I have had numerous conversations lately swirling around the heartbreaking topic of suicide. It’s one of those things that seems to happen in waves, but in fact happens all the time, thoughts of it, and the actual act of it. The familiar words of regret from those left behind, family, friends… insisting there was something more they could have done, spoken over and over. I remember Blue Eyes having these conversations with himself (and with me) after his brother’s suicide. He felt he could have been a better big brother, he could have been there more for his brother. He should have known how much his brother was suffering. Somehow he could have saved him. Truth is, his brother wouldn’t let Blue Eyes help him. I believe it was too much, too painful. The brother did everything in his power to turn Blue Eyes away. No one could have saved him.
I used to feel the same way about my borderline sister, that I could do more for her. I tried everything to make her life better… I regularly gave her money and also bailed her out when she was in financial binds. I bailed her out of jail once, a case of domestic violence. When I was eight months pregnant with my first son, I picked her up at her apartment and took her to a hospital emergency room to get a cat scan as her boyfriend had taken her by her hair and smashed her head into a wall. I continued to take her phone calls, no matter how cruel she was with her words. I was there. I watched her favor my older son over my younger son. It broke my heart and I did my best to try and smooth things over. Eventually, with therapy, I came to a point where I couldn’t do it any longer. I took away her power to hurt me. I stopped taking her phone calls and only communicated with her on my terms. I stopped letting her verbally abuse me. I realized there was absolutely nothing I could do to make her life better, nothing. I let myself be free of the burden of my sister’s health and happiness.
Before all that, however, one night almost 20 years ago my sister called me on the phone. It was about 11:30pm and Blue Eyes was off on a business trip. My sister had definitely been crying, was still crying, and begged me to come over and pick up her cat. At this point she was living in my parents’ house all by herself. My father had taken a contract job on the coast and they were living over there, partly because my father had retired and he liked having the work, and partly because they were trying to escape the stress of my sister. She had at this point an undiagnosed mental illness and serious addictions to anything that would soothe her for the moment. She was approaching 30 years old. I told her I could not pick up her cat. The boys were sleeping. She begged me to have a friend come over and stay with the boys so I could go get her cat. She just kept saying I needed to pick up her cat. Eventually she gave up and told me that she couldn’t do “it” anymore, “it” being life.
From the time of adolescence, my sister was either up up up, life of the party, or down, depressed, mean, angry, belligerent, a real bear to be around. On this particular night, she was down and she told me that she had done horrible things and that if I knew the truth about her, I couldn’t love her. That she was unlovable. I told her that was ridiculous and there was nothing she could tell me, or anyone else in our family, that would make us love her less. We truly did, and do, love her unconditionally. She proceeded to tell me in great detail about the times she was sexually abused, first by her friend’s father when she was ten years old and then second by a relative when she was 11. I had no idea at this point that she had been sexually abused. At about age 13 she started sneaking out the house to have sex with her boyfriends, and there were a lot of them. When she realized keeping a “real” relationship going was too much work, she started having sexual relationships with her bosses and others, married (and unavailable) men. She also medicated heavily with alcohol and over the counter meds. Some of what she was telling me, I knew, but some of it was new information. I felt for her and her pain, but there was nothing I could do for her that night. I asked if she wanted me to call someone to come be with her. She said no, she would be alright.
After hanging up, I called her a couple more times before falling asleep, and she reiterated that she was okay. The next morning I got the kids up and off to school. I didn’t want to call my sister for fear of waking her up. After a night like the one before, she often called in sick and slept all day. At about 10am I received a call from the psych ward of a local hospital. They told me that my sister had given my name and number as next of kin. My sister was in the mental health wing of the hospital on lock down. They wanted to know if I could pick up a few things for her at my parent’s house and bring them to the hospital. I asked how she had arrived to the hospital. They said she had called 9-1-1. She had cut herself with a sharp kitchen knife in numerous places on her body, all were serious, none were fatal… since she had called for help. My sister did not want to die that night, but she desperately wanted to release some of her pain.
I went to my parent’s house and witnessed the devastation, blood everywhere and the bloody knife on the living room floor. Strangely enough there was an empty 2 liter bottle of root beer tipped over on the counter, and it looked like she had literally thrown the soda all over the kitchen. I cleaned everything as best I could. I had already called my parents, who were on their way back home. I grabbed the items my sister had requested. This was back when Beanie Babies were collectibles and my kids were obsessed with them. They each had over 50 Beanie Babies of their own. I kept a couple for myself that I especially liked. Before I had left home, I grabbed my favorite little bear and brought him with me. At the hospital, I was let into a very small room with my sister that was monitored from the nurse’s station. I barely recognized my sister. She was bandaged up, of course, but she looked more like a caged animal than a beautiful thirty year old. Her bleach blonde hair was dirty with dried blood and sticking up in the oddest way. Her face was smeared with blood and makeup. Her eyes were rimmed with red and she looked drugged. She probably was. The room was tiny and I was a bit afraid. I handed her a bag with the requested items in it (which had already been checked by the staff) and I handed her the Beanie Baby and told her it was a gift from the boys. I lied. My boys knew nothing of what was going on with their favorite Aunt. My sister grabbed the bear and looked at me with pure hatred in her eyes. All I could think was that she blamed me for not coming to her when she had called the night before. She became very angry with me and started spewing hateful and demeaning comments and after a few seconds she was yelling and descending on me. We were immediately joined by a large orderly who held on to my sister with both hands and threatened to send her back to her room if she couldn’t calm down. She immediately became limp in his arms. I barely recognized this person I had known for thirty years. The orderly asked my sister why she was so angry with me. He asked about the bear and wasn’t she grateful I had brought her such a cute gift. The words seethed out of her mouth… “that is not from HER, that is from my NEPHEWS.” At that point, I smiled at the orderly and asked to be released from the room. I had had enough.
My parents arrived home later that day and they took over. I did not make another visit to the hospital and it would be months before I saw her again. It took me years to not feel guilty for my sister’s pain.
This past weekend we celebrated her 49th birthday at the beach house.
When Blue Eyes’ brother committed suicide, he had a well thought out plan. His was not an attempt. It was forever.
In a recent conversation with another betrayed spouse, she was sad and grieving for her husband’s good friend, who had recently died very young, having basically brought about his own death through excessive eating and use of alcohol to cope. A form of suicide really. She said he was lonely. She lamented the fact that he didn’t have a wife or kids… he didn’t have anything to live for. The thing is though, as observed from very recent suicides of famous musicians (plus many many others), it is not about who loves us, or how much we are loved, whether we are married or single, do or don’t have children or pets, or how monetarily successful we are. In the end none of those things are enough to keep a person happy or content or coping, and they are not enough to prevent suicide. In fact, many people who attempt or are successful at committing suicide believe they are a burden on their friends and family. As much as we don’t want them to leave us, they may be using us as a rationale for the leaving.
Most often a suicidal person’s internal pain is intense, their feeling of despair is chronic, their vision of their own future is dismal. We, friends and family, can be there, we can listen without judgment, we can offer our love, but we cannot fix them.
When Blue Eyes spilled his own truth out to me that fateful day in January 2014, it felt like I had lived 10 lifetimes at that point. I was tired and I was traumatized, but deep inside I knew the truth, that this part of his story, was not about me. It would take me months and months to force the traumatized Kat to believe the stronger, experienced Kat, but I did it. Did I think about suicide? I did. The trauma was overwhelming. But then I realized I didn’t want to give anyone else the power to take my life away from me. I wanted to live.
I have had this post in my queue for a while. I decided now was the time to post. To a dear friend out there in the blogosphere. I’m here… and I love you. ❤