I Want To Talk About My Ex's Brother


My ex’s brother – who I still think of as my brother-in-law, because hey, he’s still uncle to my sons, who are very close to him – committed suicide over the holidays. His sister, my ex, found him. He left behind 3 of his own kids in high school and college. 

I found out yesterday. I wasn't going to say anything about this. And then I thought: that’s exactly the problem, we don’t say anything about this.

Too often we feel like we can’t talk publicly about details – not of the death, but of the life – when someone commits suicide. 

If somebody has cancer, we talk about it. While they're living, when they die. We talk about how it happened. Breast cancer. Lung cancer. Colon cancer. Details matter. We talk about the radiation therapy. Or the chemo. Or the surgery. We talk about the side effects. We discuss remission and reoccurrence. It's hard. But we talk.

We don’t talk about depression the same way. Not in public. Not even within most families. Certainly not in this family. It's too hard.

Because when you know something’s wrong, when you ask how your brother-in-law is doing, you get a scrunched up face and a “You know… It’s getting better.”

And you let it go at that. But you don’t know. And you don’t have any idea if it’s getting better.

Until it isn’t.  Until it can’t.

I would like to talk about details. Here. With my kids. Especially with my kids. When their uncle’s symptoms first appeared. What kind of treatment he got. Why the treatment wasn’t working.

Hey, I’ve been depressed. I’ve gotten treatment. Maybe I could have said something to help.

Maybe I couldn't help. Maybe I could put it in context if I had more details. Help somebody understand.

But we don’t talk about it. It's too hard. We’ll ask someone about their biopsy before we ask about their therapy. 

And I understand why that is. If you have cancer, there can be environmental factors that make it worse – smoking, asbestos exposure, excessive sunlight – and it’s okay to talk about those things. It’s the environment.

With depression, a lot of time the environment that makes it worse is people. Not even intentionally. But you feel like a failure compared to other people. You feel like you can’t live up to other people’s expectations. You feel like people you love would be better off without you.

You feel the burden of managing other people’s anxiety about your depression.

If you talk about your depression, people freak out because they don’t know how to talk about it, and it becomes just one more damn thing you have to deal with. When you are nearly out of resources to deal. It's just too hard.

When you’re depressed, other people feel like another problem instead of a solution. You don’t reach out when you need to because when you've reached out before, people haven't been willing to catch you. Maybe they even slapped you down. You don't believe in hope any more. You don't believe you're worthy of other people. It's based on experience. So even when people do care enough to reach out to you, you push them away. 

And then when someone who is depressed commits suicide, we were already pushed away.

And families, man. Families. Friends and families don't want to talk about it either. It's too hard to put into words. Because they felt helpless. Helpless to change what aleady happened. Helpless to prevent it. Families feel shame, not at what their family member did, but at their own helplessness, their own inability to make a difference. 

So we don't talk. 

Today I am sad. I wasn't going to talk about it, but I'm sad. I’m sad for my brother-in-law. I’m sad for my ex, and her brothers and sister, and their aging parents. I’m sad for my brother-in-law’s ex and their kids. I’m sad for my kids.

I don’t have any answers. I don’t have anything wise to say to make things better.

But I can talk about it.

Even if all I can say about it is: “We don’t know the details. We don’t understand what happened. Maybe we can do better the next time we see someone in need. Maybe we can't. We'll try. We still care.”

Next time we'll care enough to talk. Even if it's hard.

© C.C. Finlay 2017