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When a relative commits suicide

ingmire family.jpg

(Left to Right) Jeff, Michael, George Ingmire. (Courtesy of the author)

When I was eight-years-old my father was murdered by a suicidal drunk driver on December 27,1965.

A tow truck driver had a fight with his girlfriend and left a suicide note saying he was "going to run into the first person he saw on Shore Drive." That person was my father.

A few days later, in a newspaper account of the accident, I saw for the first time the term, "murder suicide."

My brother had rehearsed his suicide more than once when I was still a teenager.

This is when my brother George became almost like a father figure to me. George was my hero and my friend.

Music was important to the two of us and my brother opened his extensive record collection to me at an impressionable age.

We shared a love of music and literature. When I became a performing Blues musician, my brother was in the audience at many, many shows and always cheered me on.

Every positive aspect of my life was supported by my brother.

Tragically, on September 14,1996, my brother George completed the act of suicide in a hotel room located two blocks from the site of our father’s murder.

The devastation and sorrow continues to this day.

My brother had rehearsed his suicide more than once when I was still a teenager. He had suffered from depression and alcoholism for many years.

My family anticipated the possibility of suicide, but no one is ever truly prepared for the death of a relative in this manner.

Now, because of social and economic pressures we are seeing an escalation in the rate of suicide in this country. This is greatly disturbing to me.

This column is an attempt to reach out to individuals and families to help them avoid some of the sorrows and pitfalls that I experienced in the aftermath of my brother’s suicide.

The following are the ways that I dealt with my brothers suicide:

1. Anger: If you are angry at your relative’s suicide, believe me, it is a natural reaction. You should not feel guilty for being angry, nor consider yourself limited as a human being for your feelings. In addition, the death of a family member by suicide is nothing of which to be ashamed. You were not in control of the situation.

2. Healthy Grieving: Fortunately, I came from a generation and background that encouraged the expression of feelings. Not everyone has this luxury; it is ok to cry. Confront and accept your feelings. While the consumption of alcohol and/or drugs may seem like an easy coping method to tap down your feelings, all you are doing is avoiding accepting the loss of your loved one. The aftermath of a prolonged period of drug and alcohol use stilts you emotionally and makes it more difficult to deal with the tragic death of a relative in a healing manner.

3. Actively Seek Professional Help: It is not a point of weakness when feelings of sadness or anger seem overwhelming. Please seek the assistance of a professional therapist. In addition, many communities offer suicide survivor groups. I found these groups to be helpful after my brother’s suicide. There is a comfort in sharing your sorrows with other individuals that have experienced the same tragedy. You are not alone.

4. Call Upon a Higher Power: It is prayer that separates the moment from the madness that will consume you. Whether praying for peace of mind or peace for the moment; the suicide of a relative will drive even the strongest among us to our knees.

5. Honor the Memory of Your Loved One: Creative expression from the soul, a song, poem, or a piece of art, greatly aids the healing process. Also, honor the memory of your loved one through the kindness that you bestow upon yourself and your fellow human beings. Donate your time and/or money to a suicide prevention organization. Always pay it forward in this life; you will be glad that you did. Here is a link to a song I wrote in memory of my brother.

If you have lost a relative or loved one to suicide, find your inner strength; time is the most important. 

Your life will be forever changed. The inherent spiritual wisdom gained in loss will prepare you to give back to society and improve the quality of the lives of others. 

It is difficult to change the entire world all at once, though we may wish we could; we can always contribute to the well being of our neighborhoods.

For those contemplating suicide, know that you are important. The devastation and sorrow that suicide leaves behind is catastrophic. There are so many other options to deal with your pain.

Following the precedent of positive support provided by my brother, I choose to honor his memory by positively supporting others. His spirit is ever-present as I perpetuate his legacy of support in my life.

Michael Ingmire is a musician, writer, and activist based in North Carolina. He is the uncle of Sean Smith, one of the four Americans killed during the attacks in Benghazi on September 11, 2012.