Some Mistakes Were Made

Some, by Marilyn J. Rowland

I don’t know how to write about this

Like many artists, I, too, have seen the dark side of depression. It’s important we tell our story so others struggling don’t feel alone. . . . Many have reached out to me lately in my time of need and I am slowly healing and am very grateful. Please, if you need, reach out to me. I’ll hear you. I’ve been there.

Brittany Belland

That’s the thing about suicide. Try as you might to remember how a person lived his life, you always end up thinking about how he ended it.

Anderson Cooper

Brittany Belland, my niece, a funny, beautiful, warm, loving, kind, thoughtful, compassionate, and talented young woman died by her own hand in November 2018, four years ago now. Her loss devastated her family, including her mother, my sister Diana. Brittany was only 28, but she suffered from severe depression. Perhaps she was bi-polar. Medicines weren’t working, and she seemed to think she had no other options. She did not want to die this way–she worked to promote suicide prevention and awareness and spoke out about mental health issues, but, in the end, the pain was simply too much and she was unable go on. It wasn’t a decision or a willful act. One of her sisters, a physician, said she died of mental illness. Her brain stopped functioning and so did her will to survive. But I know it is difficult for her family to accept this/

An actress and comedian, Brittany put on a “one-woman show” in September 2018, just two months before her death, and dedicated the profits to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. She knew she was at risk, but seemed powerless to save herself.

Brittany and her mother were very close. Diana was so proud of Brittany’s budding acting career, and they even created a short film together, “Mommy Issues,” about Brittany’s character’s fear of turning into her mother. It won awards. You can watch it here: https://filmfreeway.com/903901

Brittany starred in several feature length-films too, mostly low-budget horror films in the beginning, but her last film, “Another Version of You,” released after her death, is a wonderful film about traveling among multiple universes to find love. One of my favorite films, and Brittany is terrific in it.

Brittany’s family tried hard to keep her alive. Diana spent 10 days with her before her death. Ten days trying to cheer Brittany up. Finally, Brittany perked up when her boyfriend returned home from a work trip, and Diana thought it was safe to leave. She made Brittany promise to go back to the psychiatrist.

But there are no sure-fire ways to keep someone from killing themselves. “Suicide is preventable,” they say. But how? Call a suicide hotline? Will that do it? Will the caring voice of a stranger on the phone do more than the daily, hourly efforts of family and friends? I don’t think so. And yet, my response to Brittany’s death was to volunteer at the local suicide hotline. I didn’t even mention it to my sister for a month or two. It seemed so laughable that, after barely a week of training, that I could do anything to help anyone in a few minutes on the phone, knowing that the problems of suicidal people are so great and multidimensional. But I had to do something. My sister and her husband live a thousand miles away.  I can’t bring her a casserole or sit with her and hold her while she cried.

I couldn’t even talk to her, initially. Not for the first several months. She didn’t want to talk to me, feeling that I, like many others, would say the wrong thing. It is hard to say the right thing to someone who has suffered such an awful loss. Even the best-intentioned comments fail. Nothing will make the family whole again. But we began talking again a few months after Brittany’s death. Mostly I listened.

On the hotline, I mostly listened too. Most callers are not on the verge of killing themselves. Most are lonely, depressed, sad, or anxious, and just need someone to talk to. We are not supposed to give advice or to act as therapists, just to listen. Sometimes, though, people ask me what they can do to feel less anxious/depressed/stressed. I hear the pain in their voices, and I sometimes feel the need to ask that question, “Are you feeling suicidal?” hoping not to hear an answer in the affirmative. Life is such a gift, yet can be so excruciatingly painful for some who see no way out of the gloom.

I did give advice once. We were talking about ways to reduce anxiety. We talked about hobbies. She knits. I acknowledged that I also knit. Oh, she said, what do you knit? I hesitated, then told her about the cup cozies. Brittany used to make cup cozies for friends and relatives–it was her way of saving the planet. People could use the knitted or crocheted cup cozies around paper coffee cups to keep from burning their hands–and save trees by not using the little cardboard cozies that you get at the coffee shops.

One of Brittany’s sisters and I made over 100 cup cozies for guests at Brittany’s Celebration of Life. I didn’t mention any of this to the caller. I just said that knitting cup cozies was fun because you could finish them quickly and you could experiment with different knitting patterns and not feel committed to making a big, endless project, like a whole sweater. I, in fact, enjoyed making them. It gave me something solid to hang on to in the months after Brittany’s death. The caller liked the idea of a short, creative, and useful project. I could hear her smile. Maybe Brittany’s loving spirit reached out to her.

There were 47,173 suicides in the US in 2017 (129 a day, 22 of them veterans)–and 1.4 million attempts. Each suicide scars surviving family members and friends forever, as they try to cope with feelings of loss, guilt, and wondering why. Suicide rates are on the rise among young women. We know so little about mental illness. We need to do much more.

I have no answers. Just be kind. It may not be enough, but sometimes it’s all we have.

But, to get back to the Anderson Cooper quote at the beginning, when someone dies by suicide or in an
“unnatural” way, we tend to focus on the death itself, rather than the life. So please try to get to know the vibrant, talented, loving Brittany that her family knew. Watch “Mommy Issues” and “Another Version of You.” Laugh and remenber the good parts!

Brittany and Diana lived life to the fullest. I hope hat somewhere they are still laughing, hugging, and spreading joy.

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This entry was posted on October 31, 2022 by in Suicide.

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