THE STORY OF BLU MATTER PROJECT – by Linda Malone, Founder
In August of last year my little brother Michael committed suicide. We learned that he was suffering from Depression and Bipolar Disorder. He was undiagnosed. He was 24 years old. I spent the night at the hospital with him while he lay in a coma with my brothers and my parents by his side. He was pronounced dead at 8:10 AM on a sunny Monday morning. That night changed everything for each one of us. The choice he made on that hot summer evening to end his life has forever shifted the trajectory of my life and the lives of those who surrounded him.
That’s the part that seems obvious – that your life would change as a result of experiencing something as profoundly traumatic and devastatingly sad as suicide. What is less obvious and worth sharing is the story of how I have chosen to understand the choice he made because I cannot change what happened by being angry or sad. Instead, I have chosen to see the beauty, chance and possibility in his death. I am going to promote a powerful life for him because of those life altering things he taught me in the days, weeks and months following his death.
Michael struggled throughout the night on life support. My father and younger brother shifted through stages of traumatic shock and grief while my mother was in panicked transit en route from Montreal to Toronto. I spent much of that night sitting with him, talking to him, trying to help him feel loved in case any part of him was aware of what was happening. In fact, the doctors responsible for him that night encouraged me to do that, despite the fact that his motor skills were obviously inhibited by the damage to his brain. I felt, along with the doctors that there was a chance he might still hear and feel me. He stabilized over the course of the night but finally after over 6 hours of improved condition, at the moment when my mother arrived at the hospital, completing the attendance of all family members, he went into a massive cardiac arrest. A series of resuscitations took place, and 2 hours later he died.
I spent the last two hours lying beside him, struggling to find a balance between staying calm for him and managing devastating waves of grief. I imagined that if it was me lying there I would want to feel loved in the simplest most powerful sense and so I chose to focus on finding that place in the early hours of the morning, during the final hours of his life.
This is in fact the beginning of the story of Michael’s life in many ways. Since I have begun sharing his story a number of people have been affected by it. For example, a work colleague who I have known for years had never told anyone that his younger brother, the same age as Michael, also suffered from Depression and Bipolar Disorder. When I told him the story of my brother, he asked me: “what should I do, how can I stop my brother from doing the same thing?”
I am often questioned about what I could have done or should have done in order to stop him from making the same choice that night. I actually never struggled with the guilt of being unable to stop him, what I struggle with most is that I did not know that he was in pain. I felt by not recognizing the signs, I had no idea what he was struggling with. If could choose to go back in time it would be so that I could tell him two things: that I was so sorry he suffered alone and that I would try to separate his personality and the choices from the mental illness he suffered from.
I wish that I had been more compassionate, more present and more supportive and not as judgmental, critical, busy, and impatient to be able to see that he needed help.
This could remain a sad story. However, early on in this experience I chose to see that in fact we were, all of us directly and indirectly involved, given a beautiful gift – the gift of perspective. When I told my friend my story, he left the following weekend to visit his little brother – and he told him everything that I wished I had the chance to tell Michael. From that point on he credits Michael’s story with why they have a different and a healthy relationship. My friend now treats his brother with a greater level of compassion and empathy and his brother feels supported and understood in a deeper way.
This is why I have to tell his story. So that it impacts those who hear it and inspires all of us to make the direct choice to be more compassionate and present with those who need us. This is the gift he gave me and I am choosing to respect the choice he made and to create a better world in the process.