By SARAH DOOLITTLE, Four Points News
Carrie Pritchard and her sister Megan Jackson, who are both Steiner Ranch residents, lost their brother and sister-in-law to suicide within a week. Two years later, Carrie’s sat down with the Four Points News to describe her family’s unimaginable loss, the events that led up to it, and the aftermath.
Darin Brook’s struggles started at age seven. That year his life radically changed course when he was struck by a car while riding his bicycle without a helmet and suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI).
“Doctors said he probably wouldn’t live or walk again,” recalls Carrie of her younger brother. “He lost lots of his memory.”
He did live, however, relearning how to walk and talk and regaining his memories. A key long-term effect of the TBI, however, was the loss of his short term memory, one he tried to adapt to with little tricks such as carrying around a small notebook to write down the names of people he met.
“He described himself as Dory from ‘Finding Nemo,’” the blue fish who forgets everything. “And that was kind of how he went through life,” Carrie said.
That kind of limitation takes a toll in ways small and large. Private about the nature of his disability, Darin struggled to keep a job.
“Most people thought he was obstinate… He didn’t talk about his injury enough. But what was really happening was that he didn’t remember what to do half the time,” she said.
Darin’s injuries, invisible to outsiders, also affected his relationships. “You couldn’t see it… And if you met him you might not understand it. And so it became very hard for Darin to have relationships,” Carrie added.
Struggles and successes
Despite the obstacles in his way, Darin fought to have a “normal” life. He played the piano and loved to be active, to scuba dive and to run and exercise with his family.
When others might have chosen to go on long-term disability, Darin was determined to emulate the model of a man he learned growing up in a family of military men.
”He always wanted to be independent and a man despite his disability,” explained Carrie. He completed college with his teaching certification and got a job at a small Christian school, where he met his wife.
They fell deeply in love and married quickly, seeming to connect over the challenges each had faced in their lives, Darin with his TBI and Jessica with depression.
Carrie explained it as, “two lost souls that found each other.”
They had a beautiful wedding in Hawaii. “Darin loved to dance. That was the one thing he always thought he was good at,” Carrie said. They country danced in their cowboy boots and celebrated with family.
“When he met Jessica I started to feel really hopefully for his future. They were very much in love,” she said.
There were happy times in the five years they were married. They did not have children, but they had each other and seemed to find great comfort in their relationship. Darin loved his wife more than anything in the world.
A gradual descent
Things began to change, though, toward the end of those five years. “I think (Darren and Jessica) were just living a very sad life. They had become very alone. They had become very withdrawn… They quit coming to family gatherings… they at one point told us they were going to move very far away,” Carrie said.
The couple’s families tried to respect their wishes and called and came around less. It was hard to understand the withdrawal from family life for families that had always been so close and that came from a strong Christian faith.
Then one day Jessica simply didn’t come home from work. Unsure what to do, Darin reached out to his family.
Carrie’s brother-in-law drove to Darin’s house right away. The family knew there was a gun in the house, and it started to dawn on all of them to check if the gun was still there.
“And of course… that gun was not in the house. So I think we all knew at that point,” Carrie said.
Shortly thereafter, the police arrived and said they had found Jessica. She had driven as far as she could, then checked herself into a hotel, where she ended her life.
“Everybody was just in shock.”
Both families received spiritual counseling to help process their profound shock and grief. Carrie and her sister tried to take care of their baby brother, to look out for him as they had done growing up.
Then the night after Jessica’s funeral, Darin also disappeared.
“It was very easy for him,” described Carrie. “He just drove to Cabela’s and bought a gun. It was very easy.” He took his life in the same way his wife had a week earlier.
In the fog of her loss, Carrie recognized that part of her had always feared for this. “He had such a hard life that me, personally, I always thought in the back of my mind, I hope he never does anything like that.”
So when Darin did take his life, “there’s some guilt there afterward.”
They all wondered if it had been a mistake to not push back harder when Darin and Jessica has withdrawn from family life.
“I do think that was a sign… there were a lot of those feelings inside. Maybe we should call. Maybe there’s something going on… but we were trying to give them space as adults.”
There was guilt and anger, too, the desire to blame someone or to explain the inexplicable, until Carrie finally realized, “That’s wasted energy.”
“Not to feel ashamed of it, either.”
Instead the family began the difficult and ongoing process of healing.
“We definitely cherish all the good memories. There are so many good times. For the funeral… we tried to celebrate all the good times. Because there were a lot of good times.”
More than that, Carrie’s own daily life was deeply affected. “It definitely changed me. It’s sad that it took such a huge event like this to really change me. But I definitely have just tried to be more selfless and less selfish. Just kinder to other people,” she said.
Jessica was 30 and Darin was 31 when they died. As Carrie so eloquently explained, “Some people go through life with their head above water really easily and they just make it through. And there’s other people who are just struggling so hard just to stay right there and catch that breath.”
Carrie hopes the takeaway for others will be a message of compassion: “If people would just remember, it’s not about you as an individual in this life. It’s about other people. It’s about just being kind to people on a daily basis. You just never know what’s going on in somebody’s life.”
Does Carrie’s family think, though, that any of them could have changed the outcome for Darin and Jessica? No. Instead they focuses on what they can change, such as teaching their children about the importance of helmets.
And when the time comes to tell all the nieces and nephews how Aunt Jessica and Uncle Darin died, what story will they tell?
“We’re a very open family, a very close family. So I’m sure we’ll tell them the truth. Because I think that’s the only way you can really learn about these things.”
Despite the enormous loss, and the wish that Darin and Jessica had reached out for help, the family is working hard to be at peace with what they cannot change.
“We definitely feel like we will see them both again,” said Carrie, her voice cracking. “And we know that they are not in pain, they’re not in any of that worldly pain that is here. I know that Darin can remember everybody’s name in heaven. And that Jessica is walking on water, not just trying to hold her head above it.”
This is the first in a three-part series about suicide. Next week, another example of a local family deeply affected by suicide and then Part III will focus on suicide education — statistics, prevention and resources.