Finding Healing After Losing My Brother to Suicide
We’ve all heard the saying, “Time heals all wounds” when referring to emotional wounds. It’s most commonly heard after the death of a loved one, but there are many other ways one can suffer an emotional wound. You could have gone through a bitter divorce, been fired from a good job or you could have been the victim of an abusive relationship.
But what is time? Five seconds is time. Five hundred years is time. Saying “time heals all wounds” doesn’t really tell us anything. Yes, I’ll agree it does take time for a wound to heal, but I’ll argue that time itself is not the actual healer. Much like a physical wound, in order for an emotional wound to heal properly, you must receive some sort of treatment. If untreated, an open wound can actually get worse with time.
I remember when I was 10 years old, walking through the living room of our house. I saw my parents sitting on the couch as I continued towards to the front door on my way out. Once outside I saw him – the neighborhood cat. Not a house cat, but not a feral cat either. He had the benefits of a domestic cat without the responsibility! You could pet him…and I did, just like I had many times before. But he also had the negative traits of a stray cat, and on that day he decided to bite me right on top of my hand!
I held up my hand in horror as I watched blood trickle down my arm. I thought it was strange that it didn’t hurt; but I now realize I was probably in shock. Or perhaps my body was producing adrenaline as a defense mechanism, so I could react to the situation. But I was only 10 years old, I didn’t know what to do; but I knew someone who probably did, and they were right on the other side of that door. I walked back inside, and showed my parents what had happened. I’ll never forget what my dad said. He calmly looked at me and said, “Son, just give it time.”
I’m kidding! Of course he didn’t say that! He immediately jumped up and grabbed a shirt from the laundry basket to wrap my hand with, in order to stop the bleeding! He then put his arms around me in a loving embrace and said, “Son, it’s going to be OK.” My mother went to the medicine cabinet and grabbed some bandages and hydrogen peroxide…things you keep on hand with three kids in the house…and cleaned and dressed my wounds. It was now time to let time to do its thing.
Or maybe not. After a few days of cleaning and redressing the puncture wounds on my hand, it didn’t appear to be getting any better. If fact, it had gotten worse. It looked infected. My parents took me to our family doctor, and there we learned that I had acquired staph infection…and it was bad. I was scheduled for surgery immediately. I don’t remember the details or objectives of the surgery itself, but I do remember what the doctor told my parents. He said that if they had waited 24 hours to take me in – if they have given it more time – I would have surely lost my hand.
I didn’t lose my hand – the surgery was a success – and I went home the following day. However, I still was not healed. I couldn’t function… My hand was paralyzed. The next step in my treatment was physical therapy. I remember fighting through pain and tears those first few days, as my therapist worked with me to get my fingers to bend 90 degrees. A few more days of therapy, and I was able to touch the base of my hand with my fingertips. Shortly after that, I was finally able to clench my fist! I was healed! Yes, there was still some pain – the wounds were still sore to the touch – but it was a manageable pain. With time, I had found healing.
I still have the scars on my hand, and I’m reminded of this whole ordeal every time I see them. They also helped me to make a comparison to the treatment needed for emotional wounds. More specifically, an emotional wound I suffered many years later, at the age of 24.
I was living in Greenville at the time, but was starting the process of moving to Dallas. I had been apartment hunting on the morning of January 18, 2006, when I got the call. My dad called me to let me know that my youngest brother, Jason, had just died by suicide at 19 years old. He had been dealing with some untreated emotional wounds of his own for quite some time.
I went into shock. The following days were spent comforting other family members, making funeral arrangements, and finishing up finding an apartment. I also had the challenge of settling into a new job during all of this. Because of these distractions, it was several months before the pain really hit…and it hit hard. I didn’t know what to do; but I knew there was probably someone who did. My health insurance hadn’t kicked in yet, so I couldn’t afford to see a psychologist or a licensed therapist, but I got online and started researching other options. I found a support group, Survivors of Suicide (S.O.S.). We met every week for several months, sharing stories, photos and a lot of tears. This was very instrumental in my healing process.
Around the time the program ended was the one-year anniversary of Jason’s death, and I posted on social media some thoughts about suicide awareness. Six months later was Jason’s birthday, and I posted about the different stages of grief. I have continued this through this day, and I hope I’ve helped someone along the way, even though the main purpose of my writings was to help myself.
I recently joined Toastmasters International to help grow my leadership skills, and many of the speeches I have given have been on topics regarding death, grief and other difficult subjects. Over time, I have found healing. Yes, there’s still pain…but it’s a manageable pain. Whenever I hear Blind Melon’s song, “No Rain,” I get choked up, as it was one of Jason’s favorites. On the flip side however, I can laugh when I watch a Simpson’s episode that I originally saw with Jason – and I couldn’t do that when the wound was fresh and still open. I’ve found healing.
I wanted to write something simple such as, “5 Steps to Heal Your Emotional Wounds,” but I’ve now realized this wouldn’t be completely honest, because what worked for me is not necessarily going to work for you. The support group was great for me, but you may not be someone who can just open up to complete strangers…and that’s OK! Like I said before, there are several types of emotional wounds. There are also several types of treatment, and you’re going to need to find something that works for you. I will not be giving a bullet pointed list – not this time, anyway.
However, I will tell you what I think you should not do…and that’s nothing. If you ignore your pain… If you let that infection go untreated… Even with all the time in the world, you will not find healing.
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