‘Days before his 24th birthday, we received messages. ‘Jake has not shown up for work or class.’ His roommates hadn’t seen him.’: Woman navigates grief after losing brother to suicide, sister and nieces to car accident

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Losing My Brother To Suicide

“May 15, 2019 was a day that started out like any other. I woke up, got ready for work, sent our family group text a gif of Snoopy writing a note filled with hearts that read ‘have a nice day.’ What I didn’t know was that my youngest brother Jacob would never read this message, or the messages of love from different family members that followed, because he was already dead.

siblings on a couch together
Courtesy of Gretchen N. Evans

A few hours after sending this initial text to my family, we all received messages that Jake had not shown up for work, or to class. This was very unlike the responsible, caring person we knew Jake to be. His roommates had not seen him the night before, and after a few long hours of frantic texts and calls we discovered that Jake had died by suicide, exactly 10 days before his 24th birthday.

siblings on couch
Courtesy of Gretchen N. Evans
family in front of Christmas tree
Courtesy of Gretchen N. Evans

The weeks that followed were excruciating to say the least. The death of my brother by suicide had caught everyone off guard, from his coworkers and roommates, to close friends and family. Jake was well liked by everyone who met him. With a bright, welcoming smile, and fun-loving personality he brought a lightness and humor with him into every situation. Voted homecoming king his senior year of high school, he was the type of person that was loved not simply because he was good-looking and cool, but because he was kind and made everyone around him feel included and important.

family portrait- all in white
Courtesy of Gretchen N. Evans

He loved to make people laugh, and naturally brought fun and humor into any situation. As a small child he had a huge, round head, and shirts would often get stuck around it when he would take them off. He would act like the hanging fabric was hair, and would swing the shirt around his shoulders, tossing his hair, and acting like a girl. It was hilarious.

school day portrait
Courtesy of Gretchen N. Evans

We were a tight-knit family; there were four children – two girls and two boys. We were all two years apart and were raised with love and care by our parents, who helped foster an environment that encouraged us to develop close friendships and bonds as a family. Now that we were in our 20s and living in different parts of the country, we continued to speak to each other, both individually and as a group. Only three days prior to Jacob’s death we had Facetimed as a family, laughing and catching up on how everyone’s week was going.

family portrait outside, fancy clothes
Courtesy of Gretchen N. Evans
young man sitting outside
Courtesy of Gretchen N. Evans

Learning To Live With Grief

As we all struggled in the aftermath of this intense grief, loving each other through each hard moment – I found solace in speaking with my older sister Alanna. She also knew what it was to be the older sister of Jake. As close friends, we could speak to each other without judgement, and felt a special understanding as we were experiencing the same type of loss: two older sisters grieving the loss by suicide of their youngest brother.

siblings in greenhouse
Courtesy of Gretchen N. Evans
sibling photo
Courtesy of Gretchen N. Evans

I told her of the struggles I was experiencing with thoughts of suicide, and my lack of interest in life. I felt a desire to isolate myself from the world around me; a feeling that was at odds with my normally extroverted and talkative personality.

On the other hand, my sister who was naturally more introverted and private, shared her strong desire to speak openly about her grief and loss. She was the only one in our family to post publicly about it, writing an Instagram post about how Jake had died by suicide, how she loved and missed him, and also knew his soul to now be at peace.

Alanna told me about how in spite of the pain and grief she was feeling, and the terror in knowing how suddenly life can change she still felt a desire to see her 18-month-old twin daughters, June and Ruby grow. She wanted to see who they would become, and to love and nurture them alongside her husband as they dealt with the challenges and joys of life.

family photo on bridge
Courtesy of Gretchen N. Evans

Unexpectedly Losing My Sister

Then, exactly 2 months after Jacob’s passing, my sister and two beautiful nieces were killed in a car accident. The aftermath of these terrible tragedies continues to be more awful and heavy than I can describe. After each of these terrible tragedies I expected to be surrounded in love and support from friends, and loved ones. I was shocked to instead find that the most common reactions I was met with were silence or comments that attempted to explain away or minimize what had happened.

family, holding baby
Courtesy of Gretchen N. Evans

Platitudes were given readily and often. I heard phrases like ‘Everything happens for a reason,’ and ‘God gives you only what you can handle’ more times than I can count. Unsolicited advice was freely told to me as well. Only a few months after these tragedies I was told that the reason for my sadness was actually a result of my lack of gratitude and my need to focus on the negative. I was encouraged to move on, to forget, to focus on the positive and live in gratitude with love.

young man holding child on shoulders
Courtesy of Gretchen N. Evans

I discovered that the more I tried to make people around me understand that I could not simply wish away my pain, the more they tried to ‘fix me.’ In the beginning, I spoke freely about my horror over the violent and painful ways my loved ones had died. I recounted how I missed them, and felt lonely for them every moment of the day. The world felt strange and disorienting after experiencing so much tragedy, and I felt immense terror as I looked towards a future that held the absence of so many people I had counted on being close with for the entirety of my life.

family photo with babies
Courtesy of Gretchen N. Evans

Battling With My Mental Health

I began to feel a need to retract and protect myself from others. I kept the struggles I was having with my mental health close to my chest, afraid of experiencing more judgement if I shared them. I was continuing to struggle with suicidal thoughts and impulses (something that is quite common for those who have experienced suicide loss). I also experienced symptoms of PTSD as a result of these traumatic losses including hallucinations, night terrors, panic attacks, and disassociation.

I began to view myself as something that people either wanted to sweep under the rug, or solve – like a complex math equation. What I really wanted was to be loved and listened to, and supported as I fought to cope with my struggles in healthy ways.

brother and sister photo
Courtesy of Gretchen N. Evans

With this experience came somewhat of an understanding as to why it may have been difficult for Jake to be honest with those around him about the level of pain he was in. There may have been fear that he was a problem, that there was something wrong with him for experiencing the depression it is likely he had. He may have also felt like he needed to be fixed, instead of just being a person deserving of respect, love, and help.

siblings embracing
Courtesy of Gretchen N. Evans

Raising Suicide Awareness

It has now been 2 years since Jake died, and in a few weeks, it will have been 2 years since Alanna, June, and Ruby died. Thankfully in the months since I have found therapists, yoga exercises, and other practices that has helped me view myself and my grief with love and compassion. I know that I am not an issue to be solved, but simply someone who has experienced tremendous loss and as a result, I am often in incredible pain. With this knowledge, I have started to understand that it is not only my feelings of gratitude, love, and bravery that deserve a voice, but also my feelings of grief, anger, and fear.

family photo outside in nature
Courtesy of Gretchen N. Evans

Speaking openly and honestly about the darkness I have experienced has helped me connect more with my loved ones as well everyone who experiences pain. This new ability and desire to accept myself for all that I am and strive to help others do the same has helped me find ways to honor my loved ones who have died, as well as my loved ones who are still living who I wish to support, and fight for as well.

family portrait inside
Courtesy of Gretchen N. Evans

By speaking openly, as my sister did, about the suicide of my brother and about the reality of living with grief and mental health challenges, I hope to encourage others like Jake to understand that their struggles are not something to be kept secret, or hidden away, or something they are defined by – but rather something that they can be supported and loved through.

family photo
Courtesy of Gretchen N. Evans

I also hope that those who may be seeking help and love in the midst of their struggles with their mental health, as I was, but continually feel rejected or judged know that there is nothing wrong or shameful with what they are experiencing. Nor is their need to be loved as they are unreasonable or too demanding. I encourage those who are hurting, and bravely continuing to keep fighting, to find those places and people where you feel safe, accepted, and supported in your quest for healing and love.

family portrait
Courtesy of Gretchen N. Evans

We are all worthy of love and help, and of knowing that we are not defined by our imperfections or hurts. We are all merely humans trying to cope with life as best we can, and the best chance we have for living a fulfilling life full of connection is by loving ourselves and others in our hurt and pain, rather than in spite of it. We are all more similar than we can imagine, and none of us, not a single one, is alone in the struggles we experience.

So please, keep trying, keep coping, and keep loving. You matter.”

family portrait outside
Courtesy of Gretchen N. Evans

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Gretchen N. Evans of Tucson, Arizona. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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