Fighting back tears of grief, Emily Harris, recounted the last moments of her brother's life at the Royal Oak SAFE (Suicide Awareness For Everyone) event at Royal Oak Middle School on Sept. 25.
At age 15, she was the evening's youngest speaker.
'I love you. Goodbye.'
"His death came out of nowhere," Harris said. "It was completely unexpected."
The siblings fought all the time, she said, but, "We also loved each other."
Two months before Sdao succumbed to depression, he had a heartfelt talk with his young sister who was trying to help a friend cope with feelings of sadness.
"He told me he had been depressed but that I didn't have to worry about suicide," Harris said. "He said, 'I would never do it.'"
On April 11, 2012, Harris was in her room when Sdao came in after 11 p.m.
"He was shaking and crying," Harris said. "He said 'I love you,' and 'Goodbye.'"
Always affectionate, Harris did not know what to make of her brother's remarks.
"We had a good bond," she said.
The next morning, Harris woke up to a screaming voice. She heard her mother on the phone yelling, "My son has hung himself."
"I didn't know what to think. Maybe he ran away. So I went into his room and I saw the closet door open," Harris said. "I saw him."
The next three minutes - as Harris and her mother waited for the Royal Oak Police to arrive - seemed like an eternity.
"It was the longest three minutes of my life," she said. "I could hear the sirens from miles away."
Police checked on her brother, she said.
"One officer came out and said 'I'm sorry.'"
In past decade, Royal Oak has seven homicides and 17 fatal car accidents, compared to 119 suicides and 362 reported suicide attempts. In 2012 alone, the police responded to 11 suicides and 28 attempts, according to Royal Oak Police Chief Corrigan O'Donohue.
'At first I felt like I was crazy.'
Sdao's suicide left his little sister numb.
"I was worried that I could not move past it," Harris said. "At first I felt like I was crazy."
The teen reached out to Kathleen Knapp, a Royal Oak Schools counselor, for help.
"She helped me a lot," Harris said. "I didn't want his life to affect mine."
Harris, who sees a therapist weekly, has made it her goal to be happy.
"Since it happened, I don't take things for granted," she said. "People think every aspect of life has to be perfect, but really happiness is how you deal with the bad. Whenever I am happy, I am so thankful."
'I have to take care of myself first'
Harris has turned her loss into a passion to find happiness for herself - and for others, too. With the help of Knapp and the Royal Oak SAFE task force, the teen is reaching out to elementary and middle school students.
"Suicide is so taboo," she said. "When it happens, schools talk about it for a day and then everyone is supposed to move on."
Harris wants to change the discussion, which she believes is far too quiet.
"You can't force it," Harris said, "but I want the information to be out there."
After initial feelings of guilt and neglecting herself, Harris is focused on school and getting good grades.
"I am like a pitcher of water. I want to fill other glasses, but I know if I don't keep refilling the pitcher, I will run on empty."
She is looking forward to mentoring youth.
"I've been stuck, numb, sad, depressed," she said. "I want to be involved and talk to my generation about this difficult subject."
Harris will participate in "SAFE Talk" training on Saturday, Nov. 16. The three-hour training is presented by Royal Oak SAFE will help members of the community identify those with thoughts of suicide and apply the TALK steps (tell, ask, listen and keep safe) for those at risk. The training costs $20.
For more information, visit www.facebook.com/Royaloaksafe.