My brother’s birthday is approaching, he would have been forty nine on the thirty first. I felt the most overpowering, overwhelming grief when he died. I felt a sense of physical separation. I felt excruciating physical and emotional pain. He was an addict. Alcohol. Growing up in Britain where a direction-less, drunken culture exists, he became an addict over time, using it as a crutch, after some traumatic life events. He said the alcohol made him feel normal. When asking him what he wanted out of life, “to feel normal,” was always on the list. He suffered terrible shyness and anxiety. At first, the alcohol helped him relax, particularly in those social situations that he found stressful. He managed to keep a job down. His job and his partner, curbed the alcohol intake, but when she died and he was made redundant for having time off sick, the bitter pill of his life became easier to swallow with an eight pack of lager.
So, the alcohol eased his pain. Made him feel normal. Took that nasty edge off life. Drinking untill incoherent and legless, became a way of life. Jobless, heartbroken, anxious and feeling alone, alcohol became his very good friend. He would barely acknowledge being an ‘alcoholic’, “I just like a drink man.” He would say trying to convince me that his twenty pints a day habit was a worthwhile useful hobby.
The years passed. My mother and I normalised his drunkenness. We lived with it, like the demon in the room, for whom an extra place was set at the table. By the time my brother acknowledged that he was no longer in control of his drinking, it was for him too late. His addiction had hold of him. It drove his behaviour. Controlled his temper and his emotions. The only thing that mattered was where his next drink was coming from. This was a huge strain emotionally and financially on my mother and I. I hated him, the alcoholic. I hated him for abandoning us, for absolving the responsibility for his own life.
He wanted to stop. He tried everything. All the services and self help groups. All the available medication. It was only the alcohol that made him feel normal, without it he didn’t feel like a human being, ironically, it was the alcohol that stripped him of his human dignity. I visited him on the afternoon of his death. He looked so beautiful and young again. His previously contorted face was smooth and peaceful. I kissed his forehead. He was cold, but I knew that in taking his own life, he had achieved in death what had escaped him in life. Peace and contentment and freedom from his cruel addiction.
In his suicide note, he told us that he loved us and that he had given up. I still cry for the life that was wasted. I still cry for the injustice and lack of help or support he received. I cried on my birthday because he wasn’t here to say ‘Happy Birthday’ to me and I cry as his birthday approaches because he is not here for me to return the greeting.
My brother and only sibling had always been around and then very suddenly he was gone. Nothing exists on earth to prepare for such a loss. Seventeen months have passed since my brother’s suicide. I still have dark days. I wished for him to be well and to get better. Unfortunately, his solution for his problems was to take his own life. There are days when the thought of this is so painful I too could lose all my reasons for living. But there are days when the grief is mild, or ‘forgotten’ and the old cliche is true, life goes on.
I have had some dark days recently and went to the gym. I am fat and unfit, (being blunt and honest), and I walked on the treadmill for twenty seven minutes, but for three minutes out of thirty I upped the speed and ran. I needed to prove to myself, that what I believe sometimes to be impossible, is infact very possible. The gym had played the Bon Jovi song, ‘It’s My Life,’ and I made use of a serendipitous moment. During my three minute jog, I visualised running as Forest Gump had ran from one side of the United States to the other and back again. Ah! well, you may laugh and snigger, but for me it was a moment of faith and believing again, that miracles can happen, (it took Forest Gump longer than three minutes to get from one side of the USA to the other). Close your eyes. Believe it. There are days when I cling to any reason for staying alive.
My bereavement from suicide is like constantly having something missing. I always had a brother, he was always there and sometimes to compensate my loss I give my achievements up for him, so he too can experience a three minute miracle on a treadmill on earth. Realistically though I know that this is my way of keeping him alive. For all he left grief and loss behind him, I do believe my brother made the best decision he could for himself with the resources he had available to him at that time. Cold comfort I might add. The peace he achieved in death, does not change my grief, does not change how much I miss him, nor does it change the torment he suffered in the last few days/weeks before his death. The comfort in his death comes only to me in the knowing that his unbearable earthly suffering has ceased.
Here is a resource for anybody bereaved from suicide or anyone who is thinking of taking their own life.
Stay alive. You are loved and cherished more than you know.