By Jenni Klock Morel
I am ready to stand in my truth: I lost by brother to suicide. Joey died on April 17, 2009, and it is only recently that I am able to even utter those words out loud. I have developed new friendships since then, and strengthened older ones, and yet very few people in my life know that I have lost a brother, let alone that he died by suicide. I know that part of me, up until recently, just was not ready to ‘make it real’ by talking about it, and another part of me did not want it to reflect poorly on my family, and especially not on my parents. As I lived in silence, what I really needed was to be talking about my loss and seeking support.
In the past few months I have talked more, shared more, and have been met with support, sympathy, and often empathy from those who have also lost a loved one to suicide. It has been a new road in my journey of healing, and I could not be more pleased to finally be here – able to talk, able to stand.
One night I saw a colleague of mine featured in a commercial for “It’s Up to Us,” an organization dedicated to suicide prevention and aiding people in getting help for mental illnesses. I spoke with her about her involvement in the ad, and I shared with her the story of losing my brother. She was shocked, and saddened, and then she opened up to me and shared that she had lost her grandfather to suicide. In that moment we were both raw, and real, and making a human connection. More importantly, we were checking the stigma associated with suicide at the door. It was a conversation that helped me realize that I am not alone, and that it is okay to talk about my loss because most often I will be met with support, not judgment.
For those who have heard my story and shifted uncomfortably, not knowing what to say, I understand. Death is a difficult topic. Suicide is a very difficult topic. In the course of these conversations about suicide loss simply stating “I’m so sorry for your loss,” is appreciated.
As for my brother Joey, I will never know what happened to him that day, what went through his head, how he got to that place to take his own life. Of course I think about it now and again. I know I cannot dwell on the facts that I do not have, the information I do not know, and will never know. I prefer to focus on good memories, thinking of the ways my brother helped me become the person I am today. Joey was eight years my senior, so he always had nuggets of wisdom to share with his little sister. When I was 13-years-old he gave me a copy of the “Celestine Prophecy” by James Redfield. From there we would stay up late into the night discussing spirituality, the meaning of life, the plight of humans on Earth. Looking back, those were heavy topics of discussion for a 13-year-old, yet this is where my spirituality was born, my curiosity for life and its meaning. Joey gave that to me.
When I was 15-years-old I had my drivers’ permit. My dad had bought me a 1996 Saturn SL2 for me to drive in circles around our circular driveway before my 16th birthday. I grew up in Michigan, and back then a 15-year-old with a drivers permit could drive with anyone 21-years of age or older. Joey was my go-to person to teach me the ins and outs of driving. This was a scary proposition, as he was quite adept at getting speeding tickets and into minor fender-benders. One day we were driving in our neighborhood and he instructed me to “test out how this baby handles” and to figure out just how quickly my shiny new car could stop. We spent the afternoon driving through the neighborhood slamming on the brakes to see if my car really could “stop on a dime.” It might have been slightly misguided, but it turns out that Joey was a good teacher, and from that day on I always knew how to quickly stop my car in an emergency.
I thank my brother for all that he gave to me. For the wisdom, the love, the infinite compassion when I needed a friend. I miss you big brother. I will never forget how you enriched my life, and I hope that I was able to enrich yours too.
To all of you who are mourning the loss of a loved one to suicide, I am sorry for your loss and I know what you are going through. You are not alone. I believe it is important for all of us to come to a place where we can talk about suicide, to help eradicate social stigma, and to help ourselves along on our journey of healing. I stand in my truth, and I appreciate all those who stand beside me.