When Brian Took His Life

June 1st, 2001 | Produced by Jake Warga
Brian's Funeral
From Brian’s Funeral
Photos by Jake Warga

(This piece aired on PRI’s This American Life, 03/15/2003)

Notes from Jake Warga, 6/11/01

“No one will really know what Brian was thinking or feeling. The only tools I had to make sense of what he was going through was a recorder and my ear. I soon realized that if I could not change him, then I was going to document the experience. In July of ’99, I went to visit him after he attempted suicide, I clipped a mic on him and simply asked: why?

I’m not a professional radio producer… I’m a friend. I chose radio because I don’t think it’s important what Brian looks like, his emotions come through in his voice. When you close your eyes, you hear Brian, but you can see anyone. Maybe someone you know, maybe someone you love, maybe yourself. Television robs you of that potential connection, that potential intimacy.

Brian
Brian

One night last month, his brother called me to say that Brian was dead. None of us could say we didn’t see it coming, but that did little to soften the blow. I flew down the next day and the two of us worked on taking care of things. I gave him, and their cousin, a tape of the story. They were touched and thanked me greatly for doing it.

This is the second version of the story. The first cut I made was for Brian. In the ending, I simply stated that I didn’t know if he were getting better or not. It was my way of reaching out to him, now it has been my way of closure. He asked that no one we knew hear the tape unless he were dead, then he wouldn’t care.

When I moved to Seattle last year, a friend and I did a story called “Street Dogs” that aired on KUOW. I called the station and they asked me to shape “Brian” to 23 min. This is the version here. It hasn’t aired yet. I had to do most of the work over again since I had little idea about how to edit without blundering my way through – so I turned to the Internet and found transom.org. I used a lot of their tips in editing, and though I still don’t know exactly how it works, I didn’t loose any files this time.

In this second version of the story, I talked more about how his death affected me. Because it is a personal story for both of us. I’ve experienced the loss of people older than I, but never a friend. And in the end, this is still, and always will be, a gift to my friend Brian.”

A Note From Transom

We at Transom think this is a strong story for many reasons. It is intensely personal, as Jake says, “a gift,” but it reaches out too. It stops you. It has identity.

We also feel strongly about this piece because it proves the point of Transom.org. It was made independently with the help of tools found here and now stands on this stage. We think this is important. We hope Jake keeps making pieces, so that someday he can say he *does* work in public radio.


Producer Bio

Jake Warga – I’m afraid I don’t have much to contribute about my career in Radio as I don’t actually work in radio. This is the first story I’ve produced, one of three (Editor’s Note: more will be featured on Transom.org in the future). Another story I did with a friend (Matt Perry) was about homeless street kids with dogs here in Seattle; “Street Dogs” aired on KUOW in April.

I love the radio and grew up listening to old time radio shows on KNX 1070 in L.A. each evening in high school. Then in college I gained a healthy addiction to NPR. After college I worked on feature horror films in Hollywood as a camera tech; it’s then I started bothering the sound department for information and tips. I ended up falling in love with MiniDiscs.

Next I moved to Seattle for no reason in particular aside from going back to school for health science. I tired of that after 6 months, though chemistry was fun to learn. With my Mac lap-top , the cheapest mixer I could find, ProTools Free, and a rainy day, I retreated and started editing. Now I’m waiting to start grad school in the fall for Visual Anthropology. Ideally, I will travel and write, documenting people and cultures as I go.


83 Comments on “When Brian Took His Life”

  • Jay Allison says:
    When Brian Took His Life

    This is a tough one.

    I’m not inclined to say too much up front. The piece certainly raises questions about style and technique, but to my ear it has an imperative at its core, a need to tell and share, that gives it power and identity.

    Jake says he isn’t a producer, but… damn.

    May I also humbly say that if work like this is lying around trapped in the mini-disc players and imaginations of America then Transom.org is doing the right thing.

  • Matt Perry says:
    my take on this story, plus a question

    First of all, I want to say that I am very very pleased that more people will be able to hear Jake’s story about Brian. It is a story that deserves to be heard. I should say that I am a friend of Jake’s — we have collaborated in the past on various projects, and we share a website. I was also lucky to meet Brian before he died.

    This story has changed over time. As Jake mentioned in his preamble, it was once (before Brian’s death) almost twice as long as it is now. At that time, I listened to the story, thought it was interesting, but also thought that it lacked a tight ending, and that it meandered … Brian’s then as-yet-unresolved fate left me waiting for something to happen … waiting for someone to do something … waiting for the playfully creepy scene of Jake and Brian running along the train tracks to resolve itself into… The problem was that (as obvious as it seems now) I didn’t know what resolution I was looking for. Something in me really believed that Brian would never fully commit to doing what he finally did. Now, I feel a peripheral sense of guilt, and a sadness, but the story is whole. It was transformed — became imperative — only when Brian died.

    It seems a rare thing for any story to be utterly changed by nothing intrinsic to it, but only by outside circumstance. That’s not to say that Jake didn’t make some solid production decisions himself. I think that his musical choices are solid, although perhaps not for all tastes. There were certain points at which I would have liked a faster pace … I will listen again and try to be more specific about this however. For reasons that I can’t quite articulate, the train scene is still my favorite. There is something very strange about listening to Brian run beside a moving train. It’s as if I’m hearing him play with death, while at the same time knowing that later (or is it earlier?) he made the choice to die. There is a time warp. It is a wise choice: Jake says from the beginning that Brian has taken his own life … I certainly prefer this to being strung along. To me, the piece is not about whether he’s killed himself or not, but rather why he’s done it. It makes me think of the different flavors of death, and why we choose one over the other. How we decide to exit.

    If this is appropriate, I want to raise a question. Radio seems so entirely suited to telling intensely personal stories like this one. Why is that? I can think of some reasons, such as it’s openness and democracy (ie — it’s not expensive or technically impossible to make, and so people like Jake who are close to interesting stories can produce pieces about what they care about) … but why else? I am speculating, but I don’t think this would have worked as a film, or as a piece of literature. What makes Brian’s story something that needs to be HEARD?

    Finally — Jay, I agree with you. I can confirm that among Jake’s various virtues is an odd sort of modesty. If he’s not a producer, then during the making of this story he was surely possesed by the spirit of someone who is.

    -Matt Perry
    Soundstory.org

  • Rebecca Fransway says:
    Thanks for this.

    Thanks, Jake for the beautiful program. It was so good hearing Brian’s voice again. I believe he is happy now.

    Best,

    Rebecca

  • Joshua Barlow says:
    The Empathetic Ear

    I think this may be a hard conversation to get started. Not because of the way the story was composed or produced, but because the story itself leaves you with a bit of a notion… "Man, what can I say to that?"

    It is a very raw, personal experience that even those who have been through such tragedies, or similar, have trouble coming to terms with. Even years beyond the event.

    What made this piece very engaging for me was the fact that Jake allowed himself to be not just the storyteller, but the subject as well – alongside his friend Brian. The story was not just about Brian arriving and remaining at a point where he had lost a sense of hope for himself, but it was also about Jake – trying to understand his friend… trying to talk him down without losing trust… and later, trying to make sense of what had happened without forgetting to celebrate what had been wonderful about his friend’s life and spirit. Had Jake been another step removed from the topic, I am not sure if I would have been as moved.

    Pieces like these evoke the empathetic ear – or that’s what I would call it. They are rare, probably because I can’t imagine many reporters wanting to reveal that much of their inner emotional life to the outside world. When they do show up and the expression is sincere, the listener is no longer carried by intellectual interest, but by a sense of humanity and a wanting to understand, emotionally, what it means to be human. To know that they are not alone in trying to make sense of our existence.

  • Joshua Barlow says:
    Brian’s Story in MP3

    By user request, we have made "When Brian Took His Life" available as a downloadable MP3:

    http://www.transom.org/sounds/20010615.warga.brian.mp3

  • Sarah Vowell says:

    It’s a marvelous piece, Jake. I’m Sarah from This American Life. Mind if I just give you all my notes about what I liked and what I thought you might think about changing? They’re chronological. (Warning to anyone else reading this before listening to the story, this is a SPOILER. And this piece has some really nice surprises so listen to it, pretty please.) But before I do give you my notes, Jake, I want to say that I think this is a lovely piece of friendship. That said, I’m going to talk about him in my notes, however, as an interview subject. I’m going to objectify him a little bit to talk about this as a radio narrative from one radio narrator to another.

    –Question: Maybe I missed something, but in the intro, you say, unless I’m wrong, that you’re talking about his suicide attempt a year earlier. Then, a few sentences later, you say his attempt was two years ago. Were there two attempts? Or is this a mistake?

    –I like what you say about not wanting save him, just wanting to listen. And I like that you did the interview on a park bench at night. Made it seem more friendly than if you were in a studio somewhere.

    –All these specific, hard cold facts about how he was discovered in the room and all the stuff about the ambulance and what he took is great. It doesn’t sound cold, it makes it more real.

    –Good job as an interviewer trying to make the connection between his medical chart and his mom’s. Of course, he wasn’t buying it, but nice literary try.

    –You’re lucky to talk to him. He gives you plenty of what I call "ding-ding-ding" moments—that moment when the subject says something so quotable and good you have to restrain yourself from saying "That’s a keeper!" out loud. Like that thing he says about how he thinks suicide is a selfish act like seeing a therapist is, that you have a problem and "you’re doing something about it." Chilling.

    –Okay, this is my main complaint with your piece. I hate these songs. Get rid of the songs! I mean, they’re nice songs. But when you put songs with words in here, a lot of bad things happen to me, the listener. First, I think the story’s over and my mind starts wandering over to the dishes in the kitchen sink. Oh, then, we’re back and I have to readjust. I just think the songs cheapen the intelligence of what you’re saying and they totally disrupt the flow. There are at least four songs w/vocals in here that I hope you replace with instrumental tracks. Instrumentals will give you the same effect—an emotional pause—without cluttering up your narrative. You’ve used some nice instrumental scoring music in here, so I know you have good musical instincts. It’s just that what you and Brian are saying is so much more interesting than what some singer is saying. (You can read This American Life bias into all that if you want.)

    –I was completely surprised by his reason for not writing a note—that he was too impatient. For some reason, I was still in the normal world view of thinking suicide is something one dreads. But he just wanted to do it fast. This is the moment for me when I recognize that he is, in fact, different.

    –Great, great: When you ask if you’re writing his suicide note.

    –The train section: This is what in my work I like to call a "shenanigan." A shenanigan is a cool thing that happens that doesn’t really propel the story forward or expose a new, interesting idea. It’s just something you like, "good tape," as we say in the radio biz. Now, what I like about the train shenanigan is that it shows you and your friend just being friends, doing something fun. But in order to justify this being in here, you’re going to have to, uh, justify it. Just write a sentence or two about why you’re including it. Something along the lines of, This is the sound of our friendship, or This is the person I knew. You only know this suicidal guy. But he can be so fun to be around. Something like that, but in your voice. Maybe I’m wrong and you included it for some other reason—whatever, just state your business a little.

    –"Do you ever cry?" I would never in a million years have thought to ask that question. I’m very impressed. And the answer you got was surprising: No. And more surprising yet: Not for ten years.

    –Again, this is more kudos for him than you, but this point he makes about "failing to thrive" and being "a belated case of sudden infant death syndrome" is incredibly poetic.

    –This music scoring your announcement of his death is kind of churchy. And therefore, cheesy. It’s TOO on the money, TOO funereal. I’d go with something non-liturgical myself because it will be less generic.

    –This thing you say in your eulogy about being proud of Brian for accomplishing something he’d been trying so hard at is nicely tough—like you’re speaking his language, that you’re not giving the eulogy for yourself but for him. I thought it quite generous. And I like this little grace note at the end with his voice.

    You’re a natural interviewer and I was impressed with your line of questioning. I can’t believe this is your first piece.

  • Jay Allison says:
    my heavens

    that is one impressive editorial flourish, Sarah Vowell.

  • Joan Schuman says:
    Gems

    This is undoubtedly an extraordinary piece BECAUSE it is both a personal, heartfelt outpouring AND a gift to a friend. There are few radio pieces that will attain this balance because generally we producers (or perhaps I’ll speak for myself) don’t have this kind of life-changing experience very often. I tried to think of all the pieces I’ve done and none come close to this level of emotion. Yes, we’re attached to an issue, a story, a person. But I haven’t had your experience of fighting for and losing a good friend.

    What I liked most was your sparse narration. What you do say are gems. There are enough of them to remind me that the piece is not just a report about Brian, but a portrait of how his life/friendship/suicide affected you.

    I like the train scene and don’t need any explanation for why it’s in there. It shows without telling. It’s a blatant metaphor about running away, chasing the unatainable, chasing death. That comes across clearly for me.

    I’m glad we know from the beginning that Brian succeeded in ending his life on his third attempt and that your discussion with him is the interstice between Try #2 and Try #3. I’d have been pretty pissed if that were sprung on me at the end. Somehow, talking with him at this interval (whether it was years, months, days, it doesn’t matter to me) seems like such an insightful time for you both, for very different reasons.

    That, for me, is the ultimate strength of the piece: the timing. Oh, and of course, the utter honesty from you both.

  • Matt Perry says:
    I agree with Joan

    Joan —

    I agree with much of what you say.

    I don’t really need an explanation for the train scene either. It offers a break in the pacing of the piece (one NOT involving music). Like I posted before, it has its own spooky, and — as you say — metaphorical qualities.

    And I agree with Sarah Vowell — at times the music was distracting, at least for me. I probably wouldn’t have chosen that particular pop song during the train scene. I don’t think it is your TAL bias Sarah. Also — just a point of record (since Jake hasn’t posted hey himself) — this isn’t Jake’s first story.

    There is one issue I’ve been going over in connection with this piece. When is a story too personal to be told to a wide audience? Is there a boundary between revealing your own vulnerability — your own personal stuff — and inviting a sort of aural voyeurism? I’m not implying that Jake’s piece does this — in my opinion it doesn’t. I’ve just been thinking about this.

    -Matt Perry
    soundstory.org

  • Jake Warga says:
    Producer’s Reply

    I suspect it’s about time for my reactions: Any delay on my part has come from being stunned with the comments and effects Brian’s story has been generating. I’ll respond in turn: Matt, you met Brian, and your comments are very true. Your question: Why is radio so well suited for personal stories? I think it’s because it gives the audience credit for imagination in the absence of visuals, it’s more personal because they don’t know what we look like, therefor we can be someone they know…or knew.

    Joshua: It’s a hard thing to comment on, yes. It’s strange the reactions I get when I mention Brian, or have to explain what I’ve been "up to." I wrote this on the plane after the funeral: "I smile a bit less because that’s how I feel, I grin a bit more because I’m afraid people will ask me how I feel." What does one say? I just hand them a tape.

    Rebecca, where have you been hiding?

    Ah Sarah…wow. First, thanks. Thanks for all your valuable and professional comments. "This American Life" has been a program that I’ve admired, not just for it’s stand alone quality, but more for what it has allowed: a forum for the traditional telling of stories and documentaries. It feels like Transom is on the verge of having it’s own show too, but has done the same in creating a forum of quality material that has the potential to give people pause. Now to the nitty gritty…

    I think it’s hard for people to comment on Brian’s story with out fear of disrupting sensitivities. Thank you for separating your thoughts into emotional reactions and SPOILER comments. I didn’t think any of your comments are spoilers, all comments are helpful to me since this was my first, though recently amended, attempt at this sort of thing. My instructions came mainly via my own mistakes.

    The dates: You’re the first to notice/comment on the confusion there. I’d send you a prize, but I imagine you’re one of those impossible-to-buy-for people. I was in a cloud of confusion and sometimes anger when I re-edited the piece. Time got a bit wonky for me, the sense of it not as exact as the reality of it. There were other attempts, but I think it I will call it a mistake. It was 2 years ago the interview took place. 6/99.

    The songs: More prizes your way. The lyrical songs I added, then grew to actually like, for time request of KUOW Seattle. They asked me for 23min. I did not have that. I was listening to Brian’s MiniDiscs (a mutual technology we shared) while cleaning out his stuff, and came across some haunting music. The discs were very worn, so I used them. I grew to like them, because it gave the listener time to reflect on all the heavy things said. But I can see for someone not familiar with Brian or I, it could cause one to tend to "the dishes in the kitchen sink." (you know that after a party, you just stick them in the freezer.) And the music over the end narration does seem a bit "cheesy" but I just thought I would end with the music I started with–full circle. (plus it took less room on my strained hard-drive) But I agree.

    The TRAIN/SHENANIGAN: I want to thank you here for satisfying my curiosity on how to spell that word, and it is better than "Good Tape" since I didn’t use tape. I did it for many reasons: The main one, as I mentioned in the tape (CD), is that we needed a "stretch." To get off the bench, to demonstrate that we can have fun, that the setting is not just a bench, that I am with a real person–not an actor. That he can be a kid. To keep the audience’s attention, and lastly to tease. Upon hearing the first version, some friends asked: did he just jump in front of a train? Aside from a duh, I said that he could have, that he holds his life in his own hands, that he’s serious and not just talking or botching attempts for attention. I wanted to shake the listener, to have them realize that he could jump…hence the song "jumper" to attract the rare gen-x npr listeners. Jay Allison commented that he might have done it differently, but really liked that I was doing something different, younger almost. "Maybe this is a new style" and really liked it.

    Joan S.: I hope the above addresses some of your thoughts. It seems the "Train Shenanigan" has started a healthy discussion. To clarify: I only interviewed Brian once, that night on the bench. He did not change much after that night…but I did.

    Pardon the lengthy response, but I’ve been thinking about it for a while. Especially today, kayaking on lake Union listing to "This American Life". I will also take this time to humbly stop dodging the lime light, fight through my aggressive modesty, and confess that maybe I am a radio producer…now. I’ve been getting such encouraging comments to that effect, and I have two more stories coming to transom soon…much lighter notes. It may not be what I do, but I really like doing it.

    Back to your comments. I remind you to separate and comment on both your emotional and technical responses…I need them both.

  • Jake Warga says:
    First

    Matt, afraid this was my first, but recently edited to reflect his death. The old version was my first, you could say.

  • Jake says:
    Emotions

    Regarding the delicate line of private/public. No one has been wrestling more about it than I. I tell people I’m uncomfortable about it, think of it like the photographer’s ‘burning building’ senerio. Do you take pictures of the event, or do you go in and help. I knew I could not change Brian, I’m comfortable with that. But, like Josh said earlier, it would have been a different piece, and I think a wrong one, if it were not about me too. This was not a stranger, this was a friend, and I tried to make sense of it with him. yet, I do feel odd about it, uncomfortable about sharing what he went through.

    "Street Dogs" is a story I did with Matt Perry, it aired on KUOW last April. (www.soundstory.org) It’s the first story, the only story, that I’ve ever worked on that has aired. Matt is a valuable source of encouragement in our admiration of radio. Brian’s I did alone at the same time, it’s just that sort of story.

  • Jay Allison says:
    Street Dogs

    Editor’s note: Transom.org will be featuring "Street Dogs" from Matt and Jake later this summer, in two different versions.

  • Sarah Vowell says:
    too personal v. too secretive

    Jake–If you have time, on the Transom discussion board I’m hosting this month, toward the end, Jay and I talk a little bit about the Nightline daily emails. Jay posted probably the best one ever, in which Exec Producer Leroy Sievers talks about reporting in Rwanda. A gut-wrenching behind-the-scenes confession. He didn’t go on the actual show and implicate himself into the story. As a producer, he didn’t go on the show at all. But reading what he said, reminded me of the paradox of journalism. As Bart Simpson once defined a paradox, "You’re damned if you do, you’re damned if you don’t." If you’re being too personal you’re always going to say to much. And if you’re trying to be "objective" and speak only in the third person about the actions of others, then it feels sort of fake and pretend, as if you’re standing there, pretending not to stand there, pretending not to have your own opinions and responses. No matter what, a storyteller is always going to be either too self-absorbed or too self-effacing. The best work is always in between I think. Your piece is a fairly happy medium, though I hesitate to use the word "happy" when describing your story. You’re in it, but you also pull back and let him talk. You call it "Brian’s Story" and it is, but it means so much more to us knowing that he’s your friend and that you care about him. By the end of the story, we care about him because of what he’s said. But it’s just easier to care about him from the get-go knowing that you do.

  • Jay Allison says:
    Enticing. Guarded.

    To get to this conversation I had to come past Sarah’s picture. She’s looking out of the screen saying, "Come over here, stand next to me. I have something to tell you. Whoa, step back a bit. There. That’s good."

  • Nannette Drake Oldenbourg says:
    Acceptable Emotions

    Congratulations and thank you, Jake. This piece answers the biggest questions everybody has about suicide.

    Reaction Report from a Feeler:
    Jake, as a listener I thought you were restrained in terms of revealing your emotions.
    In fact, I thought it was chilling how much Both of your voices were so matter-of-fact, which of course is mostly a strength of the piece, but it left me wondering how You are. To whatever part of the population I represent, it’s not distracting to include emotions. The opposite is true. We wonder how you are and why it’s not acceptable to put them in. Just one line is all we need.
    I was glad to read here (where? I’d like to quote it) about how you smile a little less, but smile a little more to keep people from asking. I related to that instantly and appreciated how succinctly you explained it. I would have liked that line included in the piece, just to know how you are, beyond the words that your pain is beginning.

    The music was there to express the emotions you leave out? I was searching for clues in the lyrics, trying to understand a different generation. (Only the second time I heard "… falling star…" I felt impatient.) **I would have liked to have known that you found the music among his things. I wonder what Brian felt when he listened to it.
    I know it’s been done a million times, but I thought the liturgical music was forgiveable because in spite of everything Brian considers himself Lutheran. This is the only part where I want to know more. Did he think God had anything in mind for him? Had he spoken to a pastor as well as the psychiatrist and therapist?
    One of the most chilling bits to me was when Brian quotes his therapist "it has to come from within." As though it gave Brian an ultimatum, and he could only conclude he was unfixable.
    I also would have liked to have known you took care of his things.

    I’m really glad you didn’t include his face.
    I liked the train part because there wasn’t anything staged about it. In fact, it made the whole piece seem less staged, and it let me get to know both of you a little. It helps me understand a little how you might miss him.

    As far as your apology for being lengthy [sorry, do I owe you one? It has to be all or nothing here; I gotta go]
    Write all you can here. It’s interesting. It’s shorter than the 20 minutes we found fascinating. and it’s YOUR TURN!

  • Jake Warga says:
    Reply

    Nannette. That’s a good idea, putting in the little poem I wrote in reaction. And mentioning that the music came from Brian’s collection. I suspect that if the story gets picked-up or aired, that the lyrical songs will be taken out all together. They helped fill a time request by KUOW. I also used the same song twice because I was running out of hard drive space–truth be told.

    That’s how I react–I write. I worte a few stories about the experience, including this radio piece. It’s my way of dealing with things…in my head, written, composed. I didn’t put too much of me in it, because I am in the habbit of hiding behind the scenes. I pride myself on heing a listener more that a talker. My next story is about a peace corp voulenteer, I don’t do any talking except an intro and credits.

  • Nannette Drake Oldenbourg says:
    When you’re in, you’re in, when you’re out,u’re out

    I’m thinking of a piece that Jay and Dan Gediman (?) did that is on the new CD. Dan’s the narrator and the subject is his brother. At the end Dan says something about what he Really wants for his brother, and I’m right there with him. It’s the part of the story I remember the most. It’s just one or two lines.
    maybe it’s what Sarah was getting at about explaining the train scene

  • Viki Merrick says:
    music and other things

    I was afraid to listen at first. I heard Jake’s voice and i knew it wasn’t going to be a story from a distance. I was almost afraid of the raw vibration of it. because… I don’t know maybe I was afraid to find out that I would have something in common with Brian or that I might get taken over by Brian OR Jake’s pain( I’m that kind of audience). Instead, the music allowed me to breathe. I knew somewhere – sitting in the back row, as I would – that the lyrics were pertinent – I also just sort of assumed they were Brian’s songs so it didn’t matter if I liked them or not. They let me sort of rock back and forth, aching uselessly for another person’s lostness and lack of resource or resilience.

    Interesting comparison would be the presence or absence of music in Letters from Jail. I voted immediately to remove it because it was misleading and distracting. Carrie felt afraid NOT to have the music, she felt naked and she was, but she needed to be brave, in the piece, in life. and Brian doesn’t anymore.
    We moved forward AND backward with Carrie, we had to stay on it. Brian’s story is over, and it was a story about Brian beginning with the end. Makes a big difference in how a story moves, no?

    I think Jake’s part in Brian’s life/story was as it was revealed in the piece, as unencumbered and clear as a glass of water, to the thirsty. Jake’s presence allowed for a refreshing, albeit strange, mix of professional intimacy, sensitivity – depth. We could use some more of that.

  • cw says:
    this piece

    for some reason i only got the first 3 minutes of it

    i like what i heard of this piece. i’ll try to get the rest of it to work on my computer.

    my first thought is about the first 2:42 seconds– if you looked at them on paper you would see that you say some of the same things twice
    only in different ways. so you could cut that.

    also the first 2:42 seconds contain some powerful material that you don’t have to explain. you might be able to go, say, with a 2 sentence lead in straight into yr initial 1st suicide attempt interview w/ him. radically cut the intro, that is.

    the music is too heavy for the heavy subject matter. someone else commented on the music. made a number of points. i just feel that w/ the weightiness of this piece the music doesn’t need to weight it down further. to do a piece about deep grief, suicide, and wonder, you might have to almost do a drive by just to get people to listen w/o bringing their emotional baggage ("this is going to be too depressing/change the channel QUICK")

    good luck. you have an interesting story voice

  • cw says:
    now i’m around minute 7

    and i’m thinking, you could let the piece start w/ a phrase about yr friend talking about what he did last summer or something, cut to him talking about his suicide attempt, cut to you asking him if he thinks he’s selfish w/o prepping the listener w/ yr essay stuff and then…

    (i’ve got to listen more for the play by play edit here)

  • cw says:
    now i’m around almost 9 minutes

    you have like over 30 seconds of straight music here. i don’t even think they give philip glass that when they interview him on npr.
    (long bits of music w/ no voice over it is what i’m referring to)

  • cw says:
    i’ll finish this later

    but i wonder if some of the really good moments in here won’t give you editorial trouble. as in yr friend gives a convincing (to me, anyway/analyze away) if cold and logical argument for why the whole question of suicide being selfish is irrelevant.

    jay, how many npr stations want to take on a piece that any fearful parent can construe as pro teen suicide?

    i’m not saying don’t use it. i’m saying the opposite. i’d just be curious to hear what jay and anyone else has to say about this particular issue.

  • Jay Allison says:
    opening

    I should mention that the opening is redundant because the first 60 seconds was originally a billboard for the piece (you know,,, "…after the news") but we pasted it together because it contained information you needed to know. I should have mentioned this before. sorry. In any final version, I know Jake would re-do the lede.

  • Andy Knight says:

    Wow, I’m glad I restrained myself from commenting on this earlier. Jay, that bit of info you withheld cleared up my first problem with the piece. So the 1st problem doesn’t exist. The 2nd was with the music, and as Jake has stated twice, this was for time concerns–’nuff said. Problem #2 no longer exists. The third, and final problem I had was that even after listening to it multiple times, I have no idea
    i why
    Brian committed suicide.

    I guess I’ve been ‘lucky’, since I’ve only come in contact with suicide twice in my life. But neither of those cases came close to being typical suicides. One was out of intense grief and loyalty and didn’t involve any contemplation. The other was done for revenge. So I can’t say I really understand where Brian was coming from. Yes, it’s what he wanted. He felt it was something he needed. He believed it beat the alternative. Why? What was wrong with his life? What was making life futile for him?

  • Carol Wasserman says:
    Brian

    So many of you have offered good criticism and feedback on this work. I have had the privilege of hearing some of Jake’s other pieces, and know him to be a young man of sensitivity and talent. I hope that what I need to say here will be understood as part of a philosophical difference of opinion, rather than an artistic or personal challenge.

    I am profoundly uncomfortable about this piece. Mine is a minority opinion. Nevertheless, I could find no ethical or moral core in this work. And one is necessary here. Otherwise there is little excuse for airing such a thing, in its current form.

    The original tape which Jake made with and for his friend Brian has become an artifact embedded in a radically transformed narrative. The generosity of Jake’s gift to his friend is obvious. He was helpless to heal Brian’s wound; he did what any of us would wish a friend to do – he sat and listened with an open heart.

    But the fact of Brian’s death forces us to hear his story as one of failure. Specifically, the failure of our medical care system to cure or at least manage what has become – in Brian’s generation, if not his mother’s – a treatable illness.

    Brian makes it clear, repeatedly, that he wants to be made well. He talks about his Lutheran faith, and says, "I haven’t renounced it – I’ve stumbled and haven’t been able to get up." He hopes to go to Heaven, and tells Jake about his "lingering fear of Hell".

    I am not concerned with questions about the ethics of rational self-chosen suicide. I am concerned with Brian’s stated preference for life, a bearable life, over the uncertain oblivion of death.

    We know enough, now, about the neurobiology of despair to challenge the inevitability or poetry of his death. Brian died of an inherited defect in the regulatory mechanism of his brain. He might as easily have succumbed to the complications of untreated diabetes. In any event, his suicide was not a victory.

    And the failure to recognize this is what poisons an otherwise thoughtful piece of work.

    Jake tells us that he eulogized his friend this way; "I am proud of Brian for accomplishing something he had worked very hard at for over a decade."

    The meaning of Brian’s life cannot be the achievement of death.

    When Jake made this piece, he was only a few days past the raw, unprocessed experience. It was a brave and reckless act, making art so hard on the heels of loss.

    But I wish that he had waited.

  • Jay Allison says:
    One line

    "I am proud of Brian for accomplishing something he had worked very hard at for over a decade."

    Without that one provocative line would your entire feeling about the piece be different? Is there anything else in there that suggests "suicide as victory"?

  • Carol Wasserman says:
    Dioxin

    That one line in this piece felt like the eyedropper full of dioxin which poisons the Great Lakes.

    Brian says, "Along the way I contracted a disease with not a very bright prognosis." If the disease had been – say – pancreatic cancer, would his death have been a victory?

    Jake’s presence for his friend, his unconditional willingness to simply BE THERE for Brian, was very very beautiful. The tape they made together was as light as a feather. A sweet gift, held out in Jake’s open hand.

    But it was too soon for Jake to know what to do with that tape. History had taken possession of it.

    That one line – that one false note – needed to be edited out, in the same way we excuse and ignore other strange things which the bereaved say or do in the days immediately following a death.

    I suppose Jake felt that we required some kind of narrative closure. Some kind of wrapping up. But Brian’s story is about the dreadful silence now that he is gone. Now that there is no way to take a tape recorder to him and ask, "Why?"

  • Andy Knight says:

    I don’t know if you are in that much of a minority, Carol. That big, bad line that Jake said at the funeral made me choke. It was nearly the same reaction I had to an old woman who stated "They’ll get over it after they have another (child)" at my nephews funeral. But I didn’t, and still don’t, feel comfortable criticizing Jake for what he said there. After some contemplation I can hear it coming across like one of those awkward statements made at funerals that runs the gamut between "God’s plan" and "in a better place now" only without the centuries of cliché backing it up. At your typical funeral, there are plenty of lines strewn about like that which all have the same view of death as an accomplishment. Funerals are strange times. The only time a preacher won’t tell you that you’re going to hell is at a funeral.

    I don’t know if that disturbing "congrats" was out of place, or even disturbing when it was said at the funeral but I don’t like it here. Actually, it would be a bit of a relief if some of the BS rationalizing in the story (Brian comparing suicide to SIDS… you have no idea…) and outside of it (photog. at a burning building) would come to an end. About that burning building, the comparison only jives if that burning building happens to be the photog.’s home, complete w/ his/her family inside… and the photog. is dressed in extremely protective garb (rushing in to ‘save’ Brian would not have put Jake’s life at risk). Does the photog. run in or stand back snapping pics? So, at the end of the day, we have no idea why Brian’s house is in flames, and we have no idea why the photog. didn’t do something.

    It would also be nice to hear from the "guilty". The people who find some way to blame themselves despite the fact that they are blameless. The "I was going to call that night, but for some reason I put it off…" people.

    (if it wasn’t such an upbeat tune, I’d recommend TMBG’s "Dead" for this piece because the lyrics really, really fit)

    Ok, I just feel so mean and dirty now… this is your fault, Carol. You bring out the worst in me… I think I’m in love.

  • Jake Warga says:
    The Weight of the world…

    Carol-
    Your comments have merited the heaviest contemplation in me so far. And I will try not to accept them as personal…but I must say some things about myself: Sure I’m young, but age is only a gauge of time; whereas maturity is a gauge of experience. I’m not 30 yet, but my hair is leaving me. Before I was 25, I buried both my parents from long illnesses. I had all my hair then, yet none of my senses about me.

    This time, I have robbed death of the mute it imposes. Maybe that’s the personal core of the piece you are looking for.

    When you watch someone struggle for years with a disease–physical or mental–you begin to want what is best for them. I’m not saying suicide is a good thing by any means, but I was one of the few that did not condone it either. I did not want to impose a position on the matter in my story, but that one line may mislead one to thinking I have a bias. I would rather my friend be here–of this I will not verge. However, I could not keep him here. Sitting in his hospital room after ETC, seeing him so depressed with life, I saw he had a disease. And I suspected that he had only one end in mind. When he tried treatment, he did it for family, not for him. And further, I’m convinced it was not a treatable disease like you suggest it is in this generation. Brian had more than simple pill-fixing depression.

    If I did not do the story shortly after his death, then I might never have done it at all. I shocked some people at the funeral with that comment to. They were shocked at how quickly I moved through those stages" of death. I had lost Brian months back, when I saw him for the last time. He showed me some bruises from a tourniquet. He passed out before injecting the morphine. I asked him a few questions, he didn’t answer with any full sentences. I said, "that’s it then?" he said, "yes."

    I would say the same thing today. That I am proud of him–in this one matter–for getting the end he wanted and struggled so long to get. I was angry, sure, and still am. But if you’ve ever been to a Lutheran funeral–a religion that forbids suicide–where you were "allowed" to speak, where the chapel nearly refused to host the funeral because of the circumstances of death and only by the force of a family-related-minister was it allowed…then you too might have wanted to rock the boat a little. I wanted to applaud Brian for something, rather than dwell on the method of death…to poke through the dark drapes of sadness and shock suffocating all of us with a small ray of pride.

    I admire your comments, and in reaction, am likely to remove those lines. I don’t need a narrative closure so controversial, I’ll leave that to Brian.

    And I did say those lines at the funeral because–in light of my recent tendencies–I recorded it.

    Andy-
    I’m gathering that the discussions raised here have become exhausting for all, tiring analogies and symbolic indulgences. This is a forum for the discussion of radio, practical and theoretical. I was hoping this story would not escape those confines, but the weight of the subject has.

    Now…who the hell is Billy?, and if it’s an ABBA thing, then I think he’s a hero, and not a Greek sandwich. I’d gladly watch "Precilla" again if you need.

  • Carol Wasserman says:
    My Respects

    Dear Jake,

    You were the finest friend, and continue to be so.

    "This time, I have robbed death of the mute it imposes."

    We didn’t have access to much of the heartbreaking backstory which you divulged above. None of that information should make a difference when we talk about a work of art, but of course it does.

    I was way out of my depth here, and apologize for any hurt my words caused you. I’m so glad that there are people like you in the world, brave enough to challenge the mute which death imposes, and tough enough to stand up answer back when necessary.

    Carol

  • Matt Perry says:
    Wow

    I am totally in awe of this conversation. As someone who knows Jake, and much of the background that he just divulged, I have to say I’m surprised that this stuff about his past came up here … But I guess that a story like this one that touches so honestly on death will bring out our own reactions to it. Fear, weariness, revulsion etc…

    I personally am afraid of death. I do not deal well with the unknown. So for me, hearing Jake’s controversial comment (and I’d heard it long before the piece came about … even before Brian died), still makes me uncomfortable. I do not understand it, nor am I as quick to let go of the what-ifs involved in Brian’s death. Like Carol, I have a hard time accepting that Brian’s death was not in every sense a failure.

    However — in the end I think that this really doesn’t matter. This is in part a personal story, it’s Jake’s. And whatever his reaction to Brian’s passing, it needed to be included here. And this is exactly the danger in constructing stories that are highly personal: they are easily misinterpreted. Whatever I don’t know about the baggage and/or background of the storyteller, I fill in with my own. And, as we have seen, not all baggage goes well together.

    -Matt Perry
    Soundstory.org

  • cw says:
    depression isn’t currently curable

    that’s psychopharmaceutical industry myth at this point.
    they’re still using electroshock on "tough" cases even, and that always doesn’t work either. so to consider mental illness/depression not as bad or as incurable as pancreatic cancer is just plain incorrect for many cases

  • Brian's brother Phil says:
    my friend Jake

    I sincerely hope that my presence here on this discussion board does not squash further honest discourse.

    I wanted to refrain from making this about me, my family, or Brian in particular, but the discussion seems to beg for more background and/or context. Skip this entry if you are not interested.

    First and foremost, as I understand it, this is a forum for discussing the production pieces and story ideas, for their technical merit as well as their content, etc. I have no experience working in the written media, radio, or film, but I am a public radio fan (AL in particular) and I am amazed by Jake’s first solo production. Jake’s piece about my brother, as I see it, exists as a demonstration of his friendship with Brian. Even if it never went on the internet, or never got picked up by his local public radio station, that’s what I see it for. When Jake gave me both a copy of the first version and the one that is featured here, I was deeply touched and I am forever thankful. I am so thankful that Brian had a friend who could give him a voice after death. That did not happen for my mother, as Brian alluded to.

    I understand why people may find some content shocking, even particular lines, but everyone walks the world in their own pair of shoes. Unless you are willing to at least try to get in someone else’s head to feel what they are feeling, there can be no understanding. Jake will feel a variety of emotions at any time about losing his friend; I don’t mind that, because there’s no denying that an entire range of thoughts and emotions is there. Myself, I have had a hard time grappling with even my own responses to my brother’s plight over the years of trying to help him.

    Jake mentioned that I am a doctor. Having met a variety of patients from all walks of life who have struggled with depression and suicidal episodes, I believe there are as many different reasons people commit suicide as there as people who attempt it. And, having focused part of my medical school experience on trying to figure out what went wrong with my brother and how to fix it, I believe there are as many different paths that put a person in the position of ending their own life. The way I see Jake’s piece, the particulars about how Brian found himself in this awful place does not matter. What we hear from Brian is how it feels to be where he is. And we also get to hear the story from a friend’s perspective and ask ourselves, "as a friend of Brian’s, how can I accept this?" It is a seemingly impossible situation to have to step back from the anger and the fear and the sadness and the feelings of utter helplessness and impotence and decide to just be there for Brian, as a friend or as a brother.

    For some, suicide is an impulsive act during acutely horrible or stressful circumstances. For my brother, it was a chronic, unrelenting cancerous disease — I’ve been worried about my big brother since I was in high school and he left home for college. Brian fought for many years to keep going. He ran through the gamut of what is currently offered to patients medically and psychologically. Nothing touched him. He kept trying everything, only to be disappointed each time. "Failing" every time.

    Doctors take failure hard, yet they must inevitably confront it. Death of a patient is particularly hard on doctors, and even more so for those in the mental health profession who lose a patient to suicide. The cure-for-everything mentality in the current, technologically-focused medical culture often refuses to recognize death as anything but a failure. The inevitability of death is forgotten, and finding ways to optimize the patient’s remaining time in life is often neglected.

    Perhaps what is shocking to the discussants on this board is the simple fact that someone ended their own life. How do you even begin to understand that? You can’t, really, so the natural tendency is to assume that something could have been done, but it wasn’t and now someone is dead. The question that naturally follows is: "Who/what was responsible for that [failure]?" Jake asked Brian if this was the only way to cope, and Brian could not see alternatives. As Jake helped me clear out Brian’s room, evidence for Brian’s attempts to find "viable" alternatives abounded. He clearly struggled long and hard to stay on the planet. The fact that this highly-intelligent, straight-arrow, Lutheran-raised brother of mine found himself in the bad part of town seeking out people he had always previously avoided, just so he could obtain the illicit drugs that would be his salvation of "sleep in oblivion" — that fact saddens me so deeply — that he had to be so utterly alone to do it, so as not to be interfered with. Suicide is not the most selfish act, it is the loneliest act. Knowing I was helpless in preventing him from making attempts, and not wanting my brother to have to be alone in carrying them out, I couldn’t help feeling like I wanted to be there with him. An impossible situation all around.

    I am proud of Jake’s work here. I am thankful for it. Jake’s work here is a gift. It is one of the few good things that have come from my brother’s death, not the least of which is that Jake and I both have a new friend in each other.

    Now, on a lighter note, if you all want to debate more about the musical bridges and intermissions, be my guest. For me, I cry every time I hear Third Eye Blind’s "Jumper". I laugh when I hear Brian’s brief narration during the train scene (it reminds me of our childhood tape-recording ‘radio shows’). … and putting dishes in the freezer after a party is only one of many things I have learned from Jake in the last couple months.

  • Jeff Towne says:
    tunes, etc.

    I thought this was a very moving piece, and was amazed/thrilled/disturbed/distressed at most of the same points as mentioned above.

    I wouldn’t remove your eulogy line about being proud, but perhaps, at the risk of destroying the impact, explain it (a little) more. I think you have a good rationale for saying it and therefore including it, but it is perplexing at first. Your comments here helped me get it. It’s a disturbing idea, but a very interesting one.

    "This time, I have robbed death of the mute it imposes."

    Wow.

    As for the tunes, you already explained that they were put in for time, and drawn from his collection. I like the idea that these were songs he listened to, but I’m not sure it comes across, or if there’s any way to make that clear elegantly.

    I didn’t find them distracting, or boring, but a bit heavy-handed. I just did an interview with film composer Hans Zimmer, and he had a great view on scoring: that he never wanted to simply reinforce what was happening on screen, because that would "be telling the same joke twice." So he tried to score the subtext.

    So, in your piece, I thought the churchy Moby stuff was perfectly appropriate, but so obvious that it undermined the emotion. Find someything that FEELS like that, but is less overt. You already have that element in the narrative, no need to pile on.

    I think alt rocky stuff is fine, but I agree with Sara that the vocals are problematic. In a piece like this they can’t help but sound preachy or afterschool-special messagey.

    And, sorry, I can’t resist my techie impulses: get a pop-filter for your announce mic. One of those mesh rings, not just the foam. Thanks.

    And it’s too late now, you can’t claim to not be a radio producer.

  • Tara Anderson says:
    eulogy statement…

    Thank you, bake, for a heartfelt and raw piece. I echo the sentiments of many others who have posted here about how direct and true it all is. Minor editing points aside — and what piece couldn’t be improved on some account? — you have put together an excellent piece.

    About your eulogy statement about being proud of him… that’s a brave thing to say. That’s the kind of thing that somebody might think but would hardly have the nerve to share with anyone, much less at the funeral, and much much less in a public forum. I felt it as jarring within the context of the piece, and I don’t see that jarring as a bad thing. It was a wake-up moment. Please reconsider taking it out the next time you edit this — I think it’s one of the most memorable things about the piece.

    Nice work. And just because you’re a radio producer doesn’t mean you can’t be other things too — we’re all lots of things.

  • Tara Anderson says:
    stupid spellcheck

    I know his name is Jake, not bake. Oh well.

  • RM says:

    Jake,

    Thanks for a beautiful and wrenching story. I came upon this discussion a week after it seems to have ended, but on the chance that you’re still reading, I’ll comment on a couple of criticisms raised by listeners.

    I was moved by the controversial comment you made at the funeral. Accomplishment or achievement is among the most nettlesome questions facing the chronically depressed. Brian alluded to this himself when he mentioned his too familiar belief that he had not enough inside him to pull through. It is tragic that Brian saw death as his only available venue of achievement. Your response highlights this central and lethal ingredient of despair; it is honest and wholly faithful to your subject.

    Similarly, I cringed at one reader’s suggestion that Brian’s SIDS analogy was "BS rationalizing." There are at least two great things about Brian’s words here: one, they convey his conviction that his disease is helplessly malignant; two, like the trainspotting scene, they reveal the colorfulness of his personality and show what kind of person the world lost when he died. The last thing you want to do with a piece whose great strength is how personally faithful and narrationally reticent it is, is force its conformity to an assumed rational consensus of opinion. This spontaneous poetry is vital to the interview.

    One last comment on the music. For me there was a real sonic achievement in following Brian’s scream along the train tracks with those jangling guitars. I heard an acoustic match there that communicated how blatantly alive someone is when anticipating (or singing about) death. Maybe these aren’t your final song choices, but something about that segment indicated to me that your ear is on the mark.

    RM

  • Nannette Drake Oldenbourg says:
    So hard to talk about this

    This is so hard to talk about.
    We bravely offer our opinions one by one. But I’d be surprised if anyone felt completely at ease and sure about going on the record here.

    Not only is the topic extremely sad and scary, it’s a challenge conceptually.

    So I’m hoping we leave out sarcasm and any discussion of whether or not Brian ‘should have’ out of it. It’s too confusing already. (Maybe sarcasm could have its own thread, if there’s a need for it?)

  • cw says:
    i’ve finally finished listening to the whole piece

    i have no suggestions for scoring this.

    i like brian’s "failure to thrive" comment. i laughed when i heard it. i got the joke. i suppose this is a bad sign re my own psyche.

    i read psych books and my best friend is a psychologist so i can vouch (and have checked) that this is indeed said to some people in therapy/treatment today. which leads us to– how does it feel to have a MD say that to (and about) you? that you were a "failure to thrive." where did brian take that information and what was he to do with it? how was he to "process" that? is that something an MD should think to himself and write down in his book instead of asking a depressed patient who’s having problems try to figure that one out?

    where brian took this info. conceptually is interesting to me/dark humor was his (and a common) coping mechanism to being told about his failure to thrive/(bringing him to a morbid sids joke). he did not know the physician’s desk reference definition to either and most people don’t. fine. i vote for leaving that line in. it shows his struggle, what it’s like to deal with the world of psych treatment and theories constantly, and his sense of humor in the face of mortal foolishness.

    i like all of brian’s audio. i would leave it all in. i like the train stuff for various reasons.

    so… what to do next… coming from someone who doesn’t exactly know, i say:

    if you have the technability, take all of yourself out, play his edited down audio straight end to end. see what interjection (by you)/narrative comes to mind at that point.

    redo your entire narrative. the part you wrote. i don’t think you need to ask in the narrative why you’re doing this piece. if it’s for the living or for the dead. i think it’s obvious it’s for the living and poss. you have a social change agenda as well.

    did you tape record him so you would have something of him? this is just a thought that came to me.

    if you have a social change/anti lutheranistic approach to suicide and death, come out of the closet w/ it. come out fighting.

    those are my final thoughts on this. interesting work. very insightful butt-in by brian’s brother. i appreciated it, thought it lent a lot to the discussion. made me wonder if there isn’t a place for him in your final peace.

    i hear so many people in hospice talking about the issues he raised, but so few doctors talking about it. he could be an important voice in this piece as well and you could just take the listener by the hand and make them feel safe as you calmly guide them through the experience.

    this is just an idea of one way you could do it. lowball yr part. "here’s something that happened that changed the way i think about things" type narrative.

    anyway. good luck.

  • cw says:
    change the title

    i don’t know what you should change it to though

  • cw says:
    now playing live on salon/it’s about graves and they’re trying not to be ironic but they can’t stop

    http://www.salon.com/audio/col/tech/2001/07/12/tech/index.html

    a primer in how to sound snide and dismissive with yr tone while the content of yr words proclaims the opposite

    (and the techno/mtv music doesn’t help either)

  • Jake Warga says:
    Reactions

    I’m grateful, but curious, to this renewed discussion. Here goes:

    No one will know what Brian was thinking…no one. What you’re doing here is listening to what Brian said about it, it’s a documentary, it documents one conversaion, like a photograph, it is locked into that moment and subject to endless exam…but it can not react.

    The story is his attempt to explain himself and his actions…to make sense of it for HIMSELF. SIDS was an analogy, neglect might have been a better word to take from that topic. I don’t think there is such a thing as "BS Rationalizing" seems oxymoronic–when used in a personal context, it is an opinion.

    cw: I don’t have a great social change agenda, I don’e want this to be a strike against lutherins. I wouldn’t want Garrison Keilor leading an NPR revolt against me. I have opinions on the matter, but don’t want them to cloud the topic. I feel like mentioning more of why I’m making this tape in the narration in defense, and reaction to the great discussions here. And don’t be afraid to use the SHIFT key.

    Title: The official title of the piece is "Brian’s Story" it was changed by suggestion, and for, Transom.org.

    Thanks for everyone’s renewed interest. I’ll always be avilable for discussions. A new link with transcripts of the story, and my e-mail, is now at http://www.soundstory.org (just click on Brian’s Story)

  • Nannette Drake Oldenbourg says:
    The last thing we’d want to do…

    I’m praying that you will include information about how this was not typical treatable depression, and how Brian tried many things over 10 years.

    The intro gives the statistics, and rightly or wrongly that set me up to believe that this was a typical case.

    But you would not be so accepting of the inevitability of many other suicides, right? Call me unsophisticated, but I am afraid that as the story is now, some youngster will hear it and be more likely to kill himself. Yes, it’s epidemic. My own nine year old says things like "I wish I’d never been born!" Will suicide seem a reasonable option, a way to solve the problem of love or career anguish, when she’s 16?

    Elsewhere it was mentioned that Ira Glass says every story includes change.

    Could the change of the story include one or two lines about what happened to you? I’m assuming you were not always so accepting of the inevitability of Brian’s death. What changed your mind? Is it all here?

    For a group of people having meta level discussions about media, this narrative restraint is satisfyingly different. But Jake, I’m not asking you to justify. I’m asking you to help me learn more from your experience. I’d like you to reconcile the difference between your role as impartial narrator, quoting statistics, and friend, intimate enough to tape his words and deal with his mattress.

    Even if you are/were only impartial narrator/reporter with the context of the statistics, you would include information about how this case differs from many others.

    You are very appealing in this story. You don’t want to have anyone copy you.

    I just need a few lines

    (and I wish this were just a few lines. I wish I could edit this down better, but I’m having trouble with my eyes. and this hurts. I’m motivated to write this because of my daughter and because I know from personal experience that people can feel pressured into life and death options.
    I agree that we shouldn’t mindlessly condemn people to living under taboos. I’m glad to have learned here that suicide is not a selfish act. But if it seems like too much of an option, people can be persuaded that it is selfish for them to NOT choose death.)

    And Jake, your willlingness to discuss the story without being defensive is as impressive and inspiring as your production. Bravo all around!!

  • Tim Allgood says:
    Reactions

    I thought the piece was provocative, but I felt like it missed it a bit when it came down to the "why." Why did Brian kill himself?

    How much therapy did Brian do? What happened when he did therapy? Nothing? What about anti-depressants? When did he start experiencing these depressions? What were they like?

    What about his mother? It seems painfully evident to me that he was trying to join her on some level. Did he not see this?

    As a listener, I want to sympathize with this guy. But as the grandson of a suicide, I realize what an incredibly selfish and destructive act suicide can be. I wish you had asked him tougher questions.

  • r.k.p. says:
    There is No Why

    I’d knew Brian as an aquaintance because we roamed in overlapping circles. I’ve also known a couple other individuals, probably a bit more intimately, who ended their lives. All these people had different issues and faced their own special challenges, but no overarching thing that others I’ve known haven’t been able to endure. To expect a response to ‘why’ for any suicide seems futile. We are complex beings, and a myriad of information forms our actions… there is no single answer to why. Suicide is not a first option, but a final resolution that comes only after many attempts to ‘fix’ ourselves.I don’t think Jake’s piece should be expected to answer why, because it never presents itself as some solution – I don’t believe it’s a documentary on suicide. The piece strikes me as a painting of his friendship with Brian at a very specific point in their relationship. It’s thoughtful, painful, and makes me dwell upon friends I’ve lost. When Brian Took His Life presents itself to me as a recuerda.

  • Darienne Marcetti says:
    The good old times

    I have just recently received the news of Brian’s death. Ashamed,not to have known sooner. I knew Brian for over 18 years, first as a classmate in highschool to big brother of the guy I dated to friend and then stranger. I lost contact with Brian over a year ago. The last time I saw him he was riding his bike in Davis. I just smiled and waved breathing a sigh of relief that he was okay. Obviously disillusioned from the truth.

    Jake I think it is such a gift to Phil, Steve and Jeff to have recorded what Brian was feeling in those times of loneliness and despair. Unfortantely, I am unable to press the play button. As much as I would love to hear his voice, my mind wants to remember the smilling and playful guy he hid behind so well. To remember "the good old times" as his bother and I would jokingly say.

    So I say goodbye to Brian. Precious Brian.

  • william warner says:

    I listened to the piece about an hour ago. It hits hard. I cried when I suddenly remembered the emptiness and despair Brian described. I loved Brian’s honesty, his lack of guile and ambition, his presence. makes it rough to picture him killing himself.

    I also just read the discussion on the piece, and I agree with many of the critics who feel that piece sanctions Brian’s suicide through the omission of discussion of the issue. At the same time, I’m convinced the Jake really knew Brian, and also that Brian approved of his own suicide. So while we’re not comfortable there, we are inside Brian’s state of mind, and that’s exactly why the piece is good. I think a few words from a psychiatrist would make a huge difference. Family members might be a good idea, too, but Jake himself provided a lot of that information/pov.

    I felt as others did that the piece would be stronger if it began with brian’s voice reading from his medical records. I thought the music was alright, though it seemed to play for too long at a couple of points. Silence seemed the most appropriate segue.

    A courageous recording. thanks.

  • Jake Warga says:
    Airing

    Well, if anyone’s still poking around this discussion board, "Brian" will be airing this weekend, March 14th, on "This American Life". I have robbed death of it’s silence that much longer.

    From Jonathan Goldstein’s discussion: “The voices on the radio come to you as souls free of the body and, because of this, they are already closer to Heaven.”

    Thank you all.
    J.W.

  • Louiseee says:
    there is a river alongside Bardo

    Dear Jake, I’m hoping you will read this message. Tonight I was hoping to steal some quiet time when your program aired over my car radio. I was intending go for a quick run, but five minutes into listening, I pulled over and turned off the engine.

    Where to begin? Listening to Brian speak was healing and filling for me. Twelve friends of mine have left this world so young, without notes, and some with notes that don’t have answers, and currently my old college buddy has moved to a small town, flopping from residential home to the next after a string of attempts– I just can’t bare the likely outcome — he also records his enuii and emails me occassional manifestos of discontent, and like Brian, talks of wanting to go quietly without violence in some sleepy roadside motel, anonymous. I don’t know what to do. I love him immensely, would go to the end of the world for him, yet he bares a grief too impenetrable.

    Your tapes struck something interesting in my experiences with these lost friends– loneliness of the extreem, the kind that goes back to mother and what Brian said about the one thing he would advise a person — that if they ever come from a messed up home where the parents were lacking in affection and care or were missing all together, they shouldn’t have kids because it’s quite likely they will pass on that painful cycle. Most of my friends have, had, had intense abandonment experiences– abandonment, betrayment, loss of a parent. Which made me think…. the problem is Love, being loved, feeling loved, getting love, giving love, being loved by a loving mother, a loving father– when mom and dad are out of the picture, and the love is lacking, little children stay stuck in adult bodies, always hungry for that deserved affection yet resolved to understand that only emptiness is what’s on their menu… listening to Brian, I kept hoping and praying through tears he would make it, please let him make it.

    Brian, Brian, if you can read this, you are loved. There is a world for you where you belong, where you are loved. I wish I could have known you in person. Thank you for letting me meet you through Jake.

    To my dear friends, come to me in dreams, inspire me to be more kind, help me to listen and comfort you.

    Jake, email me if you can. I broke up my email address to prevent spam, but you can figure it out. Take care, and thanks, Louise

  • alw says:
    just a moved listener

    I was lucky enough to catch When Brian Took His Life on This American Life while driving in my car this afternoon. I’m not a producer or writer just a listener who was very moved by Brian explaining his pain and you attempting to understand it. I was in a place very similar to Brian more than a decade ago now and for me it was very comforting to hear someone explain for me to others the difficult time I’d been through. I kept hoping his story would have a surprise/hollywood-style ending…but sharing it like you are, I think really can help others have a different ending. Thanks for making this piece (and please make more)!

  • John Battle says:

    I was deeply moved by Brain’s story. I like it just the way it is. It is hanuting and beautiful and thought-provoking, but I have some questions I would like answered.
    When Brian said he had contracted a disease whose prognosis was not good, what did he mean?
    He was funny and smart—and humble. He could write. Why didn’t he work harder at finding the right outlet?
    Can an otherwise normal person have an overwhelming will do die that is independent of cause or reason?
    Thank you very much for this beautiful piece.
    John Battle

  • sandy L. says:

    Thank you for making this.
    It is bound to have a connection with so many people.
    Who among us hasnt looked out on this violent, crazy, loveless world and thought, I am not meant for this. I cant do this. Who hasnt thought that?!!
    Brian’s story is compelling because there’s a bit of Brian’s life in a lot of us. This is a peek in the common dark. Maybe this story, will help some of us realize while we may be alone, we’re together alone.
    I wanted through this whole story to give Brian a hug. It’s a reminder to give someone else a hug, to be kinder. We’re all struggling.
    This is powerful work. Thanks for sharing it.

  • Dave C. says:
    Thanks, for one I love.

    I was working in my garage this Sunday when this story came on air following a favorite local acoustic music show. I usually listen to Living on Earth after the show every Sunday and am often moved, but this time I was moved to tears. As I write my eyes are still watering. This story touched me deeply for a few reasons.

    One, is that through my 44 years I have often thought of suicide at particularly down times. After my separation ten years ago I came the closest. Sitting in my living room with the stripped bare wires from an extension chord wrapped around each wrist, the only thought which stopped me from inserting the plug into a socket was of my then five year old son. I thought of how much I would miss of his live and what he would go through during his life knowing his father took his own life. My son is now 16 years old and coincidentally, his 16th birthday is the same date that I am listening to this story airing. He also has had thoughts of suicide and most recent has engaged in self mutilation.

    I do not believe that these are coincidences; my brush with suicide, my son’s demons and today being his birthday. I am totally convinced that the universe (maybe even with Brian’s help) is beating me on the head with a hammer to awaken me. His mother is custodial and also in control of the insurance with which we need to obtain psychiatric help for him. She has been stubborn and slow moving mainly due to her obsession with blame. It took me 4 weeks to obtain the names of Psychotherapists from her who were on the health insurance plan and I made calls immediately. In speaking with her to discuss a suitable doctor she could only cast blame and project anger at who ever she could, I could not get her to discuss help for our son. I finally became firm and told her that if she wished to call his school or whoever and argue and blame she was free to do so, but right now my only concern is our son. THIS was most important. She hung up the phone on me and will not discuss it further. Without her help I cannot obtain the proper authorization to get him help. I have tried public clinics but they are over booked and I make too much money. THAT was funny, too much money for public help but not enough for private. Sound familiar? It’s the middle class blues. Listening to this story made me realize that I needed to do what ever it would take to get him help and will do so even if it takes involving law enforcement.

    Thank you Jake and most of all, thank you Brian. I feel much sorrow for the loss of Brian but hope that through his story others will find what they need to seek help as I feel I have.

  • Alan says:
    Been there

    I was moved to hear Brian’s story… in some ways it was not much different from mine – except I survived and have thus far (7 years later) gone on to build a brand new life. As I listened, my heart kept crying out – "Brian, hang in there. Life can get better." I was very saddened to realize that message was already too late.

    I can only speak from my own experience. Life after suicide is possible – it’s tough, it’s scary, it’s too often too near the edge for comfort, but it is possible. It seems as though there out to be more to say – but it’s a dark, dark place and only those who’ve been there can appreciate just how dark it is. I will say, God loves his children – in particular those who most often through no fault of their own have gotten lost in that dark.

    Alan

  • Pete says:
    was he terminally ill?

    I liked the show but could not help wondering if he was dying of a physical disease? Does anyone know? What did Brian do? What are the specifics of Brians depression?

  • rt says:
    This was not a healing experience

    I listened to the piece several hours ago and I feel worse than I’ve felt in a long time. I’d say I feel depressed, but the word depression does not do a good job of describing the grey sluggish weight within me and the distance that it creates between me and the world. Brian’s story moved me, but I don’t understand how anyone can feel better after hearing it. I’ve struggled with depression for over ten years now and while I’d like to say that I’m doing better than ever, I don’t dare say that because of the fear that a deep depression will return. I just have no way of knowing. I know that other people also suffer from depression, and it broke my heart to hear Brian’s voice on the tape because I can hear all the pain, and I can completely relate to it. I know that feeling of hopelessness. Depression is powerful and some people don’t escape. Brian didn’t escape it, it killed him. I loved the piece and am not criticizing Jake for sharing it with an audience, but I am really surprised to read that other people were comforted by it. For me it was a reminder of how awful life can be. The funny thing is that I’ve been doing really well and if you met me, you probably wouldn’t realize that depression is a part of my life. Sometimes even I forget how bad it used to be. Hearing this piece brought it all back and reminded me that it’s never really gone. (Of course, writing this all down DOES make me feel better. Thanks for listening.)

  • Lisa says:
    Brian’s same boat

    The reason this needs to be heard, is because there are hundreds of folks that are in Brian’s same boat. I’m nearly there. I’ll likely end up in the same place soon. The last thing I want is to hurt anyone besides myself. He (Brian) eloquently phrases the need to go. I applaud the author’s acceptance. I’m glad he showed why it’s not always vindictive or self serving. Sometimes it’s a matter of chemistry that, in spite of psychopharma whatever, people can’t cure.

  • Lisa Dowling says:
    Brian

    Jake,
    It was a gorgeous spring morning here in NY. My lovely funny boys were in the next room with friends laughing, the noise of small boys engergy pulsing thru the house. In my bedroom I had TAL on..and your story. I stopped. Sitting on the bed with the pale white curtains blowing into the room the smells of the first true spring day. I listened. As Brian spoke my heart broke a little. I thought whathe said about being ‘a baby with failure to thrive and that he would die from delayed Sudden Infant Death SYndrome" was one of the saddest thing I had ever heard a person say. How utterly loveless he felt. I wept sitting on my bed as you talked of his death. I am so thankful you gave him a voice. You accomplished what you set out to do. I hear his voice still in my head.

  • Jake Warga says:
    Response

    Thank you all for the new postings. Brian’s brother and I listened together to the broadcast Friday, then I heard it again driving back from dropping him off at the airport on Sunday. I had not heard it for a while myself and memories of Brian came flooding back. I sat in my rental car in the rain listening, the sun had come out by the end.

    Saturday night I went to a book signing for an author I admire, Phil joined me after. We were a bit wiggy still and I suggested we asked ANYONE who was in the signing audience what they thought about the story (assuming it was the TAL-listening crowd). Second person I asked did, as did his companion. They had invited the guest author to coffee, so the five of us sat for a long time talking about radio, books, traveling and life. It felt like six, like Brian was with us.

    Thank you all for sharing your personal stories, I know there are hundreds out there, Brian’s was only one. I encourage people to e-mail each other as well, to branch out a support community. Here are some links for anyone who might need more support than a discussion board for a public radio show can offer:

    http://www.save.org/
    http://www.yellowribbon.org/ (teens)

    Pete: in answer, the terminal illness Brian referred to was his depression, he was not dying of anything specific per-se. There is no one reason why Brian killed himself, life is too complicated for that. This was one night on a bench.

    Dave C: Whap! There’s another beat on your head.
    Rt: Sorry you feel bad, this is not a ‘band-aid’ story, it injured me as well. I can only hope to never do a story like it again. Keep writing, contact someone from this board if you’d like.

  • Dave C. says:
    Thanks for the eye opener Jake and another WHAP!

    I have been fighting depression for most of my life but none as chronic as Brian’s. I understand the darkness though and feel the pain it contains. I have many hurdles in helping my son; his mother’s selfishness and closed mind, a system which seems to look for blame rather than assistance and being middle class (too rich for public assistance but too poor to pay for it all). But I will do what I need to to help my child. But most of all, I will be his friend and support.

    He, as everyone who is in the darkness, needs to believe that they ARE lovable and necessary. And to those who read this and can not see the light for the darkness, I can only say, "search and search some more, you ARE lovable, likable and NECESSARY to life". It is difficult, I know, but very possible. Hang in there RT, keep fighting for it is when we are at the lowest, when we feel there is no more, when we feel we need to give up that the universe shows us the inner strength to fight like we never have. And if you need a friend please write.

    Through support we find light. Call it what you will but belief is what controls life.

  • Ted E. says:
    My son

    On 11/27/00 at approx. 5 pm, my son, who was just 30 years old, left his apartment and walked about 7 blocks to the tallest building in our town, which is 14 stories tall. He got on the roof somehow and jumped off the building and landed in the street. On his way to the building, he passed the entrance to my building where I was just leaving to meet a policeman and some social workers at his apartment. I was planning on having him committed, by force, if necessary. I had made up my mind that I would lie or manipulate the system to get him into a mental ward to get him some help. The last time that I saw my son, was when he walked in front of the entrance to my building. I called after him to wait. I couldn’t catch up to him because of an injury to my foot and he went around the corner. By the time I got to the corner he was gone. He had looked over his shoulder back at me but didn’t stop.
    I thought that he had got wind of the fact that I was planning to commit him and so I turned and got my car and drove to his apartment. I thought that I could persuade the workers or the cop to try to find him. They did not have much interest and so I spent the next hour or so checking the bus station, the train station and the airport to see if I could find him. I gave up and went home. I figured that he would show up sooner or later. My wife and I were on our way to meet some friends for dinner when I got a call on my cell phone from the Coroner.
    I bring this up not so much as I want to share my story with others, but that I never knew what it was that drove my son to do this. I know generally that he was very mentally ill and that he was tortured by auditory and, in the end, visual hallucinations. But what I did not know was what may have been going on in his head that would have drove him on. I always had the idea that I could have talked him out of it, if I had just caught up with him. That’s why the story of Brian was so moving for me. I was attracted to the story because it seemed to give me some insight into what people who kill themselves think about. I cannot say that my son’s thoughts were as clear as Brian’s, but I think that they were similar. It brought tears to my eyes to hear Brian talk about the fact that he did not want to live just to make others happy. I am grateful for the chance to hear this story. Thank you.

  • sassafras says:
    Failure to thrive

    Jake,

    Strictly content oriented, no technical or production advice here:

    While Brian and I share the same religious tradition, what we share even more intimately is that feeling of a "failure to thrive." I do appreciate hearing Brian say those words, I had been searching for them. No one I know has understood my feelings of deep darkness, of loneliness, of inadequacy to the task of life. And how surprised I am, in discussions with others, that they don’t have the same feelings of sadness and dispair that I do. Not everyone has these experiences, not everyone "gets it." (I can’t imagine the brightness that inhabits a life without this familiar dispair.) Thank you so much for this work, it meant so much for me to hear it, gave me some clarity, gave me a language to use, gave me a sense of companionship in my loneliness. How truly overwhelmed I was with the beauty of his words … It had a very personal impact on me.

    But on a larger scale, for those who really don’t "get it," I think this piece, Jake, is a perfect postmodern answer to our desire to fix what is still part of the mystery beyond our science. There are still things beyond our ken and beyond our reach that we are helpless but to witness. Thanks again for bearing witness to both Brian’s beauty and tragedy.

  • Tim Balon says:
    Brian’s story

    Jake, thanks for making this piece. Its timing was ironic. My brother committed suicide on 3/5/03. I could here my brother’s voice in Brian, so many similarities.

  • Mary L. says:
    Back in Time

    I heard "Brian’s Story" this past Friday (3/14) while visiting in Chicago . . . I stopped what I was doing, stood still and went back in time a couple of years – listening.

    As a parent I have a son who has attempted suicide – more than once. He is on medication and has finally started going to a counselor. He is a survivor and we are so very proud of him because it has taken strength that is beyond our comprehension. The healing process from the brain disorders of mental illness is a tortuously long and slow journey for the individual and the family members.

    In "hearing" Brian I "saw" our son – bright, handsome, polite, talented with a keen wit and good sense of humor but ill in a way that too many people do not understand. As a result of our son’s experience we have become active with an organization called NAMI . . . it provides education, information, and support. Without it we would still be stumbling around in the dark. The brain disorders of mental illness are just as chronic and potentially fatal as your other major medical illness (i.e. – diabetes and cardiac problems). The importance of bringing it "out of the shadows" has been recognized on a national level. Opportunities to discuss the brain disorders of mental illness openly ARE important. Thank you, Jake, for providing this opportunity . . . and as a faithful listener to NPR your production of it caught and held my attention. "Ya done good, Jake – keep it up"!

  • Mario says:
    music

    An excellent story that was moving and emotional. I thought the music added a great deal to the piece. I am trying to strain my brain trying to figure the title of the impressionist-Ravel-Faure piano piece used about 11 minutes into the interview…please let me know the title. And also the music at the beginning and end of the piece. It wasn’t cheasy at all!…I liked your concept of coming full circle with the music also. Great piece.

  • Herb says:
    reply

    My 17yr old daughter has attempted suicide twice and the second time was very close. I found her her in my hallway and only by luck got her to a hospital. I am a single dad and it was easy for me to hear a lot of my daughter in Brians voice. Unlike Brian, Em is outgoing and popular. Her grades are excellent. But she can very quickly fall into a darkness where here accomplishments are either worthless or far short of her own expectations. To some way I have resigned myself to the knowledge that there is nothing I can do to gaurentee her safety and that when I least expect it at some time when I am unable to be there: I may get the news I am unable in the end to prevent. Thank you for your story.

  • Jake Warga says:
    The Greatest discussion board

    Just when I think there will be no more comments on this board…wow.

    I’ve gotten a lot of people contacting me directly about this story. Recently received a photo of someone’s 17yo son who committed suicide, I’m touched every time someone reaches out. Thank you all. Thanks to these discussions and listener comments, I’m now proud of what I did, and can only hope never to do something like it again.

    Piano solo: Jean-Philippe Collard Ravel: Piano Concerto Capitol Records

    The others were Moby and vocals Saint Etienne.

  • Claire says:
    Thank You…..

    You made me cry. I just passed a five-year anniversary of the complicated loss of someone close to me to incomprehensible suicide. I knew my little brother felt the ways I hear Brian express, but until hearing this recording, I did not absorb that understanding.
    Much appreciation. Suicide is without explanation. Thank you for making it clear that it is not black and white, it is colored with neverending grays.
    Yours and Brian’s voices are the voices of so, so many who have endured, or not endured, a variation on this theme.

  • Cherbourg says:
    Brian

    I heard this story twice in the past. Today, I truly felt it. Perhaps because I have been contemplating suicide. I am tired. I have never truly felt safe and secure. I have felt ignored by God. I have a GPA of 4.0 and still feel useless. I hope Brian is at peace now. For some reason, I feel Brian was brave. I have never lessened my pain through alcohol or drugs. This is simply a fact not a comparison. I am tired of masking my pain for the benefit of my parents and others. I pray no one reading this will ever feel my
    pain.

  • Gail says:
    Thanks from a survivor

    Thank you Jake for such a moving story. My husband suicided two years ago. It really helped me to hear Brian talk. I felt like it was Bob who was talking to me. I can’t be sure but I think he probably felt like Brian did in many ways. And a sad smile came to me when you said that you thought Brian might "snap out of it" after he heard the tape. How many times did I think the same thing. How naive I was. How sorry i am now that I did not recognize what was happening. I have found lots of help in a survivor’s support group that meets once a month. This week I took a CD of your TAL story and played it for the group. We had a really good discussion about how it related to our loved ones. I especially wanted the mothers to hear Brian say that he thought his father had done a fine job raising him. We all struggle with our own doubts and fears…
    I wanted you to know that you and Brian have provided me a little more insight to what might have been going on inside Bob’s head and heart. And that has lightened my pain ever so slightly. Thanks again for reaching us.

  • linda rowland says:
    my thoughts and prayers are with you

    Today is May 14, 2005-I am not sure what the status is with your daughter but, please know that I feel for you. My daughter was 23 yrs. old when she completed suicide;it was completelyy unexpected and if only I could erase the day I got the phone call saying that she was dead-I cherish her memory and hope you and your daughter are doing well.
    Linda-Mary’s Mom

  • Rebecca Fransway says:
    I care about you, Rebecca

    And I wish I was around when Brian left on the night you worked with him.

    Love, William O’Black

    Please put Brian’s audio back up.

  • Marceline says:
    Not alone

    I have been wondering if I should be here ever since a botched suicide attempt in 1995. Even now I have written pans for my funeral: music, flowers,etc.

    I wish that I could find a way to make the pain stop. Maybe Brian had it right.

    Is it possible for there to be people who are incapable of extended periods of joy and happiness? Like iabetics can’t process sugar, can some people never feel real joy?

  • Jake Warga says:
    Update: 11/05, the story continues

    I’m sorry to announce, if there is still a discusion going here, that one year ago this month, Brian’s brother, Phil, jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge and ended his life. We had become friends, and this time I am angry. He left no notes.
    ATC will be airing a piece about him 11/25.
    Will post at PRX after it airs.
    I’m sorry.
    J.W.

  • Sai says:
    Just heard it

    [This gets rather personal, so if you don't want to read that, please skip over this.]

    Jake –

    I just heard this piece, first from browsing through the TAL archives, then the original here. I would be interested in hearing the first, longer version, if you still have it.

    I checked the MPR and NPR archives of ATC 11/25/05, and didn’t see the piece about Phil. But I found your post on PRX – http://www.prx.org/pieces/7533 – and from there, the 11/29/05 ATC piece, here: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5031520. I was unable to listen to the former, because the stream kept dropping. The latter worked, though. I remembered it from when it aired.

    Hearing Brian’s voice was very familiar to me; the analogies (including SIDS), the almost-cracking sound of his voice. That’s me, six years ago. Less. I understand it.

    It’s good to hear that publically, and to hear someone trying to really listen. I would imagine that, for someone who’s not been there, it’s very difficult to empathize with – or even to deal with at all, since it has the potential to be so hurtful. I’m sorry you had reason to make a sequel.

    As for the ‘why’ – in my experience, it becomes to a great degree irrelevant. Inapplicable. I also had the suite of therapy and drugs, with the result that my psychiatrist called me one day with a sort of ‘dear john’ message, saying he couldn’t do anything for me. And I tried other things, of course.

    The problem is – somewhat funny in its own morbidly recursive way – that that degree of depression becomes self-generating. Most of your resources go towards just coping with pain, and it gets worse. The only points I remember in contrast to this – and they stand out very starkly – were when I felt loved, or felt anyone really trying to empathize or show affection. Which is what you’re doing in this piece. That is, perhaps, the best thing you could do.

    In my case, it wasn’t enough. I eventually had what I suppose amounts to a major break. It was, in its way, a sort of death; a forced release into allowing myself to feel the pain I had been blocking. I woke the next day almost empty, feeling nothing at all. The next few weeks were very eerie, very zen. I felt like a different person, albeit one with the same memories and body and skills as the person who died that day. I still do.

    I think, though, that I needed that. Affection and empathy didn’t change my progress, it only gave me some brief respite, a chance to breathe and taste a bit of almost-happiness. It reminds me of Brian saying how he hadn’t cried in so long; how he’d tried, but couldn’t. How he wanted to.

    It’s that release that, ultimately, is what I needed. It didn’t come about from help from others, but just because I was too weak to help myself. It wasn’t at all … pleasant; in fact, I’m not sure why it didn’t just make me go crazy. It hurt enough that had I had the strength during it, I would gladly have killed myself just to make it stop. But it helped where nothing else did.

    Since then, I’ve been genuinely happy for the first time; learned joy; learned many other things that, looking back, I know that the then-me couldn’t have. I’m glad to have ‘died’, and to have had the chance to really live.

    I feel that friends *can* give this – by offering a safe space to release, offering empathy and nonjudgement, even about the very desire to die. By not just passing the buck, to a therapist or a mental ward or whomever else. Professionals. It’s not a guarantee, but you never get that.

    So, Jake… you offered Brian that, and for myself, I thank you for it.

    - Sai

  • Roger Bland says:
    Blown off by wind?

    Now that they are talking about suicide barriers on the bridge, has anyone ever heard of someone on a bike who was BLOWN over the railing by the wind? Or is this an urban legend?

  • Lori says:
    It is the emotions….

    People can relate to the underlying human base of the story. You can hear it in his voice. The emotion that an actor could never capture. The part of life that is the most mystical to me are emotions. How wonderful or haunting they can be. What they can do when they are ultimately nothing.

  • Ninasophie says:

    Holy sh*t. This is so sad. Brian’s voice vibrates within me still. This is so profound, so beautifully tragic. This is so sad.

  • JustMe says:

    I’ve listened to the story nearly so many times in the past couple of weeks. Its become some type of source of solace. I wish I could’ve known Brian. I’m starting to become a bit shy over my attachment in this story Thank you for the opportunity to hear it. I’m going to my first session with a psychologist this next week. Scary stuff, ya know?

  • Shannon CrossBear says:

    Today is my son Brians, 34th belly button birthday. He left this earth walk just shy of his 20th birthday. We, who are left behind, are so limited in our ability to understand this loss. My son dies from an illness, that illness was brain based. Failure to thirve, failure to survive the arrows of hurt, disillision, delusion, all are inadequate explanations. Though they may give up some solice, the sadness remains. It is the limits of my human condition that I seek human physical connection. I carry his stories, his memory, his lessons with me and share when and how I can. I have learne dthat my joy can never diminsh my sorrow and that my sorrow does not have to diminish my joy. For today that is enough. Thank you for sharing this piece about an other Brian and his friends and relatives.

  • chip t says:

    What a powerful story. Sometimes, as I listen to it, I hear myself. Does anyone know the name of the song in the piece with lyrics “my falling star, fading blue and gray, lost into a day, my falling star, etc.”? It is hautingly beautiful. Thanks

  • MargaretM says:

    I first listened to this piece when I got out of a hospital for a suicide attempt. Brian’s voice makes me shiver just as much now as it did then.

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