My brother Reid always liked jokes. He was one of those people who could remember them and shared them easily. One of his favorites was best shared in a group setting.
One such occasion was our dad’s birthday when the whole family – Mom, Dad, six brothers and sisters and their spouses – went to dinner at a local steak house. During a lull in the conversation, Reid asked Dad across the table, “Know how to sell a deaf man a chicken?”
Dad, quite a jokester himself, thought for a moment and said, “No, I don’t think I do.”
Reid grinned, stood up, leaned in, and shouted, “WANNA BUY A CHICKEN?”
Dad blushed, the rest of us roared, and diners all around turned to see what the commotion was about. Reid laughed hardest of all.
I love that joke. It came to be Reid’s signature joke, and I still chuckle every time I think about it.
I wanted to tell it at Reid’s memorial service in 2001, but thought it might be a bit out of place for such a solemn occasion. Reid would have liked it, though.
My brother was a kind, thoughtful, funny, good-natured, optimistic, caring gentleman. He was active in his church, volunteered in his community as a Red Cross First Responder for disasters, and every summer spent a week of his vacation with a mission group, helping repair homes for poor people in the Upstate of South Carolina.
Reid taught CPR classes. He was a Realtor and an auctioneer. He loved kids and he loved golf. He loved life!
There was another side of Reid that we as his family did not know. He struggled with some deep issues that he couldn’t tell us about. Whatever it was, it must have tortured him. He was in pain. As far as any of us knew, he never sought professional help for it.
On Dec. 5, 2001, at age 42, he found a permanent solution to his problems. He took his own life at the edge of the woods in a secluded part of town.
I remember the tremendous grief and hurt I felt in the days afterward. It was like a jagged blade tearing through my inner being. It was hard to breathe – my lungs felt as if they had collapsed inside me. I couldn’t eat, nor sleep. I couldn’t believe what had happened. I was angry and sad and calm and furious, all at the same time.
My family gathered close around one another, but there was a huge gaping hole in our consciousness. Reid was gone in the most tragic way any of us could have imagined.
For the next year, my sister and I, who were closest in age to Reid, searched for answers, trying to figure out what had happened. Why had he made this awful choice? We never found an answer.
Eighteen years later, my family has healed, though we still feel grief bursts sometimes.
But just this past week, after a bright and seemingly cheerful young friend shared some dark feelings about considering suicide, I’ve learned something. I needn’t have tried to figure out anything. Reid’s issues – as hers, were so deep and silent that no one else would ever have a clue.
To those reading this who have those kinds of dark feelings, I encourage you to seek help, as my young friend did. Call the suicide lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Call 911. Go to an emergency room.
For support and to be with others who share a story, join walkers at the annual Out of the Darkness community walk starting at noon Nov. 10 at Oyster Factory Park in Bluffton.
There is light. Reach out and find it.