Suicide triggers are real.
My brother Simon hanged himself. He used a belt on the back of a door very soon after a famous Australian musician, Michael Hutchence of INXS, had done the exact same thing. Did Simon think it was cool because someone who had been cool died that way? Every newsstand Simon walked past in the days prior to his death had Michael’s image plastered on every board. “Rockstar dead,” the headlines read. Did Simon think he would become a rockstar by dying in the same way? He was young and impressionable and obviously also deeply sad. He had just become a father for the first time a few months earlier, he had a beautiful new baby daughter named Maddie in his life, but it was challenging for him to be a father when he was so unsure of himself. Michael Hutchence was also a new father of a daughter. Did Simon want to be like Michael and did he obsess about the similarities in their lives, or did he simply think Michael had found an effective way to die that he would copycat? Whatever the impact or inspiration there is no doubt in my mind that they were linked. And so my brother died, alone in his apartment, by his own hand.
And now I am a victim of the triggers myself in a different way. Kate Spade, and now today news of the Queen of Holland’s younger sister Inés Zorreguieta. 2,100+ people do the same every day around the world. That’s 800,000 a year*. That’s a lot of people so lost in their sadness that they can’t see a way out.
It’s heartbreaking. Every time I read an article about someone who has chosen suicide, I have a significant physical reaction. I want to throw up. And I usually find somewhere private to cry.
I’m taken back to the day I ironed my brother’s clothes, the clothes that would be used to dress his dead body. I ironed them as purposefully as I could to take in every moment; it felt important. It would be the last thing I could do for him that mattered, I thought. I remember resting my tear-soaked cheek on the front of the shirt while it was warm from the iron, imagining it was Simon himself. I wept so heavily I didn’t need to use the iron’s steam. I didn’t want to ever be finished ironing. I didn’t want the clothes to be taken away, to be taken to the funeral house, because that meant he was dead. I wanted him to come back, to walk into the room, not to be dead. Ironing those clothes, the visual of the iron sliding back and forth over that white shirt fresh from the dryer, is a full-color video that is burned into my memory. I can hit play on that memory too easily, it’s rich and detailed and feels like yesterday. I wish I could switch it out for a memory of the sound of his voice I find so hard to remember now, or his infectious laugh that as a stubborn older sister I usually fought so hard not to succumb to. But the ironing memory prevails.
I miss my brother at strange times and at obvious times. I miss him when I’m kicking a soccer ball with my five year old son as I believe Simon would have loved to come visit us here in Brooklyn and run around with his nieces and nephew. I miss him every Christmas morning when it’s his turn to open a present. I missed him just the other day when we opened our new family toy — an Oculus — and I knew Simon would have been a massive fan of the device.
And yes, when I read that Kate Spade has taken her life, it triggers that place in my gut that hurts like hell because my brother Simon isn’t here either. And I imagine that Kate’s family, her daughter (oh gosh, her daughter, another daughter) will always have a place in their gut that does something similar.
What can we do?
We can be aware of how pervasive suicide is in our society, it is real and it is often a silent killer. A colleague and friend Gavin Larkin in Australia started a wonderful campaign which has since become a national annual event called R U Ok? What can we do — ask all of your loved ones and your friends, your colleagues at work, ‘R U Ok?’ on a regular basis. Be especially aware of this when suicide is in the press and it might be a trigger for someone you know. It’s amazing what a difference it can make to feel that someone cares whether you are ok or not.
I’m doing ok, I miss my brother today — a lot, but I’m ok. Thanks for asking 🙂
Me and Simon.