Dying a Thousand Deaths.

Mary Swan-Bell
8 min readSep 11, 2019

In recognition of National Suicide Prevention Week, I’m sharing an excerpt from Post-Its and Polaroids. If you are depressed or contemplating harming yourself, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1–800–273-TALK (8255) or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741.

I’ve read that when a person commits suicide he or she dies once, but those left behind die a thousand times. Day after week after month, they die by rehashing conversations, questioning interactions, suppressing overwhelming guilt … asking why, wondering if they could have prevented it, analyzing conversations for signs they might have missed. All this over and over and over until they’re crazy. Yes, those left behind suffer long after the lost loved one’s pain has subsided.

My brother Brian was the 5th born child, and the last child of the “first family.” My first 5 siblings were born in about as many years. Then there was a 5-year gap before my closest brother and I joined the party. Brian was a clown. Next to Chris, he was the brother I was closest to, both in proximity and emotion. He had a great sense of humor that he often used as a defense mechanism to cover up the pain he carried. Our oldest nephew nicknamed him “Balky,” and it stuck for the rest of his life.

Balky unarguably suffered the worst of my dad’s wrath, who was mercilessly tough on my gentle, freckled brother. He called him a liar, criticized, berated, and condemned him. Nothing Balky did measured up to my dad’s lofty expectations from the time he was a little boy, and he nearly always took the blame for anything that had been broken, moved, lost, or misplaced.

One of my dad’s oft-screamed phrases was, “Keep your hands off things that don’t belong to you.” But in a house filled with 7 children, no one kept their hands off anything. Especially not a mini-orange tree that was one of my father’s favorite things to freak out about us not keeping our hands off.

To this day, one mention of that stupid tree elicits a collective groan from my siblings. Someone was always in trouble for orange-tree-related incidents. My sister used to use little branches that had broken off to dig in the dirt while chatting on the phone in our upstairs hallway. Once I divulged this information to my brothers, and they jumped on it like it was very valuable scoop. How do you know? Did she tell you? When did you see her?

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Mary Swan-Bell

dreamer•mystic•seeker• author, Post-Its and Polaroids•