The World Health Organization estimates that over 800,000 people die by suicide each year, and up to 25 times as many attempt suicide. In an effort to curb these statistics, the International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP) holds National Suicide Prevention Week the Monday through Sunday surrounding World Suicide Prevention Day (September 10). This week presents a great opportunity to focus public attention on the unacceptable burden of suicide, to promote understanding about suicide and to highlight effective prevention activities.
It is also the week I hide all posts from suicide-related organizations on my social media accounts and avoid the subject as much as possible.
It’s not that I don’t think these activities are important. I’m actually a huge advocate of the efforts of organizations such as the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). Over the last five years, I have participated in four of AFSP’s community walks and took part in the Out of the Darkness Overnight Walks in NYC, Washington D.C., Philadelphia and Boston (2016-2019). These walks provide access to a community of suicide loss survivors, suicide attempt survivors and a multitude of other people who support the cause of suicide prevention. The money raised at these events funds research for suicide prevention, allows AFSP to create and distribute education programs and support survivors of suicide loss. I’m not as invested as some, but I certainly believe in suicide prevention and support for those surviving a loss by suicide. How can I not be sympathetic to the cause when suicide has touched my life so deeply?
National Suicide Prevention Week, however, is the one week you won’t find me advocating since it coincides with the week I grieve the most. While many across the country up their enthusiasm for prevention during this week, mine becomes nonexistent.
I lost my brother to suicide on September 8, 2014. Five years ago this week. Every year, I face a week of memories: the last time I spoke to him, the night he died, the day of his funeral and burial. All of this coincides with National Suicide Prevention Week. So while others are advocating, I shut down all talk of suicide and focus on what really matters — remembering a brilliant young man who we lost too soon.
I focus this week on the person my brother was and the person he should have grown up to be, not on how he died. I celebrate how incredibly smart he was and on how annoying it was that he knew, from a very early age, that he was smarter than his big sister. I can’t help but wish the world could have benefited more from all the intellect he would have brought into an adult career. I remember nights spent talking politics and wonder how someone so invested in the good of this country could have never gotten the chance to vote. I think of Russian licorice soda and frozen grapes and birthday cake squirreled away until my arrival. I hold tight to his sense of adventure and try to live my life with this spirit in my every step. I remember his laugh and his sarcastic eye rolls. I cherish the way he encouraged everyone around him to follow their dreams and try to live up to his expectations by living the best life I can, even in the pain of his absence.
My life was forever changed by losing my brother, but I will never forget the magnitude of how the short time I had with him made every day sweeter.
He is more than suicide.