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My son, his suicide, and a fractured family

by Jeanette Robius

As I’ve said to Anne Moss on many occasions, I just don’t know where to start. The tears immediately begin to well up and stream down my face as I contemplate writing this on this bleak and cold Sunday morning.

Last Saturday, March 3, 2018, was 5 long years since losing my youngest son, Garrett, to suicide. I can still see that day so clearly in mind when I received the news. NOTHING could have been more out of the blue or knocked me any harder.

Garrett was the younger of my two sons. He and his older brother, Patrick, couldn’t have been closer for being four and a half years apart. Both, exceptionally bright, athletic, involved in the community, Eagle Scouts, artistic and just the best kids any parent could ask for. Garrett was always known for his dry sense of humor and really appreciated by his employers for his work ethic at our local grocer.

I guess this story began long before

We had a fairy tale family, obviously not perfect but with many good times and experiences, but our share of difficulties along the way.
I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia in 1997 and with that came some serious depression due from the cycle of pain and sleep. Everyone seemed to deal with that okay.

Fast forward to 2004, a year of many serious life, family, and health struggles. After five months of five different challenges, something changed in me. In October 2004, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at the age of 42, a very out-of-the-ordinary occurrence. THIS was something the family did not handle very well. The kids were 17 and 13, very impressionable ages and highly influenced by their father. The stigma of mental illness was alive and well in my family and there would be no going back.

Garrett’s passion was football

From the time he was young he wanted to be a pro player but kidney failure from a rare viral illness at age 2 required treatment with long term Prednisone which stunted his growth. Though he was six feet tall, his brother was six foot five inches tall. He played from sixth to twelfth grade, and in off-season, fell in love wtih Lacrosse. I remember his brother always trying to lovingly guide him, particularly in off-season. I guess he looked lazy?

In 2009 in Garrett’s junior year of high school, our PCP diagnosed him with depression. In hindsight, I now understand his lack of motivation for the college application process. The teenage years are when mental illness takes hold.  This would later become a turning point for him as his father insisted there was nothing wrong with him but “just your mother’s shit.”

By this time, the relationship between me and not only my husband and both sons had deteriorated to a very bad place–one which I could not improve or stop. We were separated a few times between late 2009 and I finally left and filed for divorce in June 2011. From that point on, I never saw or spoke with either of my kids with the exception of Patrick by phone, who was always argumentative, blaming and contemptuous.

They were used as weapons by their father

Why can’t parents see how wrong this is? Why was more important to keep Garrett’s situation a secret from me rather than look to me as his mom, with experience of depression, to help?

You know to this day I don’t know what his college major was or any other aspect of his life. Punishing me still seems to be important to my now ex and his brother.

I was dragged through court for 2.5 years for no reason other than to hurt and “destroy” as he told me. Two years into litigation I returned home on a Monday morning March 4, 2013 from a lab appointment to meet my parents. It was not uncommon for them to stop by when in town from Fredericksburg. I’ve always been a Chatty Cathie so didn’t immediately pick up on some cues.

My mom and I are forever locked into that moment together that day when she held me and whispered into my ear “Garrett shot himself…” followed by “I would give anything for it to be your father telling you I died.”

Garrett died in Chesapeake, VA while living with his brother, two hours from home, while a college senior and part-time Kroger employee. His boss contacted me and raved about what an exemplary employee he was. The plan was for Garrett to care for his house and their new puppy Jester, who they only got three days before Garret’s death, while he deployed as a Navy pilot for the first time.

Life FOREVER changed for me that cruel day

It would take a long thirteen days from Garrett’s death, cremation to memorial and burial on March 16, 2013. In the weeks, days, month and now 5 years since Garrett’s death, I have had more losses than I can count though none worse than the death of such a promising young man to this world, Garrett Lewis Brinegar 3.26.91 – 3.3.13.

I miss my Sweet Pea. Being alone has not been easy. I long to find someone to share my life with. It has been almost ten years of estrangement with his brother. He is now 31. I had hopes that that might change in the fall but now know that he has no plans for that to happen. You see, not only is he estranged from me but from our entire family, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins. Thirty two years of life, kids, gone.

So much loss, so much pain but I find great satisfaction in helping and working with individuals and organizations that deal with Mental Health, Suicide Prevention, Homelessness and more. I facilitate for a local mental health nonprofit, NAMI Central Virginia. Each of us has to find our way through this grief journey.

I am sorry for all of our losses.

Published by

Anne Moss Rogers

I am an emotionally naked TEDx speaker, and author of the Book, Diary of a Broken Mind and co-author with Kim O'Brien PhD, LICSW of Emotionally Naked: A Teacher's Guide to Preventing Suicide and Recognizing Students at Risk. I raised two boys, Richard and Charles, and lost my younger son, Charles to substance use disorder and suicide on June 5, 2015. I help people foster a culture of connection to prevent suicide, reduce substance misuse and find life after loss. My motivational, training and workshop topics include suicide prevention, addiction, mental illness, coping strategies/resilience, and grief. As talented and funny as Charles was, letting other people know they matter was his greatest gift. And now the legacy I try and carry forward in my son's memory. Professional Speaker Website. Trained in ASIST and trainer for the evidence-based 4-hour training for everyone called safeTALK.

9 thoughts on “My son, his suicide, and a fractured family”

  1. Thank you for sharing this hard, personal story. How I ache for you, with you. I hardly hear from my younger son, now in WY. He is not upset with me, just passive, quiet, living in the present where he IS. I too feel the 25 years is gone. On good terms with my ex, in new marriage, 3.5 yr. Yet feel a big chunk of my life is gone. Many hugs to you!

    1. I’m so sorry when I hear someone in such similar circumstances Sandy. I’ve just returned from the afternoon visiting Cemetery, changing to spring flowers always a reminder have another season passed. Today I laid five salmon colored flowers on Garrett marker. It really struck me looking at each one individually I’ve just how long he has been gone. I’m glad you have found joy with a new husband and I hope in time things will change with your son. Thank you for your kind words.

  2. As Leigh said, words fail. Thank you for sharing your most difficult story. And thank you for rising above to help others. Amazing. Sending love to you.

    1. Thank you for your kind words Amy. 5 years tomorrow I sat on a chair in the cemetery and the private family burial next to the Vault with Garrett’s ashes laying all his favorite things one by one before it was closed. I can still see that like it was yesterday.

  3. Janet, we have so much in common, I am sorry to say. Until this happened to us, I had no idea there was such sadness in this world, walking all around me every day.
    Love and peace to you.

    1. Good morning Gray,
      It’s always so sad to find someone else that has so much in common. I know you understand what that means. Still having difficulty wrapping my head around the milestone of 5 years. That’s a big one. I’m sorry for your loss.

    1. Thank you for reaching out Leigh. 5 years that’s 2,628,000 minutes without Garrett, thinking of him and just wondering how it could all go so wrong. Serving others brings great peace and satisfaction. Life has led me into the path of a 16 year old who also lost his mother to suicide and laid her to rest 5 years ago also tomorrow. We are helping one another.

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