Chris - 'The Truth'

by Chris Andrews

Chris - 'The Truth'

Chris' mother as a young girl in Vienna, Austria.

When my life was talked about in the news, especially on "60 Minutes II" in November 2003, I had a major disappointment that was at first difficult to articulate. And I think this is something only suicide survivors can understand.

In order to tell my story to the millions of "60 Minutes" viewers, I was aware that I would have to delve into a specific time in my life: that day in 1971 when I came home and found my mother dead in her bedroom. Yes, the story had much more than that, and in fact the story was more about my brother, Rich, and I finding a family history that we did not know about. But everyone seemed interested in knowing about April 13, 1971, when, as it said in the newspapers then, "Student Comes Home, Finds Mother Dead."

Knowing that I was going to talk about things I had not shared with anyone before was an extraordinary weight on my shoulders. I felt I was up to it. But I really had to ask myself who I really was in all this: Am I an angry person? If so, angry at who? How accurately do I remember these details? I could find only one guide for myself, something that Rich and I had often talked about, and that something was called "The Truth."

One of the first truths I unearthed when trying to understand myself and my feeling towards my mother's suicide is that I felt rage. It was a similar rage, though without the sharp edges, as I had felt when I was 14 years old and I had walked into my mother's room. There, on the bed, motionless in her nightgown, was my mother. And I only remember one word, that I yelled over and over, louder and louder, and that word was "No!"

I pushed her, I shoved her, I yelled and yelled, but she would not awake. 
I knew she was dead, but I distinctly remember not knowing if she could be brought back to life. And in this rage, I called the operator on the phone in the hallway, and said in my loudest voice "Please, Please, my mother is dead. Please come here now!"

Suddenly, a policeman was picking me up from the floor, and I was still yelling. I was draped over this man's very strong body when I saw something that gave me hope. It was an ambulance, and I knew an ambulance would only be there if they were going to bring her to the hospital and bring her back to life. If she was dead, I would have seen one of those long black hearses. I was 14 and it all made sense.

Then so many people seemed to fill the house: policemen, firemen, the ambulance workers and then some other people whose faces I recognized. One of them said, "I don't know the family at all, but I am a neighbor and wanted to see if I could help." I felt angry that the first time this woman had come to our house was at that moment. I felt anger towards everyone there.

Not knowing our neighbors was something we had learned to live with. The policemen and firemen had come to our house on numerous occasions to coax my mother back into the house on the nights when she would be out in the street saying things that did not make sense. Hitting people with her flashlight. Was she crazy? I guess back then she would have been called that. She had told me she was schizophrenic. I remember watching a special on an educational channel about some new discoveries in that area, and she said to me, "That's what I have. My brain produces something like LSD, so its like I'm on acid all the time."

"

In order to tell my story to the millions of "60 Minutes" viewers, I was aware that I would have to delve into a specific time in my life: that day in 1971 when I came home and found my mother dead in her bedroom.

"

I was now in the back of a police car going down the ramp at the emergency entrance to the hospital, and right to the left was what we called the "psych ward." That's where I remembered seeing my mother many times before, strapped down, in a bed, telling me "I'll be OK, don't worry, I just need a rest." And me sobbing. And sobbing.

Walking into the hospital was very familiar. The hospital housed the biochemistry lab where my mother worked when she could work. It's where she wore a white coat. It's where I learned about mitochondria and centrifuges and got to see into something called an electron microscope, which I have not looked into since.

Shortly thereafter, Rich and I found ourselves sitting in a small room, feeling too close to the man talking on the other side of the desk. His words were simple, they sunk in, and I guess that's what is supposed to happen. He was a priest.

"Your mother is deceased and you are going to have to grow up now."

There was a funeral, a service, and then I was suddenly living with a family who I had known previously, sharing a bedroom with a friend. And my brother was living next door, with another family. And I was saying things like "I am fine, don't worry about me." I was everybody's friend, got everyone's approval, and they all commented what a nice boy I was.

But then sometimes, that really awkward feeling would come up: it was the rage. It would completely stop me. It happened once in Seattle when a parent of a boy I was staying with asked how my mother had died. I froze. I could not talk. And then he said, "Did she die of cancer?"

And I said "Uh-huh."

And life moved on, and 30 years passed. Until one day, in 2001, at an unusually difficult point in my life, I got this letter. It said my brother and I were heirs to a house in Vienna, Austria. At that moment I was right in the thick of the Silicon Valley downturn, myself a CEO for a start-up that had suddenly lost it's funding. Like many people, I was running very fast trying to keep the company afloat, so although the letter was interesting, it certainly did not grab my attention.

Rich and I finally decided to take a trip to Germany and Austria. There we found out that this building, of which we were heirs, was the U.S. Embassy building, all 40,000 square feet. Suddenly we are in the middle of an international incident involving the U.S. and Austrian government, the Jewish community and many independent genealogists, historians and lawyers. We discovered many things: that our uncle had owned the building and it had been a great medical clinic; that he had been a classmate of Sigmund Freud's; and that our family had been great people who helped to build Vienna. Then of course, the Nazis took it all.

Over the next several years I devoted myself to finding out about my family from Austria, which I knew nothing about. And in the process, as we had to detail our own lives for the restitution process, and for the media, we also devoted ourselves to finding out about our own childhoods and our mother. It was a battle for the truth. I slowly began to unravel this mysterious story about my family from Austria.

My mother came from a very wealthy family in Vienna, and then came the Holocaust. And she moved to America, had two kids. And then when her kids (us) were 14 and 17 years old, she killed herself. At the time of her death her total estate was worth $100. That was the amount that the black and white TV was appraised at, $100.

My mother was born in what is now the U.S. Embassy building. She lived a grand life in Vienna and died by suicide in America. She died penniless. But through photos I found of my mother swimming, biking and skiing in Vienna as a young girl, another side of my mother began to really come through; a side of her I had not witnessed personally. I began to feel closer to her, like I was getting to know her again.

I am very proud of my mother, now that I know what she had to go through. She must have taught my brother and me something right. My brother and me are here, and we are healthy. And we are thankful.

After months of daily yoga -- the bikram/hot kind that is especially intense -- and hiking many miles each day, I finally came to the day that I had to reveal myself on national television. It was July 2003, and the "60 Minutes II" cameras were on me. I told them this story, which I had not told anyone. And afterwards I felt great; I felt like I had said exactly what I wanted to say.

And then came the airdate on November 12, 2003, and I watched. And nothing I had said about my mother's suicide was on the show.

It was not surprising that they had to cut some things, given the enormous amount of footage they had shot and the complexity of the story. And everyone was saying how good the story was. But I had this feeling, this frustration. I was disappointed. After almost a year of getting myself ready to talk about some really difficult things, they did not make the cut.

That same day my story ran on the front page of the San Jose Mercury News. As I read the story, the words popped out at me. The story said I had found my mother "dead from a medication overdose."

Dead from a medication overdose?

What is going on here? I became even more disappointed. It was a disappointment no one seemed to understand, but I am hopeful suicide survivors can.

The truth is that my mother killed herself; she died by suicide, whatever you want to call it. And I witnessed this. Why can't people just print the truth? If we are ashamed of our experiences, then others will not know how to talk about it.

If you do not seek your truth yourself, no one will assist you in your journey. You must understand yourself, how your loss has affected you, and who you are. It is only by doing that, that you can gain the answers to all those difficult questions. And it is only by doing that, that you can lift the veil of shame and guilt, and begin to see clearly.

And whatever you find by looking at yourself, it is the truth. And if you follow the truth, and accept it wherever it may lead you, you will be OK.

Chris lives in Sunnyvale, Calif. For more about Chris, please visit www.chrisandrews.com.
To read the "60 Minutes II" piece, go towww.cbsnews.com/stories/2003/11/11/60II/main582922.shtml.