MIA LIVAS PORTER
My brother Junior killed himself by gun suicide 28 years ago.
It’s taken me a long, long time to be able to say that freely.
I am a survivor of gun violence and suicide.
I first realized that I was a survivor when I joined a gun violence prevention organization. I volunteered for a leadership role for my local group and at our first team meeting - as I was just getting to know everyone - I heard a survivor story that made me do a double-take. The story was similar to mine.
So, my brother Junior was schizophrenic. He had battled it for 5 years, in and out of mental institutions, trying different medicines to control his symptoms, trying others means of attempts. But it was fatal once he got access to a gun.
Obviously, his death shattered our family. It most acutely affected my oldest brother Danny who found Junior - his best friend’s body - and my dad, a doctor, who couldn’t forgive himself for not being able to save his son, his namesake. And I will never forget the image of my mom weeping, saying over and over “A parent is not supposed to outlive their child”.
But what compounded our pain, our trauma, was that we were told not to talk about it. “What happens in the family, stays in the family.” When friends asked, we told them Junior was shot, not that he killed himself, and changed the subject. Whatever reason our parents had for asking us to not share what happened, it implied that his suicide was something to be embarrassed about, to feel shame about.
But here’s the problem, you can’t fix something if you don’t talk about it. The pain doesn’t go away. You can’t go around it, you have to go thru it. Otherwise, it becomes this black hole in your heart that starts sucking up the life around it - and that has a ripple impact on your future.
In 28 years, Danny has NEVER been able to talk about Junior. Consequently, he has not been able to move forward with his life. He shut down and shut people out, trapped in that moment. My dad….lost the will to live. His body gave up on him and he died a few years after Junior, I believe of a broken heart. For me, I “coped” with survivors' guilt. I remember thinking “it should have been me to go through what he did, because I would have been strong enough to survive”. Just realizing now that that totally explains my perpetual “I’ll do it!” attitude. I will always be the one to step up to volunteer for things - especially when no one else will - because I feel a constant responsibility to be the one to “save the day.” But I also lived in fear for decades, always going to the darkest place. Anxious something awful was always going to happen around the bend, to those I love most, because it already did to my family.
It was only until I found my voice as a survivor that I started to heal. That’s why I am always so grateful to share Junior’s story. It’s always an honor for me to keep his memory going, knowing that his story may help save one life or inspire someone to take action. You don’t know who you may reach when you share. You don’t know who may need to hear the words that you’re speaking, that their family wasn’t allowed to say. Sharing Junior has filled that hole for me, bringing meaning and a greater purpose to his death. After all those years of survivor’s guilt, it has been part of my healing process to be his voice - to know that when I share, it can save lives. And now that I’ve finally learned to use my voice and tell my story, I can’t NOT share it - esp when I know that it can save lives.
And individually, let this be a gentle reminder use your voice when it comes to suicide prevention awareness. The most important action you can do is to check in on those you love. Let them know they don’t have to suffer in silence. Send that text, make that call and reach out to let people know you care and are thinking about them. Don’t wait.
With love always,