Saturday my brother Shane would have turned 40 years old.
I’ve been thinking about the challenging journey of his life and the impact it had on our family and those who knew him.
Last year for Shane’s birthday our brother Marc and I spent the day with him. We both chose to give him the gift of simply just listening to him. Shane was passionate about many things. Sometimes his passion and ideas seemed unpractical and difficult to follow. But for his birthday we simply listened and chose to be excited because he was excited. I can still see his grin and enthusiasm.
Just three short weeks later Shane was gone. Killed by suicide.
For a time I wondered if the grief and pain would ever go away. It was so deep and so intense, I just didn’t know if I would ever feel whole again.
Two things have given me the peace and strength to continue.
The first was a gift, the second a process.
On the day of Shane’s funeral, when we arrived at the church we grew up in as a family, I started to help setting up things for the viewing. But when I saw Shane lying there, all alone in his casket, I had to go be with him. I left the setting up to others and went in to see him.
I pulled up a chair and sat down next to Shane. I held his hand and we talked. I poured out my heart and I tried to listen. I wanted to feel his pain and his loneliness. I wanted to feel the hurt and desperation that drove him to the point that he felt he had no choice but to take his own life.
But that’s not what I felt.
All I could feel was his love trying to fill my emptiness.
But it wasn’t working.
Some clarity and comfort came as I spoke from the pulpit, sharing my thoughts about how suicide will be remembered. I talked about his journey, full of struggles interspersed with successes. I came to the conclusion, or at least the hope, it’s the totality of his life that will be remembered. Not just the final act.
Not just the final act.
At the cemetery the despair I was feeling started getting worse. All the resolve and hope I had built up during the funeral was quickly draining away.
Elisa and lingered at the cemetery until everyone had gone, everyone but the cemetery crew and my friend Stan Poulsen with Magleby Mortuary. Stan invited me to help lower Shane’s casket into the ground.
That’s when the gift came.
The black cloud encompassing me since Shane went missing was lifted. Light filled the darkness. Hope replaced despair. I was no longer empty.
I didn’t ask for it, it just came. A gift from God.
Healing comes in various forms. We each have to grieve in our own way.
The Mayo Clinic, in their guide to Healthy Coping Strategies, says, “There is no single ‘right’ way to grieve,” and that it’s important we do what’s right for us, not necessarily for others. For instance, they suggest, “if it’s too painful to visit your loved one’s gravesite or share the details of your loved one’s death, wait until you’re ready.”
My coping process focused on two key elements. Talking and sharing.
Talking about hard things makes them seem not so hard. Even difficult subjects like mental illness, depression, and suicide become easier to talk about when someone is willing to first talk about them.
I am willing.
We choose as a family to talk about Shane’s death. That was our choice. While it may not feel right for others, it felt right for us.
Many people at the funeral, and since, expressed gratitude for our willingness to talk about suicide. Several said it made it easier for them to now talk and process their own feelings. One person, a mother who had lost a son, wished her family had been able to talk so many years ago.
I had written about suicide on a few occasions previous to Shane’s death. One of those was sharing the story of Sheldon Loveless, one of two men whom I deployed with to Iraq. I have since shared elements of Shane’s journey. I help raise awareness of the 22 military veterans killed by suicide every day.
Talking and sharing has brought a degree of healing for myself, my family, and for others.
Talking about it matters.
That’s why I share. That’s why I will continue to share.
If you have lost a loved one to suicide, I give you this eternal promise.
Light will always chase away darkness. Hope will always replace despair. When you feel you no longer have the strength to continue moving forward, strength will come.
You can help yourself because you are stronger than you realize. And when you are not strong enough on your own, reach out for help.
Call a friend. Talk to your minister or bishop. Join a support group. Seek guidance from a counselor.
I feel your hurt. I’m a good listener. I love you.
Have a great Monday! Thanks for letting me share.
p.s. Take 13 minutes today to remember a time when you felt the light chasing away the darkness.