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Reliving a Sibling’s Suicide

March 5, 2013 By:
Elyse Glickman, JE Feature
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Carl E. David is the third-generation owner of the David David Gallery in Center City, taking on the mantle decades ago at the young age of 24 in the wake of his father’s death. 

Today, his sons are taking the gallery into the new century as its fourth generation, boosting its national profile and expanding its representation of artists. 

Even with the gallery’s star rising, he has simultaneously taken on the responsibility of preserving the multifaceted legacies of his grandfather and father beyond the successful way they transformed a once-fledgling gallery into a thriving financial success.

“My father always told me, ‘If you take care of the business, it will take care of you,’ ” recalls David. “He was a master of his trade and could read people flawlessly, anticipating their every move before they even knew it.”

Although David has raised his family and kept the gallery a successful presence in Phila­delphia, he remains profoundly affected to this day by his older brother’s suicide in 1965 and the impact it had on his father, who only lived eight years beyond the suicide. 

“My brother was outwardly one of the happiest, most compassionate and gregarious people you could ever hope to meet,” David recalls. “There were no clues as his demeanor told otherwise. No note, nothing other than sometime after the fact we had heard through the grape­vine that he had queried his professor about suicide in his night class at Temple University. The time frame is indistinct; that could have been days prior to or the evening of and at that we don’t know if the source was even reliable.”

David goes on to explain that back in 1965, suicide was not something that was spoken about readily as it was often looked upon with shame and disdain. While the entire family lived in a social shadow cast by the suicide, his father bore the brunt of it, internalizing his pain in an effort to spare his family by being strong for them. 

“Even while regaining his smile and laughter,” his cover “wasn’t enough to outweigh his demons,” he says. 

David reflects upon the family tragedy with Bader Field — How My Family Survived Suicide, a book 25 years in the making.

Though the book has been in print since 2008, David recently broadened its availability via immediate download in the Apple iBookstore, Kindle, Nook, Kobo and in about 60 other digital markets worldwide. He has also introduced the book to new audiences through numerous radio interviews, both terrestrial and Internet with the continued hopes of saving the life of a listener who is contemplating ending their life.

Though his hopes for the book’s reach are many, he says two priorities are to promote it as mandatory reading in every high school in America and abroad, and have it made into a film (either feature or documentary), as he feels a visual treatment will enable the message to reach a larger audience. 

“Suicide is at epidemic levels, and like any other disease, education and shared experiences must be communicated so that it can be confronted head on. The veil of shame that keeps it fueled must be lifted.”

One thing that continues to drive David’s suicide prevention efforts are the staggering statistics that he uncovered in his research for the book, and later, for preparation for public speaking engagements.

“There are more deaths every year by suicide than by homicide and war combined, and it is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. with an estimated 40,000 people a year,” David says, citing such sources as the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the American Association of Suicidology and Emory University’s Emory Cares for You program.

“As staggering as those numbers are, consider that the number of attempts are even 10 to 20 times greater. Suicide is the third-leading cause of death among 15 to 24 year olds, and the second-leading cause of death among those 25 to 34 years of age.”

David then cites one statistic that hits close to home: There are “more than 1,000 suicides on college campuses every year.”

David initially began the project in homage to his father, whom he wanted to memorialize as his hero and mentor. As the book evolved over the years, he realized he would need to divulge the terribly painful experience of his bother’s suicide to convey the full story. 

Though he approached early drafts in an “intellectual manner,” his wife, Arlyn, suggested that this clinical approach would not work. He realized he needed to go through a painful process to tell the story correctly. 

While the book evolved into a family saga that documents his grandfather’s initiative, the complexities of the art world and even aviation, it ultimately ended up being a key player in David’s quest to save lives and prevent other families from having to endure the kind of trag­edy that nearly splintered his family and the gallery.

“Unable to change my history, I was duty bound to revive it for the realism” that would result in “helping others who had gone through a similar horror, as well as show people contemplating death the permanent scars they would leave on their surviving family and friends,” he continues. 

David notes that the frank account of his brother’s suicide and the impact on his family has garnered a variety of responses. 

The consensus among readers, he says, is that they were glad that he shared his experience and felt the book could help a good deal of people.

With his continued efforts to maintain steady exposure for the book, David feels he has been able to successfully find new audiences for it by just “being myself and walking that edge of emotion with balance so I am credible but not so overwhelmed that I lose it.”

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