*THIS POST CONTAINS SENSITIVE CONTENT*
Monday, August 26, 2013
I was 17 years old, a senior in high school. It was the night before my first big AP Psychology exam. I was sitting at the kitchen table, flipping through flashcards, when I looked up and saw my brother standing at the front door. We made eye contact, but neither of us spoke a word. Then, he walked outside.
That was the last time I saw my brother alive.
The sun was setting. I was starting to feel worn out from studying. I decided to take a shower. When I walked into the bathroom, I heard a gunshot outside. It sounded close, but I live in a rural area in Missouri, so I didn’t think much about it and carried on.
I started feeling uneasy, but I didn’t know why. I stepped out of the shower, wrapped a towel around myself, and checked my phone.
No texts or calls from him.
He had just turned 16, and I figured he was out with his friends. It was a Monday night though. We had school the next morning. I was already the annoying older sister who wanted to know everything about his life, but I figured I would play it cool, and let him have his fun. My dad had left town the day before for work. My mom was helping a friend plan an event down the road. I didn’t need to pressure him to come home early. “Surely, he’s fine,” I thought.
Then, I had an overwhelming feeling that he was not fine. I stepped out of the bathroom, and I went to open his bedroom door. Before I turned the handle, I said a prayer. “Please, God, let him be in here.” It felt like the door was opening in slow motion. His tv was on, but he wasn’t in his room.
The panic set in.
I got dressed and called my mom. I asked her if she had heard from him. She hadn’t, but she told me she would give him a call. The dogs were barking incessantly, and it was driving me crazy. I threw on a pair of shoes, opened the front door, and let them outside. They darted to the side of the house.
I followed them. What I saw next changed my life.
My brother was lying on the ground. One of his arms was bent at a 90 degree angle at the elbow, so his hand was propped in the air. I called for him. “What are you doing? Did you, like, hurt your back or something? Why are you laying on the ground?”
I began walking toward him with caution. My heart was racing. I felt like I was trudging through mud, like my feet were attached to concrete cinderblocks. It felt like it took me forever to walk no more than 50 feet.
As I approached him, I noticed his skin was pale, his body lifeless.
Then, I saw the gun and the blood splatter on the grass.
I stumbled backward. I rubbed my eyes as hard as I could. “NO. NO. This cannot be happening. This is not real. Krystia, wake up. This is not real.”
I opened my eyes. I tried to make sense of it. I closed them and opened them once more. I couldn’t believe it.
He was dead.
I began to scream, but it felt wrong. I felt like I was supposed to be crying. I tried to force tears out of my eyes, but I couldn’t. I paced back and forth for about 30 seconds before I realized I needed to call my mom.
. I paced back and forth for about 30 seconds before I realized I needed to call my mom.
My hands were trembling. My knees were buckling. I felt like I was going to pass out. I dialed my mom’s number. The phone rang. And it rang. And it rang. Finally, she answered.
“Mom, Dominik killed himself!”
“Oh my god, I’m on my way!”
I hung up the phone, and it fell out of my hands. I stood there, stunned, shaking. Then, I retrieved my phone and called 9-1-1. I told the operator what happened, and she assured me that the first responders would be there as soon as possible. She hung up.
I had never felt as lonely at any point in my life as I did in that moment.
I gathered the dogs and took them inside. I sat on the doorstep, anxiously waiting for my mom to get home and the first responders to arrive. I was upset that I told her the way I did. I felt bad, like I could have said it any other way. I was worried about what her reaction would be, but I continued trying to make sense of what was happening.
I watched the clock until my mom pulled into the driveway. As soon as I saw her, tears filled my eyes, and my heart began to pound. She jumped out of the front seat of her Suburban.
“Where is he?”
I pointed to the side of the house.
She let out a shriek filled with agony. She fell to her knees, screaming and crying. Then, she crawled over to him. She cried and cried and cried.
I had never seen my mom like that, and it broke me. I tried to comfort her, but I didn’t know what to say. I kept thinking this was a nightmare and that I needed to wake up soon.
The first responders arrived. By this time, my mom had called my dad. She couldn’t even tell him what was going on. She tried, but her words were muffled by the crying, and she wasn’t making sense. She handed the phone to me.
“Hello? Krystia, what’s going on?”
“Dad, Dominik killed himself in the front yard. You need to come home right now. Please come home.”
“WHAT?! Krystia, are you serious? He did what? I’ll be there as soon as I can.”
I hung up the phone again. My mom was kneeling over my brother, screaming and crying. The investigating officer asked me to get her inside, so he could talk to us. I finally got her off the ground. She was weak and hysterical.
My heart felt like it was continuously shattering into a million pieces.
The officer asked us a series of questions. He asked me the most questions because I was the one who found my brother and made the call. I was also the last person to see him alive.
My boyfriend had arrived minutes prior to this conversation. He attempted to console me as the officer asked me the same questions over and over again.
“Can we go over the timeline of events again? What time did you say you last saw him?”
I felt like I was on trial. I was defensive and angry. But, I had the right to be. I just found my brother’s dead body only a few hundred feet away from where I was sitting. I was struggling to remember exactly how everything occurred.
I was nervous. I was in shock. I was confused. I was scared. I felt like I was losing my mind. “How could this be happening to me?” I thought to myself. “This cannot be real. Wake up, Krystia. Wake up already.”
Slowly but surely, I realized this “nightmare” was becoming my reality.
My brother had really killed himself.
My dad finally made it home. The ambulance was getting ready to leave, but the EMTs and paramedics kindly waited until my dad arrived, so he could see my brother before they took his body away.
By this time, my mom was sitting on the couch, blankly staring at the wall. She hadn’t said moved in hours. I tried talking to her.
She didn’t say a word. My dad didn’t say a word. It was like they were in a trauma-induced trance. I couldn’t think of anything to say, other than, “I promise it will be ok, Mom. We will get through this, I promise. We will get through this, right, Dad? Everything will be ok, right?”
Really, all I could think about was why my brother would do something like this. My dad and I went outside on the deck. “This had to be an accident. There’s no way he could do something like this,” he said. Shortly after, I went to my boyfriend’s house. I didn’t want to sleep in my own bed.
Little did I know, I wouldn’t be getting any sleep for quite a while anyway.
Tuesday, August 27, 2013
I had slept about an hour total through the night. First thing in the morning, I called my best friend to tell her what had happened. All I wanted was to spend time with her. She immediately welcomed me to come over. My boyfriend took me there, and we talked about everything.
Then, the calls started pouring in. I guess an announcement was made at my high school in the morning. The volume of calls and texts I received was so high that my phone froze for hours, until I eventually turned it off. I was an emotional disaster. The last thing I wanted to do was talk to anyone.
A little while later, they took me to iHop to eat breakfast. I didn’t eat though. How could I? Just a day ago, my life was perfect. With the pull of a trigger only 12 hours before, my world went up in flames. I felt empty, and I definitely didn’t have an appetite.
When I returned home later that morning, there were so many people in my house. They were bringing flowers, food, and bibles. It was overwhelming, and, honestly, I just wanted everyone to leave. I even wanted to leave. I didn’t know what to do. I was numb.
Wednesday, August 28, 2013
My parents spent the day making funeral arrangements. They asked me to put together a CD with songs for my brother’s visitation and funeral. That was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do. To this day, there are still certain songs I can’t listen to because they remind me of him and that time in my life.
The kids at school arranged a candlelight vigil in the parking lot that night. It was so special. So many people showed up. His friends shared stories about him. Classmates talked about the impact he left on their lives. Strangers showed up just to offer support. My parents even came. I gave a speech to everything there to thank them for coming and to ask them not to treat me or my family differently as a result of this happening.
Thursday, August 29, 2013
I went to school and took my AP Psychology test. I didn’t want to get behind, even though I knew I would be distracted. I took my test in the morning, and then I left.
Later in the day, we hosted my brother’s visitation at a funeral home in my hometown. The visitation was open-casket, although I was against that decision.
When I walked into the room, I saw my brother for the first time since that night. The tears poured out, and I quickly turned away. I didn’t want to look at him because he didn’t look like himself. His makeup was very orange, and his body was swollen. The wound where the bullet exited his head was patched, but I could still see it. I felt as if I couldn’t even recognize him.
During the visitation, I walked around and greeted everyone. I was as upbeat as I possibly could be. I engaged in conversation and thanked people for their time. My parents stood at the front of the room, and as people said their goodbyes and offered their condolences to my mom and dad, they thanked them for coming, too. I was on my feet all day. I spoke to probably 500 people from the community, some of which I had never even met before. People told me about me so many stories about my brother and his beautiful soul that day.
Friday, August 30, 2013
The funeral began around 10:00 a.m. The director spoke, followed by a friend of my parents. Then, my mom asked me to speak. I’d like to tell you what I said, but I don’t really remember. What I do recall is telling everyone the importance of being nice to people around them. Apparently, my words resonated with everyone in the room. People talked about that eulogy for weeks after I gave it.
We buried him at a local cemetery later that morning.
After the funeral, we went to my mom’s friend’s house and mingled with family and friends over food and drinks. It was supposed to be a “celebration of life” type of event, but I was drained. I didn’t feel like I had much to celebrate. I knew this was the start of a new life, and I was not looking forward to it.
5 years later.
As you can imagine, there isn’t an event one can endure that’s much more painful than this. Many days are hard, but the pain has become manageable with time.
My family and I have been blessed with some incredible people who have been a great help in the healing process, but it’s just that – a process. It’s a never-ending cycle of feeling sad one moment because he’s gone, and happy the next because we got to make the most of his time here. It is the most bittersweet feeling you can have.
As time goes on, you forget the person’s smell, voice, mannerisms. You forget what the person’s presence feels like. You feel strong. And then you feel weak. But you continue moving forward. You continue to deal with it because you have no other choice.
Instead of mourning quietly about my brother’s death, I choose to talk about it because I want to carry on his legacy. I want people to remember him. I want people to talk about him. I want people to know my brother’s name and his story. I want people to know how special he was and how much he impacted the lives of those around him.
And, most of all, I want people to know that suicide is worth discussing. It’s dark and scary, but the only way we can prevent it is by reaching out to the ones we love and checking on them. We have to shine light on the issue in order to bring those struggling with it out of the darkness.
“You cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
If you are struggling with suicide, please know that you are never alone.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255