Melinda Eye Cooper
Blindsided by Suicide
Updated: Apr 27, 2019
My family didn’t know much about depression until my twenty-four-year old nephew, Brandon, took his own life two years ago. We were all in complete shock.
How could he leave in such a way? How could he leave his parents and siblings distraught and destroyed? What happened?
In High School, Brandon excelled in sports. He ran track and played football. He had his choice of colleges to choose from and though he initially chose to attend Stanford on a full-ride scholarship, he changed his mind and went to Kansas University to be closer to his family in Missouri. We were all busting with pride over Brandon. Not only was he going to college, but he was playing football and who doesn’t like college football?
He was red-shirted his freshman year which means he didn’t participate in competitive sport for the entire academic year. He attended KU for five years as a result. Unfortunately, he suffered injury after injury during his time at Kansas University. His freshman year, he broke his ankle and had surgery to repair it with a plate and seven screws. His sophomore year, he got a concussion and was knocked out. He had lines in his vision for a month and was unable to play. He even tore his hamstring which was reattached with surgery.
By his senior year he blew his right knee out and had surgery to fix it with a hamstring tendon. Also, he had a lot of bell ringer concussions that he didn’t report because he wanted to play. The last year injury was devastating because he was the starting running back and it was his year to shine. Before the season officially began, he was on the bench with another injury for his entire senior year.
Everyone was disappointed but Brandon was crushed.
He graduated from KU and went on to play football one more semester at Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. There, he was the captain of the team and star running back. He had a great end to a difficult college football career.
A college graduate in search of a job, he moved home with his parents to the small town of Potosi, Missouri. No one seemed to understand his sudden disinterest in football. He’d wanted to be in the NFL for years but it was no longer an interest to him.
Recruiters called Brandon but he responded with, “I’m done playing ball.”
He told his parents that he felt like he had to be a gladiator and couldn’t do it anymore.
The last two weeks of his life, he spent almost all of his money. He traveled to see his best friend and former college room-mate, Ben, in another state who noticed Brandon was different and called his parents to let them know he was concerned about him. Brandon’s parents sat down with Brandon and had a serious discussion about the direction of his life.
He responded to their concern by stating, “You two are my greatest blessings.”
He seemed more interested in going to church than anything else. He cried a lot and talked about God. He went to talk to his Grandpa (my Dad) about God and asked Dad to pray for him which he did. Some thought he might be feeling called into ministry. He’d become a Christian a few years earlier while in college.
On April 2, 2016 he left in his silver van to go to church. He’d asked his Grandpa to go with him and went to see him right before he left to see if he felt like going. His Grandpa declined the invitation and that was the last time any of his family saw Brandon alive. He never made it to church that evening for the revival. He drove off in the opposite direction.
I’ll never forget my sister calling me to tell me that she’d had to report him missing. I thought it was surreal –
I lived in another state and had no idea how desperate the situation really was. I imagined he would be home any moment. There was no need to worry about Brandon. He was such a great kid and always made his parents proud.
But he didn’t come home and there was no activity on his cell phone. They’d picked up the last ping from his phone off a cell phone tower many miles away. A massive search for him was covered by the local news.
Six days later, they found him sitting in his van by a river with a gunshot wound in his head.
Not all severely depressed people look like this, but there are signs.
You might think they are just acting strange, going through a difficult time, or trying to figure out what on earth to do with their life. But, please don’t assume they are okay. Ask them if they are depressed and even ask them if they are suicidal. If you don’t ask, you won’t know.
It’s hard to see depression if you’ve never been around someone who has fallen into it. Brandon always smiled and never complained. He didn’t necessarily look depressed.
Although, he’d always kept his hair and beard trimmed, his mom noticed he stopped caring so much about his appearance. She thought he was simply growing his hair out to attain the popular man-bun. Looking back at his pictures, you can see a difference.
Brandon didn’t wear black clothes or stay in bed all day. He got up and went to the gym almost every day. He went mushroom hunting, shopping and spent time with friends. His parents noticed something was wrong but they just didn’t realize how urgent it was. Like most of us, they weren’t educated about depression. They never dreamed for a second that their beloved, educated, college football playing son was suicidal.
Have you ever heard of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease also known as CTE? If you haven’t, don’t feel alone. We had never heard of it either. Shortly after Brandon’s death, some friends and family asked about having him checked for it.
His parents requested they test him for it but unfortunately, due to the length of time he was missing, they were unable to test his brain for the disease which mostly effects athletes who’ve sustained head injuries such as concussions.
After learning more about the disease and how it causes severe depression and suicide, they are convinced this is what happened to Brandon. Hindsight is 20/20. Looking back after the fact, the signs of CTE were all there, they just didn’t know to look for them.
According to WebMD:
Suicide Warning Signs
Any of the following could be potential warning signs for suicide:
Excessive sadness or moodiness
Changes in personality and/or appearance
Dangerous or self-harmful behavior
Recent trauma or life crisis
If you have a loved one or friend showing any of these signs, take notice especially if they are an athlete or former athlete. Don’t be blindsided by suicide.
From the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline website:
We can all help prevent suicide. The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals. 1-800-273-8255