My brother Jeff decided to end his life with a shotgun in early 2008, in a motel room at a ski resort in upstate New York. In the spirit of keeping this brief, I will gloss over him by saying that he was the most remarkable person I ever met in my life. He lived balls-out and fearless, trying to make it in New York as an actor. He was never rich when it came to money but had an abundance of friends and dreams. He was such a great actor that he fooled everyone in the family until the very last moment, his pain and anguish never revealed until after he decided to end it…
What brought all this up was the recent suicide of my friend Michael on Christmas Day in San Diego — like Jeff, it was a shock. It always is, to family and friends, because we see them only from the outside; we see their humor and charm and what they decide to show us. Michael was out celebrating with friends at the Ye Ould Sod, singing karaoke and drinking. He said goodbye around 1:00 a.m. and drove home. Michael updated his Facebook status, saying:
“This is a long time coming, please don’t blame yourself.”
He then jumped off the 805 overpass to his death.
I figure my brother was probably bi-polar, like Mike. I say this because when Mike was happy, he was the most charming, charismatic, outgoing person you’d ever seen. He’d graduated from Berkeley and was working at the Wild Animal Park, following his passion for animals. My brother Jeff was the same. He starred as Joey in the Dinner Theatre production of Joey and Maria’s Comedy Italian Wedding, and appeared in a number of plays, and won numerous awards from Actors Alliance. Both these kids, they were on the right track and following where their hearts, not their wallets, took them.
With my brother, the pendulum always swung. It caused him great amounts of regret, sorrow, and guilt over the friends he’d lost in high school and in the navy.
The moment of Jeff’s death, my mother was walking the aisles of a grocery store and suddenly stopped. “I can’t describe it,” she said. “I just felt empty. I left my cart in the aisle full of groceries, drove home, and laid on the couch…I have never felt so empty.”
Jeff’s girlfriend Mel, who had just received a goodbye text, frantically tried to reach him on his cell phone. Her dog leapt from the couch and began barking at an empty corner in her room; he circled repeatedly and went on barking at the empty corner. Mel put him outside and continued dialing. At the same time, a friend of Jeff’s in San Diego was thinking of him and had a strange feeling, and at that moment the light bulb above Mel, the one she used to read with, blew out.
I should stop here and explain that I was an atheist and didn’t believe in a higher power. I didn’t then and still don’t subscribe to the hippie-looking guy who died and started moving rocks and makes water into wine, nor the guy up above who hates gays, tells preachers not to get married, wants you to always donate to him, and created earth in just under a week. I think it’s a crock. I also don’t believe in ghosts or the tooth fairy. In fact, when my brother died, I was at a local bar pounding back a few beers. A good friend of mine was telling me about his past depression and that he had once been suicidal.
“See, I just don’t get that,” I said. “How can you want to just quit? I hate weak people, life is hard for everyone, you just got to power through it, know what I mean? We don’t have it that bad. Hell, imagine life in India or Nigeria, for poor people who are suffering, yet they still find strength to go on…Stop being such a puss!”
I won’t go into more detail about that day because I have it surrounded by a 50-foot wall that is guarded 24/7 by ninjas and SEAL teams and surrounded by a moat with alligators. Anytime I mentally try to go there, I am forced back by the guards and told to leave the area. It is a good safeguard, and I often wonder if other survivors of suicide loss do this as well.
After Jeff died, my mother began receiving all sorts of signs. Books about mediums and spirit guides that Jeff had bought her years ago started appearing all around the house. Everyone in the family began to have dreams with him in them, where he was reassuring us that he was okay. I have never had dreams so vivid that they made me question which reality was true. I felt that he was alive in those dreams and that we were having long conversations.
In other strange news: Mel’s bra would come unhooked while walking down the street, and she swore it was Jeff. My radio and car alarm would go off randomly, either while I was driving or just sitting in the car.
This was all written off by me as random bullst. I put no stock in poltergeists or Jeff having a bit of fun from the other side. It would be easy to think that it was him and that he was in a better place than the alternative, which I saw as nothingness. My greatest fear was that my brother had simply ceased to exist, that he wasn’t in heaven or hell, just…gone.
My mother asked my brother for understanding and help. She sought to find a trustworthy medium who would be able to help her get answers as to the WHY.
One afternoon my mother came home to find her roommate Mike and his friend Joe drunk, high, and passed out in the living room.
She made them coffee and got them on their feet, so they could sober up a bit. They had been out partying the night before in downtown Chicago. Mike’s friend got up from the couch and asked my mother, “Do you have a son named Jeff?”
“Yes,” she said.
“He says he is real sorry for what he did, but that he is where he is supposed to be.”
“Excuse me? How did you know my son Jeff?”
“He is telling me that he is really sorry, so so sorry for how he did it, but that he was in so much pain, and now he is happy and where he is supposed to be. You are where you’re supposed to be and so is he. Look, I got a killer headache. Do you mind if I get some Advil or somethin’?”
Unbeknownst to Mike or my mother, Joe was a medium. He claimed he’d been bombarded all day and night by Jeff, who wanted to talk to my mother. Joe said that he’d always had the gift, that it was a nuisance at times, and that he got high a lot to dull his senses. He described what Jeff looked like and how he took his life. When relaying the messages, he spoke in a way similar to Jeff’s speech pattern. Neither Mike nor my mother had ever told this man anything about Jeff.
Joe took his Advil and headed out the door. He said goodbye to my mom and promised to call Mike again and have another “guys’ night.” He asked Jeff to p*ss off and leave him alone and then he probably went back downtown to get smashed.
Later on in the week, a coworker of my mom’s returned from a healing session with her therapist — with a message from Jeff. Kim had been seeing a healer/therapist about trying to get pregnant. Doctors told her that it was impossible after her miscarriage, and that’s when she found Beverly. Beverly started the session by asking how she was. Kim said that she was feeling good but that a friend had recently lost her son.
“Does his name start with a J?…Jeff…Tell your friend that he comes and speaks with me all the time and that I would love to meet her.”
My mom went to meet Beverly, and there began the road to our recovery.
On Beverly’s advice, I decided to ask for a sign from my brother. I went to Target and purchased two scented candles and taped a baby picture of Jeff to one of them. I closed my window and door and lit the candle. My house at the time was a real dump and had no AC or heater, so no air was coming into my bedroom. I asked Jeff to put out the candle I had lit for him. In the past, being a smartass, I’d asked him to make my car hover, or for me to win the lottery, but this time I took it seriously and really tried to reach out. I focused all my energy on that flame and begged Jeff to put it out.
Jeff, please. I need you to come down and put this candle out. I don’t know of any other signs or whatever that you can do to convince me that you’re still here, unless you can make a car fly into my fking window. I need you to do this for me. I know — I KNOW! — that logically, with my window closed, and the door closed, that this thing will burn down to the bottom. I’ve burned candles before and all of them have burned to nothingness. But this time…show me you found the way out of the darkness and put this candle out.
I asked that question for a good hour, focusing on the candle, telling Jeff that this was his one chance to help me out and show me that we don’t disappear, that he didn’t disappear. I eventually got tired and told Jeff I was going to sleep. I passed out with the candle still lit. When I woke the next morning, I’d forgotten about the whole ordeal. I got dressed and grabbed my keys and only then noticed that the candle had gone out sometime in the night. It was half-size, pretty much what it had been when I fell asleep.
Sure, this wasn’t a spiritual two-by-four to the head to utterly and totally convince me that Jeff was still around — but it helped. I mean, isn’t there an entire holiday celebrated around the fact that some super old lamp or oil burned for eight days, when it was only supposed to last for a day? Spirits aren’t always obvious about this stuff. I think they like to mess with us and test our faith.
What finally did it for me, though, were the words “Eep opp ork AH AH!” During a session with Beverly, she told my mother to relay a message to Jeff’s girlfriend Mel: “Eep opp ork AH AH.” Beverly talks like my brother when she channels him; she calls me “dude” and talks smack in the exact speech patterns Jeff would have used; she knows things that only Jeff would know. Well, neither my mother nor Beverly knew what those words meant, but when I later listened to the audiotape of their session, I knew exactly.
“Eep opp ork AH AH!” was from a Jetsons episode, one I’d seen with my brother back in the day. In the episode, Judy Jetson wins a date with Jet Screamer, and he sings this song for her. The words mean “I love you” in space talk. I called Mel to give her Jeff’s message. She blew us all away by revealing that for the past year she’s been learning to say “I love you” in every language in the world. Jeff knew this at the time of his death and was now saying it to her from space.
I don’t fear death, nor do I fear a whole lot. I’ve poured out one of the most tragic events in my life to you, and chances are we have never met. But I don’t care…because those who matter don’t mind, and those who mind don’t matter.
Be happy and chase your dreams.■
— Frank Wells