A SIBLING TO SUICIDE
To all siblings:
A sibling suicide death creates incredible life changes for the survivors.
The death of a brother or sister not only emphasizes our own mortality,
but also destroys the fabric of a family as it has been. Older generations
are supposed to die, not our own.
The importance of sibling relationships cannot be emphasized enough. Chances
are the longest relationships in our lives will be with our siblings since
we are generally just a few years apart in age. Because our sibling ties
are so long, we witness more life changes than anyone else does. We have
shared experiences and memories, bedrooms and chores, family celebrations
and family tensions – a history and a heritage. Bound by love and
jealousy, we have stuck up for and fought one another. We have grown up
together, sharing many things until death has severed our connection.
For these many reasons, sibling grief can be prolonged and complicated.
Since siblings have played such an important role in the people that we
have become, we feel an especially intense sense of loss.
With the passing of our brother or sister, we lose an important sense
of family ties and security. Suddenly, an attachment to our family is
gone and we are forced to reorganize and redefine roles in our family.
My little brother, Michael, was just thirty-two when he took his life
on September 15, 2002. During Mike’s brief stay here on Earth, he
touched many lives. Michael was a very hard-working, diligent, responsible,
reliable, dependable young man. He was artistic, creative, and very handy.
Mike was kind, unselfish, patient, considerate and compassionate. Michael
loved kids, whether they were his own or those of others. Mike was a great
role model and father. Michael enjoyed working with tools and his hands,
music, computers, super-heroes and “Seinfeld.”
Most of all, Mike loved his kids and his family.
Being young and in love, our parents married at an early age in 1963.
I came along in 1964, Brian in ’67, Mike in ’70 and Beth in
1974. Our parents are wonderful people and always instilled in us the
importance of family and showered us each with love and attention.
Growing up, the three of us boys rotated having a single room with sleeping
in bunk-beds together. We did lots of things together as a family, including
“car vacations” and camping. Many times strangers complimented
my parents on how well-behaved their children were.
Holidays were always special times in our house growing up. My parents
felt it was important to give each child extra-special attention on their
birthdays. Wonderful and loving relatives filled our home for these celebrations
and for all the big occasions. Brian and I, being closest in age, always
competed at every sport imaginable. We often ended up in fist-fights that
needed to be broken up by Mom or Grandma or the baby-sitter. Mike didn’t
care to compete too much with us, although he did like to get under our
skin whenever the opportunity presented itself.
Whenever Brian would beat up Mike, I’d defend him and use the occasion
as another excuse to scrum with Brian some more. Beth, being so much younger,
was our cute little-sister that we dragged around and that the neighbors
As teenagers, all three of us boys caddied at the Beverly Country Club.
We also ended up working there in the Pro Shop as well.
After graduating from Illinois State University, Michael came downtown
to the Chicago Board of Trade, where he ended up working with me and my
group for the past ten years. Brian and Mike also lived together for a
number of years in the town-home that they bought together.
In sum, much of my life was spent defending, mentoring and working with
my brother Mike.
For reasons beyond our comprehension, Michael never saw himself as we
all saw him and as he truly was – a loving and doting father, a
wonderful brother, a loving son, a wonderful husband, a great uncle, and,
of course, a cherished friend.
Mike lived in two different worlds. The real world in which he functioned
so well and was so successful, and the world inside his head, where he
couldn’t see what a positive influence he was on so many people.
For many years he battled his depression, but he just couldn’t overtake
In college, apparently, Mike had suffered his first bouts with depression.
Over the years, Mike must have learned to mask his pain pretty well, because
many of us were unaware that he would suffer repeated bouts of depression
over the ensuing years.
People who worked with Mike for many years, stood next to him, shared
personal stories, as well as others who spoke with him on headsets for
up to 7 hours a day were all caught off-guard by what happened to Mike.
None of them could comprehend that Mike was even depressed, let alone
suicidal! Having worked with him for so long and then seeing him at family
events as well, I too, was taken by surprise. None of us could see the
pain that he was in because he chose to mask it. Michael was a prime example
of someone who was functionally depressed. He showed up to work every
day, did his job, didn’t complain, and yet, kept it all inside him
until he’d had enough.
September 15th, 2002
On August 3rd, 2002, Brian’s wife, Kristie, gave birth to their
son, Conor. Then on August 30th, my wife, Carol, gave birth to our daughter,
Emma. Michael and his family spent time meeting both his nephew and niece.
September 15th was meant to be a special day of celebration for the Richards’
family. We were all planning to gather to celebrate Conor’s Baptism.
Instead, it turned into a day of tragedy.
Early that morning, we got word that Mike had “gone missing.”
Brian, Dad and I joined in the search for him as Mom stayed home awaiting
his arrival with the “porch light on.”
Unfortunately, our worst fears were confirmed when I found the lifeless
body of my little brother.
In the span of just 16 days, I went from my greatest moment – seeing
the birth of my daughter – to my worst moment – finding my
I have learned that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.
I have learned that the pre-suicidal state of mind is one of extreme mental
anguish where one’s judgment is distorted and one does not have
the ability to make “choices” or see options.
I have learned that individual therapy and group therapy in the form of
LOSS (Loving Outreach for Survivors of Suicide) meetings are wonderful
for helping survivors to deal with this grief.
I have learned that to the rational, normal, functioning mind, that suicide
is such an irrational, incomprehensible, senseless act that it is hard
to believe that someone I loved could have done this.
I have done extensive reading about depression and suicide and have come
to realize that the extremely depressed person who dies by suicide is
in such terrible pain that he no longer is thinking of anything but ending
In “It’s a Wonderful Life”, Jimmy Stewart is able to
see how life would have been if he had never been born. I often have wondered
that if that angel could have shown Mike his wake, attended by the 700-plus
people, and the aftermath of this decision, that he never would have done
this to himself and his family.
I have learned that the group that is known as the “survivors of
suicide” is much larger than I would have ever guessed before. Mental
illness and, especially, suicide are still stigmatized by our society
so no one speaks about them publicly. It has amazed and saddened me to
discover just how many people I know that have had their lives affected
by the loss of someone important to them through suicide.
They say that survivors receive some type of “gift.” I’m
still waiting for the gift from losing Mike. However, I did receive a
tremendous gift during the previous year after losing a daughter, Gillian,
at six months of pregnancy. The gift was that I was able to grow much
closer to Michael and his family. They helped me out tremendously during
that terrible time and I truly felt that we all became much closer after
I don’t harbor any guilt in what my brother did, but I do wish there
had been something I could have done to ease his pain or to help him get
the help he needed. I realize now that nothing I did, or really, nothing
that anyone did would have changed this. Michael said his “bag of
misery was full” – that his pain was so deep that he decided
this was his only option to stop the pain. It wasn’t because of
anything that anyone said or anyone did. He felt he needed to stop his
The effect of this tragedy has been very noticeable on all of the family.
Some have chosen to isolate themselves from the rest. Many of us have
banded together to try to cope with the ramifications of this monumental
The fact is that I think of my brother every day. I go to work and don’t
see him. We gather for family celebrations and he is no longer there.
There is a huge gap in my life in the spot that he used to occupy.
There is no doubt that my brother’s actions changed my life. I’ve
been told that I am much more “quick-tempered,” for example.
I find it hard to concentrate much of the time. I don’t sleep as
well as I always had. They say that the signs of depression and grief
are very similar.
Mike’s actions caused me to join a club that I never wished to be
in – the survivors of suicide club. Sometimes life deals us lemons
and so now we must try to make lemonade from this as well.
On behalf of his siblings and parents, I say this to Michael: “We
pray that in Heaven you find the peace and comfort that you were denied
here on Earth.
We miss you. We love you.”
In Memory of Keith and Michael,
Paul L. Richards
The following books have been very helpful to me and were the basis for
much of this information:
Healing After the Suicide of a Loved One, by Ann Smolin and John
Do They Have Bad Days in Heaven? By Michelle Linn-Gust, 2001