Those Left Behind

Alaska Wild Iris (photo credit Lydia Rivers)

I didn’t know if I was ever going to share this story with the world. The recent grief over the suicide of Robin Williams recalled it to my mind, however. Every time I read a referral on social media to his death, I felt a jolt through the center of my being. Many writers and other thoughtful people are sharing knowledge about addiction, depression, and suicide. I laud them, and don’t feel a need to duplicate their good works. I would, however, like to share a story for people who have been already left behind by someone who escaped. I want them to know that reconciliation is possible within oneself, even after a person is dead. I had no inkling of it for over a decade, and yet it happened, quite suddenly. If I can ease one person with hope that the knotted ball of ice and iron may loosen for them as well, it would be worth laying my own experience bare.

Ten days before my 18th birthday, my little brother took his own life. It wasn’t an accident. He used unmistakable deliberation in causing his own body to cease function. I never resented my brother for suicide. I comprehended the depth of his pain from personal experience, just not the lack of whatever it is that made me decide to—no: that made me capable of surviving it.

But I was very angry. That anger started after the shock wore off and it persisted through all of the stages of grief. In counseling they made it sound like one would follow the other in a logical and orderly fashion as I healed, but that’s not what happened at all. The parts of my psyche that are above selfish emotions advanced at a much faster pace than the rest of it in recovering. That made it easy to seem like I was functioning and progressing well, when really the part of me that he had lost himself, that part that drives me to live, was speeding on as fast as she could go and leaving the rest of me behind. When I looked back and had my entire childhood overshadowed by his death, all I could do was fling myself headlong at the future. The other part of me though, the one that does indulge in selfish emotions, came much slower. The fact that I understood the mechanism of his death didn’t mix well with my anger, and so my anger became even more inconvenient to deal with. Of all the irrational and negative emotions that drain my batteries more than anything else, anger has to be the worst.  Who was I to direct it at? No one deserved it.

All of the other jumbled things were far easier to handle. Guilt, depression, acceptance, all of these could be treated or assuaged with efforts from my rational headspace, and help from loved ones. Anger, though, kept me from being able to look at his things, his pictures. It kept me from visiting his gravestone, because even just the thought of confronting it choked me, giving me images of losing myself to that monster and morphing into a terrifying spawn of Cthulhu and disturbing other visitors as I rampage impotently (and loudly) around the burial plot. Such was my inability to process it. I suppose it comes as no surprise then that my anger phase of grief lasted for almost fourteen years. The second stage, which was supposed to dissipate long before the others, long outlasted them. But it dawned on me during the 14th anniversary of his death that the anger was gone. Suddenly I could look at his picture without shutting down emotionally and instead could feel like his big sister again. I don’t know how or when it happened, but I can visit his gravestone without feeling like I’ll turn into a raging tentacle monster. And when I realized that, as I surrounded myself virtually with friends and honored his memory by engaging in a 24 hour marathon of our once-choice activity, any tears I cried were of relief and gratitude that I had the opportunity to be a big sister to someone so great.

Possibly helpful links: Real Stages of Grief , Alliance of Hope 

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