead.
Her husband was devastated. We all held each other and cried. The officer and chaplain stayed for some time as we spoke about my brother. We called my sister after Mike reached her house. Albie was gone, and we had to make plans to get to New Jersey. We discussed leaving for the airport right away, and decided that we were all too exhausted – and did not need to add more stress by rushing to the airport. My wife dealt with the airline to get tickets back to New Jersey for the next day.
We spent that afternoon and night grieving, and talking about my brother and why he committed suicide. I think we ordered pizza because no one was in any shape to cook or go out to eat. I took a shower that night in an attempt to clear my head. I wept to the point of falling down onto my hands and knees. I looked at myself in the mirror after and saw my reflection, which seemed to confirm the reality that my brother was dead.
I didn’t do enough to stop it.
I could have done more….
I struggled to fall asleep in bed as I kept thinking about his final moments and pondered what might have been going through his mind as he ran in front of the train. I imagined what happened to his body upon impact and how his life was literally destroyed in that instant. I thought about all the conversations we had in recent years when I knew he was struggling and wondered what I could have done differently. I tried to fathom my life without him. A revolving door of anger, sadness, and guilt spun around – over and over again. I was shocked that he ended his life; I was not surprised.
It’s exactly three years later and that door continues to spin.
I wonder if it’ll ever stop.
- Please, have those awkward conversations with family and friends about depression and suicide.
- Get connected with mental health treatment. Therapy is for everyone. Just like we all should check in with a medical provider at least once a year, we should all have a mental health provider that is involved in our care.
- Consider purchasing the gaming book I wrote with Limitless Adventures to raise money for American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. It’s still available for $5.00 with 100% of sales donated to suicide prevention. We are closing in on $4,000 raised so far.