A letter to my sister who died by suicide: Why did you do it?
Why did you do it? The way you died, it wasn’t what you deserved. The thought of it makes me helpless. In fact, it makes me angry.
Dear big sis,
Why did you do it?
I’ve always wondered the reason behind it, the events that made you decide enough was enough. It's forever an unanswered question. I can’t even ask you in my dreams whenever you visit.
And you have been visiting my dreams for the past 24 years since you died. While I got older in my dreams, you remained the same age when you went away — always 17, wearing white and with your 90s boy crop hairstyle, the last cut you wore. In one dream, you even paired your white ensemble with roller skates.
But in my dreams you never smile, though you never appear to be sad either. You’re simply there, simply ethereal, so achingly beautiful.
You never speak.
And that’s the crux of it all: you never spoke to us about your troubles.
Did someone hurt you? Did we, your family, hurt you? Why couldn’t you trust us to help you?
You must have felt such unfathomable despair and desolation for you to believe that your last resort was ingesting a chemical so corrosive it could melt hard plastic. It wasn’t an instant way to kill yourself; it was slow and agonising — not only for you, but for everyone around who hopelessly watched you during those final days.
And just like we never talked about it before your death, we could never talk about it after either.
Our eldest sister still cannot find it in her to accept it (she can’t even read the first piece I wrote about it many years ago). She only talked a few times about the events leading to your death — about how you coughed up so much blood, how the ICU nurses informed her that the chemical had literally melted you inside, and how the sharp slash of grief struck her when she answered the middle-of-the-night call from the hospital, telling her you had finally passed.
Because I was miles away when you died, I had clung to these painfully few but significant snippets from our sister as if they were my own memories.
The way you died, it wasn’t what you deserved. The thought of it makes me helpless. In fact, it makes me angry.
You make me angry.
Because you could have reached out. It hurts deeply to think you couldn’t rely on your own family to share your pain.
Instead, you robbed me of a big sister, a daughter to our mother, an aunt to my children. You robbed us, your family and everyone who loved you, a future of memories we could have created together. I was your little sis and I looked up to you. I looked forward to seeing you grow into the phenomenal woman, wife and mother I had always imagined you would become — could have become.
It has been 24 years since you suicided, but the intense emotions have never subsided. It has been 24 years of grieving, of mourning, of anger, of living with regret, of guilt.
I know you loved our family and I wish our love for you was enough to make up for the self-love you didn’t seem to find adequate.
We could have helped you. I could have helped you. You could have talked to me about what was going on with you. All we have now are endless could-haves.
I write this letter because I have so many questions niggling at me still, and I will always wonder about the why of it all.
But mostly, I write this letter because I need to tell you how sorry I am that I didn’t see the signs, that your own family didn’t see that you needed us so desperately. That you felt abandoned with nobody to turn to.
I need you to forgive us because we can’t seem to forgive ourselves. Not yet, perhaps not ever.
It’s difficult for us to come to terms with your suicide. The violence of it will always bring up a raw soreness that will never be soothed so easily.
But I also believe that the pain remains there to be acknowledged, that its purpose is not to paralyse, but rather to help us grow from it.
I watch my little girls — your nieces — and marvel at how they’re quickly coming into their own. At 5 and 3 years old, they already have their individual thoughts, feelings, idiosyncrasies, and their own way of coping with every new experience and obstacle that come their way.
And when they are old enough, I won’t hold back when I tell them about you. Your suicide is a necessary dialog between me and the girls because talking about anything honestly and without judgement, no matter how painful the subject can be, is a necessary step toward survival.
I’d like to believe that you visit me in my dreams, despite your silence, to remind me to survive, to ask me to forgive, or simply to express how much you miss me as much as I miss you.
No matter the unsaid that remains between us, do take this to heart: you are my big sis, by blood and by bond. The love, forgiveness and acceptance you ask of me, I freely give them. There are no words needed to ask.
Suicide is a health issue and is preventable. People who have suicidal thoughts often feel they cannot cope with a stressfully overwhelming life situation. While we cannot know how someone's truly feeling inside, we can recognise the warning signs of suicidal tendencies and take action.
A person maybe contemplating suicide if he or she is:
- talking about wanting to die
- preoccupied with death, dying or violence
- looking for a way kill himself/herself (e.g. stockpiling on sleeping pills)
- saying goodbye to people as if it's the last time
- talking about feeling hopeless or feeling trapped in a situation
- showing rage or contemplating seeking revenge
- giving belongings away or getting affairs in order without any logical reason behind the behaviour
- changing normal routines, like sleeping/eating too little or too much
- withdrawing from social contact or feeling isolated
- talking about being a burden to others
- doing self-destructive activities, such as driving recklessly and excessive use of alcohol or drugs
- displaying extreme mood swings
- developing personality changes
If you detect any of the above mentioned signs in a loved one, stay with that person. Remove any objects that could be used in a suicide attempt. Take time to talk to this person. Talking is crucial to the healing process, the first line of defence against suicide.
You may also contact these places for professional help:
- Samaritans of Singapore: 1800-221-4444
- Singapore Association for Mental Health: 1800-283-7019
- CHAT @ *SCAPE: (+65) 6493 6500, (+65) 6493 6501
- SAF Counselling Hotline: 1800-278-0022