When I was six years old and my brother was four years old my mother told me how my uncle died. I was told he had a disease in his brain that made him act and feel differently. She told me he would be happy one day and sad the next, that he behaved in a way that did not make a lot of sense. That he made a decision because he was sick and that he killed himself a few years before I was born.
It took me years to understand exactly what bipolar disorder and suicide are, but I am glad I had those years to figure out what they meant and who my uncle is to me. I never met my Uncle Stephen, but he is just as much a part of my life as any other relative. After all, I have his blue eyes and my middle name is Sophia, with an S for Stephen.
Too many people are ashamed to have had a suicide in the family. The topic of suicide is scary and stigmatized and can be hard to talk about, but I am so thankful to my family that they did not keep the truth of my uncle’s death a secret. I understand the thought behind the desire to protect children or a legacy, but I think hiding the truth is the last way to do either of those things.
As a young child, I did not need to know the method my uncle used to kill himself, nor did I need to know about his medical journey. The gory details were not important. What was important was knowing the truth and learning to be sensitive to others’ truths. To know that my uncle was and still is loved and that his death does not define him. Because I learned about my uncle’s death at such an early age, I grew up sensitive to mental health struggles of those around me. I learned to care for others and to empathize without pressuring for details. I learned to care about a cause and to stand up for those who may not be able to stand up for themselves.
My uncle’s legacy is not his death. His legacy lives on in my family’s efforts to raise awareness and educate about suicide prevention and postvention. His legacy lives on in the dinners my family hosts every year for him that twenty-five years later, his friends still attend. His legacy lives on in me. While I never knew him and I did not have to survive through the pain of the aftermath of his death, I am an advocate for him and what he went through.
I am lucky that I learned at a young age about my uncle. I’m lucky to have been raised to know him even though I never had the chance to meet him. Having a suicide in the family and being a survivor are not shameful. So, do not be shamed into silence, rather know that your survival makes you a powerful agent for change.
Lexa I lost my 21 year old son a year ago to suicide. I was open and honest about it to everyone. My second son who was 24, committed shoved this past August, a day before my first sons 1 year of passing.
I sit on the floor and wonder how I am going to make it. They were best friends, souls connected, and one was so completely lost without the other. My 8 year old son is aware, like you, with out the gory details, as you put it.
How can we stop this from happening? How do we help each other to find a place in this world, to get them the medical help they need.
I too have grown more compassionate. I see the world differently, and my heart morns more than ever for all this earths loss.
Your story is courageous and I feel one day my eight year old will feel exactly what you wrote. ❤️
Thank you Lexa. Sunday October 1st will be the 11th anniversary of my son’s suicide. We tend to let the day go by and rather think of him on his birthday but this year I am going to be sure to bring him up and talk about him. It is hard sometimes being a survivor, thinking you could have done something to prevent his death. But knowing that the depression he suffered from was his fight and no matter how we tried to help it just was not to be. It was up to him and in the end he no longer could fight the fight. Your words are helpful and give comfort to those of us who have gone through this. It does get easier to live but my life and those who loved Ben will never be the same. Thanks for your words and keep remembering your uncle. It helps to keep him alive in your heart.
Thank you for sharing this article, from the bottom of my heart! I’ve felt I’ve always had a mental illness but couldn’t find one that matched myself. (other than OCD) Then, I see this article! Thank you so much for helping me find out more about myself xx
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my aunt had bipolar disorder and my parents will never give me the details of her death even though i believe that I should know about my family.
Mollie, it sounds like you are having a difficult time with this. If you need a little extra emotional support or to talk with someone about it, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK. The call is free and confidential, and crisis workers are there 24/7 to assist you. The Lifeline is there for everyone.