Every day people struggle with negative feelings. Some folks move in and out of them easily, while others get stuck in them and choose to end their lives.
When a celebrity takes their own life the media is quick to respond. TV and radio show hosts bring on experts to discuss suicide prevention and ads for antidepressants run more often. The philosophy behind this is that celebrities’ deaths might create even more despair in folks who are struggling. Various types of counseling centers announce life lines on social media. Memes about mental health make the rounds again. People like and share them thinking that they understand and are contributing to this awareness campaign. But the truth is that most people are more likely to criticize, judge and condemn people struggling with an emotional issue rather than have genuine compassion for them. Genuine compassion is a rare commodity.
Several years ago—shortly before my brother took his life—I came across an article that looked at suicide from a spiritual perspective. The author suggested that the life lessons that Spirit chose for those who take their lives were far too difficult. The choice to end this life and go back to the safety and comfort of the hands of God seemed like the only course of action. I remember thinking about this article in the days after my brother’s funeral and wondering if this theory applied to him.
Our childhood was filled with difficult challenges. When my brother “committed” suicide I felt an incredible amount of guilt. How did I not see this coming? There had to be signs, right? I had spent years studying psychology, had just completed a holistic counseling course that took the better part of a year, yet I didn’t have a clue.
My mind is good at analyzing things, categorizing, recognizing traits and symptoms. I was all science brain back then but a small part of me was Spiritually connected, and thankfully I paid attention to that small part. Two days before my brother’s suicide, I was in Calgary, a city eight hours from my brother by car. Suddenly, I was overcome with a feeling that I needed to get home. I went in the house and immediately announced to my friend that I would be leaving the next day.
At nine o’clock the next morning I loaded up my 4-wheel drive SUV and started on the road to Regina. By noon, the highways surrounding the city I just left were closed due to an intense winter storm and the highway two hours outside of Regina was extremely icy. When I finally got home, I called my brother, who always watched my house when I was away, to let him know I made it home. He said he was glad I got home safely and said he’d stop by the next day for a visit.
Saturday January 8, 2011 was the last time I would ever see my brother. We talked about our Christmas holidays over coffee and treats. It was a typical visit with my brother, although I sensed something wasn’t right. My brother had a mental health history. He had been diagnosed with dyslexia and OCD among other things. After our dad passed, he started seeing a psychiatrist and was put on antidepressants. He had attempted suicide many years before but survived. Anyone who knew him was aware that he marched to the beat of a different drum, so odd behavior wasn’t necessarily a sign.
After our visit, he drove home and sat in his vehicle, inside his garage with the engine running, until his body was overcome with carbon monoxide. The following Tuesday morning, I received a call informing me that he hadn’t shown up at work and hadn’t called in sick. I immediately knew the truth of what had happened.
It took a long time for me to forgive myself, my brother and God. Why was I given the Divine message to go home, but not alerted to what was going to happen?
There is a bigger plan, and like Gandalf says, no one can see all ends, and we aren’t meant to either. That’s what faith is about. There was nothing I, or anyone else could have done to keep my brother from taking his life, but I most certainly could learn from it.
Years after his death, I realized that I didn’t have genuine compassion for my brother. I had an intellectual understanding of his “condition”, but I didn’t have genuine compassion for him. At the time, I didn’t even have genuine compassion for myself!
Since then I’ve learned that there are many things that contribute to the decline of a person’s mental health: childhood trauma, rigid perspectives, lack of a spiritual practice and diet for starters. Life doesn’t have to be so difficult. We are given everything we need to get through the life our Spirit chose, we just have to get out of the way of our ego and be open to the guidance we are given.