Almost four years ago, my ex-brother-in-law called 911 and said he had a gun and he was going to kill himself before hanging up. Then he followed through. The police shut down traffic to his neighborhood, and a nearby elementary school was put on lockdown. My sister got a call from police asking her how dangerous he was and could she tell them how they could talk him down. She and her ex had been divorced for about 20 years at that point.
Joe was someone I loved but also really liked a great deal. His sense of humor just meshed with mine; he had a really dry wit. He and my husband had also forged a close bond, playing handball every week and frequently playing the board game Risk with a group of friends on weekends. (If you’re unfamiliar with “Risk,” it takes hours and hours to play, and sometimes these marathon games turned into all-nighters.) We tried so hard to remain friends with Joe after the divorce. My sister had filed for divorce because Joe was shutting her out, treating her like a stranger rather than a wife. It became increasingly apparent to those of us who knew him that he was depressed but he consistently refused to seek help. It only got worse through the years to the point that he even cut off all contact with his own family. My husband and I gave up trying after our many attempts at contacting Joe went ignored and unanswered.
Nevertheless, when I heard about his suicide, I was devastated. Part of it was guilt; I wondered if there was anything more we could have done. But most of it was knowing how my own struggles with debilitating grief over a prior loss had left me feeling unmoored. I never felt so utterly alone and hopeless that I would purposely inflict the grief I live with on my own loved ones, however, so it’s very difficult when I let myself think about the state Joe must have been in to do what he did. He’d left a note that he didn’t want a funeral, and he’d signed over the title of his truck to pay for whatever arrangements would have to be made to dispose of his remains. I got the sense that he was trying to erase his very existence. But I will never forget him or the fact that he was loved. More than he seemed to know.