Blog

Nov19
2015

If Love Could Have Saved You

By Kimberly Hetherington

This Saturday is International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day. To find an event in your area, click here

Two years ago my sister died. It was Thanksgiving morning, and I was getting ready for work when my dad sat me down in the living room, his face pale. In a shaky, restrained voice he told me the news: Elizabeth was dead. Within a few hours we were on a plane to Vancouver for my sister’s funeral. A picture slideshow of Elizabeth’s short life played on a screen as my mum’s hysterical cries echoed through the church.

Elizabeth died by suicide. It’s so hard to say that out loud, even after all this time. I quickly deflect questions about how she died because I don’t want to risk being socially ostracized. But here’s the thing: Losing my sister was painful enough as it is. My family and I do not deserve the added weight of shame and guilt on top of the searing pain of grief. There is only so much a family can endure.

So before forming an opinion on my sister’s character or upbringing let me explain: She did not end her life to cause us pain; she did it to end her own. It did not happen because she was not strong enough. My sister was stronger and braver than anyone I have ever known. To go through life weighed down by darkness, shame, and guilt is incomprehensible to someone who is lucky enough to have never experienced those things. She fought hard for many, many years – literally for her life. Her decision was acted out by the voice of depression, the voice of hopelessness, of just wanting the pain to end and truly believing that taking her own life was the only path to peace.

During university I studied psychology and spent most of my time trying to find different ways to pull my sister out of her depression. Elizabeth’s illness and everything around it consumed so much of my mental energy I barely had room for anything else. I felt like I was in an almost constant state of dread. I read countless books on mental illness, for school and for her. I remember running home in joy thinking that maybe I found a way that just might make her happy again. It breaks my heart because I can picture her sitting so keenly on the side of her bed taking notes and saying, “Talk a bit slower I didn’t get that last part.” I can see her faking enthusiasm and telling me she feels “happier already” and me leaving her room feeling so proud of myself for finally getting through. But I never got through.

When my sister was depressed it felt like watching her drown and not being able to do anything to help. It felt like no matter what we did, she’d just keep getting sucked under. I’d try everything and anything I could think of, eventually collapsing in tears. I would get so angry that I would take my anger out on Elizabeth. I’d scream and yell and tell her I wanted nothing to do with her or the family anymore. I would storm out of the house and retreat to my boyfriend’s place for a few days. Eventually I’d return home late at night and find her sitting on the couch eating pickles, watching Cold Case Files, and looking at me like, Can we stop fighting now?”

I know in my heart that my family and I did everything we could to save my sister. I know that my sister did not want to die; she just wanted the pain to end. I wish I could’ve taken her pain away. I never wished for anything more desperately than that.

However, I do not want my sister to be defined by her depression. I want those who knew her to remember her for the kind of energy she brought to them before depression took it away. I want her to be remembered for her sense of humor and that infectious laughter that made everyone smile.

Because I lost my big sister I think I feel an instinctual need to stand up for her. I can’t allow her legacy to be one of pain and sadness. I can’t allow whispers and judgments to be made when no one understands the whole story. I want Elizabeth’s legacy to be filled with hope and joy because her story ended with the opposite. I hope it inspires people to be supportive and encouraging to others, to listen when someone is hurting, even if you can’t understand why. I just want people to listen. I want people to know not to minimize a person’s suffering by comparing it to another’s.

I am forever grateful to have had a sister like Elizabeth. She was my amazing big sister. She washed the wheels of my stroller, protected me from the boys who bullied me in high school, and created the kind of art I could only dream of replicating.

I’m choosing to share Elizabeth’s story to bring awareness to suicide. I hope we can find effective ways to help people living with a mental illness. I hope that no one else’s sibling, child, parent, spouse, cousin, grandchild, or friend will ever have to endure the pain of losing someone they love to suicide. I hope that, one day, mental illness will be treated in the same way as any other illness.

Each time we share our own stories we are slowly breaking down previously held beliefs and moving toward acceptance and understanding. I know things are changing for the better, and I am so grateful for that. In these past two years I have been overcome by emotions that I never experienced so intensely before. I don’t know why, but when I experience joy now, I feel absolutely immersed in every particle of it. I think it’s my body’s way of creating balance within itself. The pain from my sister’s death was like a pendulum that crashed through walls within me I never even knew existed. But it also swung back with such force it has allowed me to experience a level of happiness that is so potent it feels almost euphoric.
 And when I feel that kind of pure euphoria, I hope that wherever Elizabeth is, she feels it too.

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Comments (34)

  1. Kimberly Vest

    Thank you for sharing such a heartfelt tribute to your sister. My heart breaks for your family, you are living one of my biggest fears. I, like you, hope that one day mental illness will no longer hold the stigma it does now.

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  2. Vicky

    Thank you. I have read a lot about suicide. Your one article says it all. I lost my father and a cousin to suicide. I experienced suicidal thoughts myself. I now volunteer as a peer support person. Thank you so much for sharing your story.

    Reply  |  
  3. HS

    This is beautiful, raw and real. Thank you for sharing and so sorry for your loss.

    Reply  |  
  4. Tracy

    My husband died by suicide 3 months ago. He was plagued with anxiety and depression. However, those emotions and his manner of death should not define him. He was brilliant, funny, loving, kind and compassionate. Thank you for sharing.

    Reply  |  
    1. bellla

      Love to you Tracy. God bless

      Reply  |  
  5. Desiree

    This expressed exactly how I feel about my brother who died by suicide 6 years ago. He just wanted the pain to end. Thank you for sharing.

    Reply  |  
    1. bellla

      Love to you desiree. God bless

      Reply  |  
  6. Stacie Hoffman

    Thank you for sharing your sisters story. As a person who fights depression, reading this makes me want to keep fighting and keep going so that my family will not suffer. Thank you for the help to fight another day.

    Reply  |  
  7. amanda

    Yes, yes!! It’s so good to feel validated in your feelings through grief. I recently lost my brother to suicide and if love could have saved him, i wouldn’t be mourning the best person i have ever know. Thank you so much for this.

    Reply  |  
    1. bellla

      Love to you Amanda. God bless

      Reply  |  
  8. Lori

    The most painful part for those who love a suicidal sister, mother, daughter, is that we cannot fix it for them. We are doing with our daughter what you did for your sister — bringing all of our energy and time to finding the right answer for her. I live in fear and dread, because it has never been enough, and she doesn’t want to stay. I consider myself a future suicide survivor. I pray every moment of every day that I am wrong – that the path can change. I have no control over whether it does. I’m so very sorry your sister couldn’t continue to live with her pain, and that you no longer have her with you. While she was here, though, she knew how much you loved her. You gave her that gift.

    Reply  |  
  9. Pravin

    I’m sorry for your loss…Elizabeth looked like she was a very special and talented person.God Bless Her and You too.

    Reply  |  
  10. Ty

    <3

    Reply  |  
  11. Kirsten

    Thank you for sharing your story. This gives me hope to keep going. Thank you.

    Reply  |  
  12. Cassie

    Thank you so much for sharing. This was beautifully written and helps me to show others how I feel losing my Dad to suicide.

    Reply  |  
    1. bellla

      Love to you Cassie. God bless

      Reply  |  
  13. Irene

    I am so incredibly sorry for your loss and your family’s loss. I know this pain. My daughter tried to commit suicide 2 and 1/2 yrs ago. Despite all odds, she lived. But because of PTSD, she has chosen to keep us out of her life. I am thankful she is still alive, but know the pain she went through because of this. We miss her daily, hrly some days. I know in my heart we will never see her again. I grieve for her, for what she is missing. She just became an Auntie for the first time…
    I will keep you in my prayers for your continued healing.

    Reply  |  
    1. bellla

      My love to you and your daughter Irene. God bless

      Reply  |  
  14. Lea

    I can’t stand loneliness and Yet I’ve been plagued by loneliness my whole life. I’ve confided in a few friends how depressed I am. And yet they are the ones who tell me depression is not acceptable to society and I should stop complaining. Now I can’t confide in anyone and living a lie pretending everything is ok. I’m in pain.

    Reply  |  
    1. NICOLE

      Hey Lea, it’s going to be okay. I promise you that. I don’t doubt that those friends you mentioned are great in so many other ways, but you deserve friends who listen to you, understand you and validate you. You’re not complaining. You’re just going through a really, really tough time. It’s hard to keep trying to be honest with people when in the past friends have responded badly. But I promise you that the fight is worth it – you shouldn’t have to feel like you’re living a lie. <3

      Reply  |  
    2. bellla

      I’m sorry for your pain Lea. Your hurt is heard. My love to you. God bless

      Reply  |  
  15. stacia

    Beautifully written.

    Reply  |  
  16. Bill

    Thank you for your story. You’re extremely brave and compassionate for sharing. My daughter was diagnosed with depression earlier this year. We’ve had several weeks of tortured concern trying to understand. To us it came on suddenly. And as you say – a “healthy mind” can’t know what a depressed mind is going through. This was Andes our greatest barrier. The truth is, you just can’t know. So the only thing you can do is support – to be with them and hope things turn with care and attention. My daughter is doing better. We reluctantly put her on a course of medications. And lots of therapy. However dark days remain. Every morning I come down the stairs and peek in her room while she’s still sleeping to make sure i can still see the rise and fall of her breath. Then I turn satisified in knowing we have one more day.

    Reply  |  
  17. Amy

    Amazing story. Well said. I’m very sorry for your loss, as I, too, discovered that unwanted pain when my dad committed suicide. I applaud you for having the courage and love for others to share your story.

    Reply  |  
  18. david

    Wpw your an amazing sister gods gift for your sister life ,oh how she loved you and all thoses days of hope ,true her inner pain is so overwhelming you and I truly love ours 1 million % ,I have never felt in my self this magnitude of pain and suffering ,at 19 my wife witty funny helpful to so many, all loved her as days passed this illinness inproched so I’ve slowly have grown with understanding ,she is at the he highest stages as your sister ,you and I fill hopeless for your sister is free from this in heaven loving her no more hopelessness just happiness she loves you your quarding angel my wife suffers but I love her always 27 yr RIP sister in heaven ,amen

    Reply  |  
  19. Jordan

    As a (multiple) suicide attempt survivor who’s also lost someone close to suicide, this is possibly the most beautiful thing I’ve ever read; it brought me to tears. Elizabeth brought you here, to the rest of us who needed to hear what you had to say and in that way she lives on–inspiring hope for those of us who may have none.

    Reply  |  
  20. AB

    I am sorry for your loss, I know how Elizabeth feels I can’t ever explain when some one asks why do you feel that way. The biggest thing that makes me want to end it all is the pain I cause every one else I can see it in Thier eyes from my husband (who would rather keep his distance then to have me take it out on him) to my children ( that are happier with me not there or how my depression effects their every day living and future) suicide can cause pain to a family but the biggest thing is at that point we won’t see the pain ANY more. It’s harder to watch the pain u cause your loved ones every day then to know they will over come a death alot easier.

    Reply  |  
  21. Elizabeth

    Dear Kim, as your sister’s namesake & also an elder sister to younger siblings, I feel your pain. Two years ago when my world crashed I nearly ended my life too. At the last minute I changed my mind & it’s been a crazy uphill journey healing. Some days the waves return to sweep me back into the invisible sea where as you described weren’t able to save your sister from drowning in. Thank you for sharing your story. For giving a purpose to pain. Elizabeth’s legacy lives on. One of hope, as you continue to pen & encourage others to give life & their own selves, a second chance. Hugs, Elizabeth.

    Reply  |  
  22. Penny

    You’re story and determination in trying to help your your sister is truly touching. I am a two times suicide attempter who deals with PTSD and BP who had spent most of my life thinking I was unlovable and the world would be better without me. I finally got treatment about 8 years ago about two years after my mother committed suicide. My mother’s suicide was a shock because she had never mentioned it and even though she was a extremely unhappy person we still never saw it coming. I continue to have daily ideations of suicide but there three things that stop me, my sister, my BFF and my little doggie. I think of the pain it would cause them and it is the one thing that manages to penatrate the blackness and pain and stop me from trying again. Your sister was lucky to have you but everyone needs to know that when someone commits suicide because of society’s stigmatizing about mental illness they often feel like there is no choice left to them. Thank you for your story hopefully it will reach people that need help understanding what drives someone to that final decision to take their life.

    Reply  |  
  23. Shannon

    Thanks so much for your story! I also struggle with depression and I feel just the way you described. When I am happ, I feel ecstatic, like I’m using my senses for the first time; and I too think its my brains way of fighting depression. Like I am owed the happiness.

    Reply  |  
  24. Lexi

    “I hope it inspires people to be supportive and encouraging to others, to listen when someone is hurting, even if you can’t understand why. I just want people to listen.” I really needed to hear that, I an trying my best to help my older brother. Thank you for sharing this story Kimberly.

    Reply  |  
  25. Raeli

    Writing this and sharing your sister’s story, as well as your own, shows that you do understand, though it may not feel that way.. Your efforts to understand and to help your sister were more meaningful than you realize. Though she passed on, know that by doing all you could, you truly did all you could…
    I hope that makes sense. You have a beautiful heart and so did your sister…her spirit is at peace in you.

    Reply  |  
  26. Ale Palacios

    I am sorry for your loss, you helped me so much, I lost my friend to suicide. Years ago, she said me in thousand ways but I could never see, now I can, but its too late, she said “November”, and seven years later she is not here anymore, it hurts and I think the people dont understand how I feel but I dont wanna explain, I feel guilty, I was never with her as you with your sister, I loved her and ask myself why? but you gave me the only answer i needed . . . “She did not end her life to cause us pain; she did it to end her own. It did not happen because she was not strong enough, she was stronger and braver than anyone” read you gave me peace, thank you so much.

    Reply  |  
  27. Amanda

    I lost my best friend to suicide five days ago…this article sums up almost exactly what I’m feeling. Thank you so much for sharing your story. I can only hope one day I am brave enough to share mine, and hopefully offer comfort and hope to others too.

    Reply  |  
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