Last I wrote it was four weeks since my brother ended his life. I say that now instead of "suicide" because I've decided that word is too ugly. Suicide brings up images of Billy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Of blood, of nakedness, of drowning in the river with a rock in your pocket. No, my brother opted out.
Now it's been a scant seven weeks since Pete opted out and I have been surprised by moments of grief so seemingly random that I feel like I'm crawling through the jungle avoiding an unseen enemy. It's like grief-association: the sound of KISS on the radio in someone else's car and suddenly it's 1978 and the sound of "Beth" drifts from my brother's room. And he's outside, washing his El Camino, his first car, on a hot summer morning. The sound of a lawn mower and there he goes, shirt tied around his waist, mowing the lawn in the heat.
I've traveled a fair bit and as never before, I am struck by the cultural signifiers of being an American. And one of those signifiers is the need to patch things up with solutions like new stuff, therapy and medication. Don't get me wrong, I'm ON plenty of happy pills and I'm going to stay that way. But there is a knee-jerk instinct we share collectively, of needing to FIX a problem. "Why don't you go to therapy?" is something I have heard more times in the past several weeks than ever before in my entire life. I wouldn't think twice about anyone else who did in this situation. But you know, aside from a broken heart and a tendency to dissolve into tears a few times a week, I think I'm okay. I think this is how this is supposed to feel. I don't like it, but it seems about right to me. I have to traverse this, along with the other members of my family, my mom, dad and sister. We who are left.
Perhaps I am particularly lucky to have a wide and caring circle of friends who have been there for me in ways large and small. Scratch particularly lucky, I'm going to go with spectacularly blessed. Even so, they do not know the half of how often I sit on my couch motionless and lost in a fog of grief. But they are there for me and I know that.
I talk to my parents, I answer emails from people all over the world who are my clients or who read my earlier article. I spend a lot of time reconciling my groovy, everything-is-energy spirituality with the fact that Pete opted out and I calculate and recalculate but I can't get it to add up. I can't feel okay, just yet, that my brother is now part of the all that is. I want him back. Here. Now.
I have had terrible feelings like that if I had to lose one sibling, I'm glad it wasn't my sister. And I have hated myself like hellfire for thinking such a thing. I have had feelings of relief that he's gone and the terrible chapter of being on tenterhooks, worried about him every minute of every day is over. I wonder at how neatly he removed his wedding ring, cell phone and wallet and left them tucked safely in the hutch in the kitchen. I think I have felt his presence at least three or four times, a wave of playful cajoling. My brother was really good at cajoling anyone into anything, with a tickle and a smile. Come onnnnn, he'd say. Come on, Julie. You can do it. I still can't look at pictures of him.
I talk to my mother almost every day. Sometimes she emails me and I can't answer for a couple of days because I can't look directly at the depth of her pain. Which she is bearing with some aplomb, I might add. She is far, far stronger than I ever gave her credit for. Must be her Irish-from-Kentucky blood. Dad is being quieter about the whole thing. That's his New England reserve. My sister has days about like mine; and our grandmother, aged 100, has no idea what's happened. When my mother visits her twice weekly, she asks how Pete is. My mother says he's okay.
You can't go around it, you can't go over it, no, you have to go through grief with wobbly legs. Like patches of black ice, grief takes you by surprise and spins you round the other way. You could smoke anything and it tastes better, someone said the other day. And there's my brother on his deck, proudly smoking the Thanksgiving turkey with that goofy grin of his. And there I am at Whole Foods in West Hollywood, crowded with hipsters and the odd hippy when I hear Boston, faintly, on the loudspeaker. "Don't Look Back." And there's my brother, tanned and handsome, eighteen years old, ready to take on the world armed with an eight-track player and his goofy grin. I can attest to the fact that your heart is a muscle because mine clenches up so hard. The other shoppers don't notice, they hum distractedly. But the lady with the cart full of leeks and cantaloupe, the one with the mop of blonde hair and the easy grin has just had to pull over and breathe it out for a minute. The other shoppers move past me, unaware of the fact that I have to lean up against the lentils to get it together. Time slows, then somebody politely asks me to move and I do. I have to finish shopping.