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The Fear of ‘Feeling’ After Losing My Brother

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I lost my brother 31 days ago.

It’s not as if I misplaced him. Or that he’s hiding away somewhere ready to emerge from the shadows. No, he is gone. Still I find it nearly impossible to say the words he diedDead is so harsh, so raw, so final. So instead I say I “lost” him or that he “passed away,” somehow hoping that will soften the blow, even if only to myself.

My brother could make me laugh like no one else with his sharp wit and dry humor. He could frustrate me like no one else with his stubborn bullheadedness. He was bright, articulate and funny. I loved him to the moon. He was chased by demons. On May 28th, they finally caught up.

It’s worse that I found him.

When I say I “found” him, I mean I found his body. Devoid of his spirit, cold and stiff and lifeless on the floor. It is a memory I will never forget — yet one I refuse to remember. Like some intangible recollection that fades away as you try to reach out and grasp it. My mind alights on that image and immediately flits away, diverting the unthinkable elsewhere. Anywhere. It’s not even conscious anymore, it’s automatic, like a light switch flicking off so as not to let you see too far into the dark.

I haven’t cried in 29 days.

The first few hours I broke down, sobbing, hugging myself in a puddle on the floor. I felt so much guilt. I played over and over in my mind what I could have done differently. What if I would have checked on him earlier? What if I had called 911? What if I would have helped him up that afternoon when he stumbled and fell over, instead of cynically asking him not break anything and retreating to another room.

What if…?

You see my brother was an addict. Sometimes drugs, but mostly alcohol. A lot of alcohol, consumed in binges.Perhaps if I would have tried harder, felt more compassion …sympathy… empathy? Maybe I wouldn’t have found him that last morning lifeless on the floor surrounded by his “killer” in the form of countless empty bottles and cans strewn about the room.

Like most families, ours had tried for years to get him help. And I think at times he tried too. I know he didn’t enjoy living the life he was living. He truly wanted something more. Like Jekyll and Hyde — so bright and full of life, and then so dark, grappling with monsters that lived inside his head.

On the second night after, my mom arrived, shattered and broken. I knew I had to be strong for her, for me. For my family, for my friends, for people that I barely knew and those I hadn’t even met. I couldn’t lose it, couldn’t break down…no, it’s more that I wouldn’t. Because that’s what I do, what I’ve always done, smile through the pain.

And from that point on, I crammed everything away and slammed the door.

Until that day I hadn’t even realized it was possible, so seemingly effortless to completely compartmentalize your emotions and shut them away from everyone including yourself.

If you met me on the street you would never know I just lost one of the people I loved most in my life. I laugh, I smile, I go on with life as normal. I keep my mind occupied. I run, I read, I clean the house and walk the dog.

I never let myself be alone with my thoughts for too long for fear of wandering down the wrong corridor and getting lost.

At night I wake sometimes from nightmares. Effigies creeping in, slipping though the cracks and cruelly taunting me while I sleep.

A few days ago I read a passage in “The Pier Falls” by Mark Haddon. He so succinctly puts into a few profound sentences what I can’t seem to put into actual emotion.

 “…but there was a part of his memory which he simply did not visit, and of whose existence other people could only guess, like a locked cellar in a large house from which inexplicable noises might occasionally be heard during the quieter parts of the night, the precise nature of which were irrelevant because the door was bolted fast and only a fool would go down that narrow, mildewed staircase.”

My biggest fear is the dam will break and everything will come flooding in all at once. The feelings, the fear, the rage, the guilt, the raw emotion, all crashing down upon me, suffocating me under its weight.

My second biggest fear is that it won’t. Not ever. That I won’t ever cry, won’t ever hurt, experience pain or anger. That I won’t ever really feel anything again, and be removed from the things that make life rich — real joy, genuine happiness or love.

People tell me that I’m strong.

But what is real strength? Is it facing your demons, or vanquishing them?

I don’t have the answer to that question. Someday, perhaps, I will.

And that’s the thought that saves me.

Originally published: July 1, 2016
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