Part 1 of 2 Sixteen long months ago, my life jumped the track to a hugely different timeline and trajectory. In the time since that point of impact event when my dear baby brother ended his life, I have frequently thought of dates biblically. Before Zach (BZ) and After Zach (AZ). As my weather obsessed kids and I have been tracking Hurricane Idalia from the safety of our land-locked living room, a new categorical nomenclature has emerged.
A beautiful life that ends by suicide should be catalogued like a Hurricane. Like the weather event, it should be thought about in three distinct, non-overlapping phases: formation, landfall, and aftermath.
Hurricanes are called different things (tropical cyclones, typhoons) but they all are colossal in size. As displaced air grows, huge clouds form and spin until a recognizable eye of the storm forms.
This eye easiest viewed from outside the storm. Much like a person lost to suicide, very rarely is this outcome a spontaneous, explosive incident. Every storm is as unique as a fingerprint but comes from the same template. Hurricanes move slowly and wreak insurmountable damage for prolonged periods of time. For example, Hurricane Katrina’s effects terrorized the lands it passed over for more than a year.
Experts, we who have experienced these types of loss, will tell you it was not one thing that went wrong. It was one million things and often so acutely that our loved one could not even come up for air long enough to accept help. While the storm is in the ocean it builds momentum as it feeds on heat and moisture. Some hurricanes have all the ingredients to destroy but spend their fury on an open ocean. It takes ideal circumstances for these storms to emerge.
A precise mixture of rising air and low wind shear. A small difference in wind speed could stop it in its tracks. But the homeostatic environment often does not interfere. Just like humanity. Suicide is horrific and so uncomfortable, that all we can acknowledge is ‘I’m sorry’ and ‘That’s awful’, but statistically after 3 weeks people won’t reference our loved one or check-in on us survivors anymore.
Paul Quinnett PhD says it like this “non-response can be interpreted as permission to proceed.”
Be the interference.
Ask your loved one the uncomfortable question before this brewing storm makes landfall. Storms often creep along slowly, 10-20 mph, our loved ones may have been struggling in front of our eyes for longer than we could have imagined enduring.
In my brother’s case there were copious points when his storm’s momentum grew. We moved frequently, so we never established hearty roots to fight uprooting during the F5s.
A circulating storm that dissipates midocean was not an option after losing a parent, abandonment, addiction, abuse, neglect, an unstable marriage, and sixteen years in the United States Infantry.
A hurricane is set to make landfall when the center moves across the coast, or the eye of the storm is over land. There are AREAS of the world more prone to landfall (i.e., Florida) and when the storm hits land friction increases while cutoff from supplies, the winds decrease at a constant rate. Storms may shrink when they hit land, but landfall is when the most damage occurs.
Power outages, downed wires, storm surge, flooding and flying debris causes more injury and death than the hurricane overhead. Zach’s landfall started with PCS to Germany, a failing marriage, COVID-19 pandemic sidelining troops, alcohol abuse, and hypertension. On his 36th birthday he received a DUI while riding a scooter back from drinks with friends. His last 6 months were the point of no return, his cone of uncertainty became more determined.
Once the storm has passed and the rebuild begins, it is the only point where you can really evaluate the awfulness of this disturbance. When your home looks different you can spot the hazards to your health and safety. Besides external changes, internally overwhelming anxiety, worry, sleep problems and depressive symptoms may dominate. Hurricane Sandy formed October 22, was post-tropical October 29 and dissipated November 2nd. If the storm lasted 11 days and the recovery 14 months, that puts the rebuild at 38 times the length of the initial disaster.
Often communities prepare for impact with sandbags on the ground, boarded up windows, and stockpiled water. Most times these preparations are unnecessary, and the homeowners can return to life and be proud that they were ‘ready’. Other times the storm surge will raise the water level a few feet and cause nonfatal damage. The savvy homeowner who lives in hurricane territory will say “this isn’t their first rodeo”, grab a beer, call their home insurance, and chalk this up