According to the CDC, suicide is a growing epidemic in our country and has increased by 30% since 1999. In 2016 alone, nearly 45,000 lives were lost to suicide. Given the importance of awareness of this topic, we reached out to a loving member of our community who has been affected by suicide. Our community member, Amanda Swanson, lost her brother to suicide in 2013. She was brave and gracious enough to share her story with us so that we could share it with you. Please read on, respectfully, and share with others who may need to hear this story.
By Amanda Swanson
Have you ever noticed that most people just naturally expect to grow old and gray? I never could have imagined my little brother, Tory, would not have the chance to fall in love, have charming little babies, and live out his days to a ripe old age with the rest of us. Yet here I am, five years in, still trying to wrap my mind around the fact that he was struggling so much that ending his own life - at just 26 years young – felt like his only option.
Luke 23:43 says “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” This was the only thought that brought me any comfort in those first few days of losing him, and still now. The intense pain, the grief, and desperately yearning for one more moment – all of this was new to me. I had never lost anyone so precious, let alone so tragically. That first night, it took everything in me not to outright panic at the thought of losing even one picture, or forgetting one memory. I wanted to hear his voice over and over and over. I questioned everything. How did I not see this coming? I recalled him texting me on the night he died, telling me how much he loved me. I was getting ready to meet a boyfriend’s parents, so I replied with only a quick text back, commenting on him feeling serious and sentimental (how out of character, but so sweet). I told him that I loved him so much too, but why did I not take a moment to call and check on him? I spun over my own thoughts for longer than I care to admit, as I’m sure the rest of my family did too. In my journey over the next few years, there were some days that I coped with my pain in healthy ways, like going to the gym or on trips with Tory’s friends. Other days, I made bad decisions - poor attempts to cover up my pain. There is no easy guidebook on how to navigate the pain of losing a loved one so tragically, but I gradually came to find suicide survivor support groups and therapy were the best places to start.
For years I didn’t talk about my brother’s death to anyone outside of my immediate family, other survivors, or my therapist. I hid behind a false sense of shame and dishonor – something society has falsely paralyzed suicide survivors with. Now that some time has passed, I finally feel more ready and also a sense of responsibility to share my experience and what I’ve reflected on over the time I’ve had to learn to live without him. People typically don’t expect that bad things will happen to them. It always seems like those nightmarish things only happen to “other” people. It only takes one shattering event of sufficient magnitude to change your core beliefs about life. There isn’t a single person out there who would have predicted Tory would die by suicide. It is the equivalent of asking you to think of the least likely person you can who could die in this way – that was Tory for us. Even up until the end, he never showed signs of despair, much less a mental health condition. Tory was a person who literally lit up the room with his smile and made the corniest, dullest experiences amazing. He was the exact guy you knew to go to when you were feeling down, needed picked up, and a smile put on your face. He was a deep down beautiful soul, and will forever be remembered that way by the thousands that were blessed to cross his path.
Suicide carries in its aftermath a level of confusion and devastation that is… beyond description. One thing I’ve personally worked on is to try to stop questioning and spinning over an answer I know I will never receive. Instead, I want to end the stigma that contributes to feelings of isolation, not only for individuals struggling and at risk for suicide, but also to the survivors of suicide loss. Both groups of people are much higher in number than many realize. Today, suicide is the second leading cause of death for Americans ages 15 to 24.Tory was bravely serving in the Air Force at the time of his death, which is a factor, I feel, that likely contributed to his collapse. The suicide rate is staggeringly high for the men and women in our military, a true disaster that must be remedied. Since I now have two beautiful sons of my own, and a nephew and niece to look after, the growing need for suicide prevention has never been more crucial to me.
Over the years I’ve noticed signs here and there that I believe are put in my path to show me Tory is still with me, that his death was a mistake, even regrettable. They keep me going. They remind me what Tory was all about, even if it wasn’t the case in the final split second it took for him to leave forever. To his core for 26 years, he was about family. And friends. And love. And laughing. And LIVING. My family has worked very hard to hold those qualities close. I admire my family’s strength in surviving an unimaginable storm, and saying we’re thankful that we have each other has never had stronger meaning.
My hope is that we all come to understand that the things we think we know, we don’t necessarily know. That we learn the most important life lesson of all - to be able to pick up the pieces when life throws even the most unexpected curveball. That we learn to be kind and gentle with each other and remember everyone is fighting their own invisible battle. And that we learn to appreciate what we have and love one another while we are still here.
To all those who are missing a loved one, keep going. May we celebrate the life and remember the love.
Forever in my heart, Tory.
In loving memory of Sgt. Arturo Lorenzo Rivero Jr., September 16, 1987 – November 24, 2013
If you or someone you know is in a mental health emergency, call The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) or call 911, immediately.