As I write this on the May 13th, it's been exactly 365 days since my brother Peter ended his life. That's 8,760 hours. I would have spoken to him at least 20 times. I would have seen him at Christmas. I'd see him at my daughter's graduation in two weeks.
Is this pain better now than it was six months ago? Not better. Different. But only a little bit. It will never be okay. It will never be better. There is no silver lining to suicide. The only tiny strand I can grasp onto is that my story -- Pete's story -- might provide some comfort, shed some light or maybe even save a life before it's too late. At one time, "before it's too late" might have sounded like an archaic cliché to me but now I know that while a person suffering from depression and anxiety can hide suicidal feelings and impulses for weeks, months or years, it only takes a moment for them to act on it. A moment in time that you can never get back. You have not experienced eternity until you have experienced death.
What do I wish we had done differently? I wish we had more information and had paid closer attention. I wish we had been more assertive with my brother about getting the help he needed so desperately. I wish we had known that he was not able to make good decisions for himself and made his condition our business. I don't know what's in the books about dealing with victims of depression, I don't know what's right. But I wish I had called my brother that night. I wish I had followed my instincts and made a plan to get him into competent hands rather than the three of four under-educated rural doctors who were treating him in a roundabout of on-and-off, contraindicating medications with no supervision. I wish I had been much more insistent and forceful with the doctors that I did talk to. My brother quite literally fell through the cracks. Who's responsibility was his illness? His? Mine? His wife's? Who was ultimately in charge?
My parents have gone back over time and rebuilt a new history of how very ill my brother had been his entire life, making his fate more or less unavoidable. I'm not sure I agree. My brother was happy. He was. But he wasn't like the rest of our stubborn, fighting Irish family. Things were always harder for Pete. Sometimes I wonder if that was so because we expected less from him. I wonder how much our family had to do with the image he had of himself. I wonder sometimes angrily why he wasn't as strong as us. Why he didn't really live his life. He could have, couldn't he? Why did he do this to us? I try and try to find a logic, a rationale, a faith, a meaning, but I can't. He's gone.
If you have someone in your life that suffers from anxiety and depression know this; the phone call you make might just stop that person from ending it. But also know this; it might not. And you can spend eternity looping round your own head and wondering. It's a special kind of hell, losing someone to suicide. My brother is free, but we who remain are wounded forever. It's as if my brother burst the raincloud of his pain and it rained down onto the rest of us in a shower that may abate but will never cease. I want my brother back fiercely. I want him to be alive again so badly that it physically hurts. And there's nothing that I can do. No prayer, no laughter, no song, no memory, no dream can bring him back. I cannot seem to make peace with this but I know I must because it is. It just is.
And so finally, all I am left with is the relief that Pete is no longer hurting. He is okay now. He is free. No more pain, guilt or fear. Only complete freedom and the soaring, peaceful perspective that he must have as he joins every molecule that ever was or ever will be. At the end of the day, death cannot be fought, only accepted. Even suicide, which is the hardest, I think. Violence against oneself. Violence that rips asunder a family who just didn't know how to help. Violence that rips your soul from your heart and leaves your mouth open and gasping.
Today I think about my brother. It's been so long since I've heard his voice. A year feels close enough to try to drag backwards. I keep having the feeling of wanting to claw my way back in time. But the calendar tells me unequivocally that it is not possible.
I drive my car to my office on this sunny day in Los Angeles and know that today I must write this, because even if it hurts, even though I must stop to wipe my tears, I don't want to write anything about this loss that isn't absolutely real. No psychology, no lectures on faith and how those who kill themselves are weak or strong or in a better place. I believe my brother is at peace and I believe I have to begin to accept, to let go, in order for him to really be free, wherever he is. That I believe.
Lost in my thoughts, somewhere on Willoughby, I turn on the radio. The song playing is "Let the Good Times Roll" and I smile, just a little. Pete loved this song. Let the good times roll -- seems hard to imagine and yet, the Jacaranda trees are blooming once again in Los Angeles, shading the sidewalks with their leafy violet and lavender wonder. Another summer is on its way. And the world spins madly on.