This is hard for me to write. My younger sister, whom I’ll call Lisa, died two months ago at the age of seventeen. There was nothing physically wrong with her except a broken heart. She didn’t confide in me much, but I knew she’d been going out with a guy she’d met through friends in school named Alex. Our parents didn’t approve of Alex, but tended not to interfere in Lisa’s social life since she had top grades and had already been accepted to Dartmouth College. I am six years older than Lisa, graduated college a year ago, and have been living away from home (and in another city) since high school. But I know from Lisa that she was really in love with this guy and was trying to figure out ways to be with him. She talked about postponing college, getting a job and living with Alex who worked as a chef in a local restaurant. She wanted to marry Alex. I didn’t discuss any of these things with my parents, and deeply regret that. Because, of course, things didn’t work out with Alex, and Lisa grew extremely depressed. I am shocked that my parents didn’t see how much she deteriorated, but probably they were in total denial. And perhaps Lisa put a good face on things. But she didn’t think she could go on without Alex, and grew so morose that she went out in the woods and hung herself. Just writing this makes me sick, Lisa, my sister, taking her life in that gruesome way. My parents immediately wanted to cover the whole thing up. They wouldn’t admit Lisa had committed suicide and told all their friends she’d died of complications of the flu. I think they’ve actually talked themselves into believing that’s the true story. But it isn’t the true story, it’s a lie, and if Lisa’s life is to make any sense I think people have to know the truth about her death. My parents will not allow me to speak of Lisa’s suicide openly (or even to speak of it at all). I’d like to respect their wishes, but also want to respect the memory of my sister. What to do? I can’t go on like this and count on hearing from you.
Thanks in advance,
Dear Grieving Sister,
I offer condolences. That is a very sad story. I agree that for your sister, Lisa’s life to make sense people should know the truth about her death. However, people handle grief in different ways and if your parents’ way is to make up a palatable story, that is their right and you will probably not be able to dissuade them. You, on the other hand, can tell the truth. There’s no reason for you not to be honest with friends and acquaintances. If someone should ask how your seventeen-year-old sister died, you can answer truthfully that she suffered from a broken heart, that she lost her will to live, that she went into the woods and hung herself. Sounds pretty gruesome, but that’s what happened and if you feel strongly about it, it’s your right to give an accurate description of the events that occured. You didn’t tell me much about yourself, but there’s no doubt that your sister’s tragic end will have an enduring impact on your own life. I suggest you write about her death and perhaps also the subject of suicide as a way to come to grips with the tragedy. Keeping a journal is a start. Short stories, essays, op-eds could be good things to aspire to. I sense that with you as a sister, Lisa’s death will not have been in vein. Whatever you do, I wish you the best.
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Disclaimer: CD Knowles is not a doctor or psychotherapist. Any opinions expressed on Knowles Knows are just that — opinions.