By Allison Sampite
Eleven years ago when Deric met Brian in person for the first time, they casually discussed over coffee the reality that beginning a relationship with each other would mean it would likely end in suicide.
“I think we just felt so comfortable with each other that by the end of that conversation we had decided mutually that on the good side, we were probably going to end up in a long-term relationship. On the bad side, it was probably going to end with one of us dying.”
An outlandish and morbid ice-breaker for some, but for two people living with severe mental illness, the conversation was simply a mutual understanding based on statistics.
The discussion, which took place at Fashion Valley mall following a few months of correspondence via email, lasted until two in the morning.
“We were both intimately aware of the likelihood of the individual wiring issues turning into a runaway train and being unstoppable, and I think we were just being really honest with ourselves that there may be a time when we can’t stop this.”
After about six months of dating Brian moved into Deric’s Carlsbad home.
During that time the 20-somethings did their best to manage each other’s diagnoses. While Brian suffered from paranoid schizophrenic episodes, Deric dealt with severe depression and anxiety. Both had previous suicide attempts.
Due to the nuances of their relationship, their ultimate rule with each other stood unshakeable: There would be no lies.
This agreement regarding upfront communication applied especially to their lows, one of which served as the catalyst to Brian’s fatal gunshot wound.
“With Brian it was always a question of, ‘if we’re out in public, who’s watching me?’ It was a lot of reality checks,” Deric said.
Brian had been hospitalized three days before he died for a schizophrenic episode but was sedated and sent home with Deric that night.
A few days later Deric returned to work with the confidence that Brian was emotionally stable.
It was that same day Brian found the pieces of one of Deric’s guns, assembled it and took his life. Deric received the news from a mutual friend who he’d asked to check on Brian after not hearing from him the entire day.
Brian’s funeral service was held in North Hampton Massachusetts, where he was from.
Deric’s plane landed the day before. On what would have been their two-year anniversary he walked into a local tattoo shop and had an artist engrave “Brian Fionn Shaughnessy” (written in Brian’s handwriting) on his left forearm.
The next day was Brian’s service, which Deric attended wearing a bright pink polo shirt and plaid pants (because Brian hated dark colors) and sporting fresh ink, which included some of Brian’s ashes.
Despite Deric’s regular therapy sessions and support system, his ongoing depression coupled with his fiancé’s suicide turned into a year-long consideration of planning his own death.
He gathered his friends at one point and told them that he’d fight his desire to die for a year, but after that all bets were off.
By the time the one-year anniversary of Brian’s suicide came around Deric had become an alcoholic, stopped working and lost his house.
During his ultimate low he drove to Vegas with the intention of killing himself but his plan was foiled by a stranger and what he called divine intervention.
Deric was squatting in an alley with a gun in his hand when a man he described as an average looking guy in his late 30s or early 40s walked over to him and offered him a cigarette.
Then in a silent exchange Deric handed his gun over to the man’s stretched out hand.
“He bent down and gave me a hug and left,” Deric said.
Deric moved to Florida following the ordeal and stayed with his parents for the next six months. It was during that time he met Michael, his current partner.
“I think the challenge for people to understand is that when we talk about saving ourselves or we talk about saving someone else from completing a suicide … it doesn’t go away overnight.”
Deric describes the desire to take one’s life as not truly wanting to die but rather wanting the profound pain to end.
He said although suicidal thoughts are recurring, they are fleeting.
“I used to be at the point where I wanted to die all the time, and now I’m at the point where I want to live forever … I cared so little for what felt like an eternity, that having had the option to die, and choosing not to, choosing life … I don’t want that to stop ever.”
Deric found out about Survivors of Suicide Loss through his therapist and eventually found help in that community.
“Nobody asked for this but we are here … and the only way we know how to get through it is to watch other people do it,” Deric said of the group. “It’s my job to live the life Brian thought he was sacrificing his for, and SOSL gave me that ability.”
Through his healing and experiences with SOSL he decided to begin training as a facilitator and has volunteered as one at the Oceanside group for the past three years.
Deric said that living with the grief and regret from Brian’s suicide is worth the struggle of continuing his journey because he now finds joy in life’s simplicity.
“I stand out on my back porch sometimes and watch the rabbits go back and forth and it makes me so intensely happy because being alive is a ridiculous, infinitely small chance.”