When I was 34, my sister committed suicide. It had been a long time coming, so it wasn’t a big surprise – she had already made multiple attempts and was suffering from severe untreated mental illness. Like everything in life, things didn’t go according to plan. It was quite a scene.
I remember getting a call from my father that she had overdosed on psychotropic medication and alcohol in a motel on the interstate – she had long ago learned how to manipulate psychiatrists in order to get the medications she wanted. I loved her the best I could, but she had been too far gone for many, many years. One of the things about mental illness that people don’t understand unless they have been through it with a loved one is how much it wears you down – after decades, you just get exhausted. You lost hope a long, long time ago. It’s a brutal reality of life to realize that some things just aren’t fixable.
So now she is on life support in an ICU in critical condition, and someone has to go to the motel and clean up the crime scene. I fly to Virginia from New York as the only one in my family capable of dealing with this tragedy. The whole thing was like a surreal dream. I rented a car at the airport and drove straight to the motel. I remember it was cold and windy, with grey skies and light rain. Some guy who worked the front desk and probably got paid minimum wage let me into the room. This was way over his pay scale and he made a quick exit. The vibe was “Take all the time you need and for gods sake please don’t make me come back in here. Just close the door on your way out.”
As you might imagine, the room was a mess – pills and empty bottles of booze and her suitcase and clothes everywhere. Overflowing ashtrays and the TV was still on. Didn’t look like anyone else had been there since EMS carted her away. There were some remnants of emergency rescucitation equipment on the floor with everything else. It was my job to collect her personal belongings and whatever else I might find that shouldn’t be left behind.
I have this aspect of my personality that has served me well over my life, but isn’t particularly attractive. When I have a job to do, no matter how unpleasant, I just get on and do it. No crying, no emotional display – just grim determination.
Life isn’t for pussies.