My sister, Carlton, committed suicide two years ago last October. We are all still recovering from the shock and horror that reverberated from her choice to end her life. I have only just felt ready to write about it. I guess I have finally reached some measure of acceptance.
Carlton was my older sister, the middle girl of three daughters of my parents. She was a beautiful, talented, funny woman who was loved by many. She had been a very successful artist--a jewelry designer, painter and interior decorator. She loved so much about life, especially nature, horses, art, travel and her two adult sons. She got to revel a lot in what she loved, including living in an historic home she restored in iconic Kentucky horse country and traveling all over the world. Unfortunately she had a tendency toward the highs and lows of bipolar illness which was not obvious to anyone, even her family. She’d had two unhappy marriages and two difficult divorces. Both of her sons are disabled with developmental disorders. They have suffered the most with the loss of their mother.
My sister’s death fit many of the cliché’s about suicide. She made one attempt with an overdose and cutting her wrists and was hospitalized briefly. Family and friends drew in close and she promised not to do it again. Two weeks later, when she seemed a little better, she drove to a nearby town on a perfect October afternoon and bought a pistol at a pawn shop. An hour later she lay dead in the grass at the foot of a tree not far off the highway. The state police found her the next morning.
The visitation and funeral were a blur. My whole family was a little crazy and there were so many arrangements to make. The grief was very acute for months. I became the executrix of Carlton’s estate which consisted of a house and land needing expensive attention and repairs, an outdated will and not a lot of cash. The family was split over what to do and tempers flared. I tried to step in and comfort my nephews as much as I could. The process of untangling this mess occupied me for nearly two years.
Now that the estate is about to close I want to write about what I’ve learned. It may take me awhile to discover and say all that is in my heart and mind but I’d like to use this blog to write about it. I have always had an abhorrence of suicide. I’ve spent my professional life working with suicidal individuals and teaching other mental health professionals about suicide risk assessment and management. None of this made this loss any easier as far as I can tell. But I have come to accept that I couldn’t/didn’t prevent my sister from taking her life and the whole experience has made me see even more how precious every moment of this life is.
So stay tuned for more lessons from a family member of a person who chose death.