Eric Powell’s room is just the way he left it nearly nine years ago.
Posters of Princess Diana and Marilyn Monroe adorn the walls. Eric’s electric guitar is propped in a stand at the foot of his twin bed. A small stack of folded clothing rests in the spot where he left it on a dresser.
“A lot of people want to talk to you and tell you what to do, tell you that you need to move on,” said Nancy Powell, 66, whose youngest son died on May 17, 1999. “It’s hard to move on when you’ve lost a child.”
Eric Powell was 27 years old when he sat down under a maple tree and put a .44-caliber Magnum revolver to his head. Until the morning Jimmy Powell found his son’s body in the side yard of their Brainerd home, he had never thought much about suicide.
“Neither of us ever felt like we’d have to encounter something like this,” Mr. Powell said, sitting next to his wife.
In the years since, Mr. Powell, 63, has devoted much of his life to the study of depression and working to change the stigmas surrounding suicide. In 2005, he presented a paper at an American Association of Suicidology conference in Colorado on avoiding the use of judgmental language in talking about suicide.
“I don’t like the word ‘committed,’” Mr. Powell said. “That’s a legal term and it makes people sound like they are guilty, and they’re not. They have a brain disease.”
And he doesn’t believe people who die by suicide have made a choice, Mr. Powell said.
“It’s not a choice. It’s a brain behavior disorder,” he said. “We must break down the barriers of language. Until we break those barriers down, people that are suffering are not going to be willing to seek help.”
For more than two years, Eric Powell had struggled with the pain of severe and relentless headaches, unable to concentrate enough to go to school or to work steadily.
“We went to doctor after doctor,” Mr. Powell said.
Physicians prescribed pain medication and, eventually, antidepressants. But no one could find the source of the pain.
“He never could get any relief from the pain,” Mr. Powell said. “He couldn’t sleep. Before he died, one night he put his head down on the table in the kitchen and started crying. He said, ‘I can’t take this pain anymore.’”
A few weeks later, Eric Powell walked out of his house just before midnight and ended his life. Keith Powell, four years older than his brother, remembers that night.
“I said, ‘See you in the morning,’” Keith Powell recalled. “Eric just kind of grinned and shrugged his shoulders. I thought that was kind of funny at the time but now I know, he knew he wouldn’t see me in the morning.”