Gloria Hastings often wondered what her older brother was thinking, what his pensive expression concealed.
“I knew he was depressed, I knew he was socially isolated,” Mrs. Hastings said, eyes brimming with tears. “I never thought he would die.”
Before he ended his life on Aug. 18, 2005, Allen King wrote two notes. One was typed, cryptic and rambling. The other was handwritten and brief: “My heart is sick and sad and I will fight no more forever.”
Allen King was 46.
“The phone rang earlier that night, but I was tired and I didn’t pick it up and no one left a message,” said Mrs. Hastings, 47. “I’ll always wonder if it was Allen.”
Her brother, the third of four siblings, was bright and sensitive, but also stoic. He didn’t like to talk about his emotions, and he had a “wicked” sense of humor, Mrs. Hastings said.
As he grew older, her brother’s life began turning darkly inward. He quit his job as a grocery store assistant manager. Living in an apartment in his parents’ basement, he isolated himself.
“He just sort of dropped out of life,” Mrs. Hastings said.
In the months before her brother’s death, there were signs, Mrs. Hastings said. He tried to give away his computer, which was one of his few links to the world. On the last night she saw him, a few days before his death, her brother seemed almost happy, Mrs. Hastings said.
“We watched an episode of ‘The Andy Griffith Show’ together and laughed all the way through,” she said. “He seemed to be doing better. I was so relieved.”
In retrospect, she said, she suspects he had made the decision to end his life, and his pain.
“He had no way of knowing how devastated we would be,” she said. “That tells me his pain was greater than we could imagine.”
The phone call came in the middle of the night. Her sister said Allen had been in an accident, that he had shot himself, Mrs. Hastings said.
“I don’t know what I was thinking. I screamed, ‘Is he all right?’ And she said, ‘No, he’s dead.’”
Mrs. Hastings, who had left her job as a social worker because of health problems just before her brother’s death, said she grapples with guilt and grief over the loss of her brother.
“Some of the guilt I feel is that I was a social worker,” she said. “I feel I failed him as a social worker and as a sister.”
Now, as a co-facilitator for a suicide survivors support group, she feels compelled to talk openly and honestly about suicide to honor her brother’s life and try to educate people about the signs and the risk of suicide.
“People die from depression the same way they die from heart disease and high blood pressure,” Mrs. Hastings said. “Especially in cases where it’s not treated. That’s what happened to Allen.”