On June 4, 2005, my world was forever changed when I lost my 24-year-old brother, Blaine, to suicide. He left behind three sisters, his mother and countless friends and family. My big brother-- my rock, my protector--was gone.
The level of stress a person feels after losing a loved one to suicide is catastrophically high – equivalent to that of a highly traumatic concentration camp experience, according to the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. When someone dies by suicide, the people left behind are left with not only grief, but questions of “why?” Complex emotions such as sadness, anger, guilt and confusion sometimes feel so overwhelming. Losing my brother was the hardest thing I have ever had to go through. As the youngest child, I looked up to my big brother. He was someone I wanted to spend time with and someone I wanted to be proud of me. His death changed me forever.
It has been 15 years since that day. Grief doesn’t go away. It is certainly not something you “get over” or “deal with.” It is part of my life every single day. My grief is unique and personal. No one can understand my grief better than me. My grief is also shared. I know how many people’s lives my brother touched, and I share my grief with all of them. From my closest family and friends to people I might not even know. There are still people that think of him often and smile.
Losing a sibling to suicide is filled with complex emotions. Sometimes, sibling survivors are known as the “forgotten mourners.” Older siblings often feel guilt after their sibling’s death because of the caregiver role they have had through their lives. They feel a sense of responsibility. Younger siblings often feel lost. Our friend, our rock, the person we looked up to is now gone, and we don’t know where to turn. Fifteen years ago, I was lost. I didn’t know how to process my feelings of grief. I expressed my emotions in both healthy and unhealthy ways.
Over time, I have grown, both in age and in wisdom regarding mental health and suicide. I have connected with other sibling survivors and realized my feelings are valid and understood. I have shared Blaine’s story (both his life and his death) with complete strangers. My grief is still with me every day, but it has changed. It has morphed into something I sometimes don’t recognize as grief. I still feel those intense emotions, but after those emotions come and go, I am reminded of my journey so far.
Today, 15 years since I lost my brother, I am celebrating his life, and my grief journey. I have come a long way from that terrible day, but I am not done yet. I will continue to fight for others who may have lost their voice. I will continue to be the support for other survivors on their own grief journey. I will continue my mission of bringing awareness to mental health and suicide. I will continue to share stories of Blaine. I will continue to grieve and live.
About the Author
Kellen Wolters serves as Chapter Board Co-Chair for the Missouri Chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. She also is the Event and Database Coordinator for Mental Health America of Eastern Missouri.