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‘Ask her to stay’: Why it’s so important to talk to struggling loved ones about suicide

As someone who didn’t know what it was I was facing until it hit my family with its devastating and everlasting effects, I know how important talking about suicide is because it gives a name to something that can happen to anyone’s family.

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A drawing of Megan Brown rests on the piano at Arianne Brown’s home on Wednesday, April 24, 2013.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

It was 11 p.m. on Oct. 30, 2006, and I didn’t want to hang up the phone. For the past hour or so, I had been talking to my older sister, Megan, but the conversation was different. 

Recent conversations were filled with questions — constant questions about motherhood and life. As the younger sister, it was strange and a bit frustrating to be bombarded with questions like these because she was supposed to have all the answers, not me. She was also very sad, and there would be long periods of silence when she didn’t know what to say, and neither did I. 

There was an elephant in the room, but it was an unknown elephant, one I didn’t know how to describe or even know what its describing characteristics were. There was a word for it, too, but it was a scary word that I didn’t want to bring up because it brought with it the ultimate in darkness and despair, and who wants to bring up despair into an already despairing conversation?

But the conversation late that October night was different. My sister wasn’t talking about the normal things. She kept the conversation going, and I was listening. She spoke of things in the past and apologized for the things she had done or neglected to do — most of which I didn’t even remember. The conversation had a strange yet positive undertone, but I didn’t know what to make of it. After several months of the same sad, confused and frustrating conversations, it felt good to have something different, yet there was an uneasiness about it. 

We eventually had to say our goodbyes because we were both mothers with young children, and we needed our sleep. Still, after the phone call, I felt the urge to call my mom and ask how Megan was. She was staying with them, and my mom said things seemed fine, and that my sister had carved a pumpkin with them.

A little reassured, but still uneasy, I went to bed, but didn’t sleep well. Something was different, and I didn’t know how to describe it. After finally falling asleep, I woke at 4 a.m. with the urge to call my dad. “No, it’s too early,” I thought. “I’ll wait until after 6.”

That was the longest two hours of my life, and as 6 a.m. rolled around, I dialed Dad. 

“How is Megan?” I asked. “Something didn’t seem right after we spoke last night.”

He didn’t need to say anything. I could hear it in his breath before saying the words no father should have to say. 

“She’s on Life Flight to Salt Lake with Mom,” he said. “It doesn’t look good.”

My older sister had gotten up at what we assume to be around 4 a.m., given the state of her body, to go into the basement to quietly leave this earth while everyone was asleep.

It’s these moments that haunt me because I didn’t know. I didn’t know the signs. I didn’t know that there were signs to look for. I had no idea that the sudden positive turn was her resolving to leave. I just didn’t know because it wasn’t part of my vocabulary.

Sure, I knew what suicide was, but it was that thing that other people’s family members did, and it rarely happened to anyone I knew. Suicide was not part of my vocabulary because it had never happened to me. 

In the blink of an eye, not only did I know what suicide was, I knew how real it was. That elephant in the room now had a name, an awful, awful name that was accompanied by an even heavier feeling that wouldn’t go away.

Thirteen years later, I still have that feeling, and I feel it every birthday, Christmas, anniversary of her passing and whenever I think about her. I feel it when I hear about another life lost, and it seems these days, there are far too many. 

Due to the increasing number of deaths by suicide, there is an ongoing debate that asks the question of causation. With all the talk about suicide lately, is it the talk that has spurred the epidemic? Is making people aware causing more occurrences? What came first, the talk or the action? 

As someone who didn’t know what it was I was facing until it hit my family with its devastating and everlasting effects, I know how important talking about suicide is because it gives a name to something that can happen to anyone’s family. But the conversation about suicide is much more than posting on social media about it. It’s more than attending a prevention conference or even reading or sharing an article like this one. 

That conversation that needs to take place is the one I didn’t have with my sister. It’s about bringing up that uncomfortable word that is not yet part of your personal vocabulary. It’s about addressing the elephant in the room and taking action when you know you should —like I didn’t. 

When your loved one is in the depths of despair, or heaven forbid, in the resolution stage with a plan in motion like my sister was, bring it up. Ask her if she has thought about suicide or even if she has a plan in place. Ask her to stay, and then get her some help.

For those in crisis or those helping someone else, the suicide prevention lifeline is available at all hours by calling 1-800-273-TALK.

Arianne Brown is a mom of nine, who writes for many local and national publications. She finds solace at home with her family and logging miles anywhere her feet will take her. Many of her writings can be found by searching “A Mother’s Write” on Facebook. Contact her at ariannebrown1@gmail.com.