It was the light fingernail tapping sound on the window that put my dog Minnie on high-alert. She was barking and running around in circles with her usual reliable vigilance.

Before I left my easy-chair, I quickly glanced at the clock on the end-table. It was 9:05 PM. I wasn’t expecting anyone. I thought it was late for an unexpected visitor.

I turned on the porch light and peeked through the glass pane before I unlocked the door. My sister Claire and her friend Roger stood in the dim light under the shadow of the porch’s small roof.

“Oh my goodness,” I said, pulling the door open. “Come in!” I knew something was wrong.

Claire was trembling as she grabbed my hands. Roger stood beside her, his eyes cast downward. Claire came as close to my face as she could. Our eyes met and locked. My heart began to pound. What could have possibly happened? My mind was running in all directions, then suddenly it stood still as she spoke, barely above a whisper in short breathless sobs, “Michael committed suicide. His girlfriend found him this morning. He hung himself.” We held each other tightly and wept. How could this have happened?

On May 2, 2010, sometime after midnight, Michael, 27, took his own life. He was Claire’s grandson, and the son of my niece Jean, and her husband, Harry. He left a nine-year-old daughter, Robyn, an older brother, Daniel, and younger sister, Mary. He also left behind an army of aunts, uncles, cousins, friends and many members of his extended family from work and beyond.

He was a medic and a veteran of the Iraq War. When he came home he landed an EMT job in a local hospital where his mother works as a surgical nurse. She was so happy that she could get to see Michael every day. After two deployments, she was worried what the war could do to him.

Suicide isn’t an easy word to say, think about, or discuss. Suicide comes with enormous shock, waves of grief and confusion, guilt, anger and often self-imposed isolation due to shame for the surviving family and friends.

Why didn’t we do more to help him through his distress? Why didn’t we recognize the seriousness of his problems? Why did he think life wasn’t worth living? Did he know the lifelong extent of the devastating effects his family would endure? There are many questions we will never have answers to. In my lifetime, a brother-in-law, a school chum and my husband’s best friend all died untimely deaths due to suicide. Now there was Michael.

The death of someone you love and care for is always a trying and heartbreaking situation. I lost my son, Brian, at 19. He was killed by a drunk driver. I know firsthand the magnitude of the loss, and dreams forever shattered. The sorrow felt by family members and friends of a suicide can be deeper when the cause of death is suicide.

When I look into Jean’s face I see the sadness and grief she and her family have suffered from the loss of Michael. In moments of respite, I see a glimmer of hope that Jean will have the courage and determination to carry on.

Life as they knew it before Michael’s death and life after Michael’s death, are very different. They miss him terribly. They are haunted by memories: Michael was a happy, adorable boy with unruly curly hair, a charming smile and two dimples to go with his mischievous and engaging personality. Tragically, he died alone leaving many questions.

Michael was a good father to Robyn and she misses her daddy very much. He was a brave soldier who fought for his country. As a medic he saved as many lives as he could, but ultimately could not save his own. Michael did his best to overcome and conquer his demons, whether they were real or imagined. We will never understand or know the answers.

I hold on to the hope for my niece Jean and her family, as time puts some distance between them and their tragic loss, it will get a little easier.

 Yvonne E. Lancaster 2011

Yvonne Lancaster

Born in Worcester, MA, Yvonne is a former newspaper columnist and is the recipient of numerous writing awards from United Press International, Massachusetts Press Association and New England Press Association for her column From the Heart. Currently, she writes short stories, poetry and is a still life painter. She is co-author of Every Step of the Way: How Four Mother’s Coped with Child Loss (2006) and From the Heart, Sketches from Life (1985). She was named Woman of the Year by the Business and Professional Women of America. She is currently working on her first novel. Her website is

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