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'Evelyn' Gives Viewers a Window Into Suicide Loss

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Can a hike across Scotland help heal three siblings who for 13 years have not truly spoken of their brother Evelyn’s death by suicide? Can watching a documentary of that hike help heal the audience? 

The walk itself is filled with pain, challenge and conflict, but also it is also filled with connection and love. The film is “Evelyn,” by Orlando von Einsiedel, released on Netflix on World Suicide Prevention Day. Since my own sister took her life 15 years ago, I have made it my mission to help people grieving a suicide. As a psychologist and suicidologist, I have met with hundreds of individuals and families; I have heard of their heartaches but also their strengths. “Evelyn” is a raw yet beautiful documentary of a family grieving a suicide.  

Many of the themes in this film echo experiences of other suicide loss survivors, so while it is a story of one family’s journey, it is sure to bring solace and recognition to others who have lost a loved one to suicide. In addition, I feel that it a clear window into what grief after suicide looks like; in this way, I hope it might help others who view it to be more empathic to and understanding of this unique form of loss. Perhaps the film also might also serve to deter those thinking of suicide from leaving such a devastating legacy on their friends and family. As someone who lost a loved one to suicide, at various times the film made me miss my sister, made me ache for her, made me mad at her and laugh at her — but more than that — made me honor her life and honor my own healing process as well.

The film follows three siblings on a journey, a literal walk though the beautiful landscapes of Scotland, where they revisit places they went with their brother as they also revisit their memories and emotions. “The unmentionable becomes unmanageable” is a phrase that went through my head as Orlando von Einsiedel explains that since his brother Evelyn’s death, each family member has been in their own private and very agonizing grief. He hopes that taking this walk and talking about Evelyn will help them grieve, grow closer and become more at peace. 

Silence is the major theme, as suicide is so difficult to talk about. Slowly the siblings, parents and friends tell each other how they first found out. However, the memories are not just of Evelyn’s death, they are of Evelyn’s struggles as well as his achievements in his life. In this way we see it is not his suicide that defines Evelyn, but his life: his keen intelligence, his wit and the frequency in which he would fart. The process of sharing is not always easy; Orlando’s sister in particular struggles with whether this journey and exploration will bring more harm than good. 

Other themes touched on are how suicide can splinter families; how survivors often feel guilt at what they did or did not do; how we each grieve in our own way; how very common it is to lose someone to suicide; how awkward it can be to answer questions about a suicide; how difficult anniversaries can be; how nice it is to hear a new happy story of your loved one. There is also the theme of creating distance from grief — it was particularly painful and familiar to me watching Orlando’s struggle, as it is easier for him to turn the camera on others and ask about their experiences, rather than to express his own vulnerability and need for comfort.

In some sense, the family in “Evelyn” takes this journey in order to find answers. Just like a suicide note does not often sufficiently explain why a person takes his or her life, we do not know by the end of the documentary how much the journey will heal them. But something important has changed; they may not be closer to “the truth” but they are closer to each other. The family has ended their silence and held each other — and they have remembered and they have grieved. They have also shared with us, the audience, who Evelyn was, and thus added to his legacy. 

Originally published: September 28, 2019
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