(Re-released in memory of my brother, and in honor of National Suicide Prevention Month.)
Chances are, you never met my brother. There are still some people around who did, friends from high school, friends from college. Even now, 40 years later, friends of Marc’s contact me.
“He was the smartest person I ever knew.”
“He was my best friend.”
“People tell me I’m a genius, but I tell them they should have met Marc Deguire.”
I think Marc was destined to become a college professor. He was a masterful, if amateur, teacher. He patiently explained algebra to me when my math teacher failed. At the age of 16, he instructed his older cousin how to drive stick-shift. He attempted to teach our father how to pitch the family tent, but that was hopeless. My father couldn’t learn those kinds of things, but it surely wasn’t my brother’s fault. Marc should have graduated M.I.T., earned his doctorate in physics, and taught at a small liberal arts college. He could have inspired his students, coaching, advising, coaxing along, just like he did for me, his little sister. I can see him now, wearing a corduroy jacket, wire-framed glasses and a big wide smile.
But that is not what happened. What happened instead was that my brother, Marc-Emile Deguire, hurled himself out of the 16th story on the MIT campus, and plunged to his death. He was 19 years old.
My brother’s death is the single worst thing that ever happened to me. Now, as a psychologist, I spend far too many hours coaxing my precious clients back from the abyss of hopelessness and despair.
If you are feeling suicidal, I understand. Many people struggle to go on living at times; the feeling is not as unusual as we might pretend. Life is hard, much harder than we tend to admit to others. It is not uncommon to think that death could be a relief, in our darkest moments.
But hear me please; hear me loud and clear. Suicide is a terrible legacy for those you leave behind. I know this as a suicide survivor, and also as a clinical psychologist. The people who love you do not recover from a suicide. Sure, they go on. Sure, they will feel happiness again. But the legacy of suicide is devastating. It is the awareness that the person chose to leave you that is hard to get past. Sometimes people feel that the suicidal person didn’t love them enough to keep trying. Sometimes they feel the person didn’t care enough to stay alive. Sometimes they feel horribly guilty for not saving the person. They wonder, forever, what they should have done differently. These thoughts and feelings don’t go away. The thoughts stay, firmly encamped.
Miraculously, some people survive jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge. These people intended to kill themselves but wound up not dying. When they survived, unexpectedly, each one stated they felt joy to be alive and that they regretted jumping the instant their feet left the bridge. What were the thoughts of the jumpers who didn’t survive, as they plummeted toward the water. Did they also regret their choice?
Did my brother?
These are thoughts I bear in mind when working with clients. Misery can feel unbearable but it is not permanent. Excruciating moments can be survived. I offer hope that everything changes, awareness that misery is but a moment in time. I inform clients, again and again, that the legacy of their suicide will be a dark burden for their friends, family, and most importantly, their children. If worse comes to worse, I arrange hospitalization for clients, where they can be kept safe and secure until their despair lifts. And in the end, clients are always grateful they stayed alive. Misery passes, if you can hold on long enough. Everything passes, in time.
My brother didn’t have a therapist to guide him away from his plans. He didn’t have medication. He didn’t have a support group. He didn’t have a lot of things that he needed. I think he left me here with a job to do, and lessons to keep sending out:
1) Live your life. If the only thing you can do today is eat a little and brush your teeth, OK. Get some help. Keep going. We need you. It is not your time to go.
2) Never believe the thought “People will be better off without me.” That thought is a symptom of your despair. It is not an accurate thought. It is a symptom, like having a fever is a symptom of infection. Even if you are having a very hard time, no one will be relieved by your death. Really.
3) It is easy to give you hotline information (and here it is: https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/chat/). It is not as easy to climb out of a deep, dark hole. I recommend finding an excellent therapist and considering medication. I suggest daily exercise and getting outdoors. Learning meditation can be a lifesaver. Please call the friends and family who love you and let them know that you are struggling. There are many paths back to health. I have walked with a lot of clients on these paths, and I know that it is possible. You can feel hopeless one month and be full of joy the next. Truly.
When I was 12, I was complaining to my brother one day. He was 17 at the time.
“You’re so… special. I’m not. You’re this genius, everyone talks about you all the time and I’m like…nothing. All I am is… nice.”
My brother Marc looked at me very intently. There was a moment’s pause. His brown eyes shone with light and care. Gently, he replied, “But Lise, being nice is the most important thing of all.”
I don’t know what is the most important thing of all. I do know that it is important to stay alive. Breathe in, breathe out. Death will come eventually, and we will all figure out what happens then. In the meantime, please take care of yourself, and try to take care of the people around you. If you need help, get help.
Be like my brother in your compassion and your wisdom.
Be like my brother in your depth of knowledge and sincerity of character.
Be like my brother in your passionate love of family and friends.
But be like me in staying alive.
Lise Deguire's multiple award-winning memoir, Flashback Girl: Lessons on Resilience from a Burn Survivor, is available for purchase on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Newtown Book Shop and The Commonplace Reader.