We were three siblings who grew up as best friends. Our fingers sticky from baking desserts, we made forts out of pillows while watching movies. We spent hours building with Legos and playing soccer together. There may have been eight years separating oldest from youngest, but we were tied tight, like shoelaces.We each found our way to Brown and grew into our own individual identities there. Sunil—Sunny—the youngest, thrived on campus, splitting his attention between his deep love for music and a newfound exposure to philosophy.
Then, unexpectedly, depression hit Sunny hard, shrouding the happiness he once felt from his most precious gifts, his saxophone, his school, his friends, and our close family. Depression takes such a cruel toll, putting love out of reach, often creating impenetrable isolation alongside stigma and sapping the life energy to fight back.
A phone call on a cold March morning told us Sunny had gone missing. We frantically returned to Providence and spent the next thirty-eight nights desperately searching. We asked for help and the Brown community became our arms and legs and eyes. Students, staff, police, and friends helped us hang posters and search every neighborhood, park, and homeless shelter. Students and alumni helped us extend our message to more than 200,000 people through a Facebook page. In those moments, through small acts, strangers and friends made community, an often abstract word, become real. It kept us alive. We wish it could have kept Sunny alive.
On April 23, 2013, the Brown crew team found Sunny’s body in the frigid Providence River. At age twenty-two, Sunil had become a victim of suicide.
The loss of Sunny’s gentle, calm, musical spirit brought us together even as it broke our hearts. Sunny’s story is all too common. Twenty-five percent of young adults will experience depression before their twenty-fourth birthday. Suicide is the third leading cause of death for young people between fourteen and twenty-two, and the second leading cause of death among college students. It seemed as if everyone we met while searching for Sunny told us a story of someone struggling. We were reminded of the fragility of ourselves, our siblings, our families, our communities, and our world. We were also reminded of the enormous potential of community to tend to our most vulnerable, through small acts that can quickly change the lives of those we love.
While we searched, Brown and Providence lent their hands to us in a way that has forever changed us. In the span of five days, 700 people in Providence and around the world shared a message written on their palms, “lending their hands” to each other and to the search for Sunil.
We returned to Brown this March, three years later, to share our story and to spread the lesson we have learned—that small, tender acts to support one another, especially our most fragile students, can help save lives. This is Sunny’s legacy. At his memorial service a student shared that he, a stranger to her, had once stopped when he’d seen her crying, homesick, on the steps of Grad Center to ask if she was okay. She remembered that he’d sat with her for a while.
An act of kindness is never too small. It’s never too late. You are never too far. Pick up the phone instead of texting or writing an e-mail. Call your parent or check on an old friend. Take care of one another. Be gentle, be compassionate. Slow down. Turn around and look behind you. Be open to letting someone in when it is you who is faltering. Lend your hand. We need it. The world needs it.
Toward a Brown where we lose no more of our students to suicide. In honor of our beloved Sunil Tripathi ’13. We love you, Sunny.
Illustration by Pete Ryan.