Life After Suicide – Les Patterson

My brother Shane was passionate about many things. He especially enjoyed fixing things and making things work better.

He had a particular knack for diesel engines and sustainable living using recycled shipping containers. Unfortunately, sometimes his passion and ideas seemed unpractical and were difficult to follow.

For Shane’s birthday a couple of years ago my brother Marc and I drove down to our hometown to spend the day with him. We chose to give Shane the gift of listening, choosing to be excited simply because he was excited. I can still see his grin and enthusiasm as he shared his passions.

Three short weeks later, Shane was gone.

Killed by suicide.

REMEMBERING SHANE

Shane was ten years younger than me. One of my earliest memories with Shane is helping him learn how to say his prayers. Later, when he was 11 he was my best man when I married my wife Elisa. He was a big kid who became a big man, standing nearly 6½ feet tall. He had a big heart. He was a wonderful brother who was also a son, a friend, and a “heck of an uncle.”

Shane will be remembered for this part of his life.

Shane had a passion for fixing things and making things work better. He was a jack of many trades, would try just about any job to make a living, and like to dicker and barter, generally hoping the other guy got the better side of the deal. He loved working with tools and excelled as a mechanic, especially diesel mechanics. He enjoyed his time on the road helping truckers and travelers continue their journey. Shane also learned upholstery repair, and his favorite hobby was designing environmentally sustainable buildings constructed out of used shipping containers.

Many will remember Shane for this part of his life.

Shane and I kept a close connection through the years. Yet, when I started raising my own family, I failed to realize the many challenges he was experiencing. Struggles with mental illness, sexual identity, and drug addiction led to a failed marriage, loss of his daughter, and several years in and out of prison. These will also be things Shane will be remembered for.

A RESCUER

Shane’s primary job as a mechanic was rescuing stranded travelers and truckers who broke down on the I-70 corridor in central Utah. He’d fix their vehicles and get them back on the road. Shane searched out those who were down on their luck and would often repair their vehicles for free.

In prison Shane reached out to others who were struggling and helped to lift them up. One friend from prison shared how Shane walked with him through many dark times. A prison guard told me how he never had to worry about him and could trust Shane with his back turned.

A close friend of Shane’s shared this very poignant account of how Shane rescued him from the darkness of suicide.

“Years ago I was at a low point in my life. I was rock bottom! I was suicidal with severe anxiety
and depression. I couldn’t eat, sleep, and so on. I had been hanging around with Shane for many years before this. But at that time it was all about fun and games… sort to speak. He knew right away that something wasn’t right with me and he took me under his wing. When I couldn’t eat, he would literally force food down my throat.

“When I couldn’t sleep he found ways to calm me down until I could fall asleep… Even during all those times that he could not even keep his eyes open at any given time because of his crazy mechanic schedule. He Always found time for me!

“We would go for long rides in his car and just talk and talk and talk. It was comforting talking to Shane. He always calmed me down… which was a Huge Boost for me at that time! His help Never stopped and Never will! In Shane’s own special way and with his Huge Heart he kept me going… at a time I didn’t want to. He really did keep me alive and going! I love you Shane and I will miss you So Very Much!!!”

I have pondered deeply how will someone who dies by suicide be remembered. As for Shane, I choose to  remember him as a rescuer who helped many continue their journey.

The pain I felt immediately felt after Shane’s death was so deep and so intense, I doubted if I would ever feel whole again. I felt like the grief and pain would never go away. Two things have given me the peace and strength to get up and move forward. The first was a gift, the second a process.

THE GIFT

On the day of Shane’s funeral, when we arrived at the church we grew up in as a family, I started to help setting up things for the viewing. But when I saw Shane lying there, all alone in his casket, I had to go be with him. I left the setting up to others and went in to see him. I pulled up a chair and sat down next to Shane. I held his hand and we talked. I poured out my heart and I tried to listen. I wanted to feel his pain and his loneliness. I wanted to feel the hurt and desperation that drove him to the point that he felt he had no choice but to take his own life.

But that’s not what I felt.

All I could feel was his love trying to fill my emptiness.

But it wasn’t working.

Some clarity and comfort came as I spoke from the pulpit during his memorial service, sharing my thoughts about how I felt his life would be remembered. I talked about his journey, full of struggles interspersed with successes.

I reached the conclusion, or at least felt the hope, it will be the totality of Shane’s life that will be remembered not just the final act.

At the cemetery the despair I was feeling started getting worse. All the resolve and hope I had built up during the funeral was quickly draining away. Elisa and lingered at the cemetery until everyone had gone except the cemetery crew and my friend Stan Poulsen with Magleby Mortuary. Stan invited me to help lower Shane’s casket into the ground.

That’s when the gift came.

The black cloud encompassing me since Shane went missing was lifted. Light filled the darkness. Hope replaced despair. I was no longer empty. I didn’t ask for it, it just came. A gift from God.

THE PROCESS

Healing comes in various forms. We each have to grieve in our own way. The Mayo Clinic, in their guide to Healthy Coping Strategies, says, “There is no single right way to grieve,” and that it’s important we do what’s right for us, not necessarily for others. For instance, they suggest, “If it’s too painful to visit your loved one’s grave site or share the details of your loved one’s death, wait until you’re ready.”

My coping process focused on two key elements. Talking and sharing. Talking about hard things makes them seem not so hard. Even difficult subjects like mental illness, depression, and suicide become easier to talk about when someone is willing to first talk about them.

I am willing.

We chose as a family to talk about Shane’;s death. That was our choice. While it may not feel right for others, it felt right for us.

Many people at the funeral, and since, expressed gratitude for our willingness to talk about suicide. Several said it made it easier for them to now talk and process their own feelings. One person, a mother who had lost a son, wished her family had been able to talk so many years ago.

I had written about suicide on a few occasions previous to Shane’s death. One of those was sharing the story of Sheldon Loveless, one of two men whom I deployed with to Iraq. I have since shared elements of Shane’s journey. I help raise awareness of the 22 military veterans killed by suicide every day.

Talking and sharing has brought a degree of healing for myself, my family, and for others.

Talking about it matters.

That’s why I share.

That’s why I will continue to share.

PHOTO CREDIT: https://unsplash.com/photos/jGbSl2lXcoU

THE LIGHT

If you have lost a loved one to suicide, I give you this eternal promise:  Light will always chase away darkness. Hope will always replace despair. When you feel you no longer have the strength to continue moving forward, strength will come.

You can help yourself because you are stronger than you realize. And when you are not strong enough on your own, reach out for help.

Call a friend. Talk to your minister, bishop, or spiritual leader. Join a support group. Seek guidance from a counselor.

Call me. I’m a good listener. I’m a good coach. I have steps and programs to help.

I reflect on the gift and the process which I have shared previously which brought much healing. The gift of peace that came at his funeral, and the process of continuing to share his story when the timing is right.

The timing feels right today.

Life can be pretty tough at times. If the darkness ever starts feeling too hard to handle, please know there is always hope, and there is always help. Family, friends, and resources are there to help.

There is also help available if you are worried about a loved one or friend who is struggling with suicidal thoughts.
If you have also lost a loved one or friend to suicide, I hope you are also finding your peace and your healing. I hope you find beautiful moments of happiness. I also hope you’re creating those moments of joy which are also a beautiful gift of healing.

If you have lost a loved one or suicide, how have you found peace? If you are struggling to find peace, what gives you the strength to move forward each day? I welcome your thoughts if you wish to share.

Thanks for letting me share.

Les

p.s. Take 13 minutes today to remember a time when you felt the light chasing away the
darkness.

Les Patterson is a storyteller, writer, blogger, and entrepreneur who helps people find and share their story — to create influence and impact in their personal and professional lives. You can read more of his stories at RedEdgeMarketing.com 

You Might Also Like

1 Comment

  • Reply
    Jessica
    July 22, 2018 at 2:57 am

    This is so beautifully written. Thank you so much for being willing to share your story. I’m sure your brother is looking down with love and thankfulness for sharing the memories he always wanted to be remembered by. Would you mind being a guest blogger on my site and sharing this?

Leave a Reply