As some of you know I, like some of you, was deeply affected by veteran suicide of my cousin who was my one and only older brother more than 25 years ago. I was barely 12 years old when I woke up to the news that my 20 year old cousin whom had recently come back from the Gulf War committed suicide by jumping from I-24 overpass.
In the following days the circumstances around his death were called into question if it was even a suicide. Nobody wanted to believe it. I didn't want to believe that he would choose to leave us. There was a special bond that he and I shared that I still can't verbalize how deeply spiritual it goes other than to call it beyond the physical realm. He was my protector, the one who looked out for me, took me to the park on the corner of his street, the one who was 16 years old with his friends over that would still include me in a game of nerf basketball. I was the little sister, the cheerleader who would cheer him on at his baseball games (much to his embarrassment at times).
But there I sat that very morning at his parents house – feeling his parents anguish, my father trying to reason with his brother not to drive almost 1000 miles to Chattanooga, to trust the authorities that they would do their job. I remember going down the hallway of their little ranch, stopping to take one last smell of his room – of him. All that was left for me was a children's bible and his beloved baseball mitt and a couple of pictures.
In that funeral home not even a week later – with nothing but a poster board of pictures of a beautiful soul and flowers. I sat on that sofa, handing his mom Kleenex after Kleenex, trying to comfort a mother and father that lost their only child, even as I was a child myself.
It took me 25 years to completely reconcile with the cause of death was a suicide. After all, who wants to believe the ugly truth. When I turned my attention to genealogy in 2008, to give my son the knowledge and truth of his roots and not just take whatever was told to me as holy scripture, I knew I'd have to do the research as every single person no matter how long they've walked this earth, had a story to tell. As I grown accustomed to state laws regarding death certificates I realized that I would not be able to obtain my cousins cause of death – to put every theory surrounding his death to rest.
So I would be left hung out to dry. I was not going to ask my aunt and uncle no matter what. Being a parent at that time gave me great perspective on the pain of losing a child – and your only at that. It wouldn't be until 2016, after I managed to escape deaths grasp a 2nd time in my life with the severity of my spinal cord injury, that I became determined to fulfill my quests for the truth – no matter what.
During my research I discovered a legal loophole in Tennessee's state law that allowed me copies of the autopsy reports, but not the death certificate. Tell me that's not laughable. What was more astonishing is with a single email to the medical examiners office, a kind man sent me a 14 page PDF of the reports within hours of the very same day. After 25 years, I was going to get my answers. They may not be the answers I wanted to hear, but they would be the facts, and nothing but the facts from a non biased medical professional. I took a deep breath, thanking my lucky stars I took medical terminology in college, and ventured into the rabbit hole.
Suicide is not pretty or any death for that matter. While I knew that he died of internal injuries and it wasn't entirely instant, I didn't know what to expect. That fatal swan dive produced many horrific injuries – any one of them could have been fatal, together it was catastrophic.
7 broken ribs produced a 6 inch laceration his inferior vena cava in the pleural cavity (the section of your body that contains your lungs, your heart, and your diaphragm) – this laceration led to filling that entire cavity effectively suffocating him, crushing his lungs and heart evidenced by blue lips and fingertip beds. Skull fractures and brain hemorrhage and a .13 alcohol level at least gave me comfort he wasn't conscious and maybe the shock was soothed by the alcohol soothed him in his final minutes.
- Could anyone driving on I-24 that predawn morning have saved him from that stepping off that overpass? Maybe, but I doubt it.
- Could his friends that he was drinking with that night know what his next move was? Maybe, but I doubt it even knowing the acute situation that set this into motion because let's be honest. How many times do you think your friend is upset about something do you think they are going to commit suicide?
- Could his girlfriend that was cheating on him with his friend know this would happen? No probably not. Clearly they weren't thinking about him.
- Could his experience during the Gulf War that would give him PTSD be avoided? No I doubt it. He wanted to serve his country and took that vow to fight our enemies both foreign and domestic.
The list could go on and on, but the point is that looking back after such an event one can ask many questions about turning points, could this person be saved? There is no answer, but I can tell you this.
Suicide affects many people, some for the rest of their lives. It doesn't go away, it doesn't get easier. I still have days where I sob for my loss, I sob that I have to live with my beloved brother in a different way, I sob that I only had 12 years and few memories to keep me the rest of my life.
There is always hope. Strife in ones life can be temporary if you seek help, but suicide is permanent….and it will take out more than just you, but everyone you ever loved.