Letter to Brian: August 12, 2014


Dear Brian,

The world is full of confusion and sadness and anger today upon hearing the news of Robin Williams’ suicide yesterday. I’ve been in a weird place since I found out… on one hand I’m so sad for his family and friends to hear that he lost his battle with depression and addiction and on the other hand it is a grave reminder of what I went through in the days following your suicide.

I had 4 very generous souls message me personally to tell me they were thinking of me and that they realized the news must be causing me some emotional turmoil… and they were so right. I’m incredibly grateful to them for recognizing that and for thinking of me, I really needed those words of encouragement and they often come from surprising places… and often don’t come from the people you’d expected or hoped they would.

Today the radio, TV and internet are saturated with the words “suicide” and “depression” and each time I hear the word “suicide” it is like a knife in my heart. When someone so well-known and beloved dies by suicide there is all sorts of chatter going on about why he did it, how he did it, who found him, etc… and then all the opinions start flying. I should have known better than to read any comments because people can be very outspoken about how they feel suicide is the ultimate sin… the most selfish of acts… and the act of a total coward. I believe none of those things are true and each time I hear those things it feels like a piece of your memory is being tarnished and I feel compelled to defend it… and to defend you. I kind of think of myself as having the emotional equivalent to a “weakened immune system” now. Things affect me even more strongly than before and I need to be aware of what I can handle and what I can’t… and today, the internet might be one of those things I can’t handle for a few days.

Depression shouldn’t be an ugly secret and absolutely is not a character flaw… but we all feel the need to hide it because the world can be cruel and judgmental and can perceive a person suffering from a crippling depression as less of a person and a less capable person.

I keep thinking back to my own bouts of suicidality over the past 27 years and how I was feeling– the powerlessness, the hopelessness, the exhausting, deep sadness… and being terrified that it might never end. I can’t blame anyone for choosing to escape that because unless you’ve experienced a darkness of that depth you can’t possibly understand what it is like. I remember quite some time back that while I desperately wanted to die I was afraid of leaving our family with the pain and agony of a suicide… so I used to think of other ways in which I could die; I used to run a lot… so I often wondered, “what if I were to go for a run late at night in a neighborhood with a lot of gang activity and gunfire? I might get shot– it could work! I would die… but it would appear to be nothing more than a terrible accident.”

Interestingly enough, yesterday was the 18-year anniversary of my car accident in which I broke my spine as well as my jaw in a few places. That accident could have gone several ways but I survived and recovered really well and surprisingly quickly. Why did I survive that? After all those years of wishing for an untimely death I survived a car wreck? And in the years that followed the accident I can’t tell you the number of times that I wondered why I wasn’t granted my wish to leave this world in a way that wouldn’t hurt you or our parents. Somehow the universe decided that I was still supposed to be here to outlive you and experience the agony of living the rest of my life without you, my only sibling, and knowing there wasn’t a darn thing I could do to save you.

Robin Williams starred in one of my absolute favorite movies, “What Dreams May Come.” I won’t spoil the movie for anyone reading who hasn’t yet seen it but I completely recommend it as it puts a beautiful spin on life after loss as well as paints a stunningly beautiful picture of what I imagine the other side will be like when I get to see you again. I’ll leave you with a quote of his from the film:

“A whole human life is just a heartbeat here in heaven, then we’re all together forever.”

I hope that you, and Robin, both find some peace on the other side.

Love Always,

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I lost my brother Brian, my only sibling, to suicide on October 13, 2010. I write about dealing with the loss as well as my own life-long struggle with depression and suicidal ideation.

15 thoughts on “Letter to Brian: August 12, 2014”

  1. Yes Laura, I too immediately thought of Brian and you. We both know the depths of depression and it is a terrible place to be but a power greater than us wants us to be here to help others.

  2. 32 years later and the impact of the words “suicide” coupled with “depression” never diminishes. I’m numb, not just with remembering, but at the words I hear of “he chose to do it” he should have gotten more help .. . . if you haven’t been there personally, experienced that dark place yourself, you can’t truly understand. I wish I didn’t. Hang in there ❤

  3. I so agree with you Laura about being in a different place emotionally after losing someone to suicide. You put so much of what I’ve been feeling since last night into words. It is so hard to not go right back to the day and the questions with so much in the news about suicide.Thank you for sharing your blog and being so open and honest. I am really glad to hear that you have had people reach out to you since they heard. The support of others who care is so critical.

  4. Wow Laura! Your words feel like the thoughts in my head. People have such strong feelings about suicide and freely express themselves on the topic as if they are experts. I feel like the most opinionated people on the topic of suicide haven’t experienced suicide or depression first hand. Depression can be a fatal illness just like cancer or AIDS. No one would ever say, “oh that cancer patient was so selfish, they didn’t fight hard enough to keep living.” If nothing else, I hope Robin Williams’ death will educate people further on depression and suicide. On a positive note, I like to think that Heaven just got a lot funnier for Brian and my Mom!

    1. I agree, Kerry– I really hope this helps bring mental illness and suicide into conversations in a helpful way. Things need to change!! <3

  5. Laura. I read your letter to Brian and I have never believed that Brian or now Robin took the easy way out. Anyone who has been to the dark depths of depression and emotionally or mentally unable to see even the slightest amount of light understands that the only solution is to stop the darkness. Why did you survive? Why did I survive? I truly believe that in spite of the darkness, there remained an inner strength and a glimmer of light that made the difference in spite of our own darkness. As you wrote, our society is filled with those who judge without knowledge or compassion and prevent many from exposing their vulnerability because the public judgement only drives people further into the darkness. Can we know when someone is in the depths so deep they don’t see how it can ever change? More than likely not. But we can as caring people stop judging and start being kinder and more compassionate to one another. Most definitely. Just maybe it will change someone’s life. While we may never know whether we make a difference or not, does not matter. The fact that we learn to live life with greater compassion changes our own. And with each change we learn how to come out of the darkness that can so trap us.

  6. It is very saddening to see and know loved ones or ourselves who have depression, or who have there life and who have an addiction problem. I know it all to well. It saddens me. My heart goes out to you Laura. Also to any other family suffering depression. Some day I hope to be one who can make a difference in ones life. Definitely the power of prayer is my spiritual guidance.

  7. Hi Laura, thank you so much for your post. With the recent loss of my sister, it hit me in the gut when I heard the news of Robin.

    I thought I would share my observations with you. My social networks were buzzing with news about his death and his life, about suicide prevention and depression – and where you can go to reach out for help. So many of my Facebook friends talked openly for the first time about their depression and thoughts/attempts of suicide. I was a big Nirvana fan in the early ’90’s and I remembered when Kurt Cobain died and how all the news was about his selfishness and “he had it all”. I don’t remember people talking about addiction and depression and how to get help if you need it. I believe that a lot of addictions come from wanting to numb the pain of depression.

    I talked to my suicide berevement group about doing something in our city for World Suicide Prevention day on Sept. 10, I’m hoping we can raise awareness to those who are suffering.

    As Robin joins our siblings now, I too hope they find peace together,

    1. Lynn, I hope your city is able to participate in World Suicide Prevention Day and can continue to bring this topic out in the open where it belongs. And I’m sorry you were also experiencing heightened grief following the news of Robin’s death– it really brought it to the forefront for so many of us. Thinking of you!! <3

  8. Thank you Laura. I lost my mother and recently my 18 year old son to depression. It is confusing and at times makes me angry what some of the public says about Robin Williams death.

    1. Troy, I’m so sorry for your losses… I can’t imagine losing more than one family member to depression. It’s just so difficult. And I agree… I’ve been so angry about some of the comments I’ve heard about suicide and depression. It’s been so hard to not internalize it or feel the need to defend the memory of someone I love. Thinking of you and your family, Troy!

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