My brother Jon was an exceptional human being. He had a sense of the world and life that alternated between skepticism, passionate embrace, disappointment, and hope that things would always move toward improvement, toward the light.
And then, for reasons we won’t ever fully know, he turned off that light. He was only 30. There is music that won’t be written because of this, celebrations that were canceled because of this, reunions that were smaller because of this, days that were sadder and flatter, because of this.
Suicide has many victims, and not all of them die by their own hands. The grief of survivors is a smaller, but nonetheless painful death.
I thought of my brother a lot during these past weeks. The focus of the pandemic has been on those who succumbed to the actual disease, and that is of course justified. In the midst of sickness, we need to do triage and the ones who are gasping for air are the ones we need to run to.
But that metaphor, “gasping for air,” has some relevance when we talk about those who might physically be okay, but who are struggling to breathe in other ways. The single mother who lost her waitressing job because the pandemic forced her diner to close. The college student who can’t pay his tuition because part-time bar tending he used to do is prohibited as “non-essential” labor. The immigrants who cleaned houses for a few dollars an hour, told that they were no longer able to enter their clients’ homes and who can’t get unemployment because, well, they don’t have papers.
And then there are the high school seniors who have been robbed of their graduations, all the pomp and crazy circumstance of parties and summer houses and yearbook signings. And what about the younger students, the ones who have been cooped up in their homes and haven’t had a play date that doesn’t involve a computer and a camera for the past two months?
What of the introverts who depended on their daily contact with the few friends they trusted? I myself love and embrace my solitude and prefer a good book and sugary, cream-loaded coffee to a raucous and rowdy party. But even I, an introvert by nature, am feeling the strain of the walls closing in.
I take my daily walks, sometimes with a mask and sometimes without, and smile at the dogs who seem to be the only ones really enjoying this forced suspension of our normal lives. I watch TV, and I knit (three blankets so far) and I make silly video parodies of Broadways songs (go to my Facebook page if you’re at all interested) and bide my time until the world opens up again. And I write, about all of the things that thrill and that anger me.
But not everyone has a game plan that works, and not everyone has the ability to endure this unnatural paralysis of normality. In other words, not everyone can cope.
Tragically, that has exacerbated pre-existing depression in some folks, and created unbearable and unmitigated sadness in others who believed themselves to be fine. It took this pandemic to break them, or at least show them the cracks and fissures in their own lives.
Some of those people have sought help, whether through professional counseling, prayer, or the support of their family or friends. Others have taken another route, one that my brother took. And they are the hidden casualties of this pandemic, ones we haven’t considered and who deserve our attention. I don’t think that we should bear any guilt for failing to acknowledge depression-related suicides have been on the rise during these past weeks and months.
We’ve been so busy trying to breathe ourselves, to notice others who are flailing in the nearby waters.
But it’s time to take notice. It’s time to realize that the doctors who have killed themselves because they couldn’t save enough people, or who were afraid they would infect their own families, died of COVID 19 the same as if they were on ventilators. The people who have taken their own lives because their businesses were destroyed, or they lost their jobs, were killed by COVID 19. They are casualties, just as much as any of the ones felled by the virus.
My brother left us too soon, and I will never truly know why. That is my burden. My obligation is to be aware of those who are on that same path, and try to reach out and make them turn around.
We all share it.
Your mental health matters. If you need help coping or if you’re experiencing a mental health crisis, please reach out for support:
Telephone National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
Military medal Veterans in Crisis: 1-800-273-8255 + press 1
Speech balloon Crisis Text Line: Text PA to 741-741
Telephone Disaster Distress Helpline: 800-985-5990
Telephone PA Support Helpline: 855-284-2494
Telephone Get Help Now (substance use disorder): 1-800-662-4357.
Flowers is an attorney and a columnist for the Delaware County Daily Times, and can be reached at email@example.com.