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What Still Remains After My Brother Died by Suicide

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Editor's Note

If you experience suicidal thoughts or have lost someone to suicide, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

Dear Brother,

The winter blues have gotten me again. From the moment New Year’s Eve is here, I know I will have to face the torment of January. The anniversary of your death by suicide comes quickly and now it has passed. Another year’s remembrance over, but the memories live on.

Some may question why I’m writing so publicly about something so personal. Well, it took 11 years, so there’s that. Also if anything I write to you helps others grieving those who have died by suicide, I would feel honored. To reach out to those fighting against it or surviving attempts; may this help them in some way too.

Eleven years ago I guess you thought your actions had brought an end. They didn’t. It was just the beginning; of pain, regret, loss, grief, retrieving memories and learning how to live in a radically altered world.

I don’t blame you for it. I know that life must have been torment for you to consider suicide, particularly on Mum’s birthday. I only hope now, as I have done since that day, that somehow you found peace.

If I condemn you, I condemn myself.

I know how it is to feel like the only option to ending the relentless agony of living and feeling too much is to find seeming oblivion in death.

I have spent hours in the past contemplating the darkness of suicide. It seemed more preferable than fighting in the harsh light of life.

I know the strife of tussling with life and death, particularly at night when sleep evades you and the monstrous voice of mental illness whispers in your ear that to die would be bliss.

I know the battle between your true self and deceitful depression as you agonize over whether you could do this; to yourself and your loved ones.

I know the tears that splash the ink of a suicide letter as you try to find the words to explain. The words seem futile, crass and basic. How can you ever convince those who inhabit the “real” world that you have been living in horror?

My heart still clenches every time I remember seeing those splashes upon paper. I touched them. I needed to connect with the last part of you even if it was just your watery pain.

I refuse to ever state that you “committed” suicide.

I will not ever render you a criminal for taking your own life. It may sound controversial to others but it was your life, you chose what to do with it.

Do not get me wrong. Every day I wish you had not decided upon suicide. I wish you could have seen that it was a temporary decision made painfully permanent. However, you did not commit a crime.

You were beguiled by the seductive voices that told you it was better this way; that the hurt would end and you were sparing your family and friends from it any further. That monstrous voice of depression committed the crime, not you.

Life had to go on. We never thought that it would. I was mystified by how everyone carried on living. Did they not know that my brother had died, by suicide even, and I was holding my breath? Did they not know that I thought by not allowing myself to exhale, I could hold you inside for a little longer?

We all have to breathe though, and it was so bloody hard when I did. I could barely function. I had to tell myself how to inhale and exhale. I had to train my brain in how to help me to walk, speak, look people in the eyes and just be a human being. I often failed.

I will not speak entirely for our family as their memories are their own. I will state though what I witnessed: parents needing parenting; siblings trying to pull closer only to unravel apart; your son too young to understand and true friends who loved and were there because no words could ever make it OK.

We went into stasis for a while.

Then one day we had to move.

That is not to say that we moved on and forgot you. We never will. You more than made your mark with your large personality, your cheekiness, your silly noises, your penchant for designer gear and your charm with the ladies.

Who can forget you if they have ever even remotely been part of your life?

We did, however, have to pick up life, bit by painstaking bit. I know that’s what you wanted. You wrote that. We did but in a whole new, there’s a void, kind of way.

It has never failed to surprise me how often people flinch or change the subject when I mention your mode of death. I am not ashamed and I refuse to allow them to make me ashamed of you.

You are not suicide. It is how you died. It doesn’t define you. I am saddened though that for some their lasting memory will be of you being the bloke who “committed” suicide. That is not you.

I know it sounds like a barbaric act. I will not deny the scariness of the violence of suicide. I cannot to this day witness the act of how you killed yourself on television. I understand how people are horrified by it but the act is the terror, not the person. It is a conduit, albeit shocking, of a choice that they have made.

I will never condone suicide as my desire is that no one will ever feel the need to do it, but I live in the real world. I am about prevention rather than casting aspersions upon those that attempt or see through the action of suicide.

I don’t want that to be the lasting memory of you. I sometimes dream of you both living and in the process of dying. I am glad to say that the living dreams are more prevalent now. That’s you; living on in memory, not as a suicide casualty.

It hurt when you died and people crossed the street because they didn’t know what to say to the family. We don’t know if it’s because people don’t know what to say to those whose brother and son has died, or that they felt awkward about it being a suicide. All I do know is that we didn’t need it. Just a simple nod, a kind smile or a few basic words would have done.

It has been difficult to negotiate since your death the cruel estimations some make of those who take their own lives. I have equally bitten my tongue and railed against them.

May they never know a loved one who genuinely believes that suicide is the only answer. Let them judge then where they will spend eternity or the apparent selfishness of their actions.

Another thing I have hated is hearing people condemning those that have died as a result of suicide for being cowardly. That is so easy to say when you have never felt it or seen it first-hand. I cannot speak for you brother, but I can speak for me.

Fighting against death is exhausting. Getting through that battle without giving in to the impulse should make you feel like the winner that you are. Instead you feel like a failure.

You believe the lies that the desire to die is your own, rather than an illness or situation that is trying to lead you down a dark path of suicide.

You despise yourself for thinking of it. You believe that it all comes from a badness buried inside of you.

The guilt eats you up. You cannot look at your loved ones. You feel like you have failed them just thinking about it.

You may make suicide attempts as did you and I, brother.

You survive. You wish you hadn’t when you see the pain in your family’s eyes. You feel smothered and caught out. You feel the guilt and anger; at them and you. You are placed upon constant “death watch.”

I am guilty of this. I have wished so many times in the last 11 years that I could have done something to stop this final curtain from falling upon you. I have beaten myself up for not spotting the signs well enough as someone who has been there.

I now know that there was nothing I could have done to intercede. I may have had some knowledge of suicide, but I was not you. I did not know how far you would go and when.

You fought a good fight brother. I admire your bravery. You wrestled and then reconciled with death. I could say that I know that if you had held on longer, better days could have come, but that helps no one now.

I feel tearful every time I consider how lonely and heartbroken you must have been on that night. That is bravery, not cowardice.

You’re still here in my heart and mind.

I look at photographs of you and smile at that wide toothy grin.

I feel sad when I reflect upon what you have missed in our family’s lives.

Unannounced feelings of desperately missing you occasionally blindside me.

I’ll say your name and remember that it’s one of the best sounds I want to hear.

I’ll acknowledge your faults and foibles and not cast you as a saint just because you’re deceased.

I look at your son and marvel at what a great young man he is now, and how proud I’m sure you would have been of him.

The day you died wasn’t the ending you thought it would be. I guess you thought it was. That was the point. However you live on.

Eleven years later and we are still linked. The cord has not been severed because of suicide. I still count you in my number of siblings when I’m asked by strangers how many I have. You didn’t stop being my brother just because you died. That will never end.

Your death was never the end.

With love from the Duchess (I will allow this mocking nickname you had of me just this once). x

Follow this journey on Lisa Sell’s site.

Getty image via AlexLinch

Originally published: May 20, 2019
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