I’ve been considering writing this blog for quite some time. It will probably have been saved as a draft many, many times by the time I finally publish it.
It’s emotional. It’s something I haven’t talked about with many people.
It’s about the death by suicide of my oldest brother and my peace with it.
I am not a fan of the word “suicide.” Yes, I know it is what it is.
My oldest brother, S, was nineteen years older than me, but my family was always very close. As a kid I used to love Sundays when my brothers would come over with their families and my mother would cook horribly unhealthy food and we would be outside, at the neighbor’s pond, talking, eating, etc. S married a woman with kids my age, so we played and fished and got muddy while running around as if we belonged no other place on Earth. At those moments we didn’t belong anywhere else and in my memories I find that it all seems to have been just a dream or fantasy, but it was real. I find it strange that while writing this I picture a happy group of people, because it’s been a very, very long time since I’ve felt like the word “happy” could be applied to my immediate family. Happiness and magic are words that seem so similar to me because both are so elusive now.
Hindsight is often cruel. I know that pretty well.
In lieu of giving a long and intense synopsis of S’s life, I would much rather just get to the point. He was an alcoholic. I think, on some level, I knew this my entire life. In fact, I once was scolded in third grade while on the phone because my friend asked me what my brothers did and I promptly told her that they were alcoholics.
S was an amazing person. I can’t begin to sum up who he was in this writing, but under the alcoholic was a sensitive, creative, loveable guy who loved his family so intensely that it is still difficult to fathom where things became as horrifying as they did. I know very well that I am not the first person to shout to the world that “my” alcoholic was much more than just the drunk.
It took several years for S to really hit that rock bottom, but he hit it harder than many people manage to do. I remember the 11 o’clock news showing his shoe in the street and then hearing the phone ring and my mother’s voice telling me that he was hit by a car and was in the hospital. It was the second time he had been hit by a car in his life, which is a fact that wasn’t lost on me in that moment. The first car strike was not alcohol related, the second was while S was trying to cross the street to go buy more vodka.
When we arrived at the hospital nobody would tell us if he was even alive. The cruelty of that hour and a half that we sat in the waiting room was something I haven’t been able shake seven years later. The bitterness that I still feel about the way that we were treated by many hospital staff is not gone yet. S was so badly injured that I didn’t recognize him when the bitchy nurse finally threw my mother, other brother, and I into a random ER room containing a gurney on which lied a swollen, blood soaked human. The only way I could recognize S was because after I looked at his face, I turned and he touched my back and said my name.
Side Note: I don’t hate nurses, so don’t send me hate mail. However, the way in which we were treated after many hospital staff realized that S was an alcoholic was disgusting and those people should be ashamed of themselves.
Broken neck (thanks to the hospital, but that’s a long story), shattered and maligned jaw, chipped and busted teeth, a re-break of the leg that was broken when he was 21 and was hit by a car while walking to work, split open knee. So many more injuries than that. Brain damage if you didn’t already figure that out. Was it a blessing that the leg that was broken this time was the same leg that was broken 20 years earlier in that hit and run? I don’t know. If you can’t fathom the physical pain, enter alcohol withdrawal into the mix. It was a frightening time for all of us.
Because of the changes in his brain, S often thought it was his childhood or another time in the past. He had to have a nurse or aide near at all times because he was a fall risk. One afternoon I stood by his bed and he told me about how my father and his father came to visit him in the hospital early that day. His detail was amazing and the story was comforting. The aide sitting next to the bed looked away from her book long enough to smile and say “How nice that your dad and step dad both came today.” I looked at her and, without thinking, indicated that they were both dead by motioning my hand across my neck with my tongue sticking out. She looked startled and then her face softened with understanding. Go ahead and laugh like I did. Sometimes you have to laugh because there are plenty of times to cry.
That happened in 2006. S died in 2009. Those three years were at once terrible and beautiful. I became much closer to S through those years. We spoke often, sometimes daily. When he got sick I would go to the hospital and sit with him and make sure he was telling the doctors the truth. His liver had long been punished by booze and his pancreas was giving out too. He was in chronic pain, hideous pain, all of the time.
Now, I know that he brought that on himself. I don’t need any sanctimonious, self-righteous twits to tell me that. S drank every drop of liquor of his own volition thereby ruining his own liver and pancreas at minimum. He was every bit the creator of his own problems in that regard and I will not deny that. Seeing someone you love in that much pain on a daily basis is an ugly and cruel thing regardless of how they got there. It will destroy you right along with them. I was excessively angry that he kept drinking and terrified that he would die because of it.
I knew he would die because of it. I knew it was coming soon.
I just didn’t know when.
In July of 2009, I turned 29. S never remembered my real date of birth. I don’t know why and neither did he. It became a yearly inside joke. He was always three days late in wishing me a happy birthday, so when he called me on my true birthday that year, I should’ve known something was up. He had been in the hospital again until the day before and behaved very elusively about something one of the doctors had told him. I knew there was something he wasn’t saying, something he wanted to hide. He just said that he wanted to talk about happy things and I obliged. Life was heavy. Happy things were few and far between.
I spoke with him again a few days after my birthday. He seemed agitated, but that was not completely unusual when he was in pain. He would go days without food because of the stomach pain from the liver or pancreas or both. Going to the hospital would buy him some time to eat real food if he received the right pain medicine. It was a cycle of hell.
He probably died on July 31, 2009. I say “probably” because that is the last day anyone had contact with him. As a family, we believe that his date of death was July 31. He was found on August 2. He had been sober for 18 months at the time of his death, but the internal damage had been done.
I found out that S had died from our brother D. I remember screaming “no!” so loudly that I temporarily broke the receiver of my phone. When the phone rang I had been happily painting the shutters of my house. I never finished them. They are still missing from some of their windows four years later. I screamed so loud that I scared my cat. The neighbors came running. I went to get my husband who had just gone to nap. I couldn’t stop moving. As if covering as much ground as possible could turn back time. Eventually I dropped to my knees and my neighbor let me put my head in her lap. Yeah, I know, that’s a huge cliché in stories about death, but it happens. When bad news comes I am a raging mess. I scream, I cry, I pace or run. Then, I deal with it.
There is a strange peace in me about S being gone from this planet. It bothers some people and perplexes others that I feel the way I feel. I spent so much time with S during so many of the bad times that I know that his level of pain was so intense and ferocious that his quality of life was zilch. He was here for us and not for himself at the end. I feel like I can say with certainty that he made peace where he had to make peace. He was a man that loved so deeply that his choice to end his own life was not one that I believe was made hastily or with any malice intended toward a single person or thing. S died because of the pain and because he simply could not live anymore, though his body wouldn’t let go. He made a choice to die despite loving us so very much and knowing how much we loved him. I know it was the most difficult choice he’s ever made.
I do not condone suicide. Please do not misunderstand what I’m saying. This is a far more complicated situation than I can manage to even remotely explain in this blog, but I’ve been quiet for four years for the most part and there are things about S that need to be set free. Our family has suffered so much, but I have never doubted S’s love for us and especially for his children. His daughter whispers the secrets of his soul, though she might question that from time to time. I can see it though and I know that words alone cannot do justice to the depth of love and pride he felt for her.
This story has holes in it. I can’t begin to tell you everything. The layers of truth about this situation are many and fragile. Maybe someday I will write about S and his life and death. For now, this is what it has to be.
Please don’t hesitate to call someone if you need to talk. Please.