I know it was around that time, and I could go back and look at my phone, but I’d rather not. So let’s go with 1:30 AM.
I woke up to Bryant standing on the side of the bed, looking at his phone and saying, “Your parents are calling.” I immediately rolled over and grabbed my phone. I called my mom back, knowing it was one of three things:
- One of my grandparents was being hospitalized or worse.
- Something happened to my parents or my sister.
- Something happened to my brother.
For whatever reason, I was expecting to hear some bad news about my grandparents. I don’t know why. But that’s just what I was thinking. Sorry guys.
My mom answered and said, “Hi Honey. I’m going to give the phone to dad.” She was super calm, so I exhaled a bit. My dad got on the phone and said, “Hi, sweetheart.” Again, super calm. I replied, “Is everything okay?” He answered, “No, it is not.”
My stomach dropped and I sat up. Now I realize they were in shock. He said my brother’s name, and my world started spinning.
Eric and I are two years apart. Twenty-three months to be exact. His birthday is March 16th and mine is April 30th, so there’s about a month when he’s only a year younger than me.
It was just the two of us for eight years before my parents decided to have another baby. We traveled all the time as a family, so Eric and l got to be each other’s best friends. We were always together.
When we moved to Upstate New York when I was 14, he was 12 and my sister was four, we got even closer. We went to the same public high school, which had 300 students, K-12. So his friends were my friends. We all hung out together.
If you know anything about my brother, he was CRAZY. He’d get himself into ALL KINDS of mischief. I was the straight and narrow to his curvy and windy. So for sake of honesty, there were many times when I was home studying and being a nerd, and he was out running around the town of 2,500 people wreaking havoc.
I did my first year in college at a Bible Institute extension campus in Florida. I had two options after that first year: go on and pursue an actual degree or spend one more year at this Bible Institute main campus in my hometown. Honest to God, I chose to spend another year at this school, 10 minutes from my house, so I wouldn’t miss any of Eric’s basketball games, plays or special events. I love him so much that I added another year to the pursuit of getting a college degree (it took me five years to graduate with a B.S. in English Education AND Bible. All for you, E).
He did two years at this same Bible Institute and then transferred to the same college I was at to get his B.S., and then after college, he took a few months off and worked at the school in Upstate New York. Then he moved to Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. That’s where he met his wife, Krissie. They got married in 2011, almost a year after me and Bryant.
Fast forward a few years to when he was diagnosed with shingles. That’s when he was first introduced to opioids. The shingles were awful for him, but honestly, I don’t remember him complaining much. Since the shingles came back with a vengeance, he was able to continue to refill his prescription. It’s hard to know how everything went down after that, but what I will say is that opioids are nasty. And addictive. And he had an addictive personality. So it was a horrific combination.
Those of you who know him remember that back in Octoberish of 2017, he announced that he had cancer. My dad called me on a Wednesday night and said Eric had cancer. I was standing in the kitchen and bent over the counter because I felt like someone had punched me in the stomach. Eric called me the next day sobbing. I sat on the floor and cried, too. So did Bryant. That Friday, I got a call from my dad saying there was a warrant out for Eric’s arrest. So many of you probably read the article. Bottom line: He had gotten his hands on a lot of pills from a few veterinarians (he and Krissie have two beautiful dogs). The judge sent him to rehab for 21 days.
He was so embarrassed, initially. He didn’t want anyone to know. He was suicidal and so discouraged. I tried to be at his beck and call. I was scared. Here’s what I will say: once he got to San Antonio, rehab was amazing for him. He was the most clear-minded and himself I had heard him in years. He called me every few days and would just pour out his heart.
But, rehab was only 21 days. In my opinion, he was thrust back into real life way too soon.
A few weeks later, he started prepping for surgery to remove the kidney. After his surgery, he was in pain. He wasn’t sleeping well. And life just got tough. He left his family one weekend to Uber a few hours away. He called me and my parents and said he wanted to commit suicide. He said he was done with life. Tired. We were on pins and needles and on the phone with him talking and texting for hours trying to keep him alive.
Fast forward again to the summer of 2018. Eric and I had our last long conversation (two hours). He was incredibly honest. Things were not good. He was struggling emotionally, mentally, spiritually. But he was willing to try.
And then I feel like things just went from bad to worse. He and I didn’t speak on the phone again until fall. He had called my dad and had a good conversation with him. He was calling me now to apologize for the constant lying. I was frustrated because I felt like he was being flippant, but I told him I forgave him, and he said he forgave me, too.
But that conversation has haunted me. I was frustrated for many reasons after the phone call, and my counselor would advise me to set up appropriate boundaries with my brother. He was a self-proclaimed liar. He lied about everything. And he was hurtful at times. And while I was willing to take just about anything for him, at times it just got to be too much. And so we went on a sort of radio silence. Maybe we talked after that. I can’t remember.
What I can remember is a text I got about a month or two ago. He said, “Hey, you know I love you right? I just want you to know I love you.” I remember I got so scared when he sent that to me. He told me he wasn’t suicidal. He was working for UPS and had a lot of time to think and wanted to make sure I never doubted how much he loved me.
He texted me again on Christmas day and said he loved me. And that was the last I ever heard from him.
And so, knowing everything I do about my brother, when my dad got halfway through rehearsing the events of my brother’s day, I stopped my dad and said, “Dad, I have to stop you. Is he okay?”
And my dad’s next four words have replayed in my head since that January 5th morning: “Sweetheart, he hung himself.”
I’m sitting here frozen because I don’t know what to write anymore. I started wailing. Or weeping. I don’t know what I did because I kinda blacked out. I know Bryant leapt across the bed and grabbed the phone from me (I had put it on speaker for whatever reason – almost like my subconscious knew we were going to get life changing news that night) and held me while I doubled over and made sounds I have never heard myself make.
As soon as I had the wherewithal to think, I told Bryant to make sure Eric had not tried to call me. Even now I’m sick about this. I was hoping beyond hope he didn’t try to call me and somehow I missed it. And then I was so heartbroken that he didn’t try to call me. I had talked him off the ledge so many times. And in his last few hours, he didn’t try to call anyone. He was resolved. He was done. He was in so much pain and was so disappointed in himself that he figured the only way to find relief and to give those who loved him a fighting chance was to take his own life.
Have you ever heard someone say that suicide is the most selfish decision you can ever make?
I have. And I get why people say that. The person is free from pain, but his family (his wife, twins, mom, dad, sisters and in-laws) are left reeling. Broken.
For Eric, suicide wasn’t selfish. My counselor and I talked about this. His life was fragmented. At different seasons, you never quite knew which Eric you were going to talk to. Sometimes he was so kind and so funny. Other times, he was angry. And still others, he was distant. The pills offered a form of wholeness, calmness, if only for a moment. And then his fragmented life just overwhelmed him. He didn’t know how to hold everything together anymore. And so suicide was a form of escape, a way to go home.
I truly believe he was also wanting to protect his family and those he loved. He didn’t want to subject us to any more of his demons. He didn’t want to be a burden. He was tired and didn’t see any way to right all that had gone wrong.
And that’s what I think it is for so many. They get to such a dark place that they cannot see a way out. I know Eric knew that Jesus works miracles and saves and redeems. I just think he didn’t know how and couldn’t see it happening for him. Like he was too far gone. And like I said, I think he was tired. Worn down. Beat down. Exhausted.
Mental illness is such a horrific fight because it’s a fight with yourself. You know your deepest, darkest secrets. You know everything about you. And then people’s opinions and words only compound how you feel and what you think you see and know about yourself.
I know my brother had to have blacked out the last hour or two of his life because he loved life. He loved his wife and babies. But here’s what else I believe, the moment – THE MOMENT – he walked out that door for the last time, Jesus followed him. Jesus got into the car with him. Jesus walked with him through the woods and to the tree. And Jesus wept for my brother. But He stood there. Waiting. And when Eric breathed his last breath, Jesus grabbed a hold of him and took him to Heaven. How do I know this? Because Eric knew Jesus as his Savior and because Jesus gave me this vision a day or two after Eric died.
I think the hardest thing for me is the lack of closure. All the what ifs. The thought that he didn’t call me. Why didn’t he? Why hadn’t I been more patient and forgiving in the fall? Why didn’t I fly to Texas for his surgery to remove his kidney? He wanted me to. Why hadn’t I sent the gift card I promised for Christmas? Why didn’t I call him on Christmas day?
Why? Why? Why? Why?
The second hardest thing for me is the shock. Subconsciously, I can tell you that I’m just waiting for him to call. He will. We’ve gone this long before. He’ll call.
Suicide is an epidemic. It’s taking lives and destroying families. For those of you who have lost a loved one any other way and say you understand, I really appreciate it and you can understand a little bit, I guess. But if you’ve never had someone you love with all of your heart decide to take his own life, decide to leave you and everyone he loves because he just doesn’t feel the love and can’t find the safety and hope he so desperately needs, than you don’t really know.
I want to be angry at something. I wish I could be angry at a disease or a car accident because being angry at him just doesn’t feel right. And it’s so tempting to be angry with everyone else. To want to find someone to blame. But in the end, there’s no one to blame. Eric made a decision. And all I can do is disagree with it. But I wish he would have called someone, anyone, before he made this decision. But I really don’t think he could. Because he had made his mind up and he was doing what he thought was necessary, and he didn’t want to be talked out of it.
I don’t want my brother to have died in vain. He would want his story told.
He told us several times that he wanted to start a ministry for addicts. He would want you to know there is hope. There is peace. But you have to FIGHT to get it. It doesn’t come for free. It’s not easy. Sometimes you have to make awfully embarrassing, self-exposing decisions and deal with the aftermath. Sometimes you have to say, “Who gives a crap what anyone thinks about me or my reputation? I need help, and if I’m going to survive this, I have to get it now.”
Sometimes you have to decide that your healing is worth more to you than anything else, and it doesn’t matter how much it costs, you’ll go after it.
If you are considering taking your life, I get it. I was there.
I remember feeling so helpless. So hopeless. Wondering if God even existed and whether He loved me. I remember being so dismayed with myself. So embarrassed. I didn’t even know who I was or how I got to be who I was. I didn’t know how to go back and right all the wrongs. I just didn’t have a freaking clue. I was face down in our bedroom. Alone. Exhausted. And that’s when I heard the voice of Jesus say, “I love you. Even here. Even now.”
You see, Satan wants to silence us. He is out to destroy us, and in his mind, the mentally ill are weak. We are sitting ducks. And so why not take us out first? Because how POWERFUL is it when those of us go from mental illness to mental health? How many lives are impacted when we say ENOUGH and are courageous enough to seek help and healing? I’ll never forget the dream Bryant and I had on the same night when we were in the thick of my battle. I woke up screaming because I had dreamt that I was falling into a black hole and I heard Satan say, “I’m going to get you.” I tried crawling to safety, to Bryant, and Satan was holding me back.
We are in a war, guys. A literal war. Romans says it’s not against flesh and blood. No, it’s a spiritual battle for our minds and our hearts. We are all so broken. We’re broken physically, spiritually, AND emotionally and mentally. And Satan is out to break us permanently.
But he didn’t truly know my brother. He didn’t know how many lives my brother had touched. He didn’t know how well my brother loved. He didn’t know how well my brother served. And he didn’t know how many worlds my brother’s death would rock.
Please, please, please do not think your life is not worth fighting for. If you can’t fight for yourself, then let others fight for you.
My brother had so many friends at his funeral who came to me in tears because they had no idea. They wept because of what they wished they could have done if they had only known.
We have to speak out. We have to let people know that all – and I mean ALL – of us are hurting. Struggling. Sometimes losing. What is our reputation worth? Our lives? Someone else’s life? We need to stop hiding behind our fear of what people are going to think and just lay it all out there. When you fully grasp how much God loves you and what all He’s done for YOU, you won’t care what anyone else thinks.
And here’s something else: you don’t need to go back to go forward. You just need to take that first step now. Call someone. Get into counselling. Fulfill a prescription. Get rid of the alcohol. Flush the pills. Journal the lies of the enemy and then burn them. Get into community. Surround yourself with people who love you and who will fight with and for you.
And if you are doing this for someone and they take their life, it’s not your fault. You won’t have closure. You will get angry. You will ask why. You will feel embarrassed like everyone is blaming you and pointing fingers and making a grocery list of all the things you could have done differently.
This is why suicide is so unfair. The person who caused the death is gone. The person who wanted the death is gone. And those who would have died to keep him alive are left picking up the pieces.
But you have to still choose to move forward. Going back isn’t going to help you either. It won’t make the dead alive. But you have so much more life to live and you will live it differently. So live. Live the healthiness that your loved one was so desperate to find. Carry that person’s story. Tell it. Let it save someone. Let it bring life from death. It will never be the life you actually want, but it will save someone’s brother. Someone’s husband. Someone’s dad. Someone’s son.
And if we can spare one family the utter ache we are experiencing, well then. Well then.