Saturday, August 1, 2015

Suicide: The Transfer of Suffering

A meme came across my Facebook page recently that read, "Suicide does not end the pain, it gives it to someone else." I have had my foot on the edge before - I know all too well the sound of your own voice screaming so loudly in your head that nothing else can seem to quiet it.  In those dark moments, all a person can think of is ending the pain - but the solution that often comes to mind...taking our own life... does not end the pain, it multiplies it and spreads it to those we love.

On November 16, 2014, I lost my "baby" brother, Scott Lavey to suicide. I have been debating for some time to tell the story of that day here in this blog - not for my own sake - but in the hopes that someone thinking of taking their own life will stumble across it, read the story, and hopefully think twice about their decisions and how those decisions can impact not only them, but those whom they love.  

I had such a hard time putting my thoughts into words - expressing the jumble of images in a coherent manner that would make sense to the reader.  I wrote, re-wrote and edited this entry numerous times and still feel it is choppy and just plain... cold.... but it's the best I can do.  I can't make this story into a "good read" because it's not meant to be. It was the most horrific time in my life and there just isn't any easy way to say what's in my mind when I think back to this time or try to express what I feel in the present.

I would like to reiterate that the purpose of this entry is put out there into cyber space this story so others can hopefully learn from this tragedy and perhaps another tragic death can be prevented. 


Since I wasn't there for the actual event, I can only tell bits and pieces from what I have been told by my mother. I'm keeping details of the actual death to a minimum as it is my own experiences dealing with Scott's death that I can personally speak of - and the events in Scott's life that may have led him to make this decision were his own.

My mother was on the phone with my Dad who was spending the weekend hunting at my uncle's home in the south towns.  A call was made to the local police that one of Scott's friends feared he may take his own life.  My bother Joe, who was with my father, and who works for the local EMT company got word from his co-workers about the call immediately.  My mother went downstairs and Scott was not asleep on the couch where he would normally be after a night of drinking.  Dad instructed my mother to look in the garage - look outside - find him.... She opened the garage door to find Scott laying on the concrete floor just behind the door.

Mom hung up the phone and immediately called 911.  She told the woman who answered that her son had shot himself - the shotgun laying at his feet.  He wasn't breathing.  The operator asked Mom if she would like to try CPR.  My mother agreed but didn't know how - before the operator began instructing her, my mother pleaded with the woman, "please... pray for my son."

Scott had taken a hunting rifle that belonged to my great-father and shot himself point blank in the chest.  He died immediately.

I read the coroner's report when my parents received it months later. It goes on to give his age, weight, height, distinguishing marks such as his tattoos and his vitals.  He was listed as an extremely healthy 25 year old.   My parents were advised by the coroner not to read the final two pages of the report as it went into great detail about the gun shot.  My parents and myself read it - I can't tell you why we felt it necessary, but we did.  I sat there reading in great detail the havoc that bullet did to my brother... to think something so small can cause so much damage.

It was Sunday morning and I was on my way to 9:00am Mass in downtown Buffalo.  It was a grey November morning, cold - hardly any cars on the road as I drove down the highway along the Niagara River.  As I was approaching my exit, my cell phone rang.  I could tell by the ringtone that it was my Dad.  As I reached for the phone I thought, "why on earth is he calling me.. he knows better than to call me at this time on a Sunday."  Then it hit me... Oh God.. maybe something happened to my Mom!

I answered the phone to the sound of my father crying on the other end.  I know I have seen my Dad with tears in his eyes before, but I can't tell you another time I heard my Dad cry.  "Mike - Scott's shot himself, he's dead."  How I did not hit the guard rail, only God knows.  My eyes were filled with tears and I was literally wailing when I hung up the phone.  I sped the entire way home -- a good 25 minute drive...praying to be pulled over in the hopes I could get a police escort or a cop might drive me home.

All I could think about as I was driving was getting home to my mother.  She was alone in the house and with Scott's previous bouts of depression and struggles with alcohol was horrified something like this would happen.  Now her worst fears had come true and in that moment of darkest pain, my mom was all alone in the house.  I wanted to hold her so badly and tell her everything would be ok - I wanted her to hold me like she did when I was little and tell me the same: it would be ok.  "Why, Scott?? Why, Scott?? I'd keep yelling as I tried to focus on the road - trying to see through the tears.

I drove down my parent's street and saw all the cop cars and emergency vehicles parked outside. There were so many that I had to park a few houses down from my parent's home.  I got out of the car and ran towards the house. There were police officers outside the garage - I never looked in, guessing that was where it had all happened. "Where's my Mom?!?  Where's my Mom?!?" was all I could say to the police officers.  They told me she was upstairs in the living room.

All during the drive home I kept thinking, "Mom is all alone.... I have to get home... Mom is by herself." My sister in law Katie who lives near by had been the first to arrive at the house and was with my mother. I met Katie at the top of the stairs and just hugged her.  My mother was on the couch, still in her nightgown, rocking.  I sat down next to her and put my arm around her and just cried.

As much as I wanted to hold my Mom and never let her go - I couldn't bring myself to stay with her - and for this I will forever be ashamed.  Even as a kid, the sight of my Mother crying has been hard on me.  If my mom was ever hurt enough to cry, something in me always shut down.  Seeing her - her face filled with pain - I couldn't handle it.  I walked over to the kitchen stools a few feet away, still wearing my coat, and hung onto the back of those stools and just rocked....leaning down, putting my head in my hands and squeezing my skull - thinking I could some how contain the pain and grief - I just stood there....rocking...sobbing into my hands... shaking.

I knew my older bother Joe was on his way home with my Dad.. but they were still a distance away.  I kept waiting for my sister Kristy to arrive.  I needed to see Kristy - I was told she was coming but I kept waiting for her.  I needed her to be in the room to know she was there.  She'd go to Mom. She'd do what I couldn't do in that moment.

I wanted to see Scott.  It was really bothering me that he was alone - no family beside him. The officer who stayed upstairs with my mother would not let me anywhere near the garage door.  We were waiting for the coroner, which to us, seemed like forever. I sat in Scott's room for a while until the police came in to take pictures.  This was, after all, considered a crime scene. Once reports were made and the coroner signed off on the paperwork, it was time for the ambulance to take Scott's body away.

I wanted to go to the living room window to see Scott put in the ambulance, but was again gently stopped by the police officer.  "You don't want to see that", I was told.  I knew what I would be seeing... I knew he'd be in a body bag... I knew it would be hard... but I had to.  Even from the window I had to be there, with him... how could he be taken from his home...our home... without one of us with him?  I wanted to argue my case with the police officer but decided that was not the time for a debate.  Back to the kitchen stool I went...hanging on as if for dear life as Scott left our house for the last time.

 I was surprised to hear that it was the family's responsibility to clean up any "mess" after an incident like this.  One police officer did offer to dispose of the blood soaked door mat for us which we were thankful for.  By the time the police had left, more family had come to the house and I decided to face the scene in the garage. I walked out into the cold concrete room and stepped over the threshold where Scott's body had been.  There were still traces of blood on the concrete even after the mat had been removed. I crouched down and laid my hands on the cold floor.   When I rose, I started looking through the shelves for paper towels and cleaners that I new my Dad kept there.  I was numb, but I had to do... SOMETHING. I knew I didn't want my parents to see any trace of blood, but I'm not sure why I felt so compelled to do it myself.  When Kristy's boyfriend saw what I was about to do, he stopped me and insisted he take care of the cleaning.  It was very kind of him, but again -- I just felt it was something I needed to do... just like I felt I should have been able to watch him be taken to the ambulance. Still.. I didn't have the strength or will to argue or explain my feelings - I quietly walked away.

In the laundry room was a pile of Scott's clothes sitting in front of the washing machine for Mom to wash that morning.  I thought at least I could do this - I could wash this big pile of clothes so Mom wouldn't have to.. thinking I'd be sparing her the pain of having to do his laundry.  Little did I know that I now was taking something away from my mother.... the ability to do something for him one last time.. just as I had wanted to do in the garage moments earlier.

I went into the downstairs tv room and sat on the couch Scott often watched tv from or would fall asleep on at night.  I looked around at all the reminders that he had been there - his slippers, his video game controllers and dvds, his pillow and blanket.  In that moment the numbness began to wear off and was quickly - and briefly - replaced by anger.  Sitting there I picked up his pillow and whispered, "you son of a bitch."

I've lost many people whom I loved over the years, but when a tragedy like this hits, your range of emotions seem all the more intensified.  You're devastated and shocked at what happened, fall into despair over the loss, filled with anger at the decision that was made, guilty for the anger you feel or for the things you "could have done".  The sadness would randomly hit you like getting punched in the stomach, and when the sadness subsided the throbbing feeling of emptiness remained.

A few days prior to that Sunday, my parent's decided to put up their Christmas tree.  They were going out of town soon and my Dad would be out at his bother's hunting, so my Mom wanted to get the decorating out of the way, but also give herself more time to enjoy the decorations since she would be away for a time in December.  Assembling the artificial tree had been something Scott and my Dad did together, and before going hunting, the two of them assembled the tree (no easy task!) and strung the lights.  That Sunday, while the house was empty, my Mom was planning on leisurely decorating the tree.  Instead, the tree stood in the corner of the room, empty, as our world came crashing down.

A few days after the funeral (a week after his death), I stopped off at the cemetery to visit Scott's grave. My parent's did not have any plots when Scott died and purchased a family crypt at the cemetery where most of my family was laid to rest.  He's in the same mausoleum where my Mom's parent's are interred.  Actually, he's right around the corner from Grams and Gramps - we had to laugh...  in life, my Grandparent's lived so close to our house (one mile away), and now even in death they'd still be right around the corner.  Scott's grave is located on the inside of the mausoleum which makes it nice to be able to visit - you don't have to worry about the weather. I pulled a chair over to sit, and prayed quietly for a while.  It was a bit odd to see my parent's names already etched onto the stone, but to see Scott's name there, with a date of death was - and continues to be - surreal.

I felt so drawn to go see him shortly after his burial for the oddest reason.  When my old brother moved out I went to see his new home.  When my sister moved out, I went to see her new home.  When I moved out people came to see my home (Scott actually was the one to help me move in). As crazy as it sounds, I had to go see Scott in his new...home. Stupid isn't it? I just kept feeling like a heel if I didn't go see him - pay him a visit.  Odd how our minds work.

The pain doesn't go away after a few days or even a few weeks.  My family and I are going through what I called "the year of firsts".  The first Thanksgiving without him, the first Christmas - The first Easter... etc..etc".  As much as we tried to keep Christmas as festive as possible, we all admitted that we felt as if we were just going through the motions.  We decorated our trees (I helped my Mom decorate hers), but it just didn't feel the same - and seeing Scott's stocking on the mantel, empty, will never feel right.

I go through life just as I did before and have found amazing support and love from my family and friends - but still the pain is there.  Sometimes the images of that morning flash into my working memory so vividly that it hits like a ton of bricks.  Other times I can be driving along and a song will come on the radio and my eyes well up with tears for no reason.

 What's been one of the oddest adjustments for me has been referring to my siblings and I as the "three of us" instead of the "four of us".  The set has been broken up.  Now every time we talk about a family photo or doing something together, it seems odd without Scott to complete the set... the default setting in our minds when we think of our immediate family.  We were all at my brother's for father's day and my siblings and I were in the yard sitting in lawn chairs talking.  Joe made the observation that there just happened to be fourth chair next to us.. empty.. as if waiting for Scott.... where he would have been, should have been.  We quickly laughed it off saying, "naw.. Scott would have left by now" and imitated him saying goodbye in the way only he could, but I knew I wasn't the only one who was constantly reminded that our set was incomplete.

No, suicide does not end the pain - it just transfers it to those we love.  I don't know the kind of fear, pain and despair Scott felt that morning, but when he made the decision to try and end his pain in that way, he couldn't have known in that moment that the bullet that pierced his chest pierced the hearts of all those whom he loved. I once heard a line in a movie that said, "Death is like learning to wear a pair of eyeglasses or a ring.  It becomes a part of you, but you never forget that it's there." A wound was made on all the hearts of the lives that Scott touched - his friends and family. Sometimes it becomes a scar, sometimes the wound opens up again and the pain comes flooding in... but it's always there and always will be.

If anyone out there has stumbled across this page to read this story and are struggling with depression and thoughts of suicide, I implore you to reach out to friends and family.  Call the National Suicide Prevention Line: 1-800-273-8255.  Talk to someone - know that you and your life matter.  I wish Scott had had the clarity to see and feel just how much he was loved by so many and what a strong impact his death would make on his family and friends - maybe knowing that would have given him the strength to keep going and make it through another day.