What you should know about suicide in the wake of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain

Losing my youngest brother to suicide eight years ago changed my life forever. I know things now that I could never have known if I hadn’t experienced this terrible loss.


Here's what I think you need to know.

1.  You’ll never know why, and nothing good comes from speculating.

One of the most frustrating things about losing a loved one to suicide is the unanswered questions. Even whenever a note has been left behind, that note will never answer completely answer the question of why. The note might give you some idea to what they were thinking, but you can’t assume they are they are sharing what they were truly thinking in their note. Their last thoughts were likely so untethered that they themselves might not know why they are making this bad decision.

When famous people end their life, there is a temptation to try to answer why. It isn’t helpful to the family grieving or to your own mental health to try to pin an answer to something like fame or true happiness.

2. You need to examine your motivations for wanting answers.

Everyone wants details. The story is sensationalized. Why do we want to know?

Would you have listened to a podcast interview with Kate Spade last week? Would you have watched another rerun of Anthony Bourdain before this?

The details of their life go from mildly interesting to must-know the instant the news breaks of their death.

My suspicion is that you want to know details because you think you can isolate yourself from this kind of loss. You want to make sure you or your loved ones aren’t headed down a path that could end in suicide. The truth is you cannot isolate yourself from suicide. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States.

This fear is why people love to blame famous people’s suicides on fame. When you aren’t famous, you don’t have fame as a danger in your life.

Do you want to know because you genuinely care about the family affected? Do you want to know out of morbid curiosity? Do you want to know to reassure yourself that you are safe from this type of threat? 

3. You have no idea what the family is going through.

After living through the loss of my brother, I now know that it was impossible to imagine or explain the depth of emotions to someone else that comes when you have lost a loved one to suicide. I had experienced a near-fatal suicide attempt of another loved one previously, and it in no way compared or prepared me for the blow of actually losing my brother. The sudden loss is so beyond heartbreaking. I can try to describe some of the feelings that are unique to suicide loss, but even knowing these facts will not help you to imagine the loss. 

Suicide comes with a rejection that isn’t present in other deaths. When a loved one dies from cancer or an accident, you can know that they did not decide they wanted to never see you again.

Suicide comes with anger. With other deaths you can be angry at a disease, circumstance, or murderer. In suicide, your loved one is their own murderer. I was incredibly angry with my brother for years. I had to navigate grief and forgiveness at the same time.

Suicide comes with uncertainty. Not only do you have to come to acceptance of your loved one's death, you also have to come to a place of acceptance of not having answers. 

Suicide comes with guilt. No matter how your relationship was with your lost loved one before their death, you will inevitably feel as though the loss is your fault. It is not your fault. It will take years to accept that the blame for the loss cannot be laid at your feet.

4. Loss because of suicide can take a long time to grieve.

Because of the added stress, feelings to process, and stigma, grieving suicide can take much longer than typical periods of grief (as if typical exists.) The closer that a person was to the lost loved one can make the amount of time to grieve longer as well. Do not expect someone to be done grieving a suicide loss in a year, two years, or even five years. It would be better to see the grieving as a process that never ends during their lifetime.

5. Losing a loved one to suicide makes you 65% more likely to commit suicide.

This fact may contribute to the feelings many people have that make them want to isolate from suicide loss or reassure themselves that they are not at risk. You need to be aware of the statistic so you can be proactive. If you’ve lost a loved one to suicide, you will need to take your mental health very seriously for the rest of your life. Keeping your mental health in a good place is extremely important. 

If you have a friend, family member, or church member who has lost a loved one to suicide, it is important that you remain proactive in showing love and care towards them. Remember that it takes years to grieve this loss, and you will need to show support throughout the whole grieving process. You don’t have to have the right words, just show up for them and remind them that you care about them and their grief. Check in often, and make sure they are caring for themselves.

6. Guns make suicide-attempts effective.

Wherever you land on political arguments about guns doesn’t matter when it comes to this issue. The fact is that firearms account for more than half of the suicides each year. 85% of suicide attempts with a firearm end in death. Every other method has a higher survival rate. For example, drug overdose attempts are only 3% fatal.

If you or a loved one is at higher risk of committing suicide, please remove guns from your home.  My brother killed himself with a gun that our family wasn’t even aware he had.

Be aware of these facts, and I would advise you to lean towards safety.


7. Celebrity suicides bring up feelings of loss for survivors of suicide.

I remember exactly where I was when I found out about Robin Williams’s suicide. I will remember where I was when I read about Kate and Anthony as well. It isn’t because I’m a huge fan of their work. It is because feelings resurface. It is impossible to not think of my brother. Those feelings linked to his death rise to the surface. Guilt, anger, uncertainty, and rejection have to be processed again. I’ve gotten good at calming these feelings over the years, but I still have to go through the thoughts: It is not my fault. I forgive him. I will never know why. He loved me.


If you need more information, I recommend the book & the website The Gift of Second.

Please call if you need someone to talk to.

Book Review - The Gift of Second

In the summer of 2010, I lost my youngest brother to suicide.  That moment changed my family's life forever.  I have felt compelled to share about my experience of losing my brother in order to encourage people who are struggling with a similar loss.  I also have hoped to bring some understanding to my brothers and sisters in Christ who haven't dealt with this type of loss.

For the past year, I have had the privilege of writing a few blog posts for the website The Gift of Second.  It has been a great outlet for me to share some of my story.

I am thankful that Brandy Lidbeck began The Gift of Second as a safe place on the internet for survivors of suicide to connect and be encouraged.

Now Brandy has taken her own experience after losing her mother to suicide, her knowledge as a licensed therapist, and her observations found through running the site, and she has put all of this wisdom into a book also called The Gift of Second:  Healing From the Impact of Suicide.

The Gift of Second released on Amazon in mid-October, and I was so glad to read Brandy's kind and refreshing words around the subject of suicide.

Remember, there is no timetable or limit to grief. Be kind to yourself. Do not compare your grief to others’, as each individual person grieves each individual relationship differently. It is unique, and to shame yourself for not being ‘farther along’ in the grief process discounts the genuine feelings you have. Suicide is tragic, and we need to give ourselves permission to feel the enormity of all the emotions as they present themselves.
— -Brandy Lidbeck, The Gift of Second

Brandy writes about grief, guilt, shame, trauma, finding the right therapy, how to talk about the loss, and forgiveness.  As I read, I was so impressed how comprehensive Brandy's book was.  I couldn't think of a subject pertaining to suicide that was not covered.

After losing my brother, I read a half-dozen books related to suicide loss.  I was dismayed to find that many of the books were just plain weird.  Some of the books were overtly gory in the details they shared.

Brandy is very cautious about not sharing details that could trigger anyone into feelings of post-traumatic stress.  Her book is a safe place to process your feelings, and it is written in the voice of a sympathetic friend with professional, sound advice for healing.

I think we sometimes hold on to the guilt as our last sort of connection to our loved one. We often have a false belief that if we stop feeling guilty for not preventing the suicide, then we, by default, consent to it. It is simply not true.
— Brandy Lidbeck, The Gift of Second

If you have suffered a loss in your life through suicide, I whole-heartedly recommend this book.  If you know someone who has experienced this type of loss, this is a suitable, comprehensive book to gift them.  If you are on staff at a church, I would highly recommend keeping this book on your shelf to give families who come for funerals or counseling after a suicide loss. 

I would love it if you would comment below if you decide to purchase Brandy's new book and any thoughts you have about it.

I know this book will impact many lives, and I thank God that He lead Brandy to create it.

Why Melissa McCarthy impersonating Chris Farley last night made me tear up

I love comedy.  I love laughing.  This is the thing about me that my brother Jeffrey and I bonded on most often.  Jeffrey loved to laugh too.  Like me, he could find humor in almost everything and really nothing was to sacred to escape laughter and jokes.  My poor mother became the punchline more than once as we laughed at her doll collection or her Christian movies she bought over the phone.  She knew we loved her, but I know she hated when we would start laughing at things she took seriously.

There aren't a lot of things that I got in trouble for growing up, but I do remember getting in trouble for laughing too much multiple times.  Jeffrey and I had this in common.

Jeffrey was easily the funniest one in our family.  Me and my K-Mart vest
before work, and Jeffrey eating some clearly needed sugar.
This is one of my favorite pictures of Jeffrey because we
laughed and laughed about our perfect caption "bros before hose."

It has been over 4 years since Jeffrey committed suicide, and nothing reminds me of Jeffrey more than comedy.

Last night was the 40th anniversary special for Saturday Night Live.  I couldn't help but think of Jeffrey all night.  There were so many characters that Jeffrey worked hard to impersonate.  He could do a great Adam Sandler voice, and he would often burst into "Sloppy Joe, slop, sloppy Joe" or "Let me water your plants."

He loved Will Ferrell too, and we would regularly reference the dysfunctional family dinner when we were eating together, taking turns yelling, "I drive a Dodge Stratus!"

But both of us agreed the best ever was Chris Farley.  He was our favorite.  There wasn't a skit or movie that Chris Farley had been a part of that we didn't know front and back.  Jeffrey even owned and loved Farley's rarely remembered film Almost Heros.

Lines from Tommy Boy and Black Sheep became everyday slang at our house.  And Chris Farley's character on SNL, Matt the Motivational Speaker was the best.  "In a van down by the river" and "I'm bunking with you guys" was constantly discussed and imitated.

Which brings me to my teary moment last night.  Chris Farley passed away in 1997, the year I officially left home and married James.  Melissa McCarthy did a beautiful job impersonating Matt the Motivational speaker last night.  It was a beautiful tribute.

As everyone remembered the big guy who made so many happy with laughter, I couldn't help but miss my brother.

Here he is improv impersonating Chris Farley's Tommy Boy song "Fat guy with a little coat" swimming pool style.

I know if he were still alive, I would have been calling or messaging him to ask if he was watching.  We would have recapped all the funny parts as soon as we talked again.  Most of our conversations began with a quick recap of all the funny things we had seen lately, what movies had we seen, what was funny on SNL or Conan, or what tv shows did we think were funny lately.

Losing Jeffrey to suicide makes things more complicated than a usual loss.  There are three emotions that I can't let go of completely and probably never will.  These are regret or guilt, anger, and lack of closure or goodbye.

Anytime I think of Jeffrey one or all of these emotions are present.  Last night it was the loss without a goodbye that was bothering me again.

The only thing that helps me get through these moments of grief is remembering that Jeffrey is with Jesus now.  The other thing that helps is remembering that Jesus knows how I feel.

Whenever I was young, I remember joking (I'm telling you I'm always joking) about how you can easily memorize the shortest verse in the Bible and there's another memory verse done that you can brag about.  That verse is "Jesus wept" found in John 11:35.  As a teen, that verse was anecdotal and shallowly sweet, but that passage has come to be a deep comfort to me after losing Jeffrey.

The story is a recounting of the death of Jesus's close friend Lazarus.  After studying the story, I began to realize all the reasons Jesus wept.  He did not weep for Lazarus's death because if we read the story, Lazarus is raised from the dead and brought back to life.

My brother Jeffrey has also been raised and brought back to life with Jesus.

I believe the main reason Jesus was weeping was out of compassion for Lazarus's sisters Mary and Martha.  They had just lost their brother Lazarus and spent 4 days morning the loss.  It is obvious to me that Jesus has compassion at the loss of my brother, but Jesus's tears are a physical reminder of that fact.  Jesus sees my loss and my grief and he responds to it.

The other reason that I believe Jesus was weeping was that, in that moment, he longed to spend time with his friend Lazarus again.  He had not said goodbye to Lazarus, and he felt loss.  When I long to spend time with my brother and morn my lack of goodbye, Jesus knows how that feels.  Jesus has wept those tears.

I praise God that I have a savior that understands my hurts.  I praise God that I have a savior that understood Jeffrey's hurts.  He loved and understood Jeffrey better than I ever could.  He has given Jeffrey forgiveness, love, compassion, and a new life.

"Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha met Him. Then the Jews who were with her in the house, and consoling her, when they saw that Mary got up quickly and went out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. Therefore, when Mary came where Jesus was, she saw Him, and fell at His feet, saying to Him, 'Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.' When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled, and said, 'Where have you laid him?' They said to Him, 'Lord, come and see.' Jesus wept. So the Jews were saying, 'See how He loved him!' But some of them said, 'Could not this man, who opened the eyes of the blind man, have kept this man also from dying?'" John 11:30-37 NASB, emphasis added

Here's a couple Chris Farley singing moments.

This song always reminds my of my brother.

Healing plane ride

It was Thursday, August 14th, 2014, and Barry, Shelley, Libby, and I boarded our first of three flights that would take us to Africa.  That first flight was from Amarillo to Houston.  We would have a small layover there before flying to Washington D. C. to stay the night.  The next morning would be the long, long, long flight to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.  

My seat is 1A.  I am in the first row, and there is only one seat in my row.  I have a strange view of the cockpit.  Too bad they have to shut the doors during the flight.  That would have been interesting.

There were so many things to wonder and think over on a flight that was beginning a journey to Ethiopia to serve at orphanages.  I had brought my Amharic flashcards for last minute study.  I had endless amounts of music on my iPod.  I had my Bible of coarse.  There was no end to the questions I had about our trip.  I had no idea what to expect.

But the thing I couldn't quit thinking about was the last time I had flown from Amarillo to Houston.

That day was July 21, 2010.

Early that morning, I had gotten a phone call that changed my life forever.

Phones ringing in the middle of the night was a common occurrence that summer.  Citychurch had just contracted with Allstate for security of the building downtown.  James and I were both on the call list.  Anytime someone came in early and set the alarm off  (which happened so often, I can't count) or a homeless person was acting unusual around our building, our phones would ring.  First James's phone would ring and go to voicemail, then my phone would ring and go to voicemail, as we tried to sleep knowing someone else would answer and handle the non-emergency.

That morning, my phone rang first, then James's phone rang.  I was jarred awake with the thought - that is not Allstate calling.  James answered.

My sleepy brain began to swim through likely scenarios.  It landed on one.  My aunt Edna's heart surgery.  Was that it?  My dad had told me she was recovering well before I went to sleep that night.

I could tell it was serious by James's groggy tone.  He hands me the phone saying, "It's your dad."  His news is unbelievable.  My brain will not let it sink in.

Jeffrey is dead.  My little brother has shot himself.

My dad's despair and heartbreak is flooding through the phone into my ear, but my brain builds a fortress.  I am in shock.

I do such random things that morning.  Pack my bag.  I have to be there for my parents.  How many diapers can I fit in this suitcase for my 2 month old Gabe?  I have to take care of my parents.  I have to take care of this baby.  I cook breakfast.  I never do that, but I feel such a need to make muffins.  I watch the news.  Something else I never do.  James buys me a plane ticket.  I look at Jeffrey's FaceBook page.  What was he thinking?  Is he really gone?  He was only 24.

The thing I do not do is cry.  My fortress is up.  My belief that this is real is still nonexistent.

James takes me to the airport.  Gabe and I get on the plane.

As the plane takes off, the only thought remember thinking is, this plane cannot crash.  My parents cannot lose two children in one day.

I have to take care of my parents.  I have to take care of this baby.

I get off the plane.  I get go to get my bags.  There is my mom, my dad, and their pastor.  It is true.  This is really happening.

We ride in the pastor's car to my parent's house.  It is an hour long drive.  When we pull into the driveway, extended family members are waiting.  They have driven from Ft. Worth to be supportive during this tragedy.  As I hug my cousin, Kathy, and the tears finally come.  She is here for me.  She's here to help and support me.  I can let go of the armor.  I let the fortress fall.

These are the memories that roll through my mind as I fly on my mission trip to Ethiopia last August.  But it wasn't all sad.  I had such a gratitude, a deep thanksgiving to God, that I was flying this flight from Amarillo to Houston to do His work, flying for a good reason.

I was overwhelmed with gratitude for the life He has given me.  As we fly, I hide my tears of loss and thanksgiving.  I was thankful to be sitting alone in my row of one.

It was healing.

I wondered on that flight why God would start that trip out with such an emotional reminder of that day of loss and brokenness I experienced in the wake of suicide.  But it was really a silly question.  Why wouldn't God want to start me in a place of weakness and sensitivity to His Spirit and remind me of my trust in Him?  Why wouldn't God want me to remember my loss before I went and held children who were marked with loss, marked as orphans?

God used my willingness to serve Him to heal my wounds.  This wasn't the first time that serving the Lord would serve me, and it won't be the last.  God has used my ministry to repair my heart over the last four years and refocus my humanity and compassion to serve others.  And in serving others, God ministers to me.

If you have scars and wounds, pray about serving God in some way.  Ask Him what you can do for others.  You may still have a fortress around those scars and bruises, but God has the remedy for healing.

Worship God with me.  

Can we also praise The Lord for xylophones?  They are marvelous.