When Goodbye Comes as a Suicide

June 5th, 2012

I will never have the answer to why my brother took his life, the answer died with him, but letting go of the why has allowed me to find a way to celebrate his life.

I’ve often wondered that if we knew in advance how our life would unfold would it be easier knowing what was coming, and would we somehow be better equipped for the events as they arrived?  There’s no doubt that experience provides us with a place of reference when we come across a similar event, but in the end I believe that we can’t know how the unknown really feels until we are actually walking in the footsteps of it.  Even the events in our life that cross the bonds of being similar manage to bring their own twists and turns and layer us with a whole new experience.

I believe this is truer than ever when it comes to the loss of a loved one.  It seems to me – regardless of how many experiences of loss you’ve had – there are always elements you’re never ready for.  My brother’s death certainly came with the same amount of grief and loss I felt with the passing of our parents but it also brought many other layers that I certainly could not have imagined.  First and foremost was making peace with the idea that I no longer had any immediate living family, and realizing that on some level I was now an orphan and alone in the world in a way I hadn’t yet experienced, but even more difficult was the news that would come months later just when I was starting to make peace with the changed landscape of my life to say that my brother’s death was a suicide.  In my thoughts, I could barely comprehend the meaning and there was no possibility of saying the word out loud.  With this one word my life felt devastated.  A mind in overload wanting to know why, how could he and if I had known what I should have, could have or would have done?  I felt guilty, responsible, and angry and if I’m being completely truthful – embarrassed in thinking how could I tell anyone my brother committed suicide, as I didn’t want him judged or thought as weak.  Suicide still seems to hold a stigma that makes us unwilling to talk about it, which is unfortunate, as it doesn’t allow us to get to the cause.  Anyone who is willing to take his or her own life, is without question in a great deal of pain.  In my brother’s case and in looking back I can now see that he was dealing with depression.  Had life given him cause to feel let down, had he had his share of struggles, absolutely but certainly I never saw this to any degree that would escalate to a very well hidden depression; a depression that ultimately took his life.  Depression – like suicide – hides in the shadows and those suffering often suffer in silence as again, depression is somehow associated to a weakness in the person and not seen as the illness that it is.  Where I struggled, playing over and over in my mind how painful his last day must have been, I now understand from the perspective of a healthy person who could never conceive of taking my life, that with the amount of pain he was struggling to live with, that his last day must have been easier than most as the pain would finally be gone.

I’m no expert when it comes to trying to make sense of life after a suicide but here’s what I know for me.  My brother’s suicide happened to me but it wasn’t about me.  These words I’ve repeated to myself many times until I knew them as true.  My brother did not choose to end his life to cause me more pain.  We cannot be responsible for someone else’s thoughts or actions.  We cannot know how someone else is feeling or thinking if he or she is unwilling to let us in.  Regardless of hindsight and however many signs we are able to connect in the aftermath, if someone is unwilling to open the door there is nothing we could have done differently.  Ultimately, we alone are responsible for our life.  We can find healing if we are willing to feel our way past the pain and do the work.  There is no magic wand to wave; there is no rulebook or time frame to follow, we simply need to follow our own unique path.  My healing has come from the ability to surround myself with the love and support of amazing friends that have allowed me to express my feelings and thoughts openly, to shed the tears when I’ve needed to and to find my way back to the joy that always balances the sadness.  Over the years I’ve come to understand how a strong foundation of health can support you well.  There is no question that when we take care ourselves from within, when we feed, nourish and move our bodies we honour the entirety of ourselves; our body, mind and spirit and in doing so we are always better equipped for what life throws our way.

We cannot escape the loss of those we love and the goodbyes are never easy but we can stay in one another’s hearts forever.  As much as I miss my brother every day he has left me with so many gifts that now fill the space he left in my heart when he died.  His death has grown my heart ten-fold by expanding my ability to look at the world with so much more empathy and compassion, to stand in non-judgment of the things and individuals I don’t understand, and with the greatest wish to live the best life possible, for not only myself but for the life he could no longer see for himself.

In the quiet of the morning, I remember and celebrate the gift of you – Always.

In memory of my brother Allan who passed away July 1, 2007

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