This is a really hard post to write.
I’ve been trying and trying to write this post for the past 2.5 years, but words kept failing me. Even as I write this in an empty Starbucks, I am still at a loss for words. It’s very difficult to put yourself out there in the first place, but to write about tough topics like death of a family member, that’s a whole other level of difficulty.
Here is my story. The story of how my brother committed suicide December 10th, 2015 and how it changed my life.
My amazing brother Jonathan was a force to be reckoned with. Growing up, he was smart, competitive, and he could pick up anything and be instantly good at it. It had me quite jealous at times. He was the brother that would compete with me, fight over the same purple cup that I liked, and would butt heads with. But gosh, I loved it. And I loved him! I loved watching the girls start to swoon over him as we got older, because I got to play the protective big sister that shooed them all away. I loved when he got accepted to BYU and was going to be in Utah with me. I loved when we got to hang out and even take a similar class together (statistics…we both hated it). We had many good times growing up together and they are memories I will always cherish.
Why would someone this awesome decide to end their own life you might ask? The answer: Mental Illness.
Sometime after Jonathan’s first semester of college, something changed. He became a recluse and it was hard for me to even get him out of his dorm to hang out with me. Something was up, but I was too shy to ask. But I kept trying to be inclusive. After that semester, he decided that he would rather transfer to University of Kentucky and be out there (which made me sad). He and I went home after that year and he continued to act a little off. Fast forward some time after I got married and was pregnant with my son (about 2013) and something snapped in my brother. He was ranting on Twitter and no one knew why. He was acting aloof in the house and in his apartment. He was acting so strange, we thought he had started taking drugs. Gosh, I wish it was drugs. He ended up getting so bad, that he ran away, stole my parents car, and disappeared for about a week. He ended up stopping in Missouri (started in Kentucky) which is where my parents were able to intercept him and get him into the hospital. He was there for a month while the doctors tried to find treatments that would work for him. The doctors diagnosed him with Bipolar Disorder, and his life was forever changed.
I remember exactly when he snapped like it was yesterday. I was in Las Vegas with my husband for my dear friend Juelaine’s wedding, and the night before the wedding, I had a terrible feeling. I could barely sleep and I knew something was wrong. The next morning, after we walked out of the Las Vegas LDS Temple (no cell phones are used inside), I opened my phone and saw a status my mom wrote, asking if anyone had seen Jonathan. I prayed so hard that day that he would be found. But my gut, heart, and mind knew he was gone. At the moment I thought he was dead…but it ended up being a different kind of gone. The brother that I knew was gone forever.
My brother battled his Bipolar Disorder for 4 YEARS. 4 years of fighting. 4 years of going in and out of the hospital. 4 years of seeing a doctor and switching medications. 4 years of trying to complete college classes. 4 years of trying to hold down a job. 4 years of trying to live with his new disease. It was a literal fight for him every day because he could barely sleep, eat, and function. He struggled, and he struggled hard. He tried different ways of coping during this time including smoking, different medicines, really anything he could find to help him. But nothing really helped, and it broke my heart.
The day I found out my brother committed suicide: 12/10/2015
This day will forever be etched into my memory. This was a typical Thursday morning for me. Nothing felt off or weird. We were really excited because we were so close to Christmas and having fun preparing for that amazing day. I was about 20 weeks pregnant, and we were anxiously waiting for our ultrasound appointment in a couple of weeks to find out the gender. We also had just announced the pregnancy to the world, so we were still on that high from the congratulations we were getting. I was finally starting to heal and feel normal after a devastating miscarriage that happened 5 months prior. This Thursday morning I gathered Everett and his lunch, dropped him off at my friend Crystal’s house, and headed to work for my 10 hour shift in the blood bank. I arrived at work and quickly started with the specimens that needed testing. At about 11:30am, I got a call from my little brother Michael. I thought he was just calling to discuss my parent’s Christmas gift. Then as I saw I had a voicemail from him, I got a feeling that it was something more serious. My gut told me it was Jonathan. I quickly called him back from my work phone, and once he answered, he said “Lauren, Jonathan committed suicide.”
At that very moment, a flood of calls started coming in. Kyle was calling another line into my lab trying to reach me. My mom was calling my cell phone. The second my brother told me, I said “wait, what? What do you mean.” Michael responded saying that he had driven up to the farm and took his life. I told him I was thankful for him telling me, and then we ended the call. I quickly answered Kyle’s call, and before he could say anything, I said…I know. I’m coming home. After getting off the phone, I felt all the blood rush from my head. I felt sicker than I’ve ever felt in my life. I thought I could distract myself with my specimen testing, but the second I picked up my pipet, my hands were shaking so bad, I was flinging blood all over me and my desk. I knew I had to tell someone and just get out of that lab. I slowly walked up to my manager, and her face told me that she knew something was wrong. I asked if I could speak with her in private, I delivered the news, and told her I needed to go home. I quickly grabbed my stuff and bolted out of the lab without saying a word. I could barely breath.
As I walked out of the hospital, tears weren’t coming, and I thought something was wrong with me. I called my mom and she told me she was with Jonathan’s body, and that he looked peaceful. Michael was also there to help, as well as my Dad. After talking to my mom and telling her it would all be ok, I called my brother Christian who was finishing up college. He said he was sitting outside his classroom in shock. I encouraged him to go home and try to find anything that would bring him peace. I then got to my car and drove all the way home without shedding a tear. I got back, still no tears, ate lunch in shock, and then organized my entire room trying to distract myself. All of a sudden, tears exploded from my eyes and I was hysterical. I couldn’t stop and I hunched over, pregnant belly and all, balling on the floor while my husband and son tried so hard to bring me comfort.
In Kentucky, my Mom and Dad didn’t even know Jonathan had left the house. They were busy working and baking for Christmas. After they discovered Jonathan wasn’t there, they knew something was wrong and headed to go look for him. My Dad was the one who found my brother and tried to revive him. I often worry so much about my Dad and how he is handling the fact that he found his son who had just committed suicide. It scares me still to this day thinking about what that scene looked like to him.
The days after my brother’s death are days I will never forget. I felt his presence SO STRONG, I could never deny that it wasn’t him and that life after death wasn’t real. I felt that my brother was telling me he was finally free from his disease, and that he was his normal self again. Feeling that brought me so much peace during this confusing time. When someone you know commits suicide, you really question yourself on if you could have done something to prevent it. Did I talk to him enough? Did I even try to ask how he was doing regularly? Did I try hard enough to tell him I loved him? Feeling my brother around me and feeling his happiness that he finally was himself again helped me to understand that it wasn’t my fault and that even though he wasn’t able to battle his disease on earth any more, he was able to be whole again in the spirit world and keep progressing there. I miss my brother SO MUCH and I will always miss him. But thinking about the reunion we will have someday makes my heart so happy. I will see him again someday and we will be reunited as brother and sister.
My brother’s funeral was beautiful, and full of love. I worried so much about how my parents were going to pay for a funeral, especially during Christmas. Not only was the funeral covered by our generous friends and family, but my aunts and uncles also provided our whole family with Christmas presents! That generosity I will never forget. I will also never forget the feeling of having everyone in my family together celebrating Jonathan’s life. The love that we all felt in my parents home during that time was something I wish I could experience every day. I feel so blessed to be a part of such an amazing family. Seeing my brother’s body in a casket was probably one of the hardest moments of my life, and one I wish I could forget, but having my family there by my side hugging me and praying for me as I had to experience that trauma made it bearable. I will always cherish that time we all got to be together, and it is something I will never forget.
I have a strong belief that this earthly life isn’t the end. And I also now know that those that take their own life still have a chance to grow and progress on the other side. Recently, the LDS church (my faith) released a series talking about suicide, and I think it is beautiful. You can check those videos out here: http://bit.ly/suicidepreventionLDS
I don’t want to go into to details about how my brother committed suicide, because I think that is something the media often does wrong. If we glorify how people commit suicide, others will read that and think they could do the same thing. That’s not what I want at all, and I firmly believe that’s not what one should focus on when someone takes their life. The focus should be how amazing that person was on earth, as well as suicide prevention. It is possible to help those contemplating the act of suicide. If you have someone you know that has talked about taking their own life, love them, talk with them even though it is hard, and help them get help. If we can continuously share ways to help those that are mentally ill, I believe we could save a lot of lives.
I know this post was a novel, and maybe it wasn’t the most eloquent ever written. But it’s my imperfect story. I really think it’s important for me to put my life fully out there for those to read, because maybe that will help others see that they aren’t alone. Maybe someone reading this that just experienced a loss will see that even though it happened, you can still live a very full, amazing life. My intention is that by sharing these traumatic experiences, I will be able to find others that maybe need a little more help in this world. And that by finding these people, we can lift each other up and help each other realize that we can still be happy, even though life is extremely hard sometimes.
My story is far from over though. In my next post, I will be talking about the second death that happened in my family just 5 months later. I then want to go into what my life has been life after these traumas, and what has helped me cope. If you know someone that is struggling with similar situations, or maybe just struggling in general, please share my story with them.
Resources to use for those experiencing this sort of tragedy or that are contemplating suicide:
Suicide prevention hotline: 1-800-273-8255
Read Part 2 below: