Suicide isn’t painless

June 22, 2012 § 37 Comments

Nor, apparently, is it easy. After swimming out into the Gulf of Mexico late at night and trying to drown himself (swam back in because he was so afraid), then trying to asphyxiate himself with a rubber hose hooked up to the tailpipe (went to sleep and woke up with a blinding headache), my elder brother Ian went down to the neighborhood Academy, bought a .38 nickel-plated Rossi, and put a bullet in his chest.

At the funeral home they had neatly folded his hands, but if you looked closely, and you know, I always look closely, you could see the powder burns on the crease between his right thumb and forefinger.

He didn’t have any veins in his hands, and his eyelids sank unnaturally into his head. He’d donated his eyes and everything else of salvage value to people who needed it more than he did. The sleeves in his suit were completely flat and looked empty, but I didn’t have the nerve to ask the funeral director what had happened to his arms.

They’d tried to cut and stretch and twist his face back into something that might have looked like Ian, but it reminded me of the time I’d tried to throw clay on a wheel. Once it gets out of shape, you can’t ever put it back into shape. It’s just all pretty much fucked up forever.

Let me count the ways

Suicide is apparently painful in the planning. It’s painful in the execution. And it’s painful in the aftermath. The pain ripples out, not like a poetic pebble tossed into a still reflecting pool, but like a massive, horrible, endless discharge of vomit with your head hung over the toilet, splattering and splashing and staining and stinking and ruining everything it touches. And it touches pretty much everything.

Suicide’s real painful in the telling. For some it’s an embarrassment. For me it’s painful because Ian’s not the first person in the world to kill himself, and as I say it my friends and acquaintances share the spatter in their own lives with me. The sister hanged herself. The father shot himself on the son’s eighteenth birthday. The goddaugher did herself in after a happy, normal phone call. The brother threw himself off the balcony. Ian’s choice, for someone as imaginative and creative and original was so…pedestrian. It was just another suicide, one more bloody mess that family got to find and strangers got to clean up.

Suicide is unquestionably painful in the discovering. Dad checked his email at 8:00 AM on Saturday, June 16, Central Standard Time, conveniently before Father’s Day. Three emails sat percolating in his inbox, all from Ian, all time-stamped at 7:03 that morning. Tired of living. By the time you read this I’ll be dead. Etc.

Suicide is unbearably painful in the confirming. Screeching through traffic, blowing through red lights, frantically dashing up the rickety staircase and bursting into the filthy and debris-strewn apartment to find your eldest slumped over on the couch, the ragged drainage hole from the .38 having emptied the contents of Ian’s heart onto the sofa, and the dead fact of death leaving Dad there with his firstborn, deadened.

For whom the bell tolls

Suicide is painful in the alerting. I’d just finished up a Donut beatdown, and it’s odd how good I felt after such an abject thrashing. Shredded on the Switchbacks, unceremoniously dumped in Homes and Gardens, shelled up to the Domes, caught and dropped after the Glass Church sprint, and DFL all the way up Zumaya, what right did I have to feel good? I dunno. I just felt good.

“Seth?” Dad said over the phone and he didn’t have to say anything else because I knew it was bad, awful bad, and a few hours later I was on the plane to Houson.

Suicide is unbearably painful in the sharing. I didn’t want to go over to the apartment and find out how we were going to clean up the mess, but someone had to. That couch looked at me with an evil sneer, its cushions spotted with unthinkably huge circles of gore where Ian had slumped, gushing blood out of the hole, the back of the couch decorated with an enormous, thick clot that looked like a giant painter with a giant paint knife had cut out the biggest chunk of red oil off the palette and smeared it on the canvas, a clump bigger and thicker than five fists stuck to the fabric of the couch and thinning towards the bottom into a spill.

To think: All that raggedy, jagged exit wound, mess and destruction caused by the same thing that made the small, neat, perfectly round hole in the wall where the bullet passed into the next apartment.

I stared at the awfulness wishing I had a delete button, but it’s been recorded now permanently. The biohazard disposal contractor dude smoking a cigarette and driving a big white van that said “Plumbers” on the side next to a hand-lettered “Bio-Expert Cleners” was humane and human.

“Sorry for your loss, man,” he said in the 90-degree heat and stifling humidity as we stood outside the apartment. “Yeah,” I said. Me, too.”

Nothing ends like it’s supposed to

Suicide’s painful because it blames you. Unlike the cancer or the runaway truck or the accidental drowning, suicide’s uniquely the fault of the survivors. What could I have done differently? Was it something I said or did? Why didn’t I see the signs? Where was I when he needed me most? Oh yeah, I remember. I was on the Donut, riding my bike while he was bleeding out on the couch.

Suicide’s painful because Ian’s the person responsible for my decision in 1982 to buy a road bike. The person who inspired the gift that has made me happiest, was so terribly unhappy that he killed himself. The word for that is irony.

Of course nothing is all bad. Despite this ghastly ordeal, there’s something good and positive that has come out of it. But I’ll be goddamned if I know what it is.

§ 37 Responses to Suicide isn’t painless

  • Paul says:

    Wow. Sorry for your loss. Maybe the one good thing that might come out of your writing this is that someone else will realize the effects that their own decision has on everyone else, and not do it. Maybe.

  • josh says:

    Seth. I’m so sorry for the loss of your brother. After only knowing you a short while, I consider you a friend and a mentor. Form the “Wankmeister” vids I feel like I know you, Yasuko and Harry.
    Thank you for sharing your life with us.


  • velobob says:

    Whatever demons Ian wrestled with, he’s now in a better place. Your healing will take far longer, but it will slowly happen. Sharing your reflections with others does much to move you towards healing. So sorry for your loss and what you and your family must be going through..

    • Wankmeister says:

      Feels weird to blog this shit. But I can’t not. So, as Knoll says, there’s that.


  • CPR says:

    I shared your pain. My mother 30 years ago felt the same despair, and so the same alternative. And we are the ones left to pick up the pieces, to endure the carnage. Just never feel responsible. There was most likely nothing you or anyone else could have done. For him at least, the pain is gone. For us, it will be there forever. Just as the wonderful memories you have of him as your brother will stay in your heart forever and ever.


  • cmparrish says:

    Seth, do you have a private email I can write?

  • cmparrish says:

    Dear Seth,

    All I can say is FUCK, and it appears we can cuss here…..having just read your post, I am thankful, sad, crying, emotional and left with “what the fuck can I say, if anything” and wondering if Ian was about my age.

    My first road group ride was yesterday with LaGrange on the recovery ride. What recovery ride? I am a mountain biker with a new road bike, wondering what the hell to do with it. You can laugh, and you should, but I heard some riders in the back saying Marco was not there and the girls were leading in the front with testosterone. 😉 But for my first group ride, and only a handful of road rides, it tired me out enough to not ride early today. So I am heading to the mountains in a bit and going to ride to my secret place high in the Santa Monica Mountains and pray to Ian and God.

    Seth, though I have not met you, I feel I know you. Why? Because I spent hours the night I found you online reading your writings. You are more than a talented writer. I was glued to your blog and was taken by your gift behind that keyboard! I am nervous writing here because so many strangers, in fact, probably all strangers, may or may not read this. So at the risk of saying the wrong thing, saying the right thing or saying nothing — here goes:

    Seth, I will not pretend I know what you are going through, because I don’t. And I am not a religious person, by any means, but I guess I am spiritual. (Jeremiah 30:17) –
    Like most of us, I have never understood suicide, and yet, like most of us, know of too many instances of this horrific fucking thing people do. A few years back a MTB friend of mine and fellow hiker, nature lover, Bonnie, bought a gun and rode out to one of our favorite trails in the middle of a beautiful day and shot herself in the head at 52. I thought, WTF, wouldn’t riding your bike out there make you want to keep on riding? She must have been in some serious pain if mountain biking did not relieve it.
    My friend Denise drank until her liver exploded in her living room. She was 43. My friend, Bruce, jumped off the steepest cliff in SoCal –

    I agree with what I read here: He is in a better place, I believe this. And I know that your sharing this will save more than a few lives. You are an Angel for having the guts and love to share something so close to your heart, with such details, I felt I saw it. I cannot imagine how hard this is for you. I am somewhat the same way and “tell it like it is” – unfortunately, I don’t possess your amazing writing skills. So I keep it simple, because I am simple.

    After reading this, I am glad I did not take the overdose on the option of many drugs I had in my room, to only put my family through this type of unexplained, never-to-be-explained ugliness! Not to mention that the cancer the doctors said would kill me in six months went into some spontaneous remission they have never heard of, and, though late in my life, have found a new happiness in riding a bicycle. Yep, and you get it; right?

    Suicide has puzzled me because at a time I fought so hard to live, while battling a mean terminal bone marrow cancer, horrible chemo and bone marrow transplants, I used to think, shit, what the fuck can be worse than this? Death surely must be better. But I never did it, obviously. My esophagus lining was gone and I lived off food in my veins for a long time. Then for nearly 18 months, I lived on Ensure and Gatorade and vodka! I could not walk down a flight of stairs. Three years of high-dose chemo and the two back-to-back transplants had left me in a state I was not sure I wanted to live in.

    Friends left me because they did not know what to say. Just because 98% of my plasma cells were cancer and I was dying, this was not the time to leave me because they were afraid! How do you fucking think I felt?

    So, I don’t know what to say either to you. To a man I have never met, but somewhat bond with on a bike blog and may know a few of your maniac riding buddies. Why? I just want you to know I care and we all care. So saying something is better than nothing, I think, or hope. Nobody really knows what to say, the same ole shit we all can say. “Sorry” let us know if you need anything, etc. But I have to tell you that, I am sure I speak for many, appreciate everything you have shared about Ian. Painful as it is.

    I know where you hang out, so you would not be hard to find if I want to come meet you. Not that I could ever ride with you nuts, but I can serve coffee and make a mean fucking peanut cluster in the slow cooker, with organic chocolate and healthy shit the whole team would love after a grueling ride. So if you see a lady who looks lost and possibly too old to be with your group, on a new cool S-works, she clearly does not know what to do with, and carrying a big bag of homemade candy, that, again, would be I. So be on the lookout, buddy! My clusters will put you out for round two of your Donut ride and you’ll mash them all and drop them flat!

    Personally, having been too close to death on more than a few occasions, I have made friends with death. Death seems to call out to some of us when we least expect it, like we ever know when to expect it? And though it’s tough to think about, write about, or talk about, death will call on all of us eventually, as in Ian’s case, way too soon. So I try to live my life with as much love and happiness and gratitude as I can muster up each morning, even in the worst of times. Seth, I wish the same for you and your family and send you prayers and love. Your healing words, I can only hope, helped you today as much as they helped me.

    • Wankmeister says:

      This is too beautiful. So many thanks!

      Can’t wait to meet you. I’ll still tell you to go to the front…but with love!

      You’ll find a lot of kindred spirits when you join us, Cheryl, though few if any with your strength and courage. Wheatgrass Ride or NPR or any other South Bay ride, we’re waiting!

  • Albert Lagunas says:

    Reading about a death brought me to your blog. And I continued to read your words (only been able to ride with you once) and I continued to find your observations both humorous and insightful. It’s a difficult terrain to navigate. Last night, I found myself reading about death again. At times, I feel saturated by its presence (much time spent in hospitals with loved ones). Your words give order to chaos.

    Very sorry for your loss, Seth.

  • Tim says:

    Dear Seth,
    Once again, I find myself with tears in my eyes from reading your blog. Usually, it is because you have made me laugh so hard on some of the situations that you capture so well, that is a shared experience from some facet of my own life. Now, I find myself with wet eyes again as I finish this post today. I have lost my brother and father, and your sharing of your loss and the response posts are moving and emotional and have made me reflect not only on them, but how special everyone who we still have with us should be in our lives. Maybe this loss and your sharing will influence a lot of us to be a little nicer to a stranger, or help us to cherish the moments we do have with those around us. Thank you and truly sorry! Tim

  • Tax Daddy says:

    The sad thing about suicide is what it does to the people you love. In my darkest moments it has crossed my mind but a story like yours helps me remind me how selfish it ultimately is.

    Sorry for your loss. I was wondering where you were.

    • Wankmeister says:

      I’ve often thought about it, and I’m pretty sure most people have. But seeing it up close like this, there’s no way I could do it.

  • I don’t know you, but that was pure class. Raw and moving. Sorry for your loss. Ride for him.

  • Joe Yule says:


    So sad that he had to put so many in HIS Black Hole.

    Very selfish.

    I know the Black Hole well. My entire life we’ve walked hand-in-hand. On numerous occasions we have come VERY close to being eternal friends.

    I’ve broken my back, my femur, elbow and a variety of other bones. All VERY painful. But, I would take these again, as well as crushing every other bone in my body, all at the same time, and it wouldn’t be as excruciating as the Black Hole.

    Nothing anybody says or does will silence the Black Hole.

    No fault, no blame, no guilt. It just is.

    • Wankmeister says:

      When you’re in the hole, I assume you can’t hear everyone around you trying to pull you out, but in your case you’re surrounded by friends who love you and admire you and who would do anything for you. You have our unconditional love. Ian had hardly any friends. There was no one standing at the rim shouting down, or trying to throw him a rope. He was down in it alone. I know that he probably couldn’t have heard us or grabbed onto anything we lowered down, but then again maybe he could have. When I showed up on Saturday, and again today, and was showered with love and hugs and claps on the back and grins and attaboys and hangintheres, and most of all with the searing beatdown as we ascended the Switchbacks, I felt like I could withstand anything because everywhere I looked there were people who cared. Ian didn’t have that. I do. You do. If we should be grateful for the small things in life, how should we feel for the giant gifts like this?

      You’re right, of course. No fault, blame, or guilt. Just what is, is.

      • Joe Yule says:

        Let’s chat about this. Just know, there are no friends, loved ones.. or ANY encouragement from anyone that can slip through the gravity. It doesn’t make any sense. It’s a solo trip.

  • kest56 says:

    We are all sorry. Your paragraph “Suicide’s painful…” could not be truer. Thanks.
    I hope that your friends can help you heal and remember good times with your brother.

  • Benjamin Green says:

    I’ve been wondering how I can quickly access posts from the blogs I follow here on WordPress. Today, I discovered the “Reader” pane. There are posts that are mostly images, things like carbonara and the menu from Italy [probably Rome] that it was selected from. I kept skimming the posts and chose to read this one. I’m glad I did. The deft writing places a reader right behind the lens of the writer’s eye. It’s like having access to the surreal unfolding of events beginning at 7:03 AM on father’s day and all of the emotion that I would image comes with with such a tragedy.

    If you keep writing, we’ll keep reading. I hope that feels real, like, there’s someone on the other end listening.

    I wish I could write something to help make sense of what happened other than I am sorry to hear of your loss.

    Thanks for sharing this. Hang in there, dude.

  • Majo says:

    Seth, so sorry about your loss. You’re absolutely right about suicide being painful in many ways. This is a painful time in your life. Nothing can take away the pain from this emotional scar, but you can nurse it until the rawness abates. And although the scar will never disappear, with time it will become a symbol and reminder of your love for your brohter. I hope that you and your family choose to focus on remembering the good times. My thoughts and best wishes are with you and your family.

  • Jose Mendez says:


    Sorry for your loss. I saw you on NPR today but didn’t get a chance to talk to you in person. I’m not sure the girl’s name who was giving out the yellow armbands but that was a pretty cool gesture on her part and she made sure I got one, along with many others.

    Take care, and see you out there again soon.


  • loosewheels says:

    I am profoundly sorry for your loss. You must be a strong character, indeed, to be writing so brilliantly and beautifully in the wake of such horror. Take care of yourself.

  • Lynda says:

    I have followed Ian’s chilling obituary to your blog, Seth, and I thank you for writing these stories. I had been Ian’s friend. I loved him, saw and felt his pain…Some of us in this life do not know how to accept love, I can see from your blog that you do.. and that is such a good thing…Unfortunately, Ian’s illness lent to push people away from him.. especially the ones who loved him the most. My moments with him were short but most memorable..I had the time of my life with him….so glad he was part of my world..even for a short while…. I am sure you will find there are many others out there just like me… Ian told me a story, once, of how when he first got to NYC…He rode his bike to the local market from his apartment some miles away..He looked out the window and saw that someone was stealing a tire off the bike and ran out to try and catch him, unable to catch him, came back to find the other wheel was taken as well.. he went back into the store to get his bag of groceries… and carried his wheelless bike frame and bag of groceries back to his apartment…just as he was about to reach the stairs of this apartment a homeless man said to him,”someone took your wheels, huh”… Ian was like “uh, yeah”..the homeless guy said, “you’re new around here aren’t you”…”I’ll get your wheels back for you by 8am.” … Ian told me..something in him just gave the guy his address..and he thought to himself, “yeah, right, I am never going to see those wheels again..and now this homeless guy knows where I live” .. He said he was getting ready for work the next day and there was knock on his was about 8am. He goes to the door and there stands the same homeless man holding Ian’s 2 bike wheels…Ian said, he opened up his wallet to give the guy some money and the homeless guy refused to take it…On Thanksgiving Ian was a little lonely, far from family and he made a Texas favorite..rice and beans.. he made a plate for the homeless guy and himself and sets out to find the box in which he lived…Ian told me the two sat and ate it in his house box together.. He homeless man was so happy .. saying something to the effect “once we break bread together we are friends for life.”..Ian never had to worry about his bike wheels being stolen, again..there in NYC.. he had the homeless looking out for him…He told me this guy was evidently a very talented artist..who sold his art on the street to support a heroin addiction…Ian would go up to the area where he was selling his work and just hang out with him sometimes…How many of us would do that?

    • Admin says:

      I can’t thank you enough for this.

      But I can answer your question: I wouldn’t have done what my brother did. He had a generosity that was profound.

      Thanks again.

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