I’m asking you to set aside what you think you know and to read this with an open mind. It may challenge some of your beliefs, and it may call into question people who you think you know. I know it may be hard for some of you, but that’s what I need in order for you to grasp the concepts in this post. So before you go any further, PLEASE TAKE A MINUTE and open your mind.
I am so proud of my brother Peter Willison. And you should be too. On February 25, 2014 he died by suicide. He’s the one who pulled the trigger, he owns that, and no one can take that away from him.
I understand that suicide is a rather taboo subject and that people have been trained to “mind their own business”. I disagree. Make it your business! Someone died here!!!
What are we so afraid of? That it’s private? Please forgive me, but I need to get this one off my chest: one of the foremost problems that I have with the “private” mindset is that silence allows certain people out there to masquerade as victims, when in fact they have behaved and are continuing to behave in a harmful and dishonest manner. These people manipulate the situation and the dissemination of information to garner sympathy when it suits their needs, while obscuring the truth when it doesn’t. If you were to approach these self-serving individuals and politely inquire what happened, you could expect an indignant response like “How dare you ask that? It’s private!”. The most recent evolutions seem to be “You don’t know everything that was going on.” or “You weren’t there.” Anything to shut down your pursuit of the truth and to allow them to avoid answering uncomfortable questions. The truth is that if there is a victim here, it’s Petey. What these people have done to him and are continuing to do to him is atrocious. Dishonesty and mistreatment in his most cherished personal relationship was NOT what he deserved. Furthermore, Petey does not deserve to be used as a prop, or as an excuse, or as a scapegoat, or as a sympathy card. The things that these people have done and are doing is truly awful, but this post is not about them. Any mention of them or what they have done is incidental. This post is for Petey. This post is for the people who care about him or care to get to know him. What he DOES deserve is for the truth to come out.
People who care have questions: first and foremost, they want to know “why?”, followed by “could something have been done to prevent such a tragic loss?” Then there are the emotions: some people experience anger, shame, or pity. Some people experience all of these and more. These questions are valid questions that need to be asked, but they need not be asked of Petey. These emotions are valid emotions, just not with regard to Petey. So let me address these issues on his behalf, and if by the end of this post you are ashamed of Petey, then I will be ashamed of you.
The most common question asked is “why?”. My apologies, but that one needs to be answered last. So let’s go with the second question: “Could something have been done to prevent such a tragic loss?” Which naturally begs the question: “Could I have done something to prevent this?” The answer is complicated. The short answer to both of these questions for most of you is “no”. As we go further back in the timeline of Petey’s life, the number of people who could have done something to help him grows, but the difficulty in seeing what was actually going on also grows. There’s a great deal that a very, very, VERY select few could have done, however in this particular situation, most of you — no matter how much you cared for Petey — could not have done anything to help him.
Now let’s talk about those emotions: anger, shame, pity, etc. I said it before and I’ll say it again: these are absolutely valid emotions, but they’re misdirected if you are directing them at Petey. When I think about Peter Willison, I am in awe. I feel pride, love and remorse. Why would you feel anger, shame or pity toward Petey? The way I see it, if you do, then there are five perspectives that could explain why you would feel that way:
- the revenge view
- the out of his mind view
- the old school/macho view
- the pain view
- the sin view
But what if you’re wrong? Let’s explore.
The revenge view – This is where the death serves as a way to stick it to someone; that the deceased person is intent on “ripping apart” someone else’s life. In Petey’s specific situation, why would he feed the farm animals and put the dog in the kennel before he died if it was his intention to destroy lives? If this is why you think my brother did what he did, it just goes to show how little you really knew him. You should take a good, long, hard look at yourself and try to figure out why you would think that the sweetest guy to ever walk the earth would turn so bitter. Are you projecting? Do you know of something that happened that would make someone turn that bitter?
The out of his mind view – What would make Petey go “out of his mind”? Unadulterated pain is a possibility, and I’ll address that below under the pain view. Some have suggested that alcohol or prescription medication were responsible for everything that happened. Anything along the lines that there was something that effected his mental health is what I’m addressing here. Some might try telling you it was an “overwhelming psychosis”, however this theory doesn’t hold water given that Petey left notes and considering what was said in those notes. So if someone tries to sell you that Petey was out of his mind, ask yourself, can I trust this person or do they have an agenda to smear Petey in order to protect themselves? What if he was completely sane, completely lucid?
The old school/macho view – This view includes lines such as: “suicide is the coward’s way out”, “that person is a quitter”, “no sane person would do that”, “this person saw no other way out”, “they were weak”, etc. All of these remarks share a common thread implying that the deceased was in the depths of despair. But what if despair had nothing to do with the actual decision of Petey’s final act? Without despair, suicide isn’t the coward’s way out; instead of being a quitter, he is in fact a finisher. That “insane” person is actually so sane that it might just blow your mind. It isn’t “I see no other way out”, it’s “this is the way I must go out”. What you perceive as weakness…is strength that might just be beyond your comprehension.
The pain view – This view is somewhat a combination of the previous two. That is, that the person in question was in so much pain that they could not sustain rational thought (what is right or wrong, and the repercussions of their actions), and also that at that point they had enough (whether it was “I can’t take this anymore” or it was more like “I’m fed up with this”) and they just simply needed to end it. While I do believe that this is why some die by suicide, and I don’t deny that my brother was in excruciating pain, he did not succumb to his pain. This was not the reason why he did it. What it comes down to is the circumstances of his life and of his death, bearing in mind also that he left notes, and most importantly what was said in those notes.
Which brings us to the sin view – OK first of all, the word suicide is nowhere to be found in the Bible. The 6th Commandment has been translated in some texts as “thou shalt not kill”, but it wasn’t until about the fifth century when Augustine of Hippo interpreted this as a broad sweeping statement meaning also that “thou shalt not kill thyself”. What about the Christians that came before Augustine of Hippo who killed themselves? Now all of the sudden they are sinners? That doesn’t make sense. Also, there is a problem with the translation from the Hebrew Torah; the correct translation would be “thou shalt not murder”, which makes more sense given the sheer amount of killing that goes on in the Bible. The Bible is perfectly OK with warfare and capital punishment, so clearly there is no prohibition on killing.
Some also say that only God can decide life and death, and that no one has the right to usurp God’s authority. By that logic, no one has the right to seek out medical attention, lest they will usurp God’s authority.
Some have also said that suicide is sinful because you must repent for all of your sins before you die. But what if you ask for forgiveness before you die from suicide?
There are 7 or so specific instances of people killing themselves in the Bible, yet not one was condemned for doing so. Even Jesus died from suicide-by-cop, Roman style….. and since Jesus was free of sin, clearly suicide is NOT a sin.
So now that all of that has been addressed, let’s get back to the biggest question: Why? It’s incredibly hard not to ask questions like “why did he, of all people, kill himself?”, “why didn’t he reach out to someone on that day?”. I understand the reason for asking these questions of Petey and I will do my best to answer them for him, but the fact of the matter is that there are other people who need to be asked these types of questions as well. I understand that people don’t feel comfortable asking, and that they have been made to feel like it’s not their place to ask, but please, don’t be afraid. Go ahead, ask “Why? Why did you do what you did? Why didn’t you do what you didn’t do?”. If you in fact care about Petey, then it IS your place to ask.
What you need to understand is that this was in fact Petey, the Petey that we know and love, through and through to the end. As hard as it is to wrap your mind around this, it wasn’t a freak thing. He didn’t have a chemical imbalance, he wasn’t out of his mind, he knew exactly what he was doing. From writing notes, to attempting to die from an intentional overdose so that he didn’t leave too much of a mess for someone to clean up — and I suspect that the drugs weren’t powerful enough to do it. So he climbed into the bathtub because he was still thinking of others and what would be easiest for them once he put the gun to his head and pulled the trigger.
My sister Emilie and my brother Darren chose a few songs to put into a pictorial montage for Petey’s funeral. The last song of the montage was Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You”. This song absolutely hits the nail on the head:
So what’s the answer to all of your questions regarding why Petey did what he did? The answer is LOVE. He did it all for love. He wasn’t doing this to anyone else, he was doing this for someone else. Regardless of the torment that she caused him, she was never able to completely break his heart. He still loved her. Bittersweet memories are all that he took with him. If he was a lesser man things would have happened very differently. He could have destroyed her most prized possessions. He could have initiated a long and bitter divorce for what she did. A more vindictive man could have gone down the murder/suicide road. But he didn’t. He willingly gave her EVERYTHING that he had to give. He didn’t act out of spite, or revenge; he acted out of love, because that’s Petey.
In a sense, my brother died for the sins of his wife. I know that this was not an easy decision for him to make. This was not a decision that he took lightly. It’s with a heavy heart that I think of the agony that his last days were filled with. His personal Garden of Gethsemane. I wish I could have been there for him. I wish I could grab him, and shake him. I wish I could snap him out of it, hug him and say “NO, you deserve better! She doesn’t love you. She and her family are going to try to throw you under the bus every chance they get in a effort to save their own sorry asses. We will find you someone who does love you; someone who will treat you right, someone who loves you as much as you love them.” But I know it would all be in vain. I know in my heart of hearts that he was hopelessly in love with her and always will be. That’s a reflection on him, not her. He always saw the best in things, and in people. And when he loved you, he loved you deeply and unconditionally with his big heart. But when Petey gives you his heart, you need to look after it because he gives you all of it. You are entrusted with it implicitly. THAT is what makes Peter Willison a great man. Some of his last words were that my parents taught him that, and I’m not denying that they did, but hopefully you will also see that this guy was hardwired to be good-hearted. I can even see it in the pictures and videos of him from his childhood.
One last thing: Petey said that he was “fucked up”. And you know what? He was. I love Petey – not despite that – BUT BECAUSE OF THAT! And you know what else?
We need more “fucked up” people like Petey in this world
“This is my commandment, that ye love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” John 15 : 12 – 13