Tag Archives: suicide

Damaged Goods

I just finished reading Half in Love: Surviving the Legacy of Suicide by Linda Gray Sexton. Linda is the oldest daughter of Poet Anne Sexton who suffered from chronic undiagnosed mental illness and attempted suicide many times throughout Linda’s childhood. She finally succeeded and killed herself when Linda was 21 and a senior at Harvard. Linda’s lifelong struggle with depression, alcoholism, medications and 2 serious suicide attempts is vividly retold in the book. Despite being continually abandoned emotionally and physically by her mother, Linda is slowly drawn into repeating the very same behavior with her own children and family. While she knows first hand the pain that suicide leaves with those left behind she cannot resist the desire to reconnect with her mother even if it means her own destruction. The book opens with Linda’s first serious suicide attempt 6 months before she would turn 45. This is significant because her mother’s suicide was only 1 month before her 45th birthday. This can’t help but make me reflect on my upcoming 45th birthday this year and my brother Mike’s suicide less than 1 month before his 46th birthday. In a little over 1 year’s time I will be older than my big brother and time will continue on like that for the rest of my life. Linda’s detailed descriptions of her life at her lowest points also resonated strongly with me. Any reader will recognize the personal human pain she feels and lays out so unselfconsciously whether they are dealing with a depressed loved one or if they’ve traveled a similar path themselves. The book gives an eloquent voice to those who most need to be heard but because of their situations cannot get the words out.

Now I find myself wondering what kind of emotional legacy my brother and I received from our own mother. When my daughter was born my dad compulsively evaluated and criticized every single choice we made with her. I knew enough to ignore his advice even if it meant arguing over every single one. I now realize that he probably did the very same thing with my mother when my brother was born. As a new mother in a relatively new country I’m sure she had all the normal insecurities in her ability to care for her infant son. I have no doubt that my father was unable to let her find her way on her own. I can see him trying to control every single thing she did with the baby from the very start. She must’ve felt so inadequate when comparing herself to her professional Psychologist husband. Surely he knew what he was talking about! I can imagine how defenseless and alone she would have felt. Eventually my mom withdrew from the family and let my dad cast her as the enemy.  I was quite young when my dad started to tell us that it wouldn’t take much for my mother to become an alcoholic. I guess that this was to undermine our trust in her and scare me especially into wanting to be on his side. It was very important in my family to take sides. I was very aware that it was my father and I versus my brother and my mother in a lot of ways. How did this dynamic play out as we got older and my brother started getting into trouble all the time? My parents always fought about my brother. My dad would rage and blame my mother for Mike’s every fault. She loved Mike through it all but of course just having her love wasn’t enough for him in the end. It was damaged goods.

I guess the question now is not what emotional legacy will I pass onto my own daughter but whose?


Thank you to award-winning author Linda Gray Sexton for sponsoring this series, which is inspired by her memoir Half in Love: Surviving the Legacy of Suicide.

I was selected for this sponsorship by Clever Girls Collective which endorses Blog With Integrity.

To learn more about Linda Gray Sexton and her writing, please visit her website.

Half in Love Relationships and Depression Series

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To My Brother

My brother Mike took his own life three years ago today. It’s hard to believe that it is already three years past. In a lot of ways it still feels fresh. It makes me sad that it is already three years. As time moves on we get further and further from when he was here. Lots of things keep happening in between the time that he left and now and I just wish sometimes I could make it stop.

For some reason it reminds me of a Native American story about dogs. Long ago people and animals all lived together and at one point God decided that it was time to separate them. God created a great chasm in the earth and started to put the people on one side and the animals on the other. All the while the space between them kept getting bigger and bigger. Just before the very moment when it would have been too great a distance to make it to the other side, dog jumped over to be with man. I can’t make that leap anymore. I lost my chance. I’m losing him and I’ve been losing him for three years now and it makes me so sad.

Here is what I wrote to read at his memorial service. I thought I’d share it with you now.

Dear Michael,

We were supposed to see you at our parent’s house for Thanksgiving. I’m angry that you couldn’t have just said that you didn’t want to come home. They would have been really upset and mad but it would have saved us from this new world of pain. Speaking as a parent myself, I can’t even begin to understand what it must feel like to lose your child. No matter how old they get they will also always be the tiny baby you held in your arms. All the planning, shopping, cleaning and hoping they did to get ready for your visit must feel like a cruel dirty trick now. You never dream that someone you love so much could do something so final and terrible to you. If you hadn’t gone and done this insane thing I know I probably would have been whining about the long ride out to Long Island and it makes me feel so petty and guilty now. Now I’d gladly take the four hour car trip and listening to everyone arguing over nothing to this bizzaro-world alternative. Of course, hindsight is always 20/20 and I don’t have to tell you, the perspective from this end is a real kick in the ass.

Your full name is Michael Roy Peluso but you seemed to go by many names. In our family you were always Michael and Erica called you Michael. You and Erica visited us for Piper’s third birthday almost two years ago. The morning after you left I asked her if she liked having her Auntie Erica and Uncle Michael at our house. She turned and said to me, “I don’t call him Uncle Michael, I call him Uncle Mike!” To your friends, you were Mike, Peluso, Pelusi, Big P, Huge P and sometimes just P. I have always thought of you when I hear that Rentals’ song, “Friends of P.”

If you’re friends with P.
Well, then you’re friends with me
If you’re down with P.
Well, then you’re down with me

Having this happen at Thanksgiving has helped me to see that I have a lot to be thankful for. I’m thankful for my life, my parents who love me and my health. I’m thankful that I’m able to recognize and appreciate all the love from friends and family that surrounds me. I don’t think that you knew how many people really loved you or maybe you did but didn’t trust it. I’m so very thankful for my husband Glenn. I almost lost him in February in a horrific car accident. He shattered his knee and has been working on his recovery ever since. He has leaned on me a lot throughout this past year and I tried my best to hold him up to support and comfort him. Now when I look to him for support and comfort and he opens his loving arms to me I know how truly lucky I am. I’m thankful for my beautiful daughter Piper. She teaches me to be patient and to appreciate life’s smallest joys. The Friday after Thanksgiving, the three of us took a little family trip to a nearby farm. We were chased around by a paranoid looking turkey. We saw some emus, llamas, turtles, some pigs and a peacock. Piper got to pet the fluffy bunnies and goats, feed a bottle to a baby lamb and have a pony ride. Her smile was eight miles wide the entire time. It beamed its glee right into our hearts that day. She doesn’t bother to stop for sadness when there is happiness all around her. I’m sorry that you won’t now get a chance to really know the funny, wonderful person she is becoming.

I’ve taken comfort from the many conversations I’ve had with your friends. Without fail they’ve told me how much they loved you and what a special person you were. Without fail they’ve told me that they were in regular (sometimes daily) contact with you. And without fail they’ve told me that they had no idea you were feeling this way. And if they had known, they would have dropped everything to be by your side in the deep dark hole you’d fallen into. Mike, they would have carried you out on their backs.

Our 90-year-old friend and neighbor Alice Potter passed away recently. She attended the same church in our town for over 50 years. I went to the 8:30 am service there the Sunday after you died. I felt she would have wanted me to go there. I walked from my house even though it was only 20-something degrees out. The church felt warm and welcoming once I passed through the heavy wooden doors. I didn’t know anyone there though everyone I made eye contact with wished me a smiling good morning. I’m pretty sure that I wasn’t smiling. The service was good. I liked the hymns and the lesson about needing to stand up in the word of God. As I walked out the minister shook my hand and I introduced myself to her by saying that I was a friend of Alice’s. She seemed to remember me from the funeral. Then I just started telling her what had happened. She immediately put her giant arm around me and spoke gently to me. She told me that the moment you left this life God was there to welcome you and hold you in his arms. She prayed while I just cried and let myself sink deeper into her enormous shoulder. I’m not sure how you’d feel about me becoming a regular churchgoer though I have a feeling you wouldn’t like it. But since your action compels me to seek more meaning in my life, I really don’t care.

Mike, I’m angry with you. I’m angry with you for leaving me an only child. I’m angry with you for leaving our parents without their only son. I’m angry with you for leaving them with the final image of you dying in a hospital bed. I’m angry at you for leaving Erica behind with so much sadness. She really loves you and didn’t deserve this from you. I’m angry with you for leaving us with all these questions that we can never have answers to. And I’m angry with you for forever depriving me of the pleasure of making you laugh and of ever seeing your beautiful face again. Even with all this anger, I still love you and will miss you for the rest of my life. As you know, I have also struggled with depression and loneliness in my life. To me, it felt like being trapped in the very smallest room with an even smaller door. I hope that wherever you are now you’ve got the key in hand and you’re striding for the door headed for peace.



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Falling Slowly

Today, November 19th is the 2nd anniversary of my brother’s death. His body died on the 22nd but his spirit died today. It feels like so long ago now yet it hasn’t been long at all. I still can’t believe that he left me alone here. We are getting ready to have Thanksgiving at my parent’s house next week. I’m hoping that we’ll all make it through without too much sadness. I feel like we should set a place for Mike at the table – or is that morbid??

This song is a love song but the lyrics make me think of Mike and our lost opportunities. How I wish we still had time.

I don’t know you
But I want you
All the more for that
Words fall through me
And always fool me
And I can’t react
And games that never amount
To more than they’re meant
Will play themselves out

Take this sinking boat and point it home
We’ve still got time
Raise your hopeful voice you have a choice
You’ll make it now

Falling slowly, eyes that know me
And I can’t go back
Moods that take me and erase me
And I’m painted black
You have suffered enough
And warred with yourself
It’s time that you won

Take this sinking boat and point it home
We’ve still got time
Raise your hopeful voice you had a choice
You’ve made it now
Falling slowly sing your melody
I’ll sing along

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I made a decision to try to join my local church. It’s Alice’s church. I’ve been taking a new member’s class for the past 6 weeks or so and now next week I’m supposed to “graduate”. I have to profess my faith to the church elders at the end of class this Sunday and then in front of the congregation the Sunday following Easter. It requires me to pledge my love for Jesus and my belief in eternal life, etc. I’m going through with it even though I don’t believe all this stuff 100%. I’m willing to accept that there is a God but I have a little trouble with the idea of heaven. I just don’t believe that all my dead loved ones are up there hanging out together shooting the breeze. I am also supposed to pledge my acceptance of the old and new testament as the ultimate rule in faith and in life. I can deal with the faith part but the life part, I’m not so sure. It depends on who is doing the reading/interpreting I guess. I want to join this church because I want to join this community. I admire a lot of the things that they do for the community and I want to support that. I want to understand the religion and the beliefs better. I want to make room for God in my life. I’ve accepted that I need help in dealing with everything in my life. I can’t do it alone anymore. If Jesus can help me, I’m willing to try. I’m always thinking about my brother when I’m there. He’d hate all this. He got so lost somehow and I wonder why God wasn’t there for him when he needed it most? Was that because he wasn’t a believer? I thought that God was supposed to love us all unconditionally?
Last Sunday was the 5th Sunday of Lent and so the lesson was from John 11:1-45 which is the story of Lazarus. I decided to read the passage during the musical prelude because I had gotten there a little early and as I made my way through the passage I started crying. In the story Jesus is not far from where Lazarus lives. Yet, when Lazarus’ sisters send word to Jesus that he should come because their brother is ill, Jesus does not come right away. He only gets there after Lazarus has died from his illness. Lazarus’ sisters both say to Jesus, “Lord if you were only here my brother would not have died”. I guess that one of the reasons that I’m going to church now is to find out where God was when my brother was deciding to do this horrible thing. How could God leave him so alone? I can accept that he was in the prescence of God once he died but I’d rather have him here with us. I’ve been really missing him lately. Jesus tells the sisters that he didn’t save their brother beforehand because he wanted them to believe in eternal life through him. Then he goes ahead and resurrects Lazarus anyway to prove to the gathered crowd that he truly was sent by God to save them all. I’m sure that Martha and Mary were both very happy to have their brother Lazarus back again, even though he was already several days dead and a little smelly.
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We went to visit my parents this past weekend. It was the first time we had seen them since this happened. My mom looks so tired and sad. She is very quiet and says even less than she usually does. My dad on the other hand is talking a mile a minute. He’s trying to work it all out in his brain I guess. He’s looking for answers and even went as far as to ask me if my brother ever “told” me anything. He also wants me to talk to his wife and find out what was going on with them from her. He’s crazy if he thinks I’m interrogating my friend for him. He was saying that he knew his son when he was a little boy but that when he got older they knew less and less about him. I would say that was because they didn’t care to know anything about him. They didn’t approve of the choices he was making so they weren’t interested in his life. I think that once he got older and started going his own way they couldn’t deal with it. Now my dad goes on and on about what a wonderful thinker, writer, friend, person, etc., my brother was. It makes me crazy because he never really bothered to tell Mike any of this when he was alive and maybe if he did a little more often, we wouldn’t be in this mess we’re in. I know my dad wants me to look to them for comfort now. I just can’t. I know it would help him, to feel that he was helping me a little but I’m not ready for that yet. I haven’t looked to my parents for comfort for a long time now and I’m not about to start now. It’s just that it doesn’t come without judgement – at least from my dad. He’s got to have an opinion on everything and he’s got to let you know his opinion whether you’re asking him to give it or not. It’s like I’m seeing them so clearly right now and I’m just taking a step back and taking it in for now.

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His People

I went back to work yesterday. I was able to hold it together pretty well. I knew that some people knew and some people didn’t know. I wrote an email to everyone outlining what happened and saying thank you to those that had reached out to me. It saved me from repeating the story a million times. It probably made everyone a little uncomfortable, but that is understandable. Suicide will do that I guess. I only teared up a couple of times. Once when I received cards from my co-workers. One that everyone signed – just like a birthday card(!) and one from one of my bosses that was more personal. When they had heard what happened last week they shared with me that their grandfather had committed suicide also. I also got sad when I read an email from one of my brother’s friends. He said that he’s been out of touch with most everyone from their group of friends except for my brother. Many of the other members of the group say the same thing. He wrote, “he was the center of our social circle.” I know how much his friends meant to him. I just can’t believe he didn’t let them help him. He had to know that they would have done anything for him. I know that I can’t say the same about my old friends.

I also had to call the funeral home to start making arrangements for the memorial service. We are going to hold it in our hometown, Great Neck, NY. Great Neck is and was a predominently Jewish town. Growing up my family was one of the few that was not Jewish. All of our friends were Jewish. The funeral home is right by the train station and is easily accessible from the tri-state area. When I first called them they said that if I wanted a Rabbi they could arrange that for me. I asked if it was OK that we weren’t Jewish and they said it was fine. I wanted to be sure that my mom felt good about it too. It’s not that she is bigoted or anything like that, I just wanted to know that she’d be OK with him being in a place that will probably have stars of david on the walls. She is Roman Catholic. Like I’ve said before, my brother was in no way religious and actively questioned the existance of God – especially after events like September 11. I think that he’d appreciate his memorial being held in this place. I think he’d feel that he was with his people.

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Coming Home

My parents came home last night. They called me from the car they took back from the airport. I can’t even fathom their pain. All the planning, shopping, cleaning, hoping they did for this year’s Thanksgiving visit must feel like a cruel dirty trick now. How naive and innocent they were. We all were. We never dreamed that someone we loved so much could do something so final and terrible to us.

Now that this has happened it has made me want to reach out to a lot of people that I haven’t spoken to in a long time. I’ve really lost touch with all of my girlfriends from High School and College. The various reasons why seem so insignificant now. My brother and I really used to think of our friends as part of our family. Our own little family could be so maddening sometimes. Even though there were four of us, it often felt like the loneliest place. I hope that wherever he is now that he is free from that particular pain. Loneliness always felt like being stuck in the very smallest room with an even smaller door.

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Pony rides are the best medicine

Yesterday we visited a local farm. P got to pet a furry brown goat, feed a baby lamb, pet fluffy bunnies and have a pony ride. Her smile was eight miles wide the whole time. It beamed its happiness into my heart. I’m getting so so tired of being sad. I needed a little smile beam from my baby.



If my brother hadn’t gone and done this insane thing I know I would have been bitching and moaning about the whole trip to my parent’s house and it makes me feel so petty and guilty about it now. I would gladly take the four hour car trip and listening to my dad and brother arguing over nothing to this bizzaro-world alternative. Let this be a lesson to you internets. Hindsight is 20/20 and the perspective from this end is a real kick in the ass.



I’ve been receiving emails and phone calls from many of my brother’s old friends from grade school through to High School. Without fail they’ve all told me that they were in regular (sometimes daily) contact with him. None of them had any inkling that he was going to do this. Without fail they’ve all told me how much they loved him and what a special person he was. And without fail they’ve told me that if they had known they would dropped everything to be by his side in the deep dark hole he’d fallen into. They would have carried him out on their backs.



This is such an unbelievable waste.
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Thanksgiving 2007

I feel like I have no words today. I wish that I was writing this from my dad’s desk. I wish that I had lots of funny, whiny complaints for you about how my family was driving me crazy. Unfortunately today, I only have the crazy. My brother is going to be removed from life support within the next couple of days. My parents have made arrangements for organ donation so that he can still live on (in spite of my brother’s actions I suppose). Once the organ donation is sorted out they’ll remove the tubes. Since he is not really breathing on his own, it should be very quick.

He must have been planning this for a while. His wife told me that he had given the landlord his rent check at the beginning of the month but asked him to hold it and not cash it until after the 19th.

I’m angry that he couldn’t just have told us that he wasn’t coming home. My mom would have been really upset and sad but he could have saved her from the world of pain he’s now given her. Maybe he felt that it was one more failure and he couldn’t bear it. I want to shake him and say, man up a**hole!

My husband told P all about it last night. I was on my way upstairs too but the phone kept ringing. She and I will talk about it more. He told her that her uncle had a sickness in his head that made him want to hurt himself. She had been really looking forward to traveling to my parents house and having Thanksgiving there. They’ve been studying it in school the whole month. He said that he looked at her and she had big honking tears streaming down her face. When we were talking about it afterwards G got all choked up. He’s mad at my brother for hurting his baby. We’re going to try to make a nice homey Thanksgiving here for her (and for us). I left work early yesterday and bought a bunch of food. I think I might have been the only one tearing up in the produce aisle.

I’m not sure what else to say right now. I’m thankful for my life – even with all the crap that 2007 has bestowed upon me. I’m so very thankful for my husband. He is truly my rock. I fall in love with my daughter every day. She is my light and I love the person that she is becoming. I know that my brother didn’t have that. Lots of people loved him but he didn’t know it, or didn’t want to know it.

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My brother tried to kill himself yesterday. He was supposed to be coming home for Thanksgiving but instead decided to hang himself. Someone saw him through the apartment window and called the police. He is now in an ICU. They called his wife. They have been separated. She moved out in the spring. Their divorce is not yet finalized. It was going to be his first visit with my parents without her in many years. I knew that he was dreading it, I guess I didn’t know just how much.

My brother is named after one of my father’s young cousins who tried to fly out of a window and died. He thought that he could fly like superman. My father the psychologist always blamed his cousin’s parents for praising their son too much. According to my dad, they made him believe that he could do anything. He in turn took the opposite approach with us. Especially with my brother.

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