Twenty-two years isn’t a long span in geological terms, but it’s a sizable chunk of a person’s life. At 50, it’s a little less than half of mine. So far.
April 9, 1991 was a Tuesday. That much I recall for sure. I seem to recall, also, that the weather was pretty decent for early spring, but I’m less clear on that point. About a week prior, my ex-wife and I had traveled to Indianapolis to watch the men’s Final Four – UNLV, Duke, Kansas, and North Carolina. Duke beat Kansas for the title that year, because the universe hates me.
In any event, as a consequence of being out of town, we missed the usual Easter Sunday get-together with my family. It turns out, I also missed the last opportunity I would have to see my brother John alive.
John was gregarious, funny, warm, and opinionated. He had excellent taste in music – the Clash was our thing, man – and he was a talented artist. Also, he was clinically depressed, an alcoholic, and indulged in any number of substances that he had a hard time kicking. So, on April 9, 1991, John decided he’d had enough, thank you very much, and he checked out.
For the last 22 years, April 9 has been kind of a shitty day. Well, let’s face it, there’ve been lots of shitty days over the last 22 years, but each April 9 tends to be a special kind of shitty.
Don’t worry. Today isn’t a horribly depressing day … although I note that much of the day has been dark and gloomy and raining; so, well played, universe. The fact is, so much time has passed since my brother took his own life that I don’t spend very much time thinking about it. I don’t think you really “get over” something like that, but you do get on with your life.
At the same time, it’s always kind of there. It – being a survivor; having gone through that – is this burden you carry around, and the burden is a little heavier on the anniversary of the day he checked out.
Oh. Hello, April 9. It’s you again. You can let yourself out.
The burden, I guess, is not merely the bad memory, although it is that: An awful fucking memory. The burden is feeling some responsibility to talk about it every so often. Especially on a day like today.
I realize that makes some people uncomfortable. Hey, I’m not an asshole; or, if I am, I try to use my asshole powers only for good and never for evil. So I get that it’s not the kind of thing you want to talk about all the time. But not talking about it is, in fact, a huge problem. Suicide happens way more often than you’d think, yet it remains one of those things people tend to avoid like the plague. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention:
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) collects data about mortality in the United States, including deaths by suicide. In 2010 (the most recent year for which data are available), 38,364 suicides were reported, making suicide the 10th leading cause of death for Americans … . In that year, someone in the country died by suicide every 13.7 minutes.
Over the 20-year period from 1990 to 2010, suicide rates in the U.S. dropped, and then rose again … . Between 1990 and 2000, the suicide rate decreased from 12.5 suicide deaths to 10.4 per 100,000 people in the population. Over the next 10 years, however, the rate generally increased and by 2010 stood at 12.1 deaths per 100,000.
So it’s a problem that’s not going away, despite our reticence.
And it’s not just that silence deters people who need help from getting it, although that’s obviously the worst of it. Silence also means that when you’re on the other side of that telephone call – the one that rips you apart inside, that alters your life in ways you never want to experience – when you wake up one morning without having any idea what’s about to hit you, and it hits you like a fucking semi, and suddenly you’re one of those people, because you’ve just lost your brother or your sister or your mom or your dad to suicide … when that happens, you have absolutely no idea how to handle it. You have no tools, you have nowhere to turn, and, worst of all, you have no one to talk to.
Because, Jesus H. Christ, you’re not supposed to fucking talk about it.
But there it is. It’s part of your life now. So, you muddle through it, and years go by, and you find that you run into more and more people who’ve gone through the same thing, and who likewise had no idea how to handle it, and felt they couldn’t talk about it and had to swallow it whole and just, you know, deal. And you think, what the hell. I’m going to talk about it. Not obsess over it; not wallow in it; not refuse to get over it. Just … talk about it.
My brother John committed suicide. It happened 22 years ago today. Sometimes, it still makes me sad. I miss him like you’d miss anybody else whom you’ve lost. Like I miss my dad and my mom and my brother Tom, all of whom died of “natural” causes. Meaning, it’s okay to talk about those things.
John was pretty fucking cool, even though he did a horrible thing I wish he hadn’t done. I refuse to pretend he didn’t exist. Or that it didn’t happen.
And if you’re in the crowd tonight,
Have a drink on me
But go easy, step lightly,
Stay free …
[Cross-posted at Angry Black Lady Chronicles]