Not a Walk in the Park (sibling suicide)

by Ben Sharples

My older brother, Paul, committed suicide on September 23, 1999. It was definitely the most devastating thing I’ve ever experienced. He and I weren’t particularly close, but that didn’t matter. Losing him felt like losing a limb.

After the initial shock – which was considerable – subsided, the grief set in. For a full year, I don’t think there was a day that went by that I didn’t fall asleep or wake up crying – usually both. And though it’s pretty foggy looking back on it, I remember spending most of my waking hours feeling pretty much torn apart.

But I was fortunate to be in an intensive drama school program in San Francisco at the time and part of a very close-knit class. So both my work and my classmates provided a therapeutic outlet for my pain, and to this day I am deeply grateful for that.

After graduation, I moved back to my parents’ house- the place where my brother killed himself. Without the protective bubble of my class and confronted with painful reminders everywhere I looked, I sank into a depression. After a couple months of that, however, I had had enough. I knew I had to do something drastic to get myself out of my funk, so I moved to the one place I basically swore I would never live – New York City. There were two reasons for this decision. First, most of my classmates – my support network – were now there. Second, maybe the inescapable electric energy of the city would light a fire under me.

The first reason turned out to be just plain silly. My classmates and I were now suddenly struggling actors in a big, scary pool and focused on other more pressing things. But the second reason proved quite valid as I was forced into survival mode. Get a place to live! It took three months of sleeping on couches, but I did. Get a job! It involved bartending at a smoke-polluted restaurant, but I did. And finally, get a professional acting gig! It meant doing an off-off-off Broadway play for no money first, but I did. I landed a show that paid $450 a week – a ton of money for me at the time – and earned me my Actors Equity card. That card would open the door to the Screen Actors Guild when I returned to Los Angeles. Looking back on my experience in New York, I wouldn’t exactly call it fun, but it saved me in a lot of ways.

Those were the first couple years, which were by far the hardest. The next few weren’t a walk in the park, but things started to get easier with time. Today, when I think of Paul, I feel sadness and miss him for sure. But the overwhelming sorrow is thankfully a thing of the past, and I now feel happy and present for the most part. It really helps that I have a life and a wife that I love.

About the Author: Ben Sharples can be seen opposite Amy Smart and Ryan Kwanten in the upcoming horror movie 7500 from CBS Films, directed by Takashi Shimizu (The Grudge). Ben’s role will be that of an upper class passenger onboard an international flight that encounters a supernatural force. You may follow Ben on Facebook and Twitter.

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