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Michael Berry loved to fish, enjoyed eating banana pudding and passionately followed University of Kentucky sports.
More than anything, he cared deeply about his family, always wanting to bring a smile to someone’s face.
“He loved his nieces and nephews,’’ said his sister, Vickie Green. “He always wanted a family and kids. You felt like he had love for everybody.’’
When the family would take part in Easter egg hunts, it was Berry who always tried to make sure no child was left out and each had plenty of eggs in a basket.
On Valentine’s Day, he always would send Green’s daughter flowers. Just because he cared.
“He always looked at people from his heart,’’ Green said. “He never saw the bad in people.’’
Berry wasn’t shielded from many of life’s challenges. He spent a few years in prison for embezzlement, but had seemed to bounce back, his sister said. It was in jail where he became a Christian, and his life’s direction was on the right road, Green said.
He was married with two step-children, who Green said “he adored.’’
“He had really turned things around for himself,’’ Green said.
To her, the events of Oct. 5, 1997, seem like they happened last week, not nearly 14 years ago.
Today, like then, the day remains puzzling.
“There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about him and wonder why,’’ she said.
It was a Sunday, and Berry was living with his sister and her family as his marriage began to come apart. Green said her brother and his wife were separated and in the process of divorcing.
Her brother decided not to attend church that day and after Green and her husband, Rick, grabbed lunch at Burger King they returned home from services.
Michael Berry was gone.
By mid-afternoon with no note offering his whereabouts, Green began to worry.
“I remember it as if it were yesterday,’’ she said. “It was around 4:15 and I just felt something was wrong; I just felt empty, like there was now something missing.’’
The family looked all night. Still, there were no signs of her brother.
The next morning at around 7, the family received a phone call from Berry’s place of business.
He was found dead. He had done the unthinkable to his family by committing suicide, dying from carbon monoxide poisoning.
“We never could have imagined that he would take his life,’’ Green said.
Tears still come to his sister’s eyes today when talking about her brother’s life and death.
At times her voice cracking, she said the emptiness left by his death and the way his life ended remains difficult.
“It had to be a sudden thing,’’ she said. “Life overwhelmed him at that moment. If he had stopped to think about his family for even a minute, this wouldn’t have happened. I know how much he loved everyone around him, and he must have been hurting.’’
Two other relatives had committed suicide before Berry took his own life.
About a year earlier, on the way home from one of the funerals, Green vividly remembers her brother’s words on their cousin’s death.
“I remember him saying on the trip back, ‘How in the world could he do that to his aunt and uncle?’’’ she said. “He said, ‘I couldn’t imagine putting mom and dad through that.’’’
But there the family was, dealing with its own suicide.
Green said she looked for two years in his room, throughout the house, for a note, a hint of what had been running through his mind on the days leading up to his death.
She did find a half-written note about how much he loved his step-children and how he wished things with his wife could have been better, although she has never considered that an explanation for his actions.
Green said after his stay in prison, her brother stayed to himself more.
“It was like he couldn’t fit himself back into life,’’ she said.
Still, what led him to his final decision is something Green and her family have had a difficult time wrapping their thoughts around.
Suicide is filled with unanswered questions such as: “What could I have done?” “Why did he or she do this?” “If only I had seen warning signs?”
“The ‘why’ still pops up,’’ she said. “We just don’t know for sure. That’s what is difficult for the families left behind.’’
In October it will be 14 years since her brother’s death. While visits to the cemetery have been scaled back, the pain and questions haven’t.
“Not knowing why it came to this is difficult and hard to live with,’’ she said. “Your heart heals after a while. But I believe it is a constant journey.
“God uses these stories to make you stronger,’’ she added.
Green said sharing her story, she hopes, might help others who are dealing with suicidal thoughts. In the aftermath of an instant action, there are many left behind who will hurt, she said.
She said it was a support group at Severns Valley Baptist Church — Grief Share — that helped her move forward.
“I don’t know how people get through tragedies like this without the Lord,’’ she said. “It really helped me work through it.’’
Today, Green has rebuilt her relationship with her brother’s wife, calling her a “great Christian girl.’’ After her brother’s death, the two stayed in contact for a period of time and then drifted apart.
“I had my own hurts; she had her hurts,’’ Green said.
Time has eased Green’s hurt, at least slightly, but raw emotions still exist.
“I was so angry and so mad that he didn’t leave an actual suicide note explaining himself to us,’’ she said. “...To this day, we still don’t know why, and that’s such a hard thing to not know.’’
Jeff D’Alessio can be reached at (270) 505-1757 or firstname.lastname@example.org.