by Shannon Geary Weisleder
Trigger warning: Strong emotional content and suicide method mentioned.
Ten years seems like a long time – a decade – but at the same time just yesterday, too. Ten years ago January 12, I lost my big brother to suicide. He was 41. I was 38. I had three young boys and he had five children – four boys and a girl.
It was a Sunday morning and I was eating breakfast and reading the paper
My mom called and was worried she couldn’t reach Matt. He had just moved into a new home the day before from an apartment he had been renting while estranged from his wife. It was a new beginning. A house along his kid’s bus line so he could be closer to them and more involved. Mom said he seemed melancholy when they were cleaning and packing up the last of his things at his apartment. Gazing out the window thinking. He called her that night having a hard time sleeping. He was frustrated that the heat was not working. Mom told him to take a shower and start a book.
Sunday we were supposed to meet Matt at his house at 1:00 pm to arrange some furniture and put down a rug I had brought him for his kid’s room. At 10:00 pm my mom couldn’t reach him and neither could his wife. My mom decided to drive over to check on him which was about a 20-minute drive from her home. I recall saying to my husband, “Go over there and make sure Matt is not hanging from the rafters.” A bad joke and only being half-serious as Matt had been suffering from depression. I still don’t know why I said such a thing.
What felt like a lifetime later, I got a call from my mom with her screaming, “He’s dead Shannon!” I immediately raced to Matt’s house and the police were already there. Matt had been running for Commonwealth Attorney of his county and was a well-known lawyer and friend to the police community. I tried comforting my mom and begged the police to let me in his house to see him, which of course they wouldn’t. My mom found Matt and sat with him until the police arrived, holding his hand.
Because he had been running in a very public race, the news media immediately picked up and ran the story on the front page of our paper, There was no hiding. Everyone knew. Matt never met a stranger and because of this there were more a than a 1,000 people at his wake and funeral. We were incredibly lucky for an amazing outpouring of support and a Catholic Church that did not question his death. I realize we are fortunate because this is not everyone’s case with sharing the news, receiving support and getting acceptance from their clergy.
The next few years were a blur
After Matt’s death, I was a wreck and didn’t feel like I would ever know joy again. Thankfully I had a wonderful therapist who guided me through my grief which will likely never go away but has softened. Suicide is a trauma for the family left behind. So, I did what I did best. I jumped into volunteering for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the National Alliance for Mental Illness. I fundraised for their walks, ran a golf tournament, and sat on their boards. I spoke at a church event and hosted a fundraiser at my home.
All of this saved me but at the same time delayed my grief. Seven years later it all came rushing back to me after a move I made and I fell into a year-long dark debilitating depression. I could not get out of bed but to drive my kid’s carpools. I stopped answering my phone and avoided friends. I thought no one knew what was going on. I didn’t think I was that bad.
Thankfully my husband and sister and mom along with some friends got me the help I needed and slowly over time with a lot of therapy and medication, I was able to regain my life. Not many people know this about me and will come as a shock to some. But normalizing depression is necessary. It can happen to anyone.
Two years later and I am doing great
One of the things that happens after you lose someone to suicide is that you become a resource for people, like it or not. It is hard because it brings back so many memories when you get a call that someone has a friend or family member who has lost a loved one to suicide. But at the same time, you know you know what to say and what to tell them to do.
I realize there are not many resources for those of us who have lost a sibling to suicide. In fact, we are sort of the forgotten survivors. The focus is on the immediate family, the parents, the spouse, the kids.
Many siblings feel lost and forgotten
My recommendation is to get involved. Help plan the service if you can. If not, go to the gravesite or a special place and take flowers or just go to sit and talk to your loved one. Volunteering is a great way to feel connected and part of a way to solve the growing pandemic of depression and suicide. Go to a support group. Talk to your friends and loved ones and make the person you lost part of the rest of your life.
They may be gone from the Earthly realm but they live in your heart. Keep your own mental health in check. Depression is genetic and can run in families And do not be afraid to seek help.
Ten years ago – a decade. A journey I would not wish on anyone, but one I am honored to share.