It was an early July morning in Minneapolis when we got the devastating news. I was 14 years old and woke up to my older sister’s frightening wails and my mom’s wracking sobs. I ran downstairs to hear my sister say, “Our brother is dead.” We were told that he had been found down in Iowa with a self-inflicted gunshot to the head.
Tom was a heroin addict trying to kick his horrible habit and was also dealing with some mental health issues. My dad traveled during the week, so he rushed home when he got the news. My poor mom was beside herself with grief and guilt as she had tried many times to remove the gun Tom had hidden in his room.
As a Baptist, “Ozzie & Harriet” type family, his suicide was never discussed in our family, and as a grieving teenager, I don’t remember my parents during my following teen years. My sister left to get married, and I was alone with two shattered people. I was only able to unload my grief during treatment sessions for my own subsequent alcohol and prescription drug addictions. Even relationships with men were unhealthy for many years. In my own sense of guilt I chose emotionally vacant/unhealthy men, believing I should try to help them.
Sober, happy and healthy at 66, I still sob at my brother’s grave, wondering what his life might have been if he had lived past his 24 years. I now find solace in volunteering for Mom’s Demand Action. It is also a way that I can honor the brother and parents I loved so dearly.