Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Brother believes fatal crash was suicide

Editor's note: The following letter was submitted by Thomas W. Griffin on Tuesday, Aug. 30. It is Mr. Griffin's conclusion about the fatal accident last week that took the life of his brother, Brian Griffin. Blaine County Coroner Russell Mikel told the Express Tuesday that his office—based on its research—has seen no concrete evidence that would lead him to determine that the crash was not accidental.

Last Wednesday, on a bright, sunny afternoon, Brian Griffin climbed into his red Chevy Tahoe, drove to within a quarter mile of the summit of Trail Creek Road, and then without slowing down, speeding up, or swerving in any way, methodically turned his steering wheel to the left, sending his SUV over a cliff and taking his own life. He died 750 feet below. He was 55 years old. He was my brother.

No one can know what he was thinking as he drove up that road; the inner demons that had bedeviled him for the past 15 years, the ones that he'd worked so hard, so privately, and for so long to overcome had finally won the day. And while the coroner's report will eventually list his cause of death as "accidental" (even when suicide is strongly suspected, if a suicide note is not found state law requires vehicular fatalities to be classified an "accident") I know in my heart, without a doubt, that he died by his own hand.

He was a troubled man. He once tried to explain his feelings by asking me to imagine sitting at the bottom of a cave after a cave-in with no hope of escape, with nothing but total darkness and emptiness to look forward to. And then he asked me to imagine the emptiness slowly closing in, squeezing from all sides. It was beyond my comprehension. I couldn't understand.

And so now he's a statistic, one of over a million people who will die worldwide this year by suicide, the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. It is our leading cause of preventable death, but pride, shame, superstition, embarrassment, societal stigma, economics, and a myriad of other reasons and excuses prevent us from adequately addressing the problem.

There was a time when the diagnosis of cancer was something to be whispered and kept in the closet, and later the same with HIV and AIDS; treatments were delayed and often carried out in secret, and people suffered unnecessarily for it. Thankfully, those days are by and large gone. It's long past time to address mental illness and the stigma of suicide in the same way.

My brother had a mental illness. He committed suicide. He suffered privately, and at times, I suspect, unnecessarily. I want to do something about that. I don't know what that something is yet, but when I figure it out I hope some of you who read this will join me in the effort.

Thomas W. Griffin

Ketchum and Seattle

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