Birdsong Hollow, near milepost 438 on the Natchez Trace Parkway

On the eve of World Suicide Prevention Day, my brother tried to kill himself. I won’t be pithy or trite. A suicide attempt guts responses anyway. Synapses don’t fire. Fingers won’t type. Ideas refuse to flow…..or they overflow.

My brother first tried to kill himself at fourteen or fifteen. He found a loaded gun, but he couldn’t pull the trigger. Funny how triggers become life’s highlight. The thing in the cleft of the inevitable canyon. The constant no matter the speed of the fall.

For three decades, I watched my brother claw at immovable rock and sometimes climb to sunshine. When I was lucky enough to be in his life, I never saw more joy etched into a face. He made it. Sweaty, bruised, exhausted, battered, yes, but euphoria superseded everything. He inched himself back to living, and we who loved him basked in the glory of him whole.

A body can’t scale impossible cliffs forever. It breaks down, gives out, ages beyond its ability to thrive.

Much like a troubled mind.

It whiplashes from the pit of a roiling soul, a blackness no thought can expunge, no sentiment can quash, no love can surmount, until the psyche splats against the bottom, its sides too daunting to find the unreachable sliver of light. How many times did my brother lie alone in that chasm before he dragged himself to stand, groped through blackness and scratched a path to the light?

Time passes. It’s hard to celebrate another success. Light dulls when everyone knows there will be a next time.

I’ve never known how to cope with my brother’s flirtation with death. When I was younger, I lectured him, because I didn’t understand. The depression. The endless dark. Why couldn’t he pick himself up and be strong? Like me?

I begged my parents to force him to get help. I avoided him, because I couldn’t stand the wrecking ball of his presence. Would he welcome me? Or lock himself in his room and refuse to leave? I offered to help him when he lacked the energy to lift one mental finger and accept. Through everything, I gave him a broken kind of love. It never penetrated his churning spirit, never forced its way into the lightless expanse of his soul.

I know it isn’t my fault my brother now lies in a trauma unit, his body plugged into machines to eradicate the lingering effects of his latest suicide attempt. I understand no amount of love, of begging, of connection, can stop a determined person from harming himself when he’s too broken to undertake another climb.

My brother’s only hope, shackled within the prison of his own subconscious, is to finally find a path that works. A route to the top with tools to cushion his next fall. No matter how madly I want those things for him, he has to grasp them himself.

I mourn for those who’ve lost loved ones to suicide. I sob for my brother who can’t stop trying. I cry for myself and my parents, who live every day wondering when he’ll succeed.

I don’t know how to cope with suicide. I only know how to try.


Today is World Suicide Prevention Day. I pilfered links to resources from Tori Nelson Young’s exquisite post about her mother’s suicide (READ IT HERE), and I added a few more.


To Write Love On Her Arms

International Association for Suicide Prevention

It Gets Better Project

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

Project Semicolon

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

Andra Watkins is the author of three books, including Not Without My Father: One Woman’s 444-Mile Walk of the Natchez Trace, nominated for the 2015 National Book Award for Nonfiction, the Sarton Memoir Award and the IBPA Benjamin Franklin Award for Autobiography/Memoir. Subscribe to her updates at her website HERE.

NYT bestselling author NOT WITHOUT MY FATHER | speaker | dreamer | risk-taker | travel whore | turn I wish I had into I’m glad I did

NYT bestselling author NOT WITHOUT MY FATHER | speaker | dreamer | risk-taker | travel whore | turn I wish I had into I’m glad I did