“It’s not a matter of if. It’s a matter of when.” These are the words that broke me. These words surfaced long before my brother ended his life. For years, I watched my brother – a lighthearted, smart, adventurous boy – disintegrate into someone I could no longer recognize. His mind took over his very being and, in the end, there was nothing to be done.
This wasn’t for a lack of trying. Not just for me or those closest to him, but for himself as well. Every holiday, every big celebration, and in all actuality, every moment of his life. He tried. His heart wanted to be with us. He wanted to see his family and friends. He wanted to be there. He wanted to work hard, find love, and settle down, but it wasn’t easy for him. He battled inner demons at every turn. Despite living hours away, he always made his best effort to be around. He constantly sent invites to join him for snowboarding or to take a simple 30-minute break to have ice cream together.
He came to every holiday, birthday, and graduation that he could. Yet, there was always a faint voice in the back of his head telling him he was unloved, that he would never amount to anything, and that he would never find himself where he wanted to be. For him, our family get-togethers quickly turned dark – often to the point he would want to disappear – and many times he did. We would find ourselves wondering where he was, only to realize he had just hopped in the car and left without a single goodbye.
The darkness and anxiety I speak of aren’t born of my own thoughts. These are the words and feelings he expressed to me. Thanksgiving night, two years before his fall, was the first time he told me of his intentions. He told me about his despair, his sadness, and the internal struggles he faced. He told me he had been considering ending his own life and that the only reason he couldn’t was that he was a coward. He told me that he knew he’d never do it because of his fear of what’s beyond …what’s after.
I tried to help. We all did – his family, friends, co-workers, and girlfriend. We all reached out and begged for him to find help, but in the end, the war that raged inside of him wasn’t going to end. Battle after battle after battle. It took its toll.
One by one family members came to me. “Val, we’ve done everything we can. Yes, there is a chance it will happen, but there is nothing more we can do to help.” My mom, my dad, my sister, my oldest brother. Everyone told me about the possibility. Not even of the possibility, but the inevitability. It wasn’t a question of if, it was a matter of when.
For many, suicide is preventable. It is born of traumatic events. The loss of work, family, or some other deeply saddening event or experience – and sometimes, we can help. Yet there are other times, that little can be done. Sometimes a person must help themselves but can’t or won’t. For some, it is premeditative and planned. It’s born of addiction, mental illness, and a combination of all life throws at you. Sometimes it’s thought about for years.
It hurts and breaks us to know the inevitable is coming and is out of our control. The long, slow trauma leaves us shattered in a million pieces, obsessing about “what ifs and if only’s” but sometimes, it’s not a matter of if. Sometimes, it’s just a matter of when.