Our family life was in turmoil as far back as I can remember. I think most families probably feel the same, but our melded together family always seemed to have some kind of drama or challenge looming over us that made life challenging. My mom first married her high school sweetheart and had my oldest brother with him, and after splitting up, she met my dad. I never knew my own father, other than the stories of how he would come home drunk and beat on my brother and my mom while she was pregnant with me.
Mom was lucky enough to escape, and when I was only 2-years-old, she met what would become my sister Charity’s father. He also had two daughters and a son from a previous marriage, so as many families do, we melded together to make one big patchwork family. We were the Brady bunch of sorts, three boys, three girls, but Charity being the youngest was the joy of my mom and my stepfather and had energy that would absolutely light up any room she graced with her presence. She was full of life, a complete chatterbox, and had the biggest heart.
As relationships can often do, things began to sour between my mom and stepdad when I was in my teenage years. I feel like I had already been through so much in my life, that I was strong enough to navigate it and be just fine……my sister on the other hand, took the breakup especially hard. She was 12-years-old when things began to get very difficult, and 12-years-old is a hard age to be a girl, let alone being the centerpiece of a very messy custody battle.
I will never forget the first phone call.
I was 17-years-old, and had just gotten home from basketball practice. My phone rang, and I’m pretty sure it was my mother on the other end. I could barely make out the words she was trying to get out, but through her wailing and tears, I couldn’t comprehend everything she was saying. The only words I could legibly understand and make out were, “Get to the hospital, NOW. It’s your sister!" I was in my car within seconds, and doing 95 mph down the highway, just knowing that I was going to get pulled over, but having no idea why or what had happened. Was it a car wreck? Was she sick? Did someone hurt her?
I walked into the infamous doors of the hospital's Emergency Room, only to be greeted by a police officer asking if I was “Chuck”. I wiped away my own tears, and nodded, and he proceeded to take me down a hallway to a tiny room where only my mom was there. Her eyes were bloodshot red, and she wiped away her tears to try and legibly explain what had happened. That day, my sister had been at her dad’s apartment, and through the grief of all that was going on around her, had decided to attempt to take her own life. She found her dad’s handgun and planned to shoot herself in her heart. By the grace of God, the gun kicked when she pulled the trigger, missing her heart by millimeters and the bullet went through her left shoulder just above her heart. She was still in ICU and in critical condition after losing a lot of blood, but at that point there was a lot of hope that she would pull through.
For the first time in my life, I felt EVERY emotion. I’ve realized by now in my life that suicide attempts, whether the person in need survives or not, bring out EVERY SINGLE emotion known to man. You go through every stage. Angry. Confused. Sadness for them. Hurt that how could they do this to YOU. Frustrated. Helpless that you can’t take on their burden and bear it FOR them. Relief and happiness if they survive the attempt, that thank the Lord they are still here. Relief and happiness even when someone dies from suicide, because you pray they are finally at peace with their turmoil even though you would give every OUNCE of you to change the outcome.
Thankfully, this wasn’t my sister’s time. She pulled through within a week, but now we were left with not only the physical damage and scars the bullet caused to her shoulder and that she would never be able to have full use of her left hand ever again, but imagine the heaviness it must put upon a 12-year-old to have to face your friends and explain what happened and why you had been in the hospital the last week. She would carry those physical and emotional scars the rest of her life.
My sister would go through stages. She’d be doing great and have such a wonderful outlook on the future and where she was headed, but then she would go through phases where she couldn’t see hope. She did better for a number of years, but on my 21st birthday, we had a relapse. We had gone to dinner that night for my birthday, and my mom and her husband at the time drove my sister home afterwards. To hear my mom tell the story, she says that my sister was sitting in the back seat while driving home and suddenly has an incredibly evil look come over her face, and simply says, “I’m going to die tonight”. She opens the door while the car is doing 75mph down the interstate and attempted to fling herself out of the car! Thankfully, my mom grabbed her, the car swerved all over the road and finally came to a stop on the shoulder. As those who have dealt with depression and mental illnesses know, you realize that this marks another cycle. Another time we pray she comes through. Another time we pray she needs hope and pray that she’ll see it for herself and pull herself through.
One thing to note, is that both of the times above, because I was one of the very few people she would listen to and someone she had on a pedestal, I always remember what she said to me when she would see me after these occurrences. Both times, the moment she saw me, her entire demeanor would change. It would go from this hard, defensive “no one can hurt me” mode, to being completely vulnerable and she would apologize profusely. “Chuck, I’m so sorry. Chuck, I had a weak moment, please forgive me”, etc. You could see in her eyes how badly she wanted to defeat the demons inside her, and how she felt like she owed the ones that she cared for to be stronger than they were and to win that battle.
Charity battled through her demons and finally got to a place in her mid 20’s where she felt fulfilled. She had direction. She had purpose. It seemed she would change her mind every three months on “what she wanted to be when she grew up”, and it always made me laugh, but she was driven and happy and that’s all that mattered. She was working multiple jobs, supporting herself, and I could see her start to materialize the visions for her life, and it made me so proud to see her begin to realize some of her dreams.
Unfortunately, she was so easily influenced by others around her, and in the spring of 2010, I saw things beginning to change for her. I believe she let some of the wrong people into her circle, and you could see her demeanor begin to be dragged down by those around her. Additionally, her father and her oldest sister Stephanie had come back into her life, and she was struggling with the emotions of it all. In June of 2010, she was over at their house and got into a heated argument with her oldest sister. I wasn’t there, and don’t know what was said, but words were exchanged, and while my sister was the sweetest human you would ever meet, she certainly wasn’t without a temper, and I’d imagine it was likely out in full force that day. She went home upset and refused to talk to her sister to make up for a few days.
Tragically, she never had the chance to apologize.
Within a week of that argument, and before she ever got to speak to her sister again, Stephanie took her own life using the exact same gun that my sister had shot herself with 15 years earlier.
That was the beginning of the end. I watched my sister take a nosedive and just tailspin out of control. She was so weak emotionally, and couldn’t bear the guilt of not being able to say I’m sorry, not having her sister there. It was just too heavy. She spiraled out of control, and it was only a few months until we got the next phone call.
Apparently, Charity had been briefly dating a guy that I had never met. And I’m thankful for that, because the Lord only knows what I would do to him if I could get my hands on him. But in this weak state, her new boyfriend convinced her that they would attempt double suicide together. He convinced her that they would drink a bottle of Tylenol each, drink all the alcohol they could find, and then cut their wrists together. He couldn’t follow through with it, but left her in that state without telling anyone, and her roommate came home finding her lying on the floor. When someone cuts their wrists, it’s typically a cry for help, but this was NOT that. She had taken a kitchen steak knife and literally cut 12 point stars in each of her forearms that stretched all the way from her elbows to her hands. The only thing that saved her life that day is that she was so messed up, she vomited most of the poisons she put into her body and the doctors were able to save her life.
As I arrived at the psychiatric hospital that day, I remember the feeling that I had been there before, and that another cycle was beginning. Every emotion and thought was raging in my own mind, and it took all I had to walk through the doors. Something felt different this time. When I mustered up the strength to go inside, my fears were confirmed. This was drastically different. I walked up to her, but instead of her demeanor changing and her becoming vulnerable like all the other times before, she was cold. She looked dead to the world, and as I sat down in front of her for the first time, she simply said one thing to me.......”I’m only angry that it didn’t work”.
I lost it. I’ve never been that emotionally broken in my lifetime. You could see it in her eyes, she was DONE. I left and sat in my car crying uncontrollably for what felt like hours.
Going home that night, I did the only thing I knew how to do in those types of moments. I began to write. As a songwriter, it was the easiest way for me to make sense of my own emotions. I poured my heart out, and that night I penned a song that was intended for her ears, and for her ears only. I titled it Borrow My Angel, and it was a plea to beg her to see her own sense of self-worth and find her own purpose in life. My mom tells me to this day that it was the power of that song that helped her to grow through this last hurdle she had to overcome.
After a few weeks, Charity was feeling well enough to go home, and she began to do better again. She was FINALLY properly diagnosed with borderline personality disorder and bipolar disorder. The doctors put her on full disability and she went to live with my mom and was getting her proper medication. You could see the hope slowly regaining in her personality, and a renewed sense of purpose.
One day, she came to me and told me that this song was far bigger than the both of us, and needed to be shared with the world. I agreed, but couldn’t see the vision for what it should become. We did place it on a local album that we released, but even that never seemed like the proper channel to tell the story. She and I both spoke about that what we should do is to start a non-profit and call it the "Borrow My Angel Foundation" and share our story with the world. If she could overcome her fear of public speaking, she could find strength in telling her story so that others could draw strength from it as well and know that they are not alone in their struggle. We discussed ideas for our non-profit, and even had conversations with the local National Alliance on Mental Illness chapter about collaborations.
Unfortunately, life has a tendency to get busy, and these types of projects can get shifted to the back burner.
On April 24, 2014, I got the final phone call.
I was in the middle of a work day, and I received a phone call from my step dad, which was odd to begin with. I took the call from him, and I tried to make it out through his frantic words, but all I could understand is “It’s Charity…she’s gone”. What do you mean, she’s gone? I’m yelling through the phone to call 911, and don’t understand the lack of urgency. I jumped in my car and raced down the interstate getting flashbacks and ultimately ended up right behind the ambulance racing to the house. But pulling in the driveway, and seeing how slowly the volunteer firemen are moving, it was clear we were too late.
We’ll never know what actually happened. She had been complaining for about a week that her medication was making her feel off. She took too many doses of her medicine, but it wasn’t enough that it was clear she intentionally hurt herself, but just enough to provide some doubt given the history. She had a reaction in her sleep, choked and simply never woke up from her nap.
The full gamut of emotions were here again. Sadness. Frustration. Anger. Confusion. Peace knowing she’ll never hurt again. It can’t be explained with the English language if you haven’t experienced it. I do have peace knowing I’ll one day see her again, but I’d give anything to have her smile, her laugh, her stories for just one more day.
I’ve heard from a wise friend once that regret is a value-less emotion, and I’ve tried to take that lesson to heart in my lifetime. But if I have any regrets, I only regret that Charity didn’t get the opportunity to share her story with others in a public manner in the way she wanted. She had such a genuine, giving spirit and wanted to provide hope for others who are struggling with the same demons, and share with them that even in the darkest of moments, hope for a brighter future can be found.
Today, my family and I are actively working to establish a 501(c)(3) to launch the Borrow My Angel Foundation by the end of 2017. Our mission will be two-fold:
1.) Increase awareness around mental disorders and mental disease. We must understand that those who are suffering have a DISEASE and truly need HELP. Culturally, we would never dream of telling someone with cancer that they need to “suck it up” or “get over it”. Yet that is far too often the message that our society sends those who are in need of help.
2.) Offer help and hope to those who are in their darkest moments. By leveraging volunteers and technology, our vision is to provide an easy, anonymous and safe method for those who are struggling to reach out for hope, an ear to listen, and resources for help and assistance.
In 2017, our local community in Springfield, MO has been affected recently with too many tragedies of lives being taken far too soon. It’s critical though that now, more than ever, we simply HAVE to share the story of Borrow My Angel for others who need the message as well.