Sunday, December 12, 2010

Why Rain Makes Me Sad(der)

It poured today.

I've never liked rain. The clouds, the gray dreariness...I miss the sun on days like today.

But rain now holds an even more profound sadness for me. Around this time last year, my brother came to visit me. We had a whole day of monument touring planned, but it was raining so hard neither of us really wanted to go out. Instead, we spent the day on the couch, watching some old favorite movies and laughing at ourselves.

I thought about him a lot today. How he won't ever again grace my couch on a rainy day. How his memory is inexorably tied to the rain, which I imagine (even in the face of global warming) will continue to show its face from now until eternity. What a legacy death leaves behind.

Friday, November 12, 2010

A Glimmer of Understanding

A friend reached out after reading my post where I asked how my brother could not see all those around him who would have done anything to help him. I struggle with that a lot--not being able to step into his shoes to know what he must have been going through. Reading her illustration of the experience of depression, I think I can grasp just a glimmer of understanding. Thank you for sharing this with me.

I’m on a sailboat, all alone, in the middle of the ocean. And I don’t know how to sail. I drift.

Sometimes the seas are calm, and I go about my days doing the things I need to. I might even see another sailboat nearby, and if the person on that boat sails over to me, I don’t have to be alone. (Remember, I don’t know how to sail, so I can’t sail to the other person’s boat.)

Sometimes when the seas are calm, I even think that I can sail. It doesn’t end well.

And when the seas are rough, it takes all I have not to fall overboard, not to be completely debilitated by seasickness. It would take an expert sailor to reach me. And it wouldn’t matter. The seas would still be rough.

Sometimes, it would be easier to drown.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Justifiable Suicide?

I read an article in the NYTimes about suicide and suicide attempts by women in Afghanistan. By fire.

Cooking oil and matches are readily available. Girls are all but sold to much older husbands who rape them, beat them, and shame them. Their families--if they are still allowed to see them--can offer no protection. These women and girls have nowhere to turn. So they choose suicide by fire.

One woman's husband taunted her that she did not have the strength to burn herself. Unfortunately, she did.

I don't know that suicide is ever justifiable or warranted, but I think I can understand, maybe a little, what would make one of these woman choose such an escape.

What depth of pain must my brother have been in? He had a family that loved him, friends who cared about him, and so many people who would have moved heaven and earth to help him. How could he have seen suicide as the only way out?

Monday, November 8, 2010

Walking in My Brother's Honor

This past Saturday, AK and I participated in the Out of the Darkness Community Walk to benefit the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. We joined about 400 others who were walking in memory of a loved one lost to suicide. With the support of so many friends, AK and I hit our fundraising goal of $2,500--in less than 2 weeks.

The walk wasn't as monumental as I thought it might be. I spent a good portion of the time being angry and upset that I was even participating in the walk, and that so many people have been affected by suicide. They gave out colored necklaces--honor beads--to symbolize the loved one lost to suicide. Orange for siblings, gold for parents, white for children, red for spouses, purple for friends. It was heartbreaking to see so many people wearing multiple beads.

They had run out of purple beads before we even got there.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Someone Who Can Relate

Although my friends and community have been incredibly supportive, pretty much nobody really knows what I'm going through. Don't get me wrong, I never want anyone to be in a place to understand, but at the same time, it's hard that people can't say more than "Wow, I'm so sorry, I have no idea what you are going through."

I started going to a suicide support group. I don't think I knew how much I needed to talk to someone who could say "Wow, I've been there, I'm so sorry."

My first group, I met a woman who was attending her last. She lost a son to suicide 3 years ago. As she left, she offered some words of wisdom: One day--maybe near, maybe far from now--we'll learn to be happy again. It won't be the same happy as it was before, but it will return. And although the pain never fully goes away, life can be sweet again.

I hope to be her one day.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Stolen Moments

This past weekend, I attended the wedding of one of my best friends from college. The bride, who has also become a good friend, lost her mother a number of years ago.

During the wedding ceremony, the rabbi mentioned her mother, and how he knows she is looking down and celebrating with her daughter even though she isn't  physically there.

It didn't make me very upset at the time, but thinking about it later, it set me off on a crying jag.

There are so many future moments in life in which I had envisioned my brother as an integral part. But he won't walk down the aisle at my wedding. And although I know he'll be there with me in spirit, it's just one of a million moments that have been stolen from me.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Bad, Bad Dreams

I don't usually dream, or at least I seldom remember any dreams if I have them; even when I do remember, I'm not usually one for bad dreams, although I have the occasional nightmare.

Lately, I've been having a lot of really bad dreams, most of which involve losing someone I love in one way or another.

Ever since I lost my brother, I carry around an intense fear of losing someone else I love. I worry about it a lot, and I suppose that's carried over into my subconscious. I can't decide which is better--not being able to sleep, or having fitful and restless sleep full of nightmares.

Kind of damned if I do, and damned if I don't. I wish this was getting easier and not harder.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

We Should Think Before We Speak

Since my brother's death, I have become significantly more attuned to the way I, and others, speak.

For example, have you ever thought about the number of times we reference death and suicide on any given day?

"Man, that test was a killer."
"Working with her makes me want to kill myself."
"Another assignment? Just kill me now..."
"This project is going to kill me."

I cringe a little every time someone uses a turn of phrase like the ones I listed above. I wonder why we use death and suicide to describe so many things. It's not that I haven't used them in the past, but I'm very careful about my choice of words these days.

How desensitized have we become to the power of our words that we can talk about death and suicide in such a nonchalant manner?

Friday, September 17, 2010

On Dreams

Since my brother's death three months ago, I've had a number of dreams in which he has made an appearance.

The first dream came a few weeks after the funeral. I don't remember much of it, but what I do remember is actually incredibly comforting. I said to him, "I don't have a brother anymore," to which he replied (in that wry, "you are being ridiculous" voice he used a lot, if you knew him), "Yeah, you do."

I don't know what I believe about dreams, or the inner workings of the brain. There are many religious traditions about those who have passed on appearing to their loved ones in dreams, but I think a lot of that might just be wishful thinking. "Wish-craft," my mom calls it.

Whether it was actually my brother's "spirit" or just my mind trying to come to terms with the enormity of my loss, I do take comfort in knowing that even though he may be physically gone, he will never actually be gone. He lives on in our stories, pictures, and memories. And regardless of why I dream about him, I hope it never stops.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Forgotten Bereaved

It seems strange to me that there are very few resources for those who have lost a sibling to suicide. Support groups, even online resources are very much geared toward parents who have lost a child, or children who have lost a parent, but very little for siblings.

It makes me wonder--am I alone in this? Are there no other siblings who have lost a brother or sister to suicide? Do siblings not usually experience such pain and suffering?

Are there truly so few siblings who need suicide survivor support, or are have we just been forgotten?

Monday, September 13, 2010

It's Nobody's Fault

Eytan's death is nobody's fault.

I think we can't help but blame ourselves a little. What if I had called more? What if I had paid more attention? What if there was something I missed? So many what ifs...but to what end? Blaming myself for his death won't bring him back, and it won't make the loss hurt any less. Let's focus on moving forward and healing.

I found out yesterday that someone in my community jumped off the a bridge to his death a few weeks ago. The family isn't telling anyone what happened but everyone knows. It makes me even more resolute in my decision to tell people what happened; this kind of secret isn't something you can hide for long in this age of technology and police scanners. And even if it was "hideable," how can you heal if you can't openly talk about the loss? I'd rather have my friends know so they know how best they can support me.

SUICIDE ISN'T ANYONE'S FAULT. We loved my brother, and we didn't drive him to take his own life. He was sick, and in such a dark place that to him, death was the only way out. This doesn't reflect poorly on my family, and we are not ashamed of him.

Why is it so hard to talk about suicide?

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Echoing Emptiness

His room echoes terribly.

It's at the top of the stairs. We removed all of the furniture so the floor could be replaced, and every time I walk by, it echoes. There is this one part of the hallway that always creaks when you step on it; you can't avoid it when walking to my room. Now it creaks, and echoes in the hollow room.

We leave the door open because if we don't, we forget he isn't sleeping in there. During shiva, I'd forget and almost knock on his door after waking my sister.

He isn't going to wake up. He's gone, and he's left a huge, hollow place in my heart that echoes every time I play a game he used to play with me, or see previews for a movie I know he'd like.

I know one day we'll put new furniture in his room, and fill it with life again.

I wish I knew how to fill the hole in my heart.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Inexplicable Panic

I had my first panic attack this weekend. I don't think it was a full-blown panic attack, but it came on suddenly and fully equipped with nausea, heart pounding out of my chest, sweating, and anxiety.

I can't pinpoint what precipitated it, or even what made it go away (although AK did help significantly just by talking me through it, and somewhat distracting me). It's a pretty scary feeling to be panicked and not know why or how to "fix" it.

And I had been having such a wonderful weekend. Afterward, I spend a significant amount of time angry at myself for letting a panic attack ruin a perfectly good time (although it's not like I had much control over it, but that didn't stop me from being annoyed).

I wish this was getting easier and not harder.

Monday, August 30, 2010

How Many Siblings Do You Have?

Last night was the first time since my brother's death that I got the question: "How many siblings do you have?"

I'd actually thought a lot about my answer (I have been told that it's not uncommon to burst into tears when someone asks that question, so I'm quite proud of myself for keeping it together). The whole numbers thing has been really difficult for me--do I still have 5 people in my family, or only 4? Do I still have 2 siblings, or only one?

I've been thinking about it a lot, and grappling with the -1 count to the family. Agonizing over the whole past/present thing. Which is the correct answer?
  1. I have a brother.
  2. I had a brother.
I'm such a stickler for grammar, it's actually rather ironic that the grammatical inconsistency of tense is what makes me feel most comfortable when talking about my brother. And it was sardonically funny that, after agonizing for so long over an answer, that it arrived so speedily when the question came:

"I have a brother. He passed away earlier this summer."

I have a brother. He may be corporeally missing from my life now, but he is still my brother who I got to spend almost 24 wonderful year with, and who lives on in all of our memories.

And I'll see him again one day.

Friday, August 27, 2010

An Aching Void

Mental health professionals say that a person who takes their own life is in such a dark place, they feel like they are causing their loved ones an unending amount of pain, and removing themselves from the picture will take away that pain.

In actuality, the void a person leaves (no matter how the death occurred) is gaping, aching, and incredibly painful. Even more painful is that there isn't really a way to heal or fill that void. Nobody can take the place of a lost loved one.

I sometimes feel like a piece of me died with my brother, or at least it went into hiding with his death. While I know that the void will probably remain forever, I hope that in time it will become, if not less gaping, less painful.

I wanted to relay something that was told to my family during shiva (I'm not sure exactly where the thought originates).

When one is leaving a shiva house, it is customary to recite this phrase to the mourners: Hamakom yenachem etchem b’toch sh’ar avaylay tzion v’yerushalayim; “May God comfort you among all of the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.” If you look at the Hebrew of this phrase, the word used for God here literally means “the place.” Of all of the ways in which to refer to God, why use that particular name? Why not dayan (judge), as we say when we hear that someone has died (baruch dayan ha'emet, blessed is the true judge)?

No matter the circumstance, when one has suffered the loss of a family member, there is a huge void that causes both emotional and physical pain and turmoil. Even with all of the comforting things people try to say, no one can fill that void. In such a hard time, God comforts the mourners, even just the tiniest sliver, by filling that painful place with his divine presence.

I'm not exactly sure what I think about this, but it sometimes offers me some small modicum of comfort.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Elephants in the Room

I think one of the most shocking things for me in the aftermath of my brother's suicide is the number of people in our community, even close friends, who have experienced the loss of a family member or someone they knew to suicide, but have never told anyone about it.

Suicide--or any mental illness for that matter--is a stigma in my community (as it is in many communities). Things are quickly and quietly swept under the rug, excuses are made, people move on. But in that cover-up is the implicit idea that a suicide or a mental illness is somehow the fault of the family, and it's just so shameful to talk about that it's better not to let anyone know.

It was never a question in my mind that we were going to tell people what happened. I come from an incredibly loving family, and we all loved my brother very much. There wasn't anything we did or didn't do that caused this tragedy. Mental illness, like any other illness, unfortunately sometimes results in death. My brother was sick, and he died because of his illness. The circumstances may have been different than someone dying from cancer, but it was an illness just the same.

During shiva, an old high school teacher of mine said to us: "I hope you know how brave you are. There are too many shiva houses in this community with elephants in the room."

I won't say it made me feel better, but it did reaffirm my resolve to be open and forthright about what happened. If you can't talk about it, you can't heal, end of story. My friends and my community have been nothing but supportive, with never the slightest inkling of "wow, what was wrong in that family?" I hope that my family's openness about mental illness and my brother's untimely death gives strength to anyone else who may need it.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Reality Shift

I'm someone I don't know.

It's a strange feeling, like I'm living someone else's life, or maybe watching a movie of an alternate reality. It's me, but it's not me. Things are foggy most of the time, like someone took a fine layer of gauze and just laid it over my vision. I'm sad, angry, and anxious a good part of the time I'm awake, and I'm pretty sure even while I'm sleeping (I haven't woken up feeling rested in a long time). I'm someone I don't know--what happened to the happy-go-lucky, optimistic person I used to be?

Everything has shifted. The world I knew is gone, and this new reality, this new me, is something I grapple with every day. In a thousand bad scenarios I played out in my head, losing my brother like this was never even a remote possibility. Unfathomable. Inconceivable. Incomprehensible.

I'm not me. This isn't my reality. Where do I go from here?