Sometimes, strength can't beat depression

December 16, 1993|By WILEY A. HALL

Saturday was cold, wet: a dreary, overcast, sad, miserable day. Suicide weather.

Around 6.30 p.m. that evening, Melinda Moore entered her brother's home in the 2500 block of Madison Ave. An aunt and some police officers were with her.

The house was dark and still.

Mrs. Moore went to the second floor. She went to her brother's bedroom. Everything was silent -- shadows on top of shadows; she could barely make out her brother's still form, lying face down on the bed. He had shot himself in the head.

"He left a note, apologizing, saying how sorry he was that he did what he did," says Mrs. Moore. "The note asked me to tell everyone he was sorry. It said he was just tired of everything. It said he had prayed that night, asking God to forgive him."

I ask: "Do you forgive him?"

"Sure," answers Mrs. Moore. "If God can forgive him, I can."

Then she considers further: "At first, I was very angry with him. When I saw how carefully he had planned the whole thing -- everything was so neat. The bed was neat. The room was clean. Even the wound was neat. That made me angry. But yes, I forgive him. I loved my brother."

Her brother was Irvin Ronald Dett, owner of the popular Dett Set Hair Salon in the 4500 block of Garrison Blvd. He was 50 years old. He had styled the hair of such Hollywood stars as Melba Moore, Daphne Maxwell Reid and Eartha Kitt. He had worked on Broadway. He seemed to have had everything to live for.

"Did his death surprise you?" I ask.

"No," she answers, speaking quietly. "No. It didn't surprise me."

Mrs. Moore stayed with police for several hours Saturday evening. She answered their questions. She helped tidy up. She says she felt stunned by the whole thing, numb.

She went home after about three hours, trying to determine what she should tell her father who lived with her. Mrs. Moore's father, Joshua Irvin Dett, was 80 years old and had been fighting a nagging cold.

"But he seemed to take the news well," says Mrs. Moore. "He was weeping but he was also talking to people, watching television."

The family went to bed about 2:30 a.m.

Two hours later, Mrs. Moore heard a loud thump. Her father had fallen out of bed. He had had a fatal heart attack.

Father and son are to be buried in a double memorial service tomorrow.

Now, Mrs. Moore is sitting in her living room. Her hands are folded in her lap. She seems very composed.

One neighbor comes over, bringing food. Another neighbor enters with a bouquet of flowers. The phone rings continuously until, at last, she takes it off the hook. Relatives hustle in and out, making hurried arrangements for the funeral.

Mrs. Moore says, "I know you want to ask the question on everybody's mind -- why did my brother take his life? All I can say is, he was very depressed. He couldn't eat. He couldn't sleep. He was trying to act normal during the day, but at night depression was eating him up."

She says her brother's depression began a few years ago after a sharp decline in his hair salon's business. But then, she says, he became depressed about being depressed until "his pain and unhappiness fed on each other, until he was eating himself up with negativity. We talked about it and talked about it -- we talked about it all of the time -- but nothing I said seemed to help."

Mrs. Moore loses her composure briefly. She bows her head. Her hands remain clasped in her lap.

Finally she says, "The person that built Dett Set -- the person with the charisma and the drive, who was such a perfectionist as a hairstylist -- that person was gone. The person that was left was just a shell. Everything became so negative to him. It was like he was piling dirt on top of himself."

A neighbor comes in. She gives Mrs. Moore a hug and hands her a sympathy card.

"I don't know how you can keep going," says the neighbor. "I don't know where you find the strength."

"I think I got that strength from my father and my brother," answers Mrs. Moore. Then she says to me. "But sometimes, strength isn't enough. I think there's a lesson in that for all of us."

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