Sunday, April 25, 2010


In my dream, Mike had come back.  It was my job to keep an eye on him while Mom and Dad were out.  I let him out of my sight for just a few minutes, and he drove off in his car.  I was frantically running around looking for him.  He had left another suicide note, written at the bottom of his last one.  I found it on the counter, looking out the window at the ocean.  When my parents got back, I had to tell them that he was gone.  Then I found myself talking to him in the next room, trying to talk him out of it.  But it wasn’t Mike—it was my daughter, telling me that she wants to die, too.  Then I wake up.

It doesn’t take a PhD in psychology to interpret that dream. 

The first part is telling me that there was nothing I could have done to stop him.  My conscious mind doesn’t completely believe that there was nothing I could have done.  It’s still stuck in “if only…”  I suppose my subconscious mind has to keep trying to hammer that point home until I get it.

The second part is my fear of something happening to Dolly.  Since Mike died, my anxiety level has increased dramatically.  I have a strong fear of losing someone else I love, which I really couldn’t handle right now.  I find myself being a little obsessive and over-protective of Dolly at times.  I also try to tell my family that I love them as often as possible.

I have nightmares almost every night.  In the beginning, my dreams were violent and twisted, often involving decapitation, which sort of makes sense considering how Mike died. I’ve had a lot of dreams about my parents getting killed, which again is fear of something happening to someone else in my family.  Mostly I have dreams about Mike.  In one dream he was Mike as a little boy, and he had become friends with Dolly.  I was watching them through a window, but couldn’t keep track of them.  In the dreams where he dies, I’m never able to get to him in time.  In the dreams where he is alive, I have to face his death again as soon as I wake up. 

Sunday, April 18, 2010


The police ordered a toxicology report as part of the investigation into Mike’s death.  I spoke to the detective about the results the week before the memorial.  The toxicology report showed nothing.  No blood-alcohol level, no illegal drugs, and no prescription medication.  There was nothing at all in his system.

What do these results tell us?

First, the results tell us that Mike was not intoxicated when he killed himself as we had originally thought.  He had no trace of alcohol in his system.  I can’t say he was sober, because in his suicide note he talked about how he was drinking again.  He may not have been drinking that night (or that morning—we’re not sure if he stayed up late or got up early to end his life), but he had been drinking in the weeks before his death.  I also can’t say he was sober, because to me, sober means having a clear mind.  Although he may not have been drunk when he died, he was under the influence of his mental disease.  Nevertheless, the idea of him reaching the conclusion he did without his crutch, demonstrates to me how much pain he was in.

Second, the results tell us that Mike did not commit suicide because he was taking Chantix.  We read that Chantix, an anti-smoking drug, has been linked to dozens of suicides, prompting an FDA investigation and stricter warning labels.  We know that Mike was taking Chantix in spring of 2009 to help him stop smoking, and that Mom and Dad told him to stop taking it.  When they cleaned out his apartment, they found an unfilled prescription for Chantix.  It seemed like one day Mike had been happy, the next he was stressed out, and then he was gone.  Given his rapid decline, it was hard not to wonder if something other than his own body chemistry caused his death.  Early on my parents seemed to disagree about the cause of Mike’s death.  Mom said it was the depression that killed Mike, whereas Dad believed it was the Chantix and talked about getting a lawyer or joining a class action lawsuit.  We learned that Chantix doesn’t linger in one’s system, and would therefore only be a factor if he had still been taking it.  With the toxicology results, we know we can’t blame the drug for Mike’s death.

Third, the results tell us that at some point Mike stopped taking his anti-depression medication.  We don’t know when he stopped, and we don’t know how he stopped.  We don’t know if he tapered off under the supervision of a doctor, or decided to quit suddenly on his own.  Either way, it was a life or death decision for him.  Mike was diagnosed with severe depression after his first suicide attempt at 16.  He was on medication ever since—or so we thought.  Mom would ask him occasionally if he was still taking his meds, and he would say yes.  How can you make a grown man who lives in another state take his medicine?  If Mike went off of his medication suddenly, he may have experienced withdrawal or SSRI discontinuation syndrome.  Again, a rapid withdrawal might explain his rapid decline.  Then again, antidepressants stay in one’s system longer, so if he had gone off of his meds right before he died, surely they would have appeared in the toxicology report. 

So what the toxicology report confirms is what we already knew:  Mike’s own brain chemistry convinced him to stop taking his medicine, to stop reaching out for help, and to stop living his beautiful life. 

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Grief is Exhausting

More stories next week.  The rain is slamming against my window, and I very much need some sleep.

In the meantime, check out some photos on Duncan's blog.

Sunday, April 4, 2010


Mom and Dad asked me to write down what I said at the memorial. Though not word-for-word, here is more or less what I said:

Mike’s best friend Chas was supposed to be here to speak today, but unfortunately he couldn’t make it up from Bluefield due to bad weather down there.  There was a large group of Mike’s friends who wanted to be here and are here in spirit.  Chas was then going to email something for us to read today, but unfortunately the Internet was down this morning.  He did send this text message:  “Please tell everyone that Mike touched the heart and minds of many, especially me, and he will be missed.”

As we were preparing for the memorial over the past couple of days, it seemed like everything was going wrong:  Mike’s friends from Bluefield couldn’t make it to the memorial, others couldn’t get off of work, and I had major computer problems that affected the slideshow.  Last night I was very upset about these things.  Then I realized and was reminded that we are not the ones in control, and things will happen for reasons we do not understand.  So we must rely on our faith in God to get us through this.

My brother Mike grappled with depression all of his life.  He fought really hard throughout his life, trying to control it.  But in the end, it was bigger than he was, and outside of his control.  For those of us who watched him struggle, we also felt that loss of control.  No matter how much we loved him, no matter how much we wanted to help, and no matter what we said to him or did for him, we could not prevent what happened.  So the only thing we can rely on during this time is our faith.  For reasons we cannot understand, it was Mike’s time.  God wanted Mike to be with Him.  And although this does not always bring me comfort, the best I can hope for is some day to find acceptance.

A couple of days before Mike died, he called me and left a couple of voicemail messages. I didn’t get a chance to call him back because I was too busy at work that day.  I never got a chance to talk to him before he died.  And so I will try now.

Dear Mike,

I hope you know that I love you very much, and am very proud of everything you accomplished in your life.  I know you have been fighting your whole life, and finally you have some peace.  We all wish we could have shouldered some of that burden, some of that pain for you.

Along with your struggles, you had many gifts.  Your sensitivity made you a great artist—in photography, in drawing, and in cooking.  It also made you sensitive to the feelings of others and able to care for them, whether organizing a fundraiser for the victims of Hurricane Katrina, cooking for the homeless, or helping your friend Jeff get through school.  You were also incredibly smart.  You had a sharp sense of humor, got straight As in school, and were able to understand things more deeply than other people.

It seemed like you were happier in Virginia Beach.  We have watched you take charge of your life over the past few years—leaving Parkersburg to go back to school, graduating at the top of your class, finding a job you loved, and showing special care to your patients.  I have especially enjoyed talking to you over the past year and a half.  We both wanted a closer relationship with each other, and it seemed like we were finally getting it.  I thought we would grow old together and you would be here to help me take care of Mom and Dad when they got older.  Don’t worry, of course I will take care of them.  But I thought you would be here with me, and I miss the adult relationship we were only starting to have.

Although your life was cut short, you touched so many people’s lives and were loved by many people.  That has become especially clear to us since you have been gone and we’ve seen how many people have reached out to tell us they are missing you along with us.  Our hearts are broken that you had to leave.  As you look down upon us now, know that you were and are a part of us, and we miss you like someone would miss an eye or a limb.  Yet, you will always be here with us.  We love you.