The Wreckage Suicide “Helpers” Leave Behind – A letter from a bereaved family member

As I mentioned in my interview on Bax & O’Brien, there is no way in a free society to control information – and with rare obvious exceptions (think “how to make an atom bomb”), there shouldn’t be.

Most people are blissfully unaware, though, of just how many people out there are willing to provide the kind of pushes, prods and advice that will push someone who is considering suicide into someone who actually commits the act – and succeeds, thanks to that advice.

A little over a week ago, I was contacted by a woman whose sister committed suicide with the advice and encouragement of online “friends.” Part of her information and “encouragement” came from ASH – alt-suicide-holiday, a newsgroup that is notorious for urging suicidal people standing on a ledge to jump. She also bought her copy of “Final Exit” through the web – no doubt through Derek Humphry’s ERGO site or through the Final Exit Network.

It’s impossible to know just how many people she emailed or talked to – part of the detailed preparations she learned involved erasing all her emails and phone logs. All that was left were some references in a handwritten journal.

That’s enough intro. Below is a letter from Karen, which tells the story much better than I can. Anyone who is interested in talking to her can contact me for information on how to reach her. I won’t pass her contact info without her explicit permission and she’s understandably more comfortable with verifiable media inquiries. Hate mail is a reality for those who choose to engage in the public arena – and it’s an experience Karen would like to avoid. –Stephen Drake

On February 11, 2007, I was on my own at my new job for the first time. This should have been an exciting night for me. At about 7pm we had a flood emergency! If I thought that wasn’t exciting enough, at approximately 9pm I got a call from security! They asked me to come up to the emergency room. Working for a big hospital, I didn’t think anything of it. I guess I assumed they needed me for something. I was in for the shock of my life! There was a Lancaster Police Officer standing there. He introduced himself to me, and asked if my name was Karen (last name omitted). Right then and there I thought I was going to fall over! I asked if something happened to my daughter. I was shaking terribly. The officer asked me what my daughter’s name was. I told him “Bonnie (last name omitted)”. He shook his head “no”. My heart sank as I asked him if something happened to my little sister. Again, he asked her name. I replied “Lisa Bernstein”. He then changed my life forever by replying with a yes! He told me to sit down. I asked if my sister was alive. He said “no, she committed suicide in her apartment in Duchess County, New York! I’m so sorry Ms. (last name omitted)”! With that, a Pastor walked over to me. I don’t remember too much else from that night, except calling my older brother and sister to tell them.

Lisa was put up for adoption at birth, so I didn’t know her most of our lives. Growing up, I always dreamt about finding her, and how we would live happily ever after. We spent many years looking for her. We never dreamed we would find her, and lose her the way we did! My older sister, Beth, got a call on a Saturday. It was the day before Easter Sunday, 2003. We were finally going to meet our baby sister! My older brother, Richard, my older sister Beth, and myself, made plans for Lisa to take the bus from Queens, NY to Matawan, NJ. Beth and I picked her up at the bus station on Easter Sunday. I brought her a little purple bunny. Meeting her was the most fulfilling day of my life, other than the birth of my daughter! We spent two hours at Dunkin’ Donuts, chatting.. We also learned that Lisa had a sweet tooth! We then took her to Beth’s house to meet everyone else.

We all became close, fast! Lisa went through a rough time with depression throughout her life, and things were tough for her. After about 6 months, I convinced her to come to Pennsylvania, and live with me. I wanted to get her the best help I could, and I did! I found her doctors and therapists. She went on new medications. Some days were better than others. Lisa told me on more than one occasion that she was very fearful of death. That was the reason she was still here. She stayed in Pa for about two years, and then did what we all thought was the best thing for herself. In October of 2007, she got an apartment, in Duchess County, with her best friend that she grew up with. We were so happy for her, because she had said this was a great move for her. There were even some days she would tell me that the medications made her stop dwelling on death. She was feeling better! She even put in for a name change! She named herself after our deceased mother. Her name was Sandy. Our Aunt called her Sam, so Lisa decided to take the name “Sammi”. I called her “Sissy”..

After her death, I realized she moved in order to be away from her family, in order to plan her suicide! She got her guts up from a web site and book called “The Final Exit”! She also visited a site called “Ashers”. They all convinced her that she could take her life painlessly, and she did! The site told her verbatim, what to drink, what to eat, what meds to take, the position to sit in to avoid leaving a big mess, and finally, how to “hook” herself up to the tanks.

She was a brilliant girl, and followed those rules to the finest of detail! The Officer that found her said he had never seen such planning involved like this in his life! He said he spent hours with her, reading her journal aloud trying to make some kind of sense of it all! He couldn’t leave! He said it was so devastating to see her all hooked up to those tanks!

Her adoptive Aunt and I went to her apartment the following day. Her body was gone, but everything else was still there! The tanks, tubing, the plastic she covered her head with, the video rocker she sat in, empty TV dinner trays, Gatorade, duct tape, empty pill bottles, and so much more!

I remember the last time she called me. My friend answered the phone. I was lying down due to a bad headache. I didn’t come to the phone. Sissy said she would call back in a day or so, and to tell me she loved me. How I wish I came to the phone! Maybe I could have sensed something from her, but I didn’t! I know her death was not because I missed her call now. What I do know, is that these horrific animals told my baby sister that it was okay to die, and they would make it happen painlessly for her! Who the hell are they!? If they’re alive, how can they preach this!? Did they hook themselves up to tanks meant for blowing up birthday balloons! Did they turn on the tanks just long enough to feel like they were going to die!? I don’t get it! I’m so hurt and angry, I could spit fire! I know my sister was suffering from depression, but it wasn’t up to those animals to help her die! It was up to me and my family to do everything we could to help her heal, and live! They’re COWARDS, and they intentionally helped my sister die!


Emotionally and grief stricken,

Karen (last name omitted)

4 thoughts on “The Wreckage Suicide “Helpers” Leave Behind – A letter from a bereaved family member

  1. Due to technical difficulties, I am reposting this comment from Sanda:

    My condolences to Karen. I was not expecting to find a variation of my name in her letter.

    As I was reading, before it got “personal” (name), I was remembering how people in two families I know, and a friend, handled suicides of family and one, a lover. Each of the three were individuals who found ways of killing themselves, on their own. It makes the starkness of “assisted suicide” more bleak, as I remember family reactions to those who were not “assisted” overtly.

    A first reaction: there might be a good consequence coming out of this horrible wave of urging, “coaching”, “assisting”, possibly murdering people and NotDeadYet’s fight…suicide is coming “out of the closet”. The three families I knew had so much shame, they made up stories about the deaths. Two of the individuals were in mental crisis mode when they killed themselves. The third was probably also:the family covered up so much, it’s unclear beyond that the person took their life with a licensed gun.

    Vulnerability is a key word. Karen’s writing is very powerful. My eyes did water. This terrible experience (and injustice) has created another activist. I see how important first person “testimony” is. Thanks again.

  2. Karen’s ‘sister’ Lisa was my closest and dearest friend since we were 6 yrs old. She was my room mate at the time of her death. I was away that weekend. 3 years later and the memories have not faded. Still trying to make sense out of it. My 9 yr old daughter says that she talks to her from time to time, I hope that’s true.

  3. Alicia,

    I’m not sure that one can ever “make sense” of something like this. Sometimes the best we can do is make our own personal peace with it. –Stephen

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