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When Guilt Meets Depression After the Death of a Sibling

Life is really weird sometimes. As someone who has depression, I’ve been saying that since 2008 when I was diagnosed. However, after my original battle with self-harm, I felt like life was going pretty well. It wasn’t great by any means, but it wasn’t bad either. Everything was manageable. Then, the year of 2015 began to draw to a close, and everything changed for me.

In September of 2015, my older brother, Patrik was diagnosed with stomach cancer. I love the medical field, so I immediately put my trust in the doctors at the cancer center where he would be receiving his treatment. Patrik was a healthy 24-year-old man. I didn’t have any reason to believe he wouldn’t beat cancer. It was just a minor roadblock in his life. That’s how the entire family viewed it. My grandparents are super religious, so they began to pray about it. I’m the exact opposite, so I just trusted what the doctors were telling us.

It turned out that what they weren’t telling us was the problem. No one ever mentioned to us that Patrik was Stage IV from the moment he was diagnosed. We didn’t find that out until right before the doctors told us there was nothing more that could be done for him. Hearing a medical professional tell you there’s nothing they can do for your brother is probably like being punched in the gut and kicked in the temple at the same time. I don’t remember how I responded. I probably didn’t respond, to be quite honest. I went into a state of shock.

Once the shock wore off, I realized something. My brother was going to die. There was nothing anyone could do to save his life. That thought sent me into a complete stage of denial. Maybe the doctors were wrong. Maybe we needed to go somewhere else.

On March 16, 2016, Patrik passed away. That day is burned into my mind so well I would swear to you it happened yesterday. In that moment, my life stopped. It was completely over. How was I supposed to continue living without my big brother? He was my best friend. I wanted to believe I was dreaming, and I probably would have believed that if it wasn’t for the fact that I sat in a funeral and stood next to a hole as we laid him to rest. It was real life. This was really happening, and there was nothing I could do about it.

Enter the depression. It was like a painful reminder that I was human, but it was also a desire to be with my brother. I didn’t want to imagine what life would be like without Patrik, and I didn’t want to go through any of it. I just wanted to wake up and be with him. That’s what I told myself every night. If I don’t wake up tomorrow, it’s fine. I’ll be with Patrik. Obviously, that wasn’t in the cards for me because I continued to wake up in the morning, and I was guilty about it. I didn’t want to wake up and live my life because Patrik couldn’t wake up and live his.

It’s hard to explain the amount of guilt and anger I hold towards myself. There are situations when I will crack a genuine smile, and then I’m so guilty I’ve done it. I don’t want to have a moment of happiness if there’s no Patrik to have it with me. That’s not fair to myself, and I know it’s not what Patrik wants for me. Yet, every night, I repeat that same thought over and over. If you don’t wake up tomorrow, that’s OK. I’m not actively looking for a way to be with Patrik. Not to say that the thought doesn’t cross my mind. It has crossed my mind, and it will probably cross my mind for the rest of my life. However, I’m not trying to kill myself on the daily basis. I just don’t care if I don’t wake up.

The guilt continues to eat at my mind every day. I have to remind myself that it’s OK to smile and be happy when I’m with my friends. These are things Patrik would expect out of me. The guilty, depressed side of my mind doesn’t see that. Maybe I’m afraid of the future, and I have every right to be afraid. I’ve never been afraid of dying. It’s the thought of dying young that scares me. I used to think that we were immune to these things. I’m 22. It’s not something I should have to think about, and yet, every day, it’s the first thing I think about when I wake up.

I won’t tell you that I know how to make it easier because I don’t. This is a road I’ve never had to travel on before. I will tell you that you will make it through it. It will hurt, and your mind will be really rough with you. I tell myself that it can’t be this bad forever, and that’s probably true. It can’t be like this forever, but it can be like this for a long time. During this long time, I’ve done my best to surround myself with friends and family who care about me. Not everyone knows how bad my depression actually is, but having people around you who care does make it hurt a little less.

If you’ve been through something like this or you’re going through it now, I want you to know how sorry I am. If nothing else, I have been where you are, and I can tell you from experience how hard it is. Fight every day. The sun will come up tomorrow, even if you don’t want to be there to see it. In my case, that sun is Patrik. He’s reminding me every day that it’s OK. Even if I don’t see it now, it will be OK one day.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741

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Thinkstock photo via JackF