Suicides of Anthony Bourdain, Kate Spade – and my brother – can teach us important life lessons

I was deeply saddened to read that fashion designer Kate Spade and celebrity chef and CNN storyteller Anthony Bourdain took their lives this week. Their tragic deaths highlight a growing national problem.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Thursday that suicide rates in the United States increased by an alarming 28 percent from 1999 through 2016. The CDC reported that in the U.S. in 2016 there were nearly 45,000 suicides – more than twice as many suicides as homicides.

Spade and Bourdain were by all accounts wonderful people, and both left behind grieving daughters, families and friends.

Those of us who did not know Kate Spade can get a sense of how wonderful she was from a moving Instagram post Wednesday by her niece, the actress Rachel Brosnahan, who described her as having “a light that words can’t capture” and said that Spade “was exceedingly kind, beautifully sensitive, insanely talented, funny as heck and one of the most generous people I have ever known.”

CNN correspondent Christiane Amanpour tweeted Friday morning that Bourdain was “a huge personality, a giant talent, a unique voice, and deeply, deeply human.”

I would like to offer my prayers for Kate Spade, Anthony Bourdain, and all their family members and friends.

I empathize with the shock and heartbreak their loved ones are surely feeling now. My beloved brother, Terry, took his own life nearly three years ago. I did not see it coming and was devastated by the news.

Let me share with you some of the thoughts that ran through my mind and heart after Terry took his life, in the hope that this might help others in some small way.

Terry’s death taught me that even the strong among us have their limits. My brother was as mentally and physically strong as anyone I know. Yet even he clearly reached a point where the burden he was carrying became too great to bear.

News reports stated that Elyce Arons, a friend and business partner of Spade, said that her “sadness” developed over time and that “she really felt she could power through it on her own.” Arons recalled that when Spade heard of a celebrity suicide she said “I would never do that.”

Bourdain told People magazine in February that he had contemplated suicide several times.

We all need to recognize our limited ability to go it alone during life's most difficult moments, and to lean on others when we can’t make it alone.

We also shouldn’t wait until tomorrow to tell our loved ones how much they mean to us. I continue to have conversations with my departed brother, in part because there are things I wanted to say to him but never did.

Hopefully, we will all live long, healthy and happy lives, but tomorrow is not guaranteed to anyone. So it is best to tell those closest to you how much they mean to you today.

Had Terry told me or anyone else in my family that he was struggling we would have done anything in our power to help. But he didn’t and I didn’t sense it on my own. If we don’t tell the people who love us what we need from them, they can’t to provide it to us.

If you think a loved one is struggling, ask how he or she is doing and whether you can help, even if it feels a little awkward or uncomfortable.

One of Terry’s last trips was to Mexico, and I was shocked at how thin and frail he looked in a photo standing on a paddle board. But I assumed he knew what he was doing with his new extreme diet and didn’t call to express my concern. I surely wish I had. It is far better to ask at the cost of some discomfort than to not ask at the cost of lasting regret.

Finally, remember to live each day fully. As the Indian spiritual writer Osho observed: “The real question is not whether life exists after death. The real question is whether you are alive before death.”

I will always have some pain in my heart at the loss of my brother, but I also have a stronger desire than ever to live as fully as I can, to make the most of every precious moment and opportunity.

I wish Terry, Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain the deep and everlasting peace that escaped them during their final days among us. I believe in a God who is above all things merciful, and so I trust they are embraced by a comforting love that is wonderful beyond our capacity even to imagine it.

Let those of us who remain live and love even more fully than before and experience the deep and lasting joy that accompanies making the most of whatever borrowed time we have.

Should you ever be tempted by the thought of suicide, please call someone who loves you so they can remind you how precious you are to them.

And should you ever receive a call from loved ones who are struggling, make the time to be with them, tell them how much you love and need them, and hug them like you don’t want to let go.

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).