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The Suicide of a Brother

Brian and Josie

By Jeff Orgill, film director, “Grief, A Family Healing”

It's 2011. My brother hung himself in 1990. Twenty-one years have passed. Much has changed. I have a nine-month-old baby daughter now. She’s healthy, happy and laughs a’ plenty. Before baby Josephine my appreciation of life was much simpler, lesser. I was not awed by life. Took it for granted in a way.  My little brother Brian had invited death to live with us and death had come to stay, reached inside us, jabbed its finger inside our hearts. Maybe this stunted my ability to appreciate life. The part of me that could've grown more in love with life got distracted by death, looming large and close in memory. 

But babies have lots of life. Baby Josephine has claimed the spotlight back from death. Death up and left without making a sound. We nurtured Josie, watched her kick and cry her way into the world, so bold and alive. And this snapped me back into focus– life is a struggle and living creatures fight very hard to stay living. It's hard to die.  Even harder to take your own life. It's built into our cells to live. 

When someone takes their own life they have to override all the cells of their body, each one hardwired over millions of years of evolution to fight to live. It must be a disease, a short circuiting of core functions, overriding such primary and primal drives. I know that at the American Association of Suicide it’s looked at in this way– something treatable, preventable. This is hopeful. Suicide may be reduced or eliminated someday if we look deep enough, learn how to spot its signs, and intervene sooner. We’re growing out of an era where suicide was a stigma, “don’t get close to it or talk about it, it’s contagious,” into an era where suicide is something to talk about and not hide from.

What have I learned becoming a father? Life is a tree which keeps branching out with each generation. It’s a cliché, but having a baby really brings this concept home like you wouldn’t believe. Family gatherings now have a completely new meaning that I never understood: They are a unique celebration of life. Our collective cells are celebrating “hooray the DNA will live for another seventy-seven years!” I'm now a bridge connecting my daughter and my parents. It's like seeing into the future, looking at a vine or shoot growing out of you just as you grew out of your parents and they out of theirs. I never understood the big deal about family gatherings before I became a father. Now I feel my place in the tree and it’s a very real feeling. I’m a branch in the Tree of Life.

Brian was a shoot that grew for seventeen years then stopped. We don't know why, might never know. But now that I have a child of my own I know how much I really have and how much my family really lost.

“Grief, A Family Healing” is available on YouTube:



11/19/2014 at 12:34 PM
Kay Leslie
My brother Larry shot himself in the head. killing himself on 3-20-14. To this very second, I am reeling from this event. The most difficult thing for me is that he had to be in so much despair that he chose a permanent solution to a temporary problem. He did not reach out to any of us. This is devastating to me. This event has brought me to tears almost daily, trying to get on with life with a big hole in my heart and soul. Although, I am in so much emotional pain, and life is very sad right now, I would not take my own life, I know what suicide has done to me and my family and everyone that knew my brother. Sadness, profound sadness.
08/13/2014 at 9:47 PM
21 years ago my older brother also died. he was missing for six months and his body eventually washed up on a river bank. the official autopsy report says cause of death unknown. My personal belief is that he committed suicide. My parents cannot accept this point of view for religious reasons and it has driven wedges between our family members. Your point about the life of a child, the contagious energy that that child leaps at life with, moved me a lot. I too have children now, however, I get moments of panic and fear for my son who sometimes uncannily resembles the Uncle that he never knew. i know the fear is irrational and that my son will carve his own path, his own life, but I cannot help it. The pleasure of seeing him grow is mixed with the pain of being all too aware of what could go wrong and the powerlessness to prevent it. A powerlessness I have already experienced first hand. Sometimes I feel, even today, 21 years later, I am still living on the edge.
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