I was sick as a dog, half-packed for a track meet and trying to nap in my dorm when I learned my sister had taken her own life.
This was over five years ago. The memory may not strike the breath out of me anymore, but it is still clear and painful, and it frequently passes through my mind.
My sister was the oldest of six children. She was eight years older than me, but we were still pretty close. She was beautiful, vibrant, and the most life-filled person you could ever meet. Her ups and downs were frustrating to us, but I’m not sure we ever realized how precarious her situation was, or how we could help.
Losing her is something I’ll never get over. There is no closure with suicide. All of the shock and numbness that come with the loss of a loved one is further complicated when you know it occurred because of an internal, mental, emotional, and spiritual battle that was lost.
“Even when it doesn’t end in suicide, mental illness is a life-killer.”
Before this, mental illness was just something that a lot of people around me dealt with. It took losing something precious for me to realize just how deadly mental illness can be. Even when it doesn’t end in suicide, mental illness is a life-killer.
Last summer, my husband and I were watching the NBA finals when we got a phone call that gave me the familiar, weak-kneed, heart pounding, breathless feeling. This time, it was my brother-in-law, John.
I only knew John for a few years, but I did love him as a brother. What strikes me about John is his intense love for family, how well he remembered what was happening in the lives of the people around him, and his desire to make his loved ones laugh.
Suicide—mental illness—has taken too much from my family. It’s taken our loved ones. And I know we are not alone.
According to the Hope Network, one in five adults struggle with mental illness. Suicide is the third leading killer of people ages 10 to 24. Despite the widespread nature of this issue that only seems to be growing, they estimate that about 60 percent of mental illness goes untreated.
Mental illness has the ability to make people feel helpless—both those struggling with it inside themselves and the ones around them. But Hope Network believes that the key to beating mental illness is early intervention.
This is why my two sisters, my husband, my brother-in-law, and I are running the Hope Networks One in Five Marathon Relay. Four of us will run 5 miles, and the fifth runner will run 6.2 miles, representing the harder road people with mental illness have to run, often alone.
We will be wearing t-shirts with John and Elisabeth’s names. They are emblazoned with Mount Hood and three nautical stars. Elisabeth loved skiing that mountain. The stars represent John because he had them tattooed on his arm in honor of his siblings whom he loved so dearly.
Hope Network is trying to raise $50,000 to go towards mental health care. Will you join us in contributing? You can donate to “Team EJ” here.
Julie Bourdon studied Literature and Creative Nonfiction at Cornerstone University. She and her husband live in Southeast Michigan with their cat Boba and dog Ridley. She is working on a book to share more of her story of losing a sister to suicide–it’s in the infant stages. She’s a writer (and assistant producer and the editor) for Mission Network News.