This is a Story of How to Manage Grief After a Brother’s Suicide

Today, we continue our interview series on overcoming adversity with Mark, who runs the blog The Retirement Spot. Mark lost his younger brother to suicide many years ago. His is a story about how he managed his grief after suicide.

I appreciate Mark's transparency in sharing this painful story. Even though it happened over thirty-five years ago, you'll hear from Mark how fresh it is in his mind even today. In spite of his loss, Mark married, raised a family, and had a successful career.

Since Mark is now retired, much of the content on his blog deals with issues around being retired. As a Boomer myself, it's always nice to become acquainted with a more “seasoned” blogger like myself. The Millennials outnumber us by a significant number.

Here are a couple of my favorite posts from The Retirement Spot:
4 Ways Suze Orman Could Have Managed Her Mother's Long Term Care Costs
Is Dave Ramsey Right?

Now let's hear from Mark.

Tell us a little about yourself, whatever you’d like people to know

I was born and raised in the town of Los Gatos, California and have lived in the Bay Area all my life. I am an Accountant by trade, obtained my bachelor’s at San Jose State University and my Masters at Golden Gate University.

My wife is from Nicaragua. Her father worked for the President of Nicaragua, Anastasio Somoza Debayle as a “Diputado,” similar to a U.S. congressman. Somoza and his regime were toppled in 1979 by the Sandinistas.

We got married in the capital of Nicaragua, Managua in 1977. Had we waited until 1979, because of the war, there may have never been a wedding.

Her family lost everything as a result of the war – a future blog post of mine.

We have a son who works for AT&T and a daughter who is a registered nurse in Bakersfield, CA.

I worked until the age of 42 when I was forced to retire because of a neurological disorder,

Tell us a little about your career path

When we were married, I worked at the local hospital in San Jose as an orderly. This allowed me to pay for my college and it allowed me to sponsor my fiancee from Nicaragua.

I majored in Accounting with a minor in foreign languages.

I obtained my first Accounting job at Levin Metals Corporation in San Jose, CA as a junior accountant. It was at this job when my brother committed suicide.

After four years at Levin, I was laid off, and I went to work as an Accountant at Almaden Vineyards. I wasn’t very satisfied with this job, so when a headhunter called me to see if I was interested in a position in the Livermore Valley called Triad, a $150 million software company that made turnkey computer systems for the automotive and hardgoods aftermarket,  I jumped at the chance.

I worked in Livermore as a senior accountant and then Accounting manager for about 12 years. When my disability took a turn for the worse, I finally decided first to work part-time and eventually I was forced to take full-time disability at the age of 42.

You had one of the worst things I can imagine happening to a person. Tell us about that.

I can remember the exact detail of every moment of that day when my wife and I first heard about my brother’s death.

We owned a duplex with my sister and brother-in-law. We lived on one side. They lived on the other. Let me describe the scene as I wrote in my blog.

“I had just arrived home with my wife shopping for suits. My current employment was at Levin Metals a recycling company on Monterey Ave located in San Jose, California. It was my first accounting job after receiving my degree. I always dressed casually for work; nice shirt, nice pants, but my boss had different ideas on how I was to dress.

It was February 11, 1983, when my boss told me it was time for me to start dressing in suits to give more of a professional appearance.

That night, my wife and I went shopping. We arrived home just before dusk after scouring the shopping malls for the new wardrobe I needed to impress my boss……My wife and I exited the vehicle precariously carrying an array of expensive wool suits, cotton shirts, and 100% silk designer ties….

My brother-in-law stumbled out of his door tripping over his porch. As he hurriedly approached us, he stopped abruptly, and suddenly his demeanor changed when he shouted, ‘Matthew, committed suicide.’”

When my brother-in-law first said it, I thought he was joking, and then in a few instances, I realized he was serious. I remember feeling numb, and my legs felt limp.

You wrote a post about your brother's suicide. What moved you to write?

I had an uncle who was killed by an automobile at the young age of 2 ½. While crossing the street, my uncle darted out into the road pulling his hand from my grandfather. He got hit by a city truck.

The driver of the truck died a few years later from the stress of that moment.

This happened years before I was ever born, but it devastated my grandparents. My grandfather on his deathbed said, “Where is Anthony?” Life went on, but the death of my uncle, Anthony remained etched in my grandfather’s memory as if the incident occurred yesterday, but very few others besides the immediate family knew the details.

It took me 25 years before I was able to write about my brother. I had attempted previously, but I was always filled with emotion as I wrote. How do I tell people about Matt? How do I describe the moment of that day?

More than a memory

I wanted people to know who my brother was, but I wasn’t sure how to put it in words. On the other hand, I didn’t want people to forget him.

For me, my brother’s death is right at the forefront of my memory. Like the death of my uncle to my grandfather, I remember the day of my brother’s death to the finest detail, as if it were yesterday. For others, his memory was beginning to fade, and the younger generation never even knew him.

My intent in writing the post was not just to tell my readers what happened, but I wanted them to feel the emotion as I felt it.

Since we were in the same grade, we knew the same people in high school. I wanted our friends in high school to know. I wanted the places to be real places so that Los Gatos Alumni could picture the various scenes, and I wanted it to be accurate.

About Matthew

Matt was very intelligent. He had top grades, was an artist, and an excellent auto mechanic. He was unable to escape his demons.

After his death, I collected everything I could of him, his yearbooks, the artwork he left behind, and anything else I could find. I made a couple of albums with him in it. I tried to collect all the artwork I could that he had made.

He had told me he gave a bear to Robert Redford. Robert Redford was his idol. He watched everything that Robert Redford was in. He actually drove to Robert Redford’s estate in Salt Lake City and gave him a bear made out of coat hangers, (you can see a pic of the bear on my blog post.).

I wrote to Redford and asked if he could put the bear in his will and will it back to the family. His secretary sent the following letter explaining that putting it in a will would be rather difficult. She suggested returning it now. I responded that would certainly be acceptable, and a few weeks later there was a huge crate waiting for me on my porch with the bear inside and an autographed picture I requested.

Related:
From Suicide Attempt to Inspiring Women to Survive

How did you get through it? Or does one ever get through it?

Good question – I don’t think there is a “get through it.” You just go on. I remember on the day I returned to work, everyone offered their condolences. I went to one of the supply rooms and just cried, and I am not a very emotional person.

There is not a day that goes by I don’t think about him.

Many of my siblings are estranged, but Matthew and I had a special relationship. We were in the same grade because I repeated kindergarten, and in many instances, we even had the same friends. We went to the same dances, and we also fought over the same girls.

Matthew and I were only one year apart in age, and I always looked up to him. I understood him like no one else in the family. He was frustrated with society as a whole and would often tell me that.

Matthew never showed signs of any mental problems. He never took drugs. He didn’t drink, and he was popular at school.

Strict discipline

He was troubled, but that stemmed from the strict Catholic disciplinary style of my parents. My mother was a screamer, and my dad used corporal punishment in the severest of ways. As children, he would make us drop our drawers and beat us with the belt.

Matthew and I handled our anger in different ways. I choose to channel my anger in my studies even though I wasn’t the best of students. Matthew, on the other hand, became self-destructive and took risks that would scare the daylights out of most people like jumping out of an airplane without a parachute with very little training resulting in a broken leg or building a homemade bomb blowing himself up in the process.

I describe here an example of how Matt and I reacted to different situations. My mother often complained to my aunt about our bad behavior. This prompted my aunt and her husband to write both of us a letter, ten pages in length admonishing us and telling us what rotten kids we were. I reacted by writing a letter telling them about our side of the story. Matt never talked to them again.

The anger

I knew he had rage bottled up inside him, but I never imagined he would take his life.

For years, I was terrified of my father. Matthew, on the other hand, was fearless. Nothing scared him especially my father.

The abuse continued through high school. I want to make it clear that my father did not discipline us this way out of malice. He believed this was the way to raise children. But it created a rage in both my brother and me. Anger became a defense mechanism.

My dad was a child of the Great Depression, and his father died while he was still in high school. He had to help support his family at a very young age. He had a very strong work ethic, and he was the first in his family to go to college, and he believed we as children were lazy.

Matthew and I were children of the 70s, the era of the Beatles and Woodstock, a generation my parents failed to understand.

I knew Matthew well enough that I understood suicide for him was a way for him to escape the problems of the world. It was not going to be an attention getter. No one would know about it. He would not exhibit the normal signs of suicidal behavior like giving away all of his things. It would be his last hoorah.

Parents' reaction to my brother’s death

Matthew's death deeply affected my parents more than they would care to admit. My father never showed emotion, but he felt a profound sense of guilt.

I look at my family as two different generations; both raised differently. I come from a family of 13 siblings. After my brother’s death, my father went from a strict authoritarian style of discipline to no discipline at all.

When my brother took his life, half of my siblings were still living at home. With the change in discipline style, it was as if an entirely different set of parents raised my siblings.

Note to prospective parents:  I don’t recommend either one of these styles of parenting.

Related:
Overcoming Addiction: A Recovering Addict's Perspective

How has it changed your life?

I don’t really think it changed my life in any material way. It may have made be more sensitive to other’s circumstances.

I had a friend whose 13-year-old child was hit by a train after she left a party with friends and walked home alongside the railroad tracks. She did not hear the oncoming train and got hit by a protruding metal bar attached to the train as it passed by. The blow killed her instantly.

She was very popular at school, and for the first few weeks, crowds of people flocked to her parents’ house offering their condolences. But, then the moment eventually comes when the people are gone, and you are left alone.

I went to his house every Saturday for almost a year and just listened to him. I knew there was nothing I could say, but he just needed someone to listen to.

What did you learn from it?

Matthew was in the same grade as I. I knew what made him tick. We fought as siblings do and even more so since we really couldn’t escape one another because we were in the same grade. We did a lot of things together.

It had only been a short while since we both moved away from home and we were becoming very close as adults,  and then suddenly, in an instant, he was gone. That affects you like nothing I can even begin to explain.

I never got to see him married or have kids. There were others in the family that I thought might have more of a propensity to take their life but not Matthew. Matthew had it all together, or so I thought. I knew he had inner-conflicts but so did I. I never expected this. No matter how well you think you know someone, there is always something you don’t know.

Every life has value. There is such a finality to suicide. Suicide is never the answer. I wish I could tell him that. We were not the type to tell each other how we felt, but I wish I could tell him now.

Related:
Growing Up Abused – A Story of Tragedy and Triumph

What encouragement would you give others who have dealt with this in their lives or someone they know?

There is absolutely nothing you can say when someone so close takes his life. There is nothing that will ease the pain. Time may lessen the pain, but the memory remains.

Encouragement? I would say know your children. It’s too late if a child believes the only way out is by taking his or her life.

Do you think Matthew’s death could have been prevented?

Matt’s death could have been prevented. How? If my parents showed a modicum of love for their kids. My parents wanted a lot of children, but they didn’t have the slightest clue on how to raise them.

We as children never went hungry, we never lacked for a place to live, but it takes more than that to raise a family.

We had no direction or guidance growing up. Los Gatos is one of the most prestigious towns in the nation and a great place to grow up. However, surviving our family was a 50/50 proposition. Matt took what he thought was the path of least resistance.

What encouragement would you give others who have dealt with this in their lives or someone they know?

There is absolutely nothing you can say when someone so close takes his life. There is nothing that will ease the pain. Time may lessen the pain, but the memory remains.

Encouragement? I would say know your children. It’s too late if a child believes the only way out is by taking his or her life.

As I mentioned earlier, I have a neurological disorder. I have my wife, but sometimes it would be nice to be pick up the phone and call my brother who was so close in age for support.

I will forever miss him.

Photo of Mark, his wife, son, and daughter

 

Final thoughts

Thanks, Mark for sharing your story. Suicide is far too common these days. Your account shows how difficult it is on the surviving loved ones. I liked his answer when I asked what encouragement you'd give to someone who's dealt with suicide in their lives. You said,

“Encouragement? I would say know your children. It’s too late if a child believes the only way out is by taking his or her life.”

Man, that is solid advice.

If you're interested in reading the blog post where Mark tells the full story of losing his brother, you can find it here – Suicide – A Brother's Decision.

Resources Mark lists on his blog:

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

Call 1-800-273-8255

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

Project Semicolon

CNQR

Open Path Collective – affordable therapy. You can also check your local college to see if their graduate program in counseling offers discounted sessions.

And now it's your turn. Have you dealt with the suicide of a loved one? What are you doing to deal with the grief? How are you finding support? Help others by sharing your stories in the comments. 

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