On the Sixth Anniversary of My Brother's Suicide
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.