Mukilteo family raises awareness about suicide
September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month
Last updated 10/14/2020 at 11:45am
Sometimes when she is sleeping, Nicole Amor sees her late brother Justin Amor-Meyer.
Even though he has been gone for almost a decade, it's as if Justin is right there with her.
"I still have dreams where he's participating in some milestone, like my daughter's kindergarten graduation or some birthday," Nicole said. "Then I wake up and feel like I just lost him all over again."
Justin, described as warm-hearted and soft-spoken son by his father, Dom Amor, died by suicide on May 10, 2011, in the basement of a family home in Shoreline. He was 26.
Don, the interim president and CEO of Economic Alliance Snohomish County, also still has dreams of his firstborn. And like his daughter, when he wakes up and realizes that seeing Justin was just a dream, it's like a punch to the gut.
"You just have this hole in your soul that just doesn't get filled," Dom said.
Dom, his wife Lorri and Nicole tend to celebrate and honor Justin around his birthday, the anniversary of his death, and during the holidays.
But September also is a time for reflection, since it is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month.
Nicole and Justin had the typical older brother/younger sister relationship growing up. He was four years older than her.
"He picked on me and tried to use me as a dummy for his Kung Fu moves," said Nicole, the director of individual giving at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Snohomish County.
As she grew older, Nicole struggled with thoughts of suicide and depression. She turned to her brother for support.
"He was the person I would talk to," Nicole said. "He
would just kind of listen. He was a good mediator between translating what my parents meant. If they did something and I was pissed, he was the person who calmed me down and reminded me that our parents are just looking out for us. They're just being parents."
Friends knew that they could always count on Justin.
"He would always be there for his friends," Dom said.
Looking back now, Dom realizes that Justin showed signs of depression as early as junior high and high school. He also cut himself with razor blades.
"There was some withdrawal," Dom added. "A lot of symptoms came up later on."
He remembers an instance when the family hired Justin to do some electrical work at a house they were building in Lake Chelan. Justin worked as an electrician for the Seattle Department of Transportation.
Justin drove out to Lake Chelan, a three-and-a-half-hour trip, did maybe 30 minutes of work, and drove back home.
"He said, 'I just needed to get out, and I just wanted to do the drive,'" Dom recalled. "He would not give any particular reason whatsoever as to why. There was a lot of that going on."
Family members say they didn't pick up the signs that Justin was having major mental health issues.
"We didn't think anything of it, because at that time we weren't aware of some of those signals," Dom said.
On Mother's Day 2011, Justin came over to the house to put up a couple of light fixtures and help Dom with a few things. They ordered some barbecue, one of his favorite foods.
"He didn't eat," Dom said. "When I asked him if he was OK, he said, 'Yeah. I'm fine.' That was the last that we saw of him – Mother's Day of 2011."
Lorri called Justin on the following Tuesday, but he didn't answer. She then went to visit him on Wednesday and found Justin's body in the basement. The medical examiner later determined that he died Tuesday.
Dom remembers Justin as being introverted, at least with him. Justin did tend to talk a lot with Lorri.
"Withdrawal is a very big sign," Nicole said. "Pulling away from everybody around you ... unfortunately just kind of leaves you to get in your own head even more."
After Justin's death, Dom read some of his son's writings from his journals.
"A lot of his writings, in retrospect, now really reflect some dark emotional issues with him," Dom said. "He was feeling very, very lost and very alone."
It's important, Dom and Nicole said, to reach out and talk to someone you believe might be considering suicide.
A common misconception is that talking about suicide plants that idea in someone's head. Those people contemplating suicide already have made their minds up, according to mental health experts.
"Asking whether you're going to commit suicide doesn't introduce it. That idea is already there," Dom said. "It's just a question of how that person will do it."
Dom encourages people to be direct. He said that if you suspect someone is having mental health issues, you should ask them if they have any thoughts of harming themselves or others.
"The other thing is asking if they want to be alone or if they're feeling lonely," Dom said.
Another question to pose deals with the potential consequences of the act.
"For someone that's considering suicide, I would tell them to just think about what will happen with the folks they leave behind," Dom said. "Then it's about getting them some help, making sure that they have the right resources to talk to someone.
"The most important thing is definitely to make sure they are talking to someone about it."
Getting help is definitely the hardest part, said Nicole, who moved back into the family home in Mukilteo after Justin's death.
During her senior year of college, Nicole overdosed on some pills.
"I didn't really get the help that I should have or needed up until a few years ago," she said.
It took Nicole six months to schedule a doctor's appointment, get a referral and then obtain a prescription for antidepressants when she finally sought out professional help.
A friend helped Nicole.
"She called me. She helped me look up doctors and walked me through the steps of what I needed to do to access help because it was not a clear, easy process," Nicole said. "I learned that you have to rely on your resources. You have to be able to tell someone, 'No. I'm not OK.' You have to be honest and vulnerable with people. It took me years to get to a point where I'm able to talk about it. Obviously, it's still hard.'
Nicole also was motivated to seek treatment because of her daughter Mia.
"I wanted to make sure I was able to emotionally and mentally support and raise her in an emotionally healthy environment," she said. "I realized that was going to start with myself."
Memories of Justin bring both smiles and tears to Dom and Nicole.
Their faces light up recounting how Justin was nicknamed Ninja because of his love of Kung Fu and the times when he snuck up on his friends.
But the pain of missing a son and a brother also can cause a slight pause in the conversation, as raw emotions surface again.
"For those people who are survivors of these suicides, I would also tell them to talk about it as well because keeping the tragedy to yourself, it'll eat at you," Dom said. "One of the things you can do as a survivor of suicide is to always honor that person in memory, and you can do that just by talking about that person – what they were like, talk about some of the good times that were shared.
"The friendships and the family – those are a part of everyone's legacy."
Often, the first question out of a person's mouth is "How are you doing?"
As well meaning as people might be, the question doesn't really help.
"You don't want to be rude," Dom said. "The reality is, it's a question that really doesn't help you move forward."
It's better for people to try to find a way to help families honor the person who's died.
"Ask about the person. What was Justin like?" Dom said. "What were some of the fun things he liked to do?"
Nicole encourages people to think about what they can do to directly support to someone, such as offering to make dinner for the family or asking if you can call them the next day.
Actions mean more than words.
"It's more important to be there rather than to offer to be there," Dom said. "It's more important to be present than it is to talk about being present."
Help is available for those with suicidal thoughts:
• 24-hour local crisis line: 800-584-3578
• 24-hour chat service: http://www.imhurting.org
• National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-TALK (8255)