‘It can’t be real. This happens to other families, not mine.’ He positioned himself on top of a mountain and texted a note. I couldn’t breathe. I fell to the floor.’

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“My brother John and I grew up doing nearly everything together. We are only sixteen months apart and we lived in the middle of nowhere, so that meant we were each other’s best friends for a long time.

Courtesy of April D. Dillow
Courtesy of April D. Dillow
Courtesy of April D. Dillow

My parents would probably disagree, but I don’t really remember fighting that much. We just got along. Growing up, we made a lot of deals. ‘You play Barbie’s with me, then I’ll play cars with you.’ ‘You help me clean my room, then I’ll help you clean your room.’ Mine was always first. Can you tell I was the older sister?

We became the closest in high school. When I started driving, I often heard from my parents, ‘You can go, but John has to go with you.’ John quickly took on the ‘big brother’ role in my life.

Courtesy of April D. Dillow

Although he was younger than me, he stood a full 5 inches taller than me. I remember while we were growing up he spent years measuring himself up to me eagerly awaiting the day he would be taller than me, and boy he flew right passed me. He talked to me about girls and I helped him style his hair for school. Our clothes dryer was in our detached garage and he would always walk with me to get my clothes when it was dark because I was scared.

Nearly all of my childhood memories include him. It’s the way it will always be and I treasure each one of those precious memories now. I share them often with my own children as I watch their relationships develop.

Courtesy of April D. Dillow

Between 2001 and 2010, John graduated from UTI, got married, and settled down with his wife and two children. During this time, I would often spend nights at his place when my husband Joe was gone at work. Joe and John had a lot in common and whenever we would go visit John, they would disappear into the garage to talk shop. Or whatever it is men talk about in garages. We vacationed together, celebrated birthdays together, and did life together.

Courtesy of April D. Dillow

2011 brought hardship for my brother and my sister in law. She had discovered some infidelity on his part and he admitted to an addiction. They both began to seek help through therapy and some support groups at the church, but after a couple years and despite all of their efforts, they decided to separate. Christmas Eve 2013 was the last time I saw my brother.

Courtesy of April D. Dillow

He started slowly pulling away from our family after that last holiday, saying he needed to focus on repairing his marriage. The beginning of 2014 saw my brother and sister in law in the beginning stages of divorce. He was still maintaining his distance, not responding to texts or phone calls, while we tried so hard to give him the space he said he needed through this season.

In February 2014, I talked to him on the phone. There were things he wanted to explain and my sister heart broke because he was in so much pain. I cried through most of that phone call. I was so glad to be talking to him on the phone and I missed him. I just wanted my brother back. I wanted to speak up and say more, but I approached that conversation with so much caution. I was so afraid of saying something to upset him. I didn’t want to lose him.

March 23, 2014, my mom called and told me that John was threatening to end his life. He had texted a suicide note to my sister in law and positioned himself in the middle of the desert.

Three hours later. with helicopters in the air, my parents, his friends, and police on the side of the road, my brother died by suicide.

I was home alone with my then two-year-old daughter and nine-month-old son while my husband was at work. I had been on the phone off and on with my parents for the last three hours and I was waiting for the call saying he’d come off the mountain and that he was okay. Instead, the call came from my husband. Although my dad called him first so he could go home to tell me about my brother, my husband knew I was sitting at home, waiting. So, he told me right away.

I fell to the floor into this place of utter devastation. A moment where I felt completely empty. I felt like I had nothing left. The tears were heavy and the weight of the words ‘Your brother is no longer with us’ were even heavier. I had sat on the couch four hours and prayed for a miracle. I prayed for John to walk down off that mountain and to seek help. That miracle didn’t come and my brother was gone. I remember thinking, ‘It’s not real. It can’t be real. This happens to other people’s family, not mine.’ I felt like I couldn’t breathe.

I have reflected on those last three months of John’s life a lot over the years, wondering if I would do anything different if I could do it again, and I don’t think I would. The truth is, he scared me. I was afraid of losing him, of him not talking to me anymore, and he didn’t ‘feel’ like himself to me. But then there’s also a piece of me that wishes I would have just stopped by his house and hugged him. Not to say anything, not to demand answers or force him to talk, just hug him.

After John’s death, faith became real to me. Having faith wasn’t a mere greeting card sentiment or something you say to make someone feel better. It became a daily choice. I had to struggle with the tension between hope and despair…something I STILL have to do.

John’s been gone for 5 years and sometimes it still doesn’t feel real. Why is this MY story? Why did John feel like his was over? I will never truly know the answers to these questions. Having peace about this didn’t happen right away, but it did come.

I was walking down a path I would have never chose for myself. My feet certainly wouldn’t have wandered here, but in this tragedy, I had an opportunity. I didn’t see it at the time, but all I knew then was that I was choosing the next best decision and leaning into God. I had an opportunity to take refuge in the God I sing to every weekend and the God I pray to every day. I have a natural tendency to want to control everything about my life. When this ‘bubble’ of perceived protection was shattered, I began to realize how little I actually had control over. This is when I drew nearer to God, taking refuge. This has without question lead me into a deeper faith.

God gave me the words to a children’s book which then led to me writing about John’s death and mental health. I have spoken on discussion panels regarding mental health and suicide. I have been able to have conversations with others who have lost loved ones to suicide and God keeps showing up with opportunities for me to comfort others through grief as I was comforted.

I don’t know why my brother died. The reality of mental health is that there isn’t a one size fits all approach. But do you know what does help? Awareness. Not being afraid to talk about it. Sharing stories like this so that maybe one person who is struggling will reach out for help. Or one family relationship will be repaired because the stakes are high.

I am in therapy to continually learn more about myself and the ways to take care of my mental, spiritual, and physical health. I am sharing more openly about the struggles my brother had, my faith journey through it all, processing the grief now, and just reminding others to give themselves and others grace.

Love well.

You are loved.”

Courtesy of April D. Dillow

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by April D. Dillow of The Stamped Lily. You can follow her journey on Instagram here and Facebook here. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.

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