This window looks normal enough, doesn’t it? Typical screen… typical glass… typical shutters on either side… guess most people walking by wouldn’t think twice about this window at all. But it’s not just any window to me. Inside this very window of this third floor apartment is where I fell to the floor on October 13, 2010 after Mom told me that you were “gone.” And by “gone” I mean she had heard back from the police, for whom we’d been waiting on for 3 hours, and they’d found you dead in your home.
I was alone in the apartment that night… just me and the 3 cats. The conversation Mom and I had was so very brief. Not many more words were necessary; she said, “He’s gone, honey. I’m sorry.” That was pretty much it… I mean, what else is there to say? I hung up the phone. I screamed. I fell to the floor. I sobbed until I started choking. The cats cautiously sat a safe distance away looking very curious and scared and, if it is possible, they looked a little worried. They still do that. (Well, the 2 of them do… as you know, Sophie died shortly after you did.) In fact, they are huddled close together (a rare occurrence) on the couch next to me as my sobbing grows louder as I type this. Guess they figure there is safety in numbers. The three of us make a good team… I cry myself into exhaustion as they stand vigil… no words expected from me, nor would they understand them, anyway.
I am well aware that I withdraw at these times– the times when I’m missing you so much I can’t think of much else. The curtains are all closed… the lights are all off… I guess if I can pretend the outside world doesn’t exist for a little while then I can just focus on what my life, and the world, was like while you were still in it and my day dreaming goes relatively uninterrupted with the harsh reality that you are really gone and that you have been gone for….four….whole…years.
Each anniversary of a milestone or important date (i.e. your birthday, holidays, the last time we spoke, the last email I ever received from you, the day they found your body, etc.) is a reminder to me of what I’ve lost. So far it has been 4 years I’ve been robbed of spending with you. Next year it will be 5… next thing you know it’ll be 10… 20… 30 years. All those years I should have had you in my life. I’ve been reading a book called, “Life After Loss” by Raymond Moody, Jr. Sometimes that book feels like my closest friend. The words he offers are so comforting. After 4 years you lose the sympathy and empathy of others; early on when someone would hear of your death and it was only 4 days out… 4 weeks out… well, there was an obvious look of shock and sadness and, well… pity at times. Point being, it was totally acceptable to be a complete wreck only weeks after losing your only sibling to suicide. But fast forward 4 years and… well… the empathy disappears for the most part. The book has made me feel less alone when I’ve needed it most. Reassuring me with quotes such as these:
Being deprived of a loved one and everything the relationship granted causes a sense of isolation. As a normal aspect of grief, it signals, ‘You’re all alone now.’
Sudden death brings regret because relationships are incomplete. The bereaved report that writing letters to their deceased loved ones or journaling helps them vent their feelings and tie up loose ends.
Feeling abandonment is to sense separation as desertion. It sends an internal signal; someone you needed deserted you.
Ultimately, many survivors feel guilty just for surviving.
Every loss brings its own unique form of grief, but violent deaths create circumstances far removed from all other types of loss. When loved ones die by murder or suicide, life turns upside down in ways unimaginable to those who have not survived such a tragedy.
I never imagined life without her. I think of her every day and will grieve for her until the day I die.
And the book has reassured me that I’m not completely insane for still feeling such intense pain 4 years later. Colin Caffell used to relay this story to the participants in his “Life, Death and Transition” workshops:
In a perfect world everyone would understand life’s timelines– that grieving, like aging, follows a natural rhythm. Most cultures, however, stifle mourning. Survivors are asked, ‘When will you stop grieving? When will you start going out? When will you start dating again? When will you have another child’ The answer? ‘When I’m finished mourning for what I’ve lost, of course.’
Yes, yes and yes. I stopped going to the support group a few years ago because it seemed as though I’d “run out of words.” That felt silly typing out as I’m writing yet another letter to you loaded with so many words. But it felt different telling the same story each week… after a while it felt forced and it just made me feel worse. I began writing these letters regularly around the same time I quit going to the meetings. Guess it just feels better to write these letters to you… and though I know others out there are free to read them in this very public forum… it feels better to just talk to you directly and I think I’ve done a lot of healing through these letters. And the book seems to have a way of putting my mind at ease about the fact that today, 4 years after your death, that the mere sight of a Chipotle restaurant (where we spent a number of wonderful lunches and dinners together) can reduce me to tears if the time is right and I’m alone to openly express that. The book also reminds me that I’m not the only one going through this agony and that I’m not the only one to have regularly heard comments such as:
He isn’t suffering anymore.
Be happy you had him that long.
Be happy he is with ‘god’ now.
You’ll heal in time.
He wouldn’t want you to cry.
He wouldn’t want you to be sad.
Dr. Moody goes on to say, “All of those things, while motivated by good intentions, demean the loss and produce shame. No one’s pain should ever be discounted. People grow from acknowledging and feeling the depth of their pain.” Again…. YES.
All that being said… I still feel embarrassed for being in as much despair as I find myself in today and many other days. I know grief is so relative; many factors go into how long a person will grieve a loss– how close they were to the person, how long that person was in their life, how the person died, etc. You can never be replaced, Brian. You were my only sibling… you don’t just go out and find a new one of those. I’m selfishly trying to tell myself it is OK for me to still be this affected by your absence after 4 years… I’ve always felt that the fact that you chose and orchestrated your own death made this grieving process all that much more difficult. It wasn’t supposed to happen that way– you were supposed to live as long as I was and you weren’t supposed to ever be so irreversibly sad that you would end your own life just to escape it.
Another thing that has come up for me over the past few years is people asking me for advice regarding someone they know either feeling suicidal or going through the loss of someone close to them dying. I don’t feel equipped to offer advice regarding either scenario and, while I’ve talked about it to you before in other letters, (you know, how I don’t feel like I’m someone from whom they should be seeking advice with regards to the suicidality of their co-worker when I wasn’t able to stop my own brother from dying by suicide) this quote really seems to sum up why I feel that way:
“We cannot take someone farther than we have been ourselves.”
I don’t know what I can really offer someone in terms of either their grief or their need to save someone they are trying to keep alive… when I’m not over my own grief and I wasn’t able to save you.
Eh… I’m sure I’m going to have a lot more words for you in the coming weeks, Brian. Brace yourself.