On the Sixth Anniversary of My Brother's Suicide

Six years ago yesterday, my brother ended his life.

I made it through most of the morning without crying, but then I decided to send my parents flowers. The florist asking me what I wanted the accompanying message to say eroded my stoic facade. I started crying on the phone, and she admitted to me, "Gosh, you're making me cry, too."

Later on I felt guilty for crying, for still being so heartbroken six years on. It isn't that I have years and years of wonderful memories from the time spent with him. He was, sadly, caught in the cycle of addiction and incarceration that too many people end up in, and so he missed out on most of the births, deaths, graduations, and weddings in my family. Sometimes I wonder if that's what makes it so hard--when I think of his life there is a great deal of sadness and pain, and so it can't serve as a counter to the tragedy of his suicide.

When he killed himself, I hadn't seen him in a decade. The 18-year-old photo above is the last one that we would take together. He refused to come say hello when I was visiting over the holidays in December 2005, and I came back to Los Angeles only a few days before he made the irrevocable decision to put a gun to his head.

Six years on, I still think every day about going to see his body. It is a gruesome image that is forever seared into my memory, and this is what I wrote about it then:
"We stood to the side of the stretcher and Mr. O'Neal, the funeral director pulled the sheet down to uncover the face and neck. I haven't seen my brother since 1996 and there was such a sense of time stopping. I was, in that moment, unaware of anyone else in the room. I found myself focusing on his hair...shorter than I'd ever seen it, slightly graying around the temples. His closed eyes were beginning to sink into their sockets. I could see the back of his head, misshapen now, and all of the huge threads where it had been sewn shut again. I will never forget that. No book I read, no song I listen to, no story I ever write will take away the image of those huge threads."
When I wrote that six years ago, I didn't really know how true those words would prove to be. That memory comes to me at the most random times. I'll be in a craft store and I'll see threads that remind me of the threads in his head. Someone tells a story about visiting her brother, and it will come to me. Or sometimes I'll just be sitting in LA traffic, waiting for the car in front of me to move, and there it is...and so I turn up the music a little louder, trying to drown it out.

I know it shocks some people that I am so honest about all this but over the years, I've learned that this is a common tale in modern American life. I know this because too many people have written to me saying that they too lost someone who took his life because they were in such mental, emotional, and spiritual pain that whatever hell might be on the other side must've to be better than continuing to exist in this world.

I don't believe that the soul of someone who commits suicide burns forever. I believe death is just the start of something that we, with our limited focus on the physical and material, can't fully begin to grasp. And now my brother's soul has a fresh start and can continue to grow and develop.

Indeed, when I think about how much my life has changed over the past six years, I wonder how much his has changed, too. I like to pray for him and imagine his hopes and dreams blossoming in ways that I can't even imagine, his spiritual capacity expanded beyond my limited comprehension. When I think of that, that brings some measure of peace. Some sense of acceptance.

But for now, my feelings are raw, and so I will let myself cry for him, and for all that could have been.


Mindy said…
I could barely read the post through my tears... Thank you for being so brave and honest.
Anne said…
My thoughts are with you.... Sending love and prayers....
Anonymous said…
My thoughts are with you....
I was making some pancakes some moments ago and thinking about how much my deceased brother would love them with the chocolate spread I can't stop eating. He passed away several years ago due to injuries from a motorcycle accident. We also hadn't talked for awhile before the accident and didn't find out he was in the hospital until two days later...that still pains me so much that I'm still trying to make it up too him.
Liz Dwyer said…
I could barely write through my tears. Thanks for reading.

Thank you so much for the love and the prayers. Both are much needed.

Thanks so much for sharing what I know has to hurt so much. I understand that pain, so hugs to you.
Diane said…
My thoughts are with you as I cannot imagine but get a sense through your words. I hope posting offers some healing as there is no measured amount of time that is succinct with getting over such a loss. Big hugs and love to you and your family x
Nicole said…
I had to step away from this post for a minute to gather my thoughts. I hope writing about the pain of your brother’s suicide aids in your own healing, Liz. My brother and I aren’t super close, but I don’t know what I’d do if I lost him. This post is a reminder for me to reconnect with him soon. Sending you much love and light.
Liz Dwyer said…
The hurt is not as raw now but gosh, it still hurts. Thanks for the hugs and love.

It does help to write about it--but writing has always done that for me. I don't know what I'd do if I couldn't write. Yes, please reach out to your brother. It's hard to think about not ever having that chance again.
Unknown said…
My thoughts are with you and I can also empathize. A friend who was like my sister committed suicide in 2004. I remember every detail including the date and it is always in the back of my mind. I used to take care of her a lot and even visited everyday when she was in the state hospital so there were issues I knew about but even then I was never prepared. That happened to be the one date I was out of town at a funeral and wasn't there for her. I know it wasn't my fault and joined a great support group to help with the aftermath. The memories are always there and like you said creep up at various times but I'm okay now and I can handle them and for me that's a really great place to be.
Liz Dwyer said…
I am so sorry to read about you losing your friend. It's a great idea to join a support group. I didn't do that--at the time I couldn't figure out how I would manage adding another thing to my insane schedule, but I wish I had. I'm glad you're in a better place now.
1969 said…
My thoughts are with you. So sad to lose someone you love.
Stefanie said…
I really appreciate every time you write about your brother. It's nice to see that we can build that strength to be able to talk about it. I hope I'll eventually get to that point.

As the others have said, you have my thoughts and prayers. I know every situation is different, but it just makes me feel like I'm not alone in this seeing that you went through something so similar.

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Anonymous said…
I was on the way to being your brother; drinking and drinking and letting my family go. I was lucky and stopped, but you've shown me again what I almost did. What you said about losing chances to connect, weddings, etc., was what I did. Thanks for this gentle smack upside my head. I share your sorrow, even though I never knew yourbrother.

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