‘Little O’: A Frank Discussion About Suicide
It is so very hard for me to think of him; I mean to really think of him. The gamut of emotions ranges from disabling grief to fond remembrance to guilt to love to pure anger and back at again.
Ronald Wayne Messerly is my little brother (although I could never convince him of that). On Dec. 29, 2011 — just hours before my mother’s 73rd birthday, he took his life in a hot parking lot next to his Jaguar in Arizona. Sometimes I have to focus on the ugly details so they don’t constantly niggle at the back of my mind begging to be released into the light. He was 46.
Many knew him as an accomplished partner of the law firm of Snell & Wilmer. He was known nationally as a bright, young attorney. The Best Lawyers in America® recognized Ron for his work in construction law (2010-2011) and construction litigation. He was recognized as a Southwest Super Lawyer® for construction litigation in 2011; and, was named one of “Arizona’s Finest Lawyers” in 2011. The Business Journal named him “Best of Arizona Attorneys” in construction law in 2009. In 2005, he earned the distinction of the State Bar of Arizona “Member of the Year.” None of that really matters now. To me he was just “Little O.” (If he were here today he would kill me for telling you that. That’s the problem with bailing out before your siblings: they are left to tell your embarrassing secrets.)
I don’t know how he got that nickname. I’m afraid to ask my mother for fear it will force her to think of him and cry. Ron was the last child born in our family of four children. Everyone adored him. I was born about 18 months before he came into this world. Little O was born with a serious birth defect called Craniosynostosis. The defect affects the appearance of the head and development of the brain. Approximately one out of every 2,000 babies is born with the condition. Normally there are sutures, or connections, on the head that separate individual skull bones-almost like a puzzle. With craniosynostosis, one or more of the sutures closes prematurely and gives the head an abnormal shape. Left untreated, the condition makes it impossible for the brain to grow and develop properly. He was oh so very tiny when he underwent his first surgery to install metal plates in his head to relieve the pressure and facilitate the growth.
As a pre-teen Ron often complained that he was a “cone head.” He was sure there are so few pictures of him as a baby because his head was misshapen. I know it was because he was the fourth child in a large family and by then my parents were so over taking pictures and just trying to survive.
Ronnie loved to play baseball, tease and run in Wasatch Park near the home in Salt Lake City where we started our growing up years. His best friend was Alex Bury on Reed Avenue in Salt Lake City. He must have been about 7 years old when my mother and father decided to move our family from the busy city to a remote rural community in Southern Utah. He thrived there. Little O loved to hike the hills of Newcastle, build scant forts on the mountainside and hunt with our older brother, Doug. Eventually we moved to the Beryl desert and the transfer gave Ronnie more room to run! Ron’s “cone head” didn’t stop him from being brilliant. (His head didn’t really have a cone shape, but I’ll bet I used that insecurity in a variety of ways to torture him by the ripe old age of 8).
He was a problem solver from very early on. Ronnie was playing baseball once behind the small country school house where we attended elementary school. He was catcher when a great big softball plowed right into his mouth. It knocked at least two teeth out and the injury was a gory, bloody mess. He was delighted. He was rushed to Cedar City for surgical repairs and must have recovered nicely because he launched his first entrepreneurial adventure the very next day.
So, the kid comes walking into our Beryl kitchen with his still-swollen mouth. He’s jamming his fingers deep into his pockets. With each dip he draws out another coin and throws it on the top of our chest freezer to tinkle and roll into place with the rest of the pile.
Mom: “Where did you get all that money?”
Ronnie: “What? Oh, this?” He points to the pile of coins on the freezer.
Mom: “Yes, that. How much money is in there?”
Ronnie: “Well, there’s about five dollars. I charged kids on the bus 25 cents each to look at the stitches in my mouth.”
We used to joke that he was destined to become a lawyer. He did. Pretty sure he made more than $5 at it.
My brother was the baby of the family and so automatically considered spoiled (because he was). As a teenager he ranted about tennis shoes that made him look like he had “clown feet.” He raged when the ladies of the house wore his personal tube socks and stretched them out with our “fat legs.” I’m smiling now, because I am remembering just how much I loved that spoiled little brat. His clown feet must have helped his sense of humor because he could make anyone laugh. And, in high school he capitalized on his ability to bring people around to his point of view. He joined the Cedar City High School Forensics team and began to forge his impeccable talent for winning most arguments.
Ronnie got to spend time at home as an “only child” after the rest of us had flown from the nest. He and my mother forged a mysterious bond that glued them together for the rest of his short life. She was able to invest something in him that parents can only give their youngest children. He returned the favor as she aged.
Enough Reminiscing, Let’s Talk About Suicide
I could go on for the rest of the day reminiscing about my beautiful little brother. The fact is, the older we grew, the further apart we drew from one another. Although we bickered and argued and retreated with hurt feelings at times as adults, I never, never, never stopped loving him. I just stopped knowing him. I am reminded of his thrilling and bright personality when I interact with the two amazing children he left behind. Ron grew into a successful, compassionate and — okay — controlling man. He was a jerk. He was kind. He was loving. He was driven. He was my brother. That’s all that really matters. Except that, he suffered all of his life from bipolar disorder and severe depression.
Judge Not, Lest Ye be Judged
It is natural for some people to shoot up standard barriers to the reality of suicide. People who make unkind remarks about an individual who has committed suicide do so in order to avoid reality. Go ahead, say it with me: “Suicide.” Repeat it over and over and over again until all of the stereotypical thoughts you have about SUICIDE dwindle. Purge your brain. Forget about it. I’m going to debunk some myths — not as a psychological expert — but as the sister of someone she loved deeper than harsh words will ever reach.
Suicidal people are selfish. People who actually commit suicide aren’t thinking of those they leave behind — in fact, they aren’t thinking at all. By the time a person reaches the point of pulling the proverbial trigger, he or she can only think of ending the pain. Imagine the worst migraine headache you have ever experienced. Multiply it by one hundred. What might you be willing to do to make it stop? Most of us will never know the depth of emotional and physical pain required to drive an individual to actually end his or her life. When people commit suicide they are not capable of making rational decisions. They are not able to consider the potential consequences to every individual in their lives. A suicidal person — even the most brilliant one — has only one purpose: to end the pain.
People who commit suicide have no one to love them. Wrong. Individuals who make the decision to end their lives are not capable of feeling the love that surrounds them. They certainly are not capable of loving themselves. Mental illness is a mean, ugly disease. It inhibits a person’s ability to function normally. Thought processes are skewed, disconnected, broken. Not even the most loving ally can stop a person from killing his or her self. Not even a thousand adoring family members, friends or co-workers can end internal pain once the final decision is made.
People who threaten to commit suicide are just seeking attention. Right. People who threaten suicide are seeking attention. When a person is so desperate for attention, he or she really needs it. Never assume a person who threatens suicide will not follow through. Idol threats mean your loved one is mulling the possibility of dying to escape a painful reality. This is the time to help him or her get help. Call the police. Drive straight to a hospital. Do not leave the person alone. Make it clear that you are going to respond to such a cry for help and do not wait. When a loved one suddenly stops threatening to commit suicide, it can be too late.
I can prevent (or could have prevented) a suicide by …There are many things we can do to help people who are in so much pain they see death as the only remaining option. Ultimately, it is up to every single individual to measure the value of his or her own life. If you have suicidal thoughts, now is the time to think about others. Now is the time to get help. Call the National Suicide Prevention lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or call someone you trust to discuss these feelings rationally. Drugs and alcohol are often used by those who try to mask the pain. Unfortunately, the very same vices often give individuals the false courage to act on their obsessions. Don’t let suicide become an obsession. We really can become our thoughts.
- My brother was not selfish. He shared more thousands of dollars with the people he loved — and some he didn’t even know — than many of us will make in years.
- No one could have prevented Ronnie from killing himself. It is what he decided to do. He had taken medication. He had spent hours upon hours in therapy. He had even checked himself into a hospital the very night he checked right back out and pulled the trigger.
- So many people loved our boy that it hurts to think of all those suffering from his loss.
- I could have been kinder to my brother. I could have worked to be closer to him so I would know what he was feeling. I could not have prevented his suicide.
This week my family and friends are participating in the “Out of the Darkness” walk for suicide prevention in the names of my brother, my son-in-law’s brother, and my grandchildren’s grandfather — all lost in the last three years to suicide. If you would like to aid the prevention effort, please think of contributing to our cause.