In 1999, Senator Harry Reid introduced a resolution to the United States Senate which led to the creation of National Survivors of Suicide Day, when friends and family of those who have died by suicide can join together for healing and support. The day always falls on the Saturday before Thanksgiving, which this year is on November 22.
As citizens of other countries began observing the day in their local communities, International Survivors of Suicide Day was inaugurated. That remembrance occurs on November 22 this year.
Last year Senate majority leader Harry Reid authored a bill and took to the Senate floor to appeal for a waiting period for handgun purchases. Reid said, “In Nevada, if you purchase a handgun, you have to wait three days to pick it up and it is believed that that alone has saved the lives of many people. Sometimes people in a fit of passion will purchase a handgun to do bad things with it, even as my dad did, killing himself. Waiting a few days helps.”
CNN anchor Anderson Cooper is a familiar face on our TV screens as an accredited journalist. We have seen him reporting from different areas of the world, leaning sideways in a hurricane, showing the devastation of Katrina, dodging bullets in the Middle East and swimming with man-eating Nile crocodiles.
Cooper comes from a distinguished family; he is a descendant of Cornelius Vanderbilt. His father, writer Wyatt Emory Cooper, and his mother, designer and heiress Gloria Vanderbilt, married on December 24, 1963. Carter Vanderbilt Cooper was born in January 1965, followed two years later by the birth of Anderson Hays Cooper in June 1967.
In 1988, at the age of 23, Anderson’s brother, Carter leapt to his death from the 14th floor of his mother’s apartment in New York City, N.Y. His mother witnessed the leap.
In April, 2014, Anderson Cooper was a guest on Howard Stern’s Sirius radio show and told Stern, “He was so much smarter than me; he had gone to Princeton; he was working at American Heritage as a book editor and it was so inconceivable to me.” He was asked by Stern if the incident still shapes his life and Cooper replied, “Absolutely. It forms everything. It may not be the first thing I think of in the morning, but there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about it.” Cooper also admitted that after the tragedy, he often worried if the same dark tendencies might also be buried deep inside him. “I don’t worry about it anymore, but I certainly did at the time,” he said.
Although Carter jumped to his death right in front of his mother, Anderson doesn’t think it was meant to be personal to her. “I think he had this impulse that he could not contain. She was just there. He had woken up from a nap and was disoriented and ran to her room and said, “What’s going on? What’s going on?” Then he ran to his room on the second floor and went out onto the ledge.” No drugs or alcohol were found in Carter’s system and he’d only begun to see a therapist for depression a month prior. Cooper says that to this day, the family still doesn’t understand why he did it.
“With suicide,” said Cooper, “we like to think that it’s this clear thing, and it’s not. That’s the horrible thing about suicide. The family members are left for their entire lives wondering why. Sometimes there isn’t any why.” Cooper said he tries not to imagine him hanging from the ledge, tries not to imagine him falling. Did a couple out for an evening stroll catch a glimpse of him before he let go? Did a family gathered around the dinner table see him plunge past their window?
“It was July 22, 1988. My brother returned home sometime in the morning. He had his own place, but said he wanted to move back into my mom’s penthouse apartment. It was hot, a day made for air-conditioning, but he asked that the sliding glass door to the balcony be kept open while he napped. My mom checked on him several times throughout the day. In the early evening, he woke and went into my mom’s room. ‘He seemed disoriented,’ she would later tell me. I asked her, ‘What’s going on?’ ‘Nothing,’ she assured him, but he moved quickly down the hall. My mom followed as he passed into my room and through the sliding glass door.”
“Outside, he sat on the ledge of the balcony, his feet dangling over the edge. At some point, he tilted his face skyward as an airplane passed high above, a glint of silver in a late-summer sky. I still wonder, was a voice audible only to him urging him forward? Could he even hear my mom a few feet away, begging him to come back? ‘Like a gymnast,’ that’s how she would describe my brother’s swing over the ledge. He clung on for a moment, then he just let go. ‘Just like a gymnast,’ she’d say, over and over.”
“In the weeks following Carter’s death, I could no longer sleep in my room. The sliding glass door to the balcony remained open, though I never set foot out there again. For a few days, reporters and cameramen milled about, following the comings and goings. I stayed inside, leaving only once to go to his apartment and pick out a suit for his burial. The place was just as he’d left it. A half-eaten turkey sandwich sat on the kitchen counter. The air was stale, the bed unmade; it still smelled of him. I can’t remember the smell anymore, can’t even think of how to describe it. But I knew it then and bent down to inhale him once more.”
“There was no note. On his desk I found a piece of paper with a single sentence in quotes. The cuticle of common sense that had protected him over the years from his own worst tendencies had worn away, leaving him increasingly vulnerable to obsessions. It was from a book he was reviewing, but I wondered for weeks if it had spoken to him in some secret way.”
Anderson Cooper’s story is only one of many. Many other family members and friends throughout the United States and the rest of the world also have similar struggles following the suicide of a loved one. As National Survivors of Suicide Day and International Survivor of Suicide days approach, they are yet another reminder to raise awareness and help those in need of mental health treatment. Suicide can be prevented if support is shown while symptoms appear and the proper treatment is implemented. If you’d like more information on mental health disorders and treatment options, visit the rest of Sovereign’s website and see patient reviews of their success stories.
Written by Veronica McNamara, Sovereign Health Group writer