Age 13 , New York
On January 14, 2013, my 13-year-old brother, Michael Graham, used one of our father’s guns to take his own life. There was absolutely no indication that he was depressed or suicidal. I remember what it’s like to be a teenager and believed that any little problem was the end of the world. He was an impulsive teen who had a bad day and used a gun as a permanent solution to a temporary problem. If he did not have access to a gun, my brother would still be here today. Mikey was a fun kid who loved video games and played almost every sport in school. He was quarterback of the Brewster Bears. He also loved bowling and mastered the two handed approach. He was known in school as the kid who was friends with everyone and always befriended the new student to make them feel welcome. I miss his smile. I miss laughing with him. I miss talking about video games. I miss throwing tiny paper balls at each other at restaurants and being told by our father and my stepmother to behave. Each year on Mikey’s birthday, I think about what his life would be like if he were alive to reach that age. I’m constantly thinking about everything I should have done that could have potentially saved him. Losing him was more than devastating to our family and friends.
However, the sorrow of this story does not end with my brother’s death. On October 14, 2013, his mother (my stepmom), Sheila Graham, took her life because she could no longer live with the grief of losing her son and the guilt that she did not do enough to protect him. Sheila and my father were divorced with shared custody of Mikey. From the moment Sheila got involved with my father and realized he kept guns in his home, she asked many times for him to either get rid of the guns or at least lock them up. The last time she made that request was the day of the Sandy Hook shooting. My father assured her that Mikey could not get to his guns. Unfortunately, that was not the case and exactly one month later he was no longer with us. My father had a lock box but never used it. Had those guns been locked up and stored safely, my brother would not have had access to them. It’s a simple thing to lock up all guns in a home where children are present. For anyone reading this who owns a gun that is not locked up, you may believe that this tragedy could never happen to you. My father believed the same thing and look what happened. Don’t wait until something happens to your child to make yourself wish you had stored your gun properly.
There needs to be enforced safe storage laws as well as stricter consequences for current laws. My father not only had three unsecured handguns in his home, but they were also in his possession illegally for many years. He was charged with a misdemeanor and given five years of probation. New York State is supposed to have some of the toughest gun laws in the U.S. however, a misdemeanor with probation for having three illegal guns is not going to make someone else think twice about doing the same thing. If my father had a pound of marijuana he would have served jail time, but owning multiple illegal guns that also led to the death of a child is basically grounds for a slap on the wrist. If my brother had not decided to make an impulsive decision that day, my father would still be breaking the law regardless. Better laws need to be in place and enforced. When will the lives of our children become more important than money?
There is not a day that goes by that I don’t think about Mikey and Sheila. I miss them more than words can ever describe. My heart will always be heavy with the sadness and grief of their deaths. It has not gotten better for me and it will never get better. I will always be sad without them.