By Penny A. Bragg—

“Please forgive me.”

Before taking his life, my brother scrawled those three words across the cover page of a type-written letter he left in his bedroom. Jay’s final thoughts, worries, apologies, and instructions were neatly typed on six pages of white paper.

About a month after his suicide, I finally mustered up the courage to read all of what Jay had written. With every line, he tenderly articulated his immense love for his family and friends. Jay also spoke honestly about the years of mental anguish and torment that had made life on earth unbearable for one more moment.

As a new year begins, I think about the words my brother wrote. What Jay left behind for us was not a suicide note, but a love letter. In it he talked about the things that matter most. That letter is, by far, one of the most sacred sentiments I’ve ever read. But, it was the hand-written page placed on top of the typed pages that etched itself most permanently into my soul. Perhaps it’s because there’s such a familiarity in seeing Jay’s handwriting. Or, maybe it’s knowing that writing that page was probably the last thing he did before relinquishing his valiant twenty-year fight against the brute beast called, “mental illness”.

In addition to the words, “Please forgive me,” Jay listed each person in our family and expressed his love for us. He also shared his desire to see God and find eternal peace. Pondering that page is both gut-wrenching and graceful. While his final words clutch, twist, and wring out my heart in every way, it is one very tiny mark that moves me to the core: A single asterisk placed next to my name.

When I first saw the asterisk, a torrent of tears erupted from deep within me. Although there was no footnote to explain Jay’s reason for putting it there, I knew exactly what the asterisk meant. Jay and I were as close as two siblings could be and he wanted me to know that he knew it.

Our tight bond started early when my parents brought Jay home from the hospital and placed his crib in my bedroom. Given the twelve-year difference between us, I was thrilled to take on the role of his special guardian. Those early years cemented what would become a life-long bond nurtured through disclosing fears, sharing dreams, ruminating over big life-questions, and discussing family matters.

Toward the last few years of Jay’s life, our daily conversations also included a bantering back and forth as to why God would allow him to relentlessly suffer. Our difficult dialogues grew increasingly harder as Jay’s mental condition worsened. Each day I heard the utter agony within his sobs.

“I can’t do this anymore! I can’t!” He would cry out over and over again.

“Breathe, Jay. Just breathe. I love you. I’m right here. I’ll always be right here. We can do this. It will be alright.”

Many times during our conversations, Jay begged me just to let him die. These grueling battle sessions for his life would continue for hours, often multiple times a day. Each time we would hang up the phone or part ways, I would remind him that no matter how bad things got, I would always be by his side. What I didn’t realize was that one day, he would no longer be by mine.

Prayer, doctors, hospitalizations, psychiatrists, therapies, treatments, and tests. My family and I left no stone unturned to save my brother until the moment he took his last breath on earth, curled up fetal in his bedroom closet.

While Jay’s suffering has finally ended, my family’s grief is still in full swing. Death by suicide will do that to you. The lack of closure feels eternal.

One of the most exasperating aspects inherent in this type of loss is the endless barrage of questions that repeatedly assault the mind. What really happened that night? If I would have responded sooner, could I have saved Jay? Why didn’t God intervene and stop him? Was there something more that we could have done? Did he change his mind at the last moment? The list is unending. There is one thing, however, about which I have no question: Jay knew that I loved him and he loved me. This I know. And heralded within his parting gift of a tiny asterisk is a sobering reminder that it is the smallest things left behind that will have the greatest impact.

 

 

 

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Penny BraggPenny A. Bragg spent the majority of her professional career in the California public school system as a teacher, principal, and district administrator. Through the miraculous reconciliation of her marriage after an eleven-year divorce and a distance of 3,000 coast-to-coast miles, God led Penny and her husband, Clint, into fulltime ministry in 2006. Together, they serve as marriage missionaries—sharing their testimony of marital restoration across the nation and abroad during their 40-Day Marriage Mission Trips. ThroughInverse Ministries, their non-profit organization, Penny and Clint have written extensively about the ministry of reconciliation including their most recent book, Marriage on the Mend. In addition, Penny ministers to those who, like her, have experienced traumatic loss and grief. For more information, visit her blog at www.ForThoseWhoWeep.com.

14 Comments

  1. 1-27-2014

    Thank you for opening your life to share such a private moment. I have a much better understanding of the pain and anguish someone with mental illness walks through. Thank you for sharing your heart.

    • 1-27-2014

      I deeply appreciate your kind words and compassion, Karen. There is so much to dealing with mental illness and I am grateful for the chance to post my thoughts on MPN.

  2. 1-27-2014

    Beautiful. Having experienced this same type of loss in our life, I love the reminder of the smallest gifts. Thank you for sharing this with us.

    • 1-27-2014

      Jesi, thank you for being open enough to tell me that you have experienced this type of traumatic loss too. It is so… (no words).
      I am sorry that you have suffered in this way. I know that reading this post about suicide can also re-trigger your own grief. May God heal your heart and comfort you.

  3. 1-27-2014

    Penny, I’m so sorry for your loss and pray for your family as you continue to heal. By writing about it, perhaps it not only will help your own healing, but the healing of readers experiencing a similar grief. What family is immune from suicide? Not many can go back far in their family tree without touching on this sad outcome of acute or chronic mental illness. Praying for you!

    • 1-27-2014

      Kathy, you are so right on target. Writing has definitely been a huge agent of healing and the cry of my heart is to help others who have exprienced this tragedy. Your tender words of affirmation are a soothing comfort. Bless you.

  4. 1-27-2014

    Transparent, powerful message. Although I have not experienced a loss because of suicide, your post gave me two gifts: a deeper appreciation of the pain of mental illness, and a precious reminder of the value of even the smallest things. Thank you.

    • 1-27-2014

      Ava, I do not take your words lightly. Thank you.

  5. 1-27-2014

    Your willingness to open the door and the conversation on a topic so many in the church keep secret is heroic, dear friend. I believe it will help open the path for families to address the mental illness issue and work through their shared grief when suicide claims a loved one. Thank you for your determination to live life turned inside out that others may know your heart, and learn from your transparent message. Love you.

  6. 1-27-2014

    Dear Penny, As always with your writing, I am transported into the place where you are, hearing the sounds, smelling the smells, touching the grief. With your words, you have given us a gift as well- the gift of understanding the impact suicide can have on a family, the gift of the raw reality of grief without closure, questions without answers, love that transcends this earth, bonds that cannot be broken by tragedy, and the picture of true faith that is not wrapped up in a neat package but is often messy, frustrating and hard to hang onto. Through your posts I have come to love Jay too, and I believe that the asterisk not only represented the love you two had for each other but the trust he had for you to use his tragedy to help others and that through your faith and love beauty would come from ashes. I am grateful that Jay left you a gift to treasure and continue pondering as you go on this journey, and that you have been so generous to share that gift with us.

    • 1-31-2014

      Debbie, your words and thoughts wreck me sooo good. What a gift you have given to my heart…in so many ways. Bless you, sister. You are priceless treasure.

  7. 1-27-2014

    Deb, I cannot thank you, Karen, and the whole MPN team for opening the door so widely to me. I long to hear a deeper dialogue about this topic with the Church. Your reply fell so sweetly on my soul tonight. Bless you.

  8. 1-28-2014

    Penny ~ The loss of a loved one through suicide is so very painful. With the loss of Allen’s brother, Steve, who decided to take his own life we know all to well the pain! Steve left us with no letter of good-bye! We do not know his last thoughts and long for closure. I (Margo) suffer with depression/anxiety so I know all too well the pain and suffering Jay felt. I pray Jay has found the peace he so longed for! ♥

  9. 1-29-2014

    It is so good to hear from you. Not until we were able to reconnect with you in Michigan did we realize all of what you and Allen have been through, including suicide grief. You guys will always hold a very special place in our hearts. The special necklace you gave to me will always be a sacred treasure. Bless you. Much, much love to you and Allen.

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