The Survivors’ Club

After losing his twin to suicide, Kurt Reeg dug in to help others

Published in 2017 Missouri & Kansas Super Lawyers — November 2017

July 22, 1986, was a beautiful day in St. Louis. I was 32, working at my first law firm, in an office with a view of the Gateway Arch. I got to the office at about 7 a.m. The phone rang at 7:30. It was my mother, who told me that my twin brother, Brett, had committed suicide.

It happened in our parents’ house, where Brett was living; in his bedroom in the basement, with my mom and grandma upstairs. My little brother, a cop on duty that morning, heard on his cruiser radio that there had been a shooting at our folks’ house—he raced there, and then to the hospital. Brett had shot himself through the heart. He was gone.

Brett Kevin Reeg and I were identical twins, according to our birth certificates; I think the doctor was mistaken, as we were not an exact matched set. We were born 10 minutes apart, survived viral pneumonia together at 17 months, and were close—very close. We roomed together, played together, went through high school together, hunted and fished together, even double-dated. I went to law school; he went into the Navy as a quartermaster on a carrier that toted nuclear missiles.  

At my brother’s memorial service, I gave his eulogy at the urging of my family. It was the toughest thing I have ever done then or since, period. I tried to sum up my brother’s life in 10 minutes. Really not fair. 

If you didn’t know Brett, you really missed something. He was the kindest, gentlest soul. He loved everybody and everything, and never had a hateful thought any day of his life.

I always joked that Brett stepped out of line while God was dishing out common sense. He fell asleep driving several times—drove off the interstate, down an embankment and through a fence, coming to rest with the car rocking on a gravel pile, without a scratch. He drove an hour and a half to go fishing one morning, fell asleep, missed the curve, and woke up in a corn field, without a scratch. With that kind of karma, what could go wrong? 

I think Brett was always trying to find himself. He went to Naval Station Great Lakes, near Chicago, for basic training. He came down with pneumonia, again. It almost killed him, but he cleared basic. He was assigned to the USS Coral Sea. His bunk was a deck above the missile room; he said the missiles fell off the racks in rough seas and clanked side to side. I asked if that ever worried him; he said no—You had to arm the nuclear warheads, and if they did go off, it wouldn’t matter, as he’d be cosmic dust. Pretty good attitude, I thought. He sent me pictures when he was playing golf in the Philippines. He had a girl on each arm—“Those are my caddies,” he wrote. 

Six months at a time at sea took its toll. Brett came home to my parents’ house after being discharged. He went to the VA; he was unnerved; he had trouble settling down. 

After Brett’s death, my therapy was to work with the local suicide hotline. I served on its board for several years. I tried to help fresh survivors know that while we can’t ignore what happened, there were many happy times to remember, and many opportunites to help those who were struggling with the wolf at the door, as well as those left behind in the survivors’ club.

It took me 17 years to get over my brother’s death. Every birthday, every holiday, every day—I couldn’t get it off my mind. I finally decided one day to get over it. I decided that every time a negative thought about the way Brett died hit me, I would shift to positive memories. I’d read letters he wrote me, flip through photos he sent me, recall happy times. It got easier as time marched on. 

Unfortunately, the suicide survivors’ club is bigger than you think. You find out your friends and coworkers are survivors, much to your surprise. I’m a survivor. I hope you never have to join our club. 

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