In memory of my brother, Phil Lawson

It started with a text from my sister-in-law, “Good morning. Can you give me a call when you have a moment?” This was highly unusual for her to text me. I knew something was up with my brother. He hadn’t returned my calls or texts for weeks or more like months.

On the rare occasion he did answer, he always told me he was thinking about me and that he was going to call. I knew that was a smoke screen, but I didn’t really know why. I found out only by reading between the lines in what he was telling me, how he was doing and what he was doing since being laid off. My brother was depressed. It was obvious. There was no question about it. I had no idea how bad it really was though.
On our first phone call, my sister-in-law, told me that my brother had been missing for 5 days. She thought it was time to let me know. She had been doing everything on her part to find him: talking with the police, calling hospitals and homeless shelters, canvasing the area but to no avail. I was shocked to hear that he was missing. My head was swirling with the next steps. How could I help her? I needed to find my brother. He lives in a different state. It is an easy flight, so I immediately started making arrangements to fly down and join the search. Text messages flew back and forth along with another phone call.

While we were on the phone for a second time, her doorbell rang. It was the local police coming to tell her that my brother had been found. I felt like I was in a movie – where the police come knocking with somber faces to share the bad news that my brother, her husband was dead.

As I put together the pieces of what happened, it boils down to my brother took his own life, chose death over living and committed suicide. Hearing of his death took me back to the phone call in 2018 that my son had died by suicide. All the questions of why came flooding in. The scars from my son’s death were ripped open. The pain and suffering surfaced like a freshly skinned knee. How could this be? Why?

My heart aches for my sister-in-law and her two children. They are left to pick up the pieces of losing their husband and dad. I am working through the loss of another family member to suicide. As I shared the news of his death with other family members, one response summed it up, “Wow.” They were as much as a loss for words as I was.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States with major depression as a risk factor. Symptoms of clinical depression is a change in activities, disruption of eating and sleeping behavior, hopelessness, sadness, restlessness and lack of concentration and ability to make decisions. Depression is a mood disorder with no exact cause. It can occur from physical brain structure, pain, chemistry, hormones, or genetics. History and life stressors are also factors in depression and mental health challenges.

Since my brother’s death, I learned that suicide also comes from outside of clinical depression diagnosis; anxiety, PTSD, and substance abuse. When suicidal ideation bumps with clinical depression, biology, and the environment the risk of completion of suicide increases.

My sister-in-law shared from her perspective the depths of his depression. He had isolated himself, was no longer interested in his hobbies that gave him joy, did little to help with running a household and was extremely unhappy. My brother was never officially diagnosed with depression because he refused to get help. My sister in law went with him to therapy but he didn’t go back. She gently told him that he needed help. It was to no avail. He would not listen.

I am so mad at my brother that he refused to get help. He had his wife who was so willing and able to support him. I continue to ask why did he refuse? His wife was the life-line – if he would have just grabbed it. Was it pride that got in the way? Did he believe that getting help for mental health was a blow to his man-hood as a father and husband? Did he feel worthless because he was laid off? Was he in physical pain that was unbearable? Or was he in a rush to be reunited with those that have gone before him – mom, dad, our sister, my two children? Questions without answers!
I also think he was not capable of understanding that he needed help or that help was available. Mental health is hard to understand, diagnose and treat. Mental health has a stigma and help is difficult to get. Don’t let it stop you from getting help. Don’t accept no for an answer. Keep looking for help – even if out of your network. Don’t let insurance dictate your health care. Advocate for yourself and your loved ones.

As a suicide loss survivor, I know I will survive this loss too by going back to the same resources I have used before. I am thankful that I have them. I am grateful that I can share them with my sister-in-law. It is good that they are collected in one place, my book, Survive Your Child’s Suicide: How to Move through Grief to Healing. While the title indicates for your child, the tools apply to anyone who has lost a loved one to suicide, including a husband and father. Visit for more information.


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