Suicide is never painless


The title music from MASH, “Suicide is Painless”, is a lie.

In Australia, due to repressive laws passed by the current Australian Government, writing about suicide and reading about it can lead one to being prosecuted. The laws mainly stop descriptions of how-to methods, which is not what I’m seeking to write about today, in any case. There will be some people who won’t want to read this entry, because it may bring back painful memories for them, of their own experiences with the terrible blight of suicide.

My younger brother, Brian, took his own life in June 2005, at the age of 32. He was survived by his wife and three step-children. I remember the day very well, and in fact the moment when I was told Brian had died. I was at work, the day was messy and busy, and out of the ordinary. Unusually, I wasn’t carrying my mobile phone with me, and was going from place-to-place. When I did get back to my desk there were missed call indicators on my mobile, and a number of voicemail messages on my office phone. I don’t think words can explain what it is like to hear the voice of a senior police officer telling you that someone you love has died, and to hear anguished messages from people you love or at least know wailing to find you. Peter, who was at the time working with me, and I left work and travelled to my parents’ house, about 3 hours away. My father was away, in Queensland, visiting my brother David, so apart from neighbours and my aunt Mandy, my mother was alone. I don’t remember the trip down very well, except that I spent a lot of time on the phone trying to work out what had happened. I spoke with Brian’s wife, Kim, and was reassured that she and her children were OK.

We arrived at my parents’ home, and time started. My mum was being looked after by my aunt, but was in shock, as were we all. Neighbours were standing outside, shocked, horrified, and mute to know what to do. As were we all.

Days passed, a funeral happened, what other tiny bits of information that were forthcoming became known to us. There was no note, no last message, no indication of why. To be sure, there were some small signs of odd behaviour, but according to those who had been closest to Brian before he died, no real warning sign. He had had some trouble at work, but nothing insurmountable.

Brian’s death caused a fracturing in the relationship my family have with his wife and her children. Even before his death it was difficult, and there was some distance, but afterwards the issues seemed to grow, the walls become higher and the offerings to speak, to help, to care less acknowledged. My parents keep in a kind of tenuous contact. My brothers don’t, and nor do I. I feel ashamed that I don’t, and I did intend to. When I ask myself why there are two main reasons – the first is that too much time without communication went by. My fault. The second is that Brian is what we had in common. And with Brian gone, I’m not sure what there is left. I should make the effort to renew a contact.

I miss Brian each day, and doubt that the sense of loss will ever go away. Brian was enigmatic, troubled, funny, generous, gregarious and loving. He was probably depressed and felt hopeless – but we can’t know. One of the larger regrets of my life is that in the last three months of his life we were out of regular contact. We had been much closer, but things intruded, and distance entered. Whenever I think about that, I wonder if, had I been speaking with him more regularly, I would have seen signs, or heard pain, or been able to defuse a situation. How much did I fail him?

Ultimately, what Brian did was make a choice to end his life. I think it was a bad choice, because no matter how bad a situation, no matter how much trouble a person is in, there is always help. Always. It makes me sadder than I can say that on a Friday morning in June my brother could see no help, no way even to extend a hand for some, and so, he died tragically, violently, alone.

Those of us who remain try to choose good things to think about. We speak about Brian, remember him, but there is a vault of loss at the centre of our lives.

In Australia suicide is the leading cause of death among young men. Be aware of the signs, extend a hand, and don’t feel as though you have no right to ask how the person is doing. If you can, consider doing a mental health first aid course.

And love and care for those around you.


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