Monday, September 16, 2013

FIGHTING TO LIVE: When does the pain become too much?

I often write about pain, both physical and emotional. Those of us who have survived life-changing traumatic events or suffer from chronic illness (or both) endure our fair share of pain.

But when does pain reach a level that is beyond our endurance? When do we know?

My dear brother, Stephen Lyon Crohn, knew and now it is public. As reported in the The New York Times, he took his own life. "The Man Who Couldn't Catch AIDS" was still susceptible to a lot of everyday things that cause searing pain. Of course the story has gone viral and, not surprisingly, the 'haters' (as my son calls them) are leaving comments of questionable taste and accuracy. It is taking quite a bit of strength for me not to register and sign in to all these 'news' and other sites and leave comments of my own. But I won't take the bait.

How my brother died is vastly less important to me than how he lived. His sheer love of life during the 66 years he was here with us was the wonderfully contagious thing about him. You can see it in his art. You can read it in his words. You could feel it in his 'snuggle hugs' as one of his friends described them. This world is, indeed, a better, more beautiful place because he was here.

Living With Pain

But I want to know how we continue to fight to live with our tragedies and traumas and the hurts that accompany them? How do we choose life day after day? Simply put, there is no easy answer.

In a September 2011 article in Psychology Today, Shawn T. Smith, Psy.D. explains:

"There is a certain kind of thinking that fuels suicide, and for most of us it is a terribly difficult idea to sit with: suicide is problem-solving behavior. In the mind of someone considering suicide, the act may seem like an expeditious and effective way to eliminate pain."

My brother was an extremely logical thinker. He was that 'problem-solver.' And while his logic in the case of deciding to take his life, may have been flawed, it led him to a conclusion that felt right for him.

Smith continues:

"The thought of suicide most often occurs when a person feels they have run out of solutions to problems that seem inescapable, intolerably painful, and never-ending."

We all have problems that seem insurmountable at times. My brother was no different. To respect his eternal privacy, I will not outline the WHYS and HOWS of his final act. Many are asking (rudely) and he left some answers; but they are not for me to reveal. It is my job to help my family and I heal. 

There are a number of resources for people who are thinking of suicide: Hotlines, websites, support groups and each begin with CALL SOMEONE or 911. Of course, we ask why my brother did not make that one last phone call. Why didn't he reach out before... But we've learned he had his reasons. We have to accept his choice. Enough said. 

Now, though, we find we are the sufferers. According to
"Many people bereaved by suicide feel alone and isolated. The silence that surrounds the issue of suicide can complicate the experience. Because of the social stigma surrounding suicide, people feel the pain of the loss, yet may not believe they are allowed to express it."

Ayup. It's just awful. I visit his website daily - Crohn Studio - and I check his Facebook page for new messages that might make me breathe more easily, ease the lump in my throat and close the hole in my heart. My sister and I decided to create a Facebook memorial page soon. In the meantime, we field phone calls from reporters and friends, colleagues and admirers, family and old school chums from grade school. He certainly left an indelible mark.

Irreconcilable Differences 

I would be lying if I said it wasn't difficult for me to reconcile how I fought to live, died to live, and still take one step in front of the other every day with painful, frustrating remnants of cancer treatment, Lupus and chronic illness. My brother stopped stepping up the stairs. I have to remember that it was his choice; maybe not my choice, but a choice nonetheless.

Looking for quotes on living and treasuring life, I found some inspiration in words attributed to George Washington Carver, a former slave who became a celebrated inventor, botanist and chemist until a tragic fall down the stairs led to his death at age 78.

"How far you go in life depends on your being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving and tolerant of the weak and strong. Because someday in your life, you will have been all of these."

My brother was all of these. I guess the last person he could be tender with was himself. Or was he? 

Part of Carver's epitaph could be my brother's own:


This is how I will remember him. This is how I will honor him. This is how I will choose to go on.

Gravestone of George Washington Carver


  1. Amazing article...I know this will help others.

  2. I am so moved by this post, Amy, as one who has had experience with the suicide of loved family member. You have answered a lot of my questions from almost 30 years ago. I wish I had this profound information back then it may have given me a better understanding of "why!" It's their last resort solution to end the pain that they were able to hide from us so well.

    Your brother's legacy is awesome and it's so obvious that he was loved by so many, as was my family member. We often wonder why wasn't it enough...

    1. Thank you, dear Delilah. It feels good to do some research and write again.

  3. How a person lives their life is what defines them, not the way that they leave this world. It is not up to us to judge others. That is to be left up to a higher power. The last line of your blog...'This is how I will remember him. This is how I will honor him. This is how I will choose to go on.' Seriously, that just about says it all.

    Valuable information in your blog. Sometimes the person suffering doesn't know where to turn but then the survivors doesn't either. The key to healing is knowing where to get the help you need to heal. You know the old saying 'You can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink'. Thanks for taking us by the halter and filling up the water trough.

  4. Amy: We cannot simply "put aside death until we are "though it". In reality, we are never "through with it" as it seems to lurk in the background and rear its oft times ugly head when we least expect it. Know that you and your brother are in my heart. I only hope if his ties to the community was a source of happiness and support through the years. I have suffered through at times and experienced joy "in the same family." You are a thinker, writer and soul searcher..and therefore it IS your job to question, as it is mine! However, we cannot know all of the answers no matter what...and pain will linger. I so admire your continued perseverance and will always be a friend and supporter. Call on me when you have the need!

    Donna "Ladyjustice"

  5. Thank you. I have struggled to understand why Steve chose to end his life. I never would have thought he would do that. But yes, I also understand he had a great many challenges and what you've said makes a lot of sense. Those who chose this path feel that this IS the only next step. Bless his beautiful heart and soul. I think of him every day - and as I drive around Saugerties, his memories are everywhere. Thank you for your contribution to understanding Steve more fully. Love, Mary Anne

  6. You honor your brother's memory everyday by keeping a memorial Facebook Page and by writing about the meaning of his life, not death here in this blog. It is valuable information for others who do not know what it is like to lose a loved one to suicide. This unspeakable loss, is being put into words by you, Amy, and I thank you for this. Your thoughts make me feel like I knew Steve just a little bit. Perhaps, he's watching from above or wherever you imagine him to be and saying, "Yep, that's my sister! I'm so proud of her. She was always by my side, even during the tough times." I've been reading your memoir and enjoying it so much. Sadly, we have some commonalities in our life stories. Of course, I have not been at death's door, but I can share the fears of a car accident and what led to a more disabled place of pain. Let's keep talking. --Johanna G. Martinez (your neighbor)

    1. Thank you, Johanna. I so appreciate your comments.


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