*This post contains conversations about suicide and mental health issues.
4 years ago, my brother David committed suicide. And 1 year ago, my cousin Jasmin did too.
I have a hard time talking about their deaths aloud without sobbing. I’ve never publicly divulged the circumstances of their death. Even now when people ask how many siblings I have, I sometimes leave my brother out of the picture. And that isn’t from a lack of love. It’s just easier to pretend he’s not there because it invites less questions—questions I’m still not prepared to answer.
In the latter half of 2012, my brother confided in my parents that he was having difficulty concentrating in nursing school and subsequently dropped out. It was a few months later that he was formally diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. His therapist later drew parallels to a patient with terminal brain cancer—no combination of medicine or therapy was healing him. As the months droned on, my kind and compassionate older brother slipped deeper into his delusions. He would stay up all night and scream until my dad came in. He stopped driving. He would talk to people that weren’t there. He would pace back and forth for hours. He was in therapy a few days out of the week. He took his medicine every single night without fail. But he could no longer separate his delusions from reality. He was cognizant of the severity of his sickness, and I know this hurt him profoundly.
My sophomore year of college, David and I fell into a routine of phone calls. He would call whenever he wasn’t sure he was having a delusion. I can remember a distinct moment that year when I didn’t pick up, and he blew up my roommate’s phone in panic.
But this isn’t meant to be a story about my brother’s battle with schizophrenia. This is a story about its aftermath.
The first year following his death felt like I was drowning in fire. Grief turned me ugly. I resented my friends for not understanding. I was envious of my peers that could keep pushing forward when I just wanted time to stand still. And man was I angry. I was angry at my parents for not keeping a more careful eye on him. I was angry at my sister for not coming forward after my brother confessed to her he was having suicidal thoughts. And most importantly, I was angry at myself; there’s an enormous sense of guilt that comes with surviving a loved one’s suicide.
So when my cousin committed suicide last spring, all the wounds I thought I had healed had reopened ten-fold. Jasmin came to David’s funeral. She sat with me and held my hand through all my nervous breakdowns. She visited me during my gap year following his death. She read my private blog posts chronicling that first year of grief. I never once felt angry with David, but with Jasmin, my anger boiled. How could she take her own life after seeing how deeply David’s suicide hurt our family?
It took finding her diary entries five months later for me to learn to let go of my anger. I won’t go into details about the contents of those entries; however, it did shed some light on her mental state at the time. The gravity of her sadness was far worse and debilitating than I could ever really understand; how could I stay angry at that?
As painful as their suicides were, I think my grief paled in comparison to our parents. When a parent loses a child, it’s an unnatural order of things. Children are supposed to outlive their parents, not the other way around. I watched over the years as my dad and my uncle meticulously took care of their children’s grave. They routinely cleaned the mud off their gravestones. They replaced flowers, nourished them, and watched them grow as the seasons pass. And maybe that’s the ultimate role of a parent—to take care of your child even in death.
I think the difference of losing someone when they’re young compared to when they’re older is you mourn for the life they could have lived more than the life they necessarily had. You feel robbed of a future you took for granted they’d be a part of. Every year that passes is another year I’ve outlived them. Every success, big or small, I’m reminded they’re not there to share it with me. They’re never going to meet my future husband. My kids will never really get to know them outside of stories I choose to share. But every year that passes means the wave takes longer to reach the shoreline. Grief never really goes away; but with time, it eventually becomes more manageable.
In support group, we often talk about how this is the club that no one wants to be in. We’re never going to get closure from the people that leave us. We’re responsible for making our own closure. And sometimes we have to let our sadness enfold us because it will eventually be the stepping stones we use to build our lives.
I know this because it helped me build mine.
There are so many things in this lifetime we can’t control. No amount of planning or prowess will let us control every single possible outcome. I knew the consequences of not paying enough attention to my loved ones, and Jasmin still died anyway. In hindsight, I think a lot of my grief stemmed from the lack of control. I had to learn it’s okay to not be Superwoman; my cape isn’t big enough to hold together the people I love dearly.
When I entered 2017, I told myself to let myself be as selfish as possible and stop acting overly cautious. And I truly mean that in the best way possible. I needed to feed my own soul. I normally don’t believe in New Year’s Resolutions (namely because people tend to break them), but I made an exception this year. So far, this year has been one of the best years of my life. I listed all the places I wanted to travel to. I’ve been slowly knocking them out one by one. I’ve been reading three times the number of books I’ve read the year before. I’ve been hitting the gym four times a week and eating more than I ever have in my life. I’ve been saying yes more often. I’ve been forcing myself to put in my all in everything I’ve committed to. And last night I boxed away all the things I had left of them and put it under my bed.
I’ve been going through my fair share of growing pains the last couple of months. This is just another chapter of grief I’m working through. But know, I’m doing just fine. And for the first time in a long time, I’m happy.
Because there is always something left to love.
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