Autopsy of a Suicide

READ THIS FIRST: Things are about to get real here, people. I hunger for truth, and I am revolted by silence, shame and embarrassment. In an effort to shine a light on a chronic societal problem, I’m going to be describing personal events of a troubling nature in fairly graphic detail. What I’m about to write may disturb some readers, and honestly if it didn’t, I’d wonder about you guys. I just want to give you fair warning: If laying eyes on the gritty truth about a recent suicide that has irrevocably changed my life will impact your remaining days in a negative fashion, please exit the vehicle at this time, and know that I won’t hold it against you. For those staying aboard, hold onto a friend and buckle in tight. (Just to be clear, the views I’m about to express in this post are my own. I cannot speak for anyone else, including the rest of The Young Thumbs.)

It’s also imperative that I remind you I am not a mental health professional. If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK(8255). They are available to take your call 24/7. International readers should visit the website for the International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP) to find local resources. We care about you, friends.



A little over three months ago, a close Vegas friend and I were discussing the recent suicide epidemic. I counted five people whom I knew personally (or were very close to friends of mine) who had removed themselves from the equation since October, 2013. Three in Vegas, two in Oregon, ranging in age from their early-20s to late-50s. Appalled by the body count, I mentioned that someone in our community should write about this in the interest of starting a conversation, though I felt too removed from the situation to warrant my direct involvement. When I attended a memorial service for one of these guys on February 20th, 2014, I had no way of knowing that my beloved brother-in-law (my husband’s 29-year-old brother and best friend) would put a gun to his head and pull the trigger less than one week later.

Nobody in my family (and when I say “my family”, technically I mean my husband’s family, but I’ve known his parents and all nine kids for 22 years now, so they’re mine, too) saw this coming. Petey was the guy who told the best jokes – the witty, off-the-cuff quips and observations we all wish we had such propensity for. He was always curious about and excited by the best stuff in life, with the enthusiasm of a really big kid. He loved to find weird, random, perfect gifts to send to my better half and I, often for no reason in particular. (I have Petey to thank for the 4”-tall skeleton perched upon a toilet that currently graces the top of my Facebook page.) If we were passing through the town in which he lived on our way to someplace else, he would rearrange his schedule so we could spend time together, even if it was for only a few hours in the middle of the day. He made it known that we were always welcome to stay longer – that he really wished we could – and encouraged us to stay the night in the guest bedroom. Petey was fun, kind, real, thoughtful, generous, handsome, outgoing, intelligent, helpful, instantly likeable, and genuinely interested in other people. He was a hard worker and a good provider, with an infectious laugh and a beautiful smile. He put 100% of himself into any task he took on, and into any relationship he deemed worth having. Petey was the best of all of us put into one person. He loved his parents, his family as a whole, his pets, and his wife of eight years whom he adored with all his heart.

When the news of Petey’s death broke (by way of a phone call from my father-in-law 24 hours after Petey passed), we were told that his wife had left their house in Nevada for four days to go on a girls’ trip to California with her friend, and that in her absence Petey had taken a bottle of Xanax, drank himself into oblivion, and took his life without so much as a “goodbye cruel world” scribbled on an old utility bill. His wife’s friend found him when the girls returned to Nevada, after his wife reportedly received a troubling text from him that morning. The day after we found out about Petey’s death, we drove up to their house in Fallon, Nevada (quite possibly the most depressing place in the entire United States), our heads heavy with sorrow and confusion. What happened, exactly? And why? Was the prescription to blame? Considering what we had been told — unanswered questions aside — all of our family members echoed the sentiment: “This wasn’t our Petey.”

We spent the next few days in Fallon, comforting Petey’s wife, cleaning out their house, packing boxes and loading them into a moving truck to be transported to Moab, Utah (where his wife would now be living with her parents), and helping her with the funeral arrangements in any way we could. Discussion regarding the days leading up to Petey’s death was limited: We were told that Petey and his wife had gotten into a little tiff before she left for California, but that little fights like this were not uncommon among couples. She and her parents insisted it must have been the Xanax – that this never would have happened if he hadn’t been taking it.

The lack of a suicide note reinforced our belief that the pills played a role in his death, and that he must have been out of his mind. Thoughtful, lucid Petey, even in the throws of depression, would have left a note to convey a message or to leave certain items to certain people. We began to come to terms with the freakishly tragic manner in which he died, settling for an empty pill bottle in place of detailed explanation or closure, until…

A few days after we arrived in Fallon and were preparing to drive to Moab for the funeral, we were shocked when the detective in charge of the case alerted us to the presence of not one, but four separate suicide notes found in Petey’s jeans pocket, addressed to various family members. We (my husband, my youngest brother-in-law, his partner and myself) read Petey’s letters addressed to the boys amongst ourselves, and although these two specific notes yielded no answers, it became clear that Petey took the time to say goodbye and to express his love to those most important to him before he died. Their notes were entirely coherent and heartbreakingly sweet — and with this new knowledge that he was lucid enough to write four notes, the paradigm shifted, and the grieving process began all over again.

We buried Petey on March 5th, 2014 in a cemetery in Moab, Utah. The service was extremely moving, the most heart-wrenching elements being the eulogies given by Petey’s three brothers and his oldest sister’s husband, and the stories and memories shared by his five sisters while they each took a turn at the lectern. I don’t know what else to say about this day, other than that it was probably the worst day I’ve lived through to date.

The hellish weeks that followed were a mix of tears, sleepless nights, long conversations, what-ifs, and unanswered questions. I was well aware of my duty to take care of my better half while dealing with my own grief in the most productive manner possible. I wrote a blog post about grieving, talked about the situation with my husband, family, and closest friends, and hunkered down at my office. On the days when the depression couldn’t be kept at bay, I struggled to get out of bed and to eat anything substantial. I cried. A lot.

Closure was elusive, as there were still a few key parts to the story that didn’t make sense. In an effort to get a better understanding of Petey’s frame of mind during the days leading up to his death, my husband called the detective who handled the case and inquired about obtaining a copy of the toxicology report based on the blood draw the coroner had performed. Did you know next-of-kin can request a copy of a coroner’s report through the District Attorney’s office? Well they can, and we did.

We were expecting to receive a couple of pages detailing the results of the blood test. What we ended up with was a 51 page document containing reports from the officers who arrived on the scene, time-stamped 911 call records, a graphic description of the position and condition in which Petey’s body was found, the condition of certain personal effects found throughout the house, interviews with Petey’s wife and her friend (including revelations regarding what the fight was really about, which explained volumes), and copies of all four suicide notes (which were heartbreaking to read, yet tremendously informative). Finally, we had uncovered most of the truth about what happened during the last five days of Petey’s life, and although his tragic death was a permanent solution to what some may consider to have been a temporary problem, we now understood where he was coming from and could slowly initiate what will no doubt prove to be an infinitely long healing process.



I have always viewed death by suicide as a personal choice that each of us ultimately has the right to choose. I’ve also always disagreed with the common remark “suicide is a selfish act”. Sure, theoretically, some suicides can be selfish acts, but I believe in most cases the suicidal mind is incapable of thinking in terms of “selfish” versus “unselfish”. There’s just pain, and the overwhelming desire to make the pain go away.  Add hopelessness to the equation, and there you go. I also believe that the difference between the 99.9% hopeless person and the 100% hopeless person is that one of them is a suicide statistic. These are beliefs I’ve held for a long time, and they haven’t changed.

Personally speaking, I’ve battled depression and anxiety disorders (OCD and social anxiety disorder) for years. I’ve felt physical manifestations of pain brought on by mental and emotional turmoil. There have been times in my life when I’ve wished I’d go quietly in my sleep; there have been times I’ve held a full bottle of pain meds in my hand while seriously considering downing the whole thing; there have been times I’ve googled “suicide” because I knew I really needed to read something meant to talk me out of it. Yet through it all, I held onto a faint glimmer of hope, and a faraway memory of better, happier, healthier times.

I still didn’t foresee this happening to Petey.

I’m so thankful that my husband and I had visited Petey on Christmas Eve (just two months before his death), and I can tell you that the classic warning signs didn’t apply here. He seemed a little bit tired back then, but he had just finished working a full shift by the time we arrived in Fallon. He still went to dinner and stayed awake for several hours with us, singing Playstation karaoke and laughing at YouTube videos. In retrospect, I wonder if this was more than just run-of-the-mill fatigue. I wish I had asked more questions along the lines of “How are you doing?”, and then listened (openly and intently) to the real answer.

The changes I had noticed over the last few years were those of a more subdued, more personal nature. Views Petey expressed on a few everyday things no longer jived with what I believed his opinions on these matters to have been in the past. A rare comment here or there about spirituality or the exploration of spiritual beliefs. Vocalized appreciation for specific pop songs trilling tales of broken hearts and love lost. But that’s like half of all pop songs, and these preferences were never expressed with anything other than a smile and a sing-along chorus.

The observations culled from his wife’s social media presence that hinted at potential problems in their relationship spurred logical double takes on my part (I realize in retrospect), but without any clues coming directly from Petey to indicate that anything was wrong at the time, I assumed he knew what was up with his marriage and had everything under control. In an effort to avoid drama or discomfort, I kept my questions to myself. I assumed this was none of my business.

But here we are, one man down.

I’m not saying it’s entirely my responsibility, and I’m not saying I’ll ever be able to convince someone to put off doing the deed, but I’ll be damned if I don’t try. It breaks my heart to imagine Petey home alone for four days, isolated and hurting. It breaks my heart to watch my husband and in-laws grieve for the greatest guy they’ve ever known. The what-ifs, the time machine scenarios, the dreaming followed by waking realizations – these hurt me to my core. I’ve come to understand that this truly is a pain one must live through to comprehend.

That’s why I’m sharing this post, friends. It was tough to write, yet I doubt I’ve ever written anything more important in my life. My emotions regarding this situation and the conversations I have in my head with the people involved are in a perpetual state of flux, however my love and respect for Petey remain constant. I miss him dearly, and I still have days where I struggle with overwhelming feelings of grief and depression. Some days I am overcome with anxiety and a profound fear that someone else I care about is suffering in silence, thinking about pulling that trigger, tying that knot or taking those pills. I can’t shake the feeling of anticipation; the death, the phone call, the next gut punch clear into despair.

The day after we found out about Petey, I asked Allissa “What’s with all the suicides lately?”, to which she replied “The world has gone mad and we’re doing a shitty job of taking care of each other.”

She’s right, you know.

So here’s a challenge for all of us: Let’s take better care of each other before we regret putting work, school, and ourselves ahead of other humans who need us. Let’s build each other up, and validate each other, and express how important we are to each other in this life. Let’s stop kicking the can down the road, assuming we’ve got years’ worth of tomorrows ahead of us. Let’s strive to be more aware of what others may be going through, and to ask each other questions that the older generation may consider rude, embarrassing, or overly personal. Because isolation and silence can be deadly, and because maybe – just maybe – we can make a difference.

Please share this post, your thoughts, and your stories.

Let’s have that overdue conversation.


Petey (left), my better half (center), and myself. Wedding day, Vegas, 2009.

Petey (left), my better half (center), and your humble narrator (right). Wedding Day, Vegas, 2009.



My husband started a blog in honor of Petey. He’d love it if you’d check it out.

Again, here’s that article on the suicide epidemic.

Here’s Anderson Cooper talking to Howard Stern about a lot of stuff, including his brother’s suicide. Tune in at the 13 minute mark if you’re short on time. (Thanks so much for this link, Tommy. I honor your wisdom and admire your strength. <3)

Add the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline on Facebook.

Once again, if you’re feeling suicidal, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK(8255). They are available to take your call 24/7. International readers should visit the website for the International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP) to find local resources.

You are loved. Believe it.

50 thoughts on “Autopsy of a Suicide

  1. This is such a hard subject to talk about , and even harder to write about . This is such a well written piece . You have done a great service to others who have lost a loved and others who may be thinking of doing it . So sorry that you lost such a wonderful family member .

  2. Thank you for sharing with us. One cannot imagine the heartbreak felt by all. Ironically your story comes just days after a young boy in Cincinnati commuted suicide. So many family and volunteers had been looking for him for over a week. They described him much like your brother in law; sweet, caring and funny.

    The news tonight spoke of a memorial service for this young man. His uncle and brother ( I do believe) spoke at it. After which the brother spoke he wanted everyone to stand up and hug the people around them. They showed clips of people doing that and it spoke volumes.

    The more social media expanded we are the less social we become it seems. It is amazing what the power of touch can produce in a body. A simple handshake, a hand on a shoulder or a big ol hug has more then the social media will ever have.

    Sorry, I seem to have went on a bit. I won’t retract this or delete it. I believe the more we talk about it the more educated we will be.

    • Michelle, I agree with you. Social media is useful in a lot of ways (for promoting blog posts, for instance), but the therapeutic benefits of healthy touch are so important. So are face-to-face (and even telephone) conversations…a lot can be lost in translation through texting or Facebook messaging…tone of voice, signs of fatigue, etc. Since Petey’s death I have been making an effort to make more phone calls, relying somewhat less on texting. These new habits take time to form, but I think it’s a tiny step in the right direction.

      Thanks so much for your comment. Let’s keep the conversation going. <3

  3. Thanks Andrea. This is thoughtful and thorough. Things that many of us don’t even consider when we think about suicide. It is rampant these days. I love what you said about the difference between the 99.9% and 100%…sums it up perfectly. Mental illness and mental wellness is fragile. And we do need to take better care of each other.

    • Thanks for reading and commenting, Liza.

      We usually read/hear the broad brushstrokes in a suicide narrative, but I think inclusion of more details — as difficult as they are to recount, write down and read — makes a story more personal, relatable, memorable, and easier to understand. I’m sure some people will disagree with me on this, preferring silence to disclosure, but I don’t see how that helps anyone. <3

  4. This was amazing. I really enjoyed reading. I miss my buddy. I have been struggling with this whole thing. It just didnt make any sense to me. Im glad you shared this. Thank you

    • Jeffro, thanks for reading and commenting. I’m glad it provided *some* answers to the questions most of us had. We all miss Petey so much…he’s one of a kind. There are days I will look at a photo of him and I still can’t wrap my mind around his absence. Here’s hugs and healing thoughts from our little corner of the desert. <3

  5. Andrea, I lost my mother to suicide by gunshot in August 2005. I had spoken to her just the afternoon before and she seemed happy and healthy. In some ways, the shock of her death, the long grieving time and the realization that life is indeed short prompted me to go back to school and become a LMBT. I feel her presence and pride in my work almost daily. Thank you for shining the light on suicide, the unanswerable questions, the waves of grief and the need for more love and light in this world. My prayers are with your family. -Amy

    • Amy, thank you for sharing your story. I’m learning that so many times, when a loved one plans to remove themselves from the equation, they don’t let anyone in on said plan. For me, this is where those agonizing time machine scenarios come into play. What if we had said or done something differently, back when we had the chance?

      The presence of your mom in your daily work and in the decisions that took you to this place in your life are truly a testament to her greatness. Much love to you and yours. <3

    • I just clicked on your link and watched the video, Leslie. He packed a lot of information into 15 minutes! It was engaging, informative, and very familiar. Thanks for sharing, and here’s to listening. <3

  6. What a wonderful story, more people need to hear that kind of stuff. I am Shawn’s aunt-in-law. If it were not for his uncle I would not be here today.That was not the first time either, when I was younger long stories. So from a first hand experience I could tell my own thoughts on this. I had a son in law two years ago hang himself and his was a selfish suicide, another story and yes there are the cowards. Having dealt with this personally and others maybe I can help with understanding more of the darkside. I adore Derron and feel badly for your family. So let me know if I can help and again thank you for sharing this.

    • Paula, thank you for sharing your story. We love Shawn and are so grateful that Derron has your family there to lend their support. I honor your strength and compassion. Again, thank you. <3

  7. Very well written on such an important topic. Suicide hits close to home for me, my mom suicided due to chronic depression from being bi-polar.

    Many times mental illness plays a role, but it is also a lack of access to trained, qualified professionals to help people who need their support through mental health services.

    Slowly, it is coming out that this topic needs to be discussed, looked at, and treated just as orthopedic injuries or chronic physical health issues are. No shame, just treatment.

    • Irene, thank you for sharing your story. My heart goes out to you and your family.

      I often hear about folks who were under a doctor’s care, were taking prescription medication, or were attending counselling of some sort, who end up taking their lives anyway. There are so many factors, and each set of circumstances is so varied, it’s tough to determine what could’ve/would’ve/should’ve been done. Lord knows it can be tough to find medical personnel who treat you as if you’re anything more than an ATM machine on a good day. (For the record: I’m talking about completely unrelated urinary tract issues here, but you know what I mean.) This is frustrating, and I don’t know what the solution is.

      Much love to you, my friend. <3

  8. Thank you for the beautifully written tribute to Petey. We lost our son Andrew to suicide in Oct. 2014 under similar circumstances. He was the most gentle, thoughtful, sensitive and caring person I know. We miss him everyday. If only….love and comfort to your family.

    • Kathleen, thank you for sharing Andrew’s story. I’m typing this reply through teary eyes…he sounds like an amazing, beautiful human. It’s heartbreaking to think that the most sensitive, generous and thoughtful people in our lives are also seemingly the most susceptible to being hurt. Knowing the happiness that Petey and Andrew brought to so many people during their lives, I am inspired to be more like them. Again, thank you so much for sharing. Much love to you and yours. <3

  9. Thank for sharing .A young man in Cinti. Ohio took his life a few weeks ago. It was several days of hunting for him before his body was found . Our community mornes with the family and others who have taken their own lives. God Bless you and your family. Praying for Peace within us all.

  10. Well written. I still have difficulties with the loss of one of my dearest friends. I found her body. Not an easy image to erase.


    • I can only imagine what that must feel like. Those photos were not included in our copy of the coroner’s report. Thank you for reading, and for sharing your story. Peace and healing to you, my friend. <3

  11. Thank you for sharing this. I came across a documentary today: Haven’t watched it yet but everything I heard about it was right in line with what you speak of. I’m so sorry you and your family had to go through this. I’m proud of you for being brave and giving a voice to one of the many issues/experiences people go through but never talk about. xo

    And I wholeheartedly agree with Allissa. We are doing a shitty job of taking care of each other.

    • Amber, thanks for your kind words. I actually bought a copy of The Bridge on DVD a few years ago. It’s sitting on a shelf in my living room, still waiting to be opened. Maybe I’ll do that tonight. Update to follow…<3

  12. At the age of 15, a classmate called me to “say goodbye”. It was a very cold winter Saturday morning, and thankfully my dad agreed to drive me to meet my friend at a local small restaurant.
    After admitting he had taken his mom’s sleeping pills, I was able to convince him to take a walk in the fresh air, and headed down the street with him. Just then, a local priest was coming out of the church and I called to him and dragged my friend across the 4 lane highway. The priest called a physician friend of his and helpped to prevent my friend’s demise. I’ve always believed that prayers help, and my friend lived thru the Viet Nam war, and is now a grandfather. Not getting involved was NOT an option.

    Years later a close family member had two suicide attempts,……and were prayerfully unsuccessful. There needs to be better and more readily available mental health resources, and support not only for those who suffer, but for family members as well.

    When someone is depressed, please encourage them to drink something WARM at each meal, and to take at least a 10 minute brisk walk, even in cold weather, and to recall at least ONE positive thing in their lives. It seems to help, and it can be done…..

  13. I am dealing with a similar situation. The loss of my brother in law in November, he and your brother in law seem to have a lot of the same attributes, funny, loving, the life of the party, always laughing, nobody saw it coming. He left behind his toddler daughter and it is something none of us will ever be able to wrap out minds around. Thank you for sharing your story, it’s nice to know that there are others out there that are brave enough to talk about these things, you don’t realize how hard it is till you experience it. Dealing with a suicide isn’t like any other loss. I am participating in an overnight walk/fundraiser in Seattle called Out of the Darkness put on by the American foundation of shoved prevention, in hopes that it helps my healing process, to show my in laws that I will be there for them every step of the way and all the funds go towards helping educate people with mental disorders and those who are left pick up the pieces after losing someone to suicide.

    • Adrianne, thank you for sharing the story of your brother-in-law. I’m so sorry for your loss — and you’re right, suicide makes for a uniquely different grieving process.

      I have a dear friend who volunteers at the Seattle Out of the Darkness walk every year, and she speaks very highly of it. Thanks for taking an active role in getting out there and keeping the conversation going. Love and hugs to you and yours. <3

  14. My boyfriend took his life back in January. This has been the hardest time of my life, he did not leave a note but was silently struggling with mental illness. We are all at a great loss, but do not blame him for his choice. I would have loved him no matter what, but he didn’t see things that way. He couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel and how much we all loved him and would accept him no matter what his condition was. He didn’t want us (his family and friends) to take on his burden. He was a wonderfully kind man with a big heart and a warm smile that would bring love to any heart. Wish I would have dug deeper, and held on a little tighter, and had the more uncomfortable conversations. I will always love you Brandon Lamb, may you rest in peace. Please take time to listen to your loved ones, ask questions and really listen to the answers. Be there, be kind, we are all in this together, let’s support and love one another.

    • Katie, Brandon sounds like an amazing and wonderful person. My heart breaks for your loss. Thank you for sharing.

      “Please take time to listen to your loved ones, ask questions and really listen to the answers. Be there, be kind, we are all in this together, let’s support and love one another.”

      I couldn’t agree more.

      Much love to you and to both of your families. <3

  15. How dare you air dirty laundry that is not yours to air.. You don’t know anything. A family.who is supposed to be all high and mighty and very religious should know better. I hope you rot in hell for keeping the wounds open that are trying to heal.

      • O I see the point. They weren’t there they don’t know shit. They should mind their own business and state the facts not their opinion on the day.

        • Everyone has their own experience – especially when something tragic happens. Also, everyone heals in their own way. Find yours. Whether you can see it or not, this post is a good thing and will be helpful to someone in need.

          • Pointing the finger and blaming someone else for peters own decision isn’t healing. Its bull shit. And I hope it does help someone in knowing that there is a difference between truth an lies.

          • I must’ve missed the finger pointing. Truth and lies has nothing to do with what someone would get out of this post. Even if you believe something is false, as it’s written is a huge benefit to anyone (else) who reads it.

          • I didn’t see any dirty laundry in this post. I see a hurting person wondering why so many people in this world get to the point of ending their life. I see a person who is telling me to pay attention to my loved ones. Ask one more question, make one more phone call, go to visit even if I don’t feel like it. I see love, hurt, anger, but mostly love for her fellow humans. And that kind of love will surely keep her from rotting in any kind of hell,except the hell of loving too much.

    • I’m pretty sure leaving hateful bullshit comments without having the balls to use a real name will get you to hell faster than Andrea’s beautiful and important post about a very difficult issue. You, dear reader, are a shitstorm of lowlife scum. It is unfortunate you even have access to a computer and can spew your vile thoughts with the world.

      • Okay guys, this is getting a little nasty. Some of the grieving steps are BLAMING and ANGER. We’re human, it happens. I suggest if these public posts seem threatening to.”none of your business” then stop reading and posting on this blog and find a private therapist to help you work though the pain you are going thru. I have found that underneath anger is a mine field of grief and fear. Peace can eventuality be found.

        • It’s 1/3 my website, so I feel pretty cozy flipping out on hateful trolls here and going Mama Bear when my friends are the target (probably too cozy). But you make a great point, thank you.
          Thankfully, the bulk of our readers are much classier than I’ll ever be.

  16. Dear Sweet None of Your Business,

    Thank you for taking the time to read this post with an open mind. Thank you for not blindly jumping to accuse Andrea of lying. Thank you for displaying your intellect by not allowing your loyalties to impair your ability to think rationally. Thank you for pointing out where the “truth an [sic] lies” are located within this post. Thank you for understanding that when we care about someone, this makes it our business.


    Jeromy (Petey’s brother)

      • Hey “None of your Business” aka Amasie. You obviously feel guilty about something. This was in no way directed at anyone. If you took offense to it, it is because you have your own underlying issues. Grow up little girl. And shame on you for wishing anyone rots in hell. I feel bad that my friend was such a stand up guy that he felt obligated to honor his commitment of “til death do us part.” I feel bad that YOU made a guy who was so joyful and high on life feel so LOW and down on himself that he felt that was his only option. Now we ALL see what Peter was dealing with on a daily basis. I will pray for you

      • Wtf is a “Physco?” Is it like “purposed” when you mean to say “proposed?” Get a freaking dictionary you illiterate donkey.

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