My sister died by suicide. The 988 hotline wouldn’t have saved her, but it might save someone else.

This Thursday in mid-March, part of me already knew it.

That afternoon, at the end of our session, my therapist Gayle asked me what needed attention. I mentioned my sister Tracey. “She’s in a tough time that just isn’t getting better. I’m worried.” It sounded like a bookmark, something we’ll come back to in our next session.

Tracey’s depression was chronic. For most of her adult life, she struggled with loneliness, addiction, and depression. His seven siblings were his main support; she had a check-in call with one of us every day. I am the youngest. I spoke to him almost daily, but always on Thursdays.

That week, we had lunch together on Mondays. Tracey, our sister Lisa and our mom. What I remember is Tracey’s energy that day―her words were sharp, her tone snappy. She was miserable, wildly unstable in her own skin. Lunch was inconvenient for the four of us.

I remember Trace being rude to the waiter, frustrated that she was slow and a little clueless. I felt annoyed by my sister for her sullen attitude.

Mom was in an unusually good mood, telling stories and asking questions about absurd things because she couldn’t remember if they had actually happened or if she had dreamed them. Lisa and I shared the neutral role that day. Engaging with mom, trying to connect with Trace. Each of us sisters filed her stories to share later. We all left from lunch, Tracey exiting through a different door than ours.

That week, I called her first thing on Wednesday and left a voicemail. His lack of response was not unusual. On bad days, she didn’t reach out much. On Thursday, I left voicemails in the morning and at noon. As a mental health therapist in private practice, I was hard to reach during my work day. I called several times between client sessions, but didn’t even get a half-hearted text response that she got my calls and didn’t want to talk. Curiosity turned to worry as the day went on without hearing from her.

At 8:30 p.m., when another attempt to reach her went unanswered, I knew something was wrong. The silence was too strong.

I texted Lisa to see if she had heard from Trace that day, but no. We quickly polled our five brothers by text message. No one had spoken to him since Tuesday. Intuition rang a warning through my veins and tied knots in my stomach. I felt an urgent and pressing need to go to her.

“I’m going to his apartment,” I told Lisa over the phone.

“I’ll meet you there,” she promised. “I have a key.”

Driving the 10 minutes through the city, I added the lack of contact, his unusual silence. I was afraid to know what that meant. There were really only two possible scenarios. Either she was mad at us for waking her up at 10:15 p.m. or she was dead.

I entered the apartment complex through the back entrance and saw lights on at Tracey’s. My chest folded in on itself in fear; seeing his apartment lit up was not a good omen.

Lisa and I arrived at the same time and parked side by side. As we hurried up the small staircase, I said, “She’s going to be so mad if we wake her up.”

“I don’t care how crazy she is.” Lisa doesn’t usually swear, so I found that oddly comforting. Pissed off Tracey was better than the alternative. We knocked, rang the doorbell. Nothing.

With trembling hands, Lisa unlocked the door. We entered, first Lisa then me. Rounding the corner from the hallway into the living room, Lisa screamed. “Oh my God! Tracey, no!

She was sitting on a chair in the corner of her living room. She seemed asleep. It was oddly peaceful. Not messy at all. We had no idea how long she had been there.

The first call I make is 911. Lisa feels the pulse on Tracey’s wrist and recoils at the cold skin. 911 answers and I panic because I can’t remember his address. “She’s my sister. She’s dead. We just found her.

“Stay with me here, ma’am. Its good. We found your location. We are sending an officer now. Just stay online.

Lisa and I start calling our brothers. She tells John and Toby. I call Bob and Pete. We can’t reach Jeff. These are the hardest phone calls I have ever made.

When the police arrive, she enters the apartment and starts asking questions. “Is there any reason to suspect foul play?”

“No,” I reply. “That’s exactly what it sounds like. She had a history of previous attempts. She was depressed.

I want my sister back. I want to go back to the last day I saw her, chase her down for the hug and say goodbye that we didn’t share that day. I want to confront his jagged, snappy energy, ask the questions I had avoided because of an unspoken deal we made.

Months before, I had asked her bluntly if she was suicidal. We were at a 50s themed restaurant in the mall eating cheeseburgers and fries. She met my gaze and refused to answer. My follow-up question of whether she had a plan also went unanswered. I had to step back to keep her as close to me as she allowed. This difficult balance went against my training as a clinical therapist and my desperate need to have my big sister in my life.

The medical examiner is coming to talk to us. “Your sister probably died late Wednesday,” she explains, citing her body temperature and more. She hands out her business cards in case we have any questions later. The transport vehicle arrives to move my sister’s body out of the apartment. I can’t force myself to look at the stretcher covered in a white sheet. But I can’t ignore it either.

Once they’re gone, we go back. My great-grandmother’s ring, the one Tracey wore every day, sits alone on the table next to the chair where she died.

I wish you could feel the way I loved my sister. The way she rambled on my voicemail, always starting with “Hey Meg, it’s Trace.” The way she laughed and her face grumpy with displeasure. All those mediocre Subway sandwiches because for a while that’s all she ate.

Tracey could walk into a room and immediately know how things should be arranged. Together we would move tall shelves filled with books and framed photos without emptying them first. Sometimes we removed the most fragile things. Often not. We dared.

Tracey was fragile, already broken in some ways. I knew it, but I still chose to believe that she would stay. Some days I can’t believe she had the strength to go all the way, that she didn’t reach out one more time to one of her seven siblings, his parents.

Did she hear my last voicemail? The one where my voice sounded stilted and awkward as I worked hard not to say, “I hope you’re having a good day,” because I knew you weren’t. Tracey’s days were lonely and painful. His only respite was spending time with one of us, and that wasn’t enough.

Part of how she’s spent the past few days has been searching the internet. After he died, we looked at his browser history and found phrases such as: weight loss programs, helium asphyxiation. Had she also looked for suicide hotlines ― local or regional hotlines? There was no single number to call, she should have looked for a crisis line. But Tracey didn’t seem to have sought support; his decision was made.

I blame her for leaving even though I understand. I’m crazy we had to be the ones to find her, the ones to make the horrible calls to our brothers. But above all, I miss her. I want her here. I’m not done being his little sister. I have not finished yet.

A few weeks after Tracey died, a friend of a friend asked me how many siblings I had. The answer stuck in my throat, the number eight hammering its own pulse in my broken heart.

“There are eight of us,” I stammered. There was neither the time nor the reason to tell the story. I couldn’t wrap it up in concise, polite words for someone who didn’t know the gaping loss I suffered.

I am the youngest of eight siblings.

I’m always eight out of eight.

Today, seven years after my sister died by suicide, a national hotline has been designated for assisted suicide. When my sister made her exit plan, she wasn’t looking for help to stay, but so many people do. 988’s accessibility means you don’t have to rely on Google searches or hope your therapist had you save the county crisis line to your phone the last time you had trouble .

Now, in the United States, someone struggling with suicidal thoughts can dial a simple three-digit number to reach someone who can help. 988. That’s eight. Because of course it is.

If you or someone you know needs help, dial 988 or call 1-800-273-8255 for National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also get help by text message by visiting suicidepreventionlifeline.org/chat. Outside the United States, please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of resources.

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