Needing to Breathe

Trying to decide what to tell your kids, if anything, about suicide is horrible. My husband’s brother took his own life Thursday. And I’m still waiting for the blast waves to wash over this already fragile family of mine. My husband and his mom are flying to bury their brother/son; the ache and sadness are beyond words. It’s coloring everything I see and feel- including the sunrises I’ve been watching because I cannot sleep. I just cry and cry, and I wasn’t even close to this sibling. It’s unfathomably sad he felt suicide was his best choice. Those left behind are fractured and devastated.

A friend and I were talking quietly in the hallway at church today, and she commented that if I were writing a story on this year, my editor would suggest I tone it down- I mean, really- so many crappy things don’t happen to anyone all at one time, right? It was hard to argue with her. Instead, we sat in the cavernous gym for Relief Society and somberly talked. It’s a good thing, too- the lesson was on dying.

I’ve noticed a ton of synchronicity the last few days. Maybe it’s always around and I’m only noticing because the bundle of raw nerves that passes for me these days has no walls, no defense, little protection, less barriers, no dividing anything. So I notice.

Once, when I was a girl, I drifted into the deeper part of the pool. Never a strong swimmer, I didn’t appreciate being in water over my head. The clear deeper blue and cooler currents gave away my drifting and I pressed my legs down, reaching and stretching and yearning for the solid touch of the bottom. Arms swaying, nose bobbing barely in the air, the fluid rolling edge of the water circling my upturned face, I could almost feel the rough blue surface, just beyond reach. Almost…

I know it’s there. I just have to give something up… only this time, I don’t know what I have to give. The rolling silver edge of the water is all around me, and I can’t figure out what I need more- to breathe, or to touch the Bottom.


  1. Tracy, I don’t have any good advice, but I wanted to tell you I’m sorry. I hope things get better soon, and you and your family are in my prayers.

  2. Tracy,

    A very good friend (and coworker) of mine killed himself a couple of years ago. I remember being in such shock that I couldn’t even function for a day. I just went to the movies to distract myself and give my brain some time to think.

    As I look back on it what was so frustrating was trying to figure out what to do with my emotions. I’m usually used to doing something about a problem, but this was a problem for me that I couldn’t figure out. I kept asking myself, “What am I supposed to do with this information?” It was one of the most difficult times in my life since I couldn’t figure out what I needed to DO.

    Once I started looking at the stages of grief, at least I could intellectualize my grief and realize that sooner or later I would find happiness in my life again. And I have. Frankly, loss is painful and I often think about my friend with longing, especially when a song he introduced me to is playing. Knowing that I will always have some pain (though it is no longer debilitating) has turned into a type of sweetness in a way, it has filled me with more compassion, which I wish I would have had without the experience.

    In practical terms, there are several things I can recommend and I will in a future post.

  3. Kevin Barney says:

    I’m so sorry to learn of this, Tracy. My prayers are with you and your family. Any death is hard, but suicide is particularly so.

    Your imagery made me think of Hebrews 11:1:

    Now faith is the substance of things hoped for,
    the evidence of things not seen.

    The word “substance” translates the Greek word hypostasis, which literally means “that which stands beneath,” from the compound preposition hupo– “under” and the stasis has to do with standing. The KJV English translation substance is the latinate analogy: sub– means “under” and the –stance has to do with standing. (So, for instance, the real person behind the mask in a play is hypostasis, the reality behind the playacting.)

    One of the ways this word is used is to refer to the ground under water on which one can gain a foothold. So if you are walking in knee-high, muddy water, all you see is the water, not the ground. But you take a step, having faith that the ground will be there, and that there is substance to your faith.

    This reminded me of your feeling for the ground under the water in the deep end of the pool, which is harder than the knee-high muddy water example. It is indeed an act of faith to know that the hypostasis is down there.

  4. Tracy,
    My thoughts and prayers are with you. I am very sorry for your loss and the understandable but deeply difficult struggle you are having. God be with you.

  5. merrybits says:

    I’m sorry Tracy. My husband took his life six years ago. My then-seven year old had to witness paramedics, the ambulance, the emergency room, and all that. Not to mention hearing conversations with the coroner and pathologists. I can’t write any more about it because it was and is just too huge. However, my daughter recovered quickly and beautifully. Thank heavens for the church. My advice: kids really don’t need to know about the “suicide” part. Normal death is enough to deal with.

  6. Tracy-

    Thanks for what you wrote. The post came up on my Google Reader as I sat down at the computer just now, and I didn’t know what it was about when I decided to read it, but I’m glad that I did.

    What a uniquely difficult issue to deal with.

    I’ve suffered from depression for years now, and while I’m over the worst of it, (though it’s hard to admit) this issue still sneaks in occasionally. I had actually fought off certain related thoughts just this morning, and your post reaffirmed the conclusions that I reached. Sometimes all you can do is hang on ’til things get better.

    I wasn’t sure if I should post this, but I wanted to let you know that your words have helped at least one person. So I thank you very much, and may the Lord bless you and your husband and family.

  7. Stephen Marsh, who is a regular here on the Bloggernacle, lost three of his daughters at young ages, and he has an excellent essay on Surviving Loss. His sites offer a good deal of helpful information.

    One of the things that is important to recognize is that the brain chemistry is altered by shock and grief. You need to give your brain some time to recalibrate and it may take a while. If you don’t find yourself able to function for an while (completely uselessly individualized, I know), you may wish to join a support group, engage in art therapy, etc. Stephen has many resources outlined at his site.

    Merely verbalizing the pain one is caused is often not sufficient to reconnecting the brain which has been “short circuited”. I have seen studies where individuals who have been in talk therapy for decades were able to make remarkable progress using imagery and sensory based therapies.

    One man told me how just having someone stand behind him and continuously tap his right shoulder and then his left shoulder while he answered questions related to his grief (he was a police officer whose partner had been killed), was able to gain a sense of peace that he had been unable to achieve previously. He said it reconnected the two hemispheres of his brain in someway.

    Anyway, I wish you the best and express my pain that you are in pain. You will be in my prayers.

  8. Aaron Brown says:

    I’m really sorry to hear this, Tracy. I wish I had some wisdom to impart. This is one of life’s inexplicable traumas that has never happened to anyone close to me, so I can only listen to an experience such as yours, try to imagine what it must be like, and undoubtedly fail.


  9. Tracy, I don’t have any good advice, but I wanted to tell you I’m sorry. I hope things get better soon, and you and your family are in my prayers.

    That’s all I can say too, but my heart goes out to you.

  10. Tracy,

    My heart goes out to you. My only comment is to not blame yourself. I’m not sure what thoughts were going through his mind at the time he decided he had no other choice, but it was still his choice.

    You and your family (and his) are in my prayers. May you find solid ground to stand on as you continue to go forward.

  11. By the way, concern over the future state of the soul of a person that kills himself is not something we should worry about according to Elder Ballard. He wrote an article in the October 1987 Ensign titled Suicide: Some Things We Know, and Some We Do Not, which I found helpful.

  12. Death pierces our armor. Synchronicity shows us God’s hand in all things. Trust him, relax just a little and you will float.

  13. Oh Tracy, I’m so deeply sorry. I’ve encountered suicide and suicidal behavior far too often in my relatively short life. The first time I was a small child and our neighbor blew his brains out in our alleyway. My parents said nothing at all; we children learned what the shotgun blast had been by evesdropping. Really, any approach is better than avoidance.

    I was going to refer you to Elder Ballard’s words, but see that Kent already has. As for your kids, I think admitting that we are at a loss is a fine thing to do.

    My prayers and thoughts are with you.

  14. We told our kids it was a gun accident while hunting. The only lie was that it wasn’t an accident.

    As they’ve gotten older, and as we feel they are mature enough to handle more of the truth, we talk to them about it.

  15. I’m so sorry to hear about this traumatic loss. No words can really help take away the questions or pain. I’ve had (2) individuals commit suicide in my life and I’ve watched as the families mourned, cried, became angry and healed very slowly. One family opted to tell the children it was an accident, unfortunately, other neighbor children knew the truth and discussed it openly with the surviving children. Perhaps it would be best to hear it from a family member first.

    All I know is that you are not alone and you’re in my prayers and thoughts.

  16. Beautiful, sweet Tracy. Thank you for sharing this. I’m so sorry you have to deal with it. I hope and pray for you and yours.

    Fwiw, you have an amazing gift. It really is astounding, and I believe our gifts are given partially to help us and others find peace and beauty in a sometimes lone and dreary world. Keep writing. No matter what happens, keep writing. The world is a better, lovelier place because you do.

  17. I have no words. I just want to second what Ray said, and to say I’m sorry. God bless you and your family.

  18. Tracy–thanks for sharing. I know by experience, oh sweet, but bitter experience what you and your family are going through. Four times, I’ve gone to friends, and loved ones funerals because they took their lives, the most recent in Jan. I would like to tell you the spiritual experiences I had with three of the four, but I will just say that God is a perfect judge, we don’t need to fear for loved ones and I know that the veil is very thin at times like this–family from behind the veil are around you by the thousands, those who have lived, and those who are yet to live. God’s comfort and blessing are available to those who will diligently cry unto Him in their hardest trials.

  19. Tracy, I had a close friend of 40 years shot himself two weeks ago. I had not seen him in years. I was told that issues/demons had taken control of his life.. My faith tells me he is now free of those things, and can now return to the good road I remember him on.

  20. Tracy, you’re in our prayers. I have lost several relatives and friends to suicide. A few years ago, I had to sing at the funeral of my cousin, who hanged himself. (So much was involved in what eventually became greater pain than he was willing to bear). My aunt requested I sing a particular song, and listened to it over and over as she tried to adjust to life without her son. This is the chorus:
    Rest, rest to the weary
    Peace, peace to the soul
    Though life may be dreary
    Earth is not thy goal.
    O lay down thy burden
    O come unto me
    I will not forsake you
    Though all else should flee.

    Blessings to you, dear sister.

  21. Mrs. Peacock says:

    My thoughts are with you and your family – I am so sorry for your loss.

  22. Hugs, Tracy.

  23. I mourn with you and your family. I would comfort you. I wish I knew those “perfect words” to say that would bring at least a measure of relief. Words fail. I will tell you that as I was in the temple on Saturday, in the Celestial Room, I was given the gift of the strongest feeling that Heavenly Father loves ALL of His children, every last one, no matter what they do, or think, or feel. He loves us all for no other reason than that we are His children and He is our Father-and it’s as simple as that.

  24. MikeInWeHo says:

    So sorry this tragedy has struck your family, Tracy M. You are all at the beginning of a very long emotional road. Hopefully your family members will seek out the many helpful services that are available to survivors of a suicide. People who have not been in your mother-in-law’s shoes, in particular, cannot even begin to really understand what she is experiencing.

    Professional support is definitely in order. I believe LDS Social Services can assist.

  25. Oh Tracy, I’m so sorry.

  26. Tracy, I’m so sorry as well. I did think of a verse to “Be Still My Soul”, with music by Sibelius, that is not in our hymnal, followed by the last verse we do have. I hope it is appropriate here.

    Be still, my soul: when dearest friends depart,
    And all is darkened in the vale of tears,
    Then shalt thou better know His love, His heart,
    Who comes to soothe thy sorrow and thy fears.
    Be still, my soul: thy Jesus can repay
    From His own fullness all He takes away.

    Be still, my soul: the hour is hastening on
    When we shall be forever with the Lord.
    When disappointment, grief and fear are gone,
    Sorrow forgot, love’s purest joys restored.
    Be still, my soul: when change and tears are past
    All safe and blessèd we shall meet at last.

  27. Tracy,
    Your writing is incredibly emotive and powerful.
    I wish I could give you peace and answers to this difficult situation. I do offer my condolences and my prayers for you and yours. God be with you.

  28. StillConfused says:

    I agree with #5, there is not a need for children to know the hows associated with someone’s departure from this life. That is information that does not need to be processed by young minds.

    Also, might I suggest that you find a different way of approaching / dealing with this. When my brother died, my family and I focused on the nobility of him giving his life in service to his community. We never cried or maoned him going to heaven even though he was the coolest man. When I see people suffer, I can only think of the peace and joy that comes from being back in heaven. While your brother-in-law was not terminal in the typical sense of the word, clearly there was something severe enough in his life that he needed to be free from it. Mourn the loss, but no bemoan the manner of the loss.

  29. My grandfather took his own life fairly recently.

    He left my grandmother for another woman when my mom was young, and had no contact whatsoever with me. He was not a part of my life in the smallest degree.

    A part of me thought I should feel something, but I just really didn’t.

    I hope to live the kind of life where others will miss me when I am gone.

    Good luck in this difficult time, Tracy. I would recommend being honest with your children when the time comes–I think it could be more traumatic for them if they think he has just gone to sleep or gone away, and they are expecting him to come back.

  30. Know that people (some you don’t even know well) care about you. *hugs* I’m sorry about your brother-in-law.

  31. Everyone has their agency. Life itself is the ultimate decision. We are not really in complete control of anything else. Let us hope, for those of us who choose to remain, that continuing to live offers something worth while. This is what I have learned, from those who choose to go on. And those who did not…

  32. I’m so sorry, Tracy. That sounds just devastating. Best wishes for comfort at what must be a very difficult time for you and your family.

  33. The loss of a loved one is hard for anyone, the loss of one by their own hand is unfathomable because one asks the question, “why didn’t I see this coming?”, “I could have changed it” and so on.
    The guilt of surviving….

    Having at a time in the past considered that action because of the burdens I thought I was bearing by myself, I can only share that those considering such thoughts do not give any one any hint whatsoever they are even on the edge of such a path.

    Given that, my prayers are with you and your family.