Post by Anne Gordon
My name is Anne and this is my story about dealing with grief after the suicide of my brother.
I’m a 35-year-old woman working in the film industry, a wife, and a mother to two young children. I would say I’ve always been an adventurous, positive person. I love my job, since I am able to do things most people would love to do – travel the world and document the customs of its people and the beauty of its hidden corners. Despite being a self-confessed maverick, and having little fear when facing new and sometimes daunting tasks, there is one fear that plagues me every night, mainly when I am alone and everyone is asleep: the fear of losing my children to suicide, the way I lost my soulmate: my brother Anthony.
Anthony and I were part of a big family. We were four children; Anthony was two years older than me and we had an older and younger brother. Our early childhood was happy. Dad was the most charming man you could imagine, and Mom was a little more distant but always ensured we were cared for.
There was one problem in our picture perfect family, of course – Dad was an alcoholic, and the fighting with Mom was so frequent that they got a divorce when I was around 13.
Dad was financially well-off and did not work, yet when he left the home, he grew angry at Mom and stopped supporting us financially. Mom worked full-time but had always counted on Dad’s backing to pull the family through. When we hadn’t heard from him in months, she sent the best possible ambassador in the home to Dad: Anthony. He was always Dad’s favorite, since he was sensitive and quiet and seemed to weather Mom’s devastation and Dad’s absence better than the rest of us . . . that is, he hid his sadness better than the rest of us, as well as his anger.
Anthony did great – Dad started helping out financially again, but every few months the pattern would repeat itself. Dad would stop paying, Mom would send Anthony, and he was forced, at the age of 15, to be a bridge between two adults who should have managed to communicate without his help.
At around this time, Anthony began hanging out with a rebellious crowd and ‘dabbling in drugs’. None of us knew how serious his problem was – just that he would sometimes disappear for long weekends and that his grades were slipping. Friends told us that the crowd he was in drank and took drugs but Anthony always seemed to hold it together – at least, that is how I perceived it at the time.
I was 21 and at University when I discovered that Anthony had taken his life. He had overdosed on opioids, intentionally. We knew because he left Mom a note. He said he was sorry but that he felt that he had no motivation to go on living. I was devastated; he was my soulmate, my everything when we were growing up.
Even when we drifted apart and he started taking drugs, when we would get together at family meals or go for a walk in the park next to our home, we always told each other our deepest secrets, desires and dreams. I thought Anthony had dreams he wanted to fulfil, yet I realized that he just put up a front when he was with me, told me what I wanted to hear, made everything seem okay, because that is what I wanted. It had always been the same. Anthony had always been good at hiding his pain and being diplomatic, but he suffered deeply inside and battled depression, something he had never been diagnosed with but which I always knew he faced.
It took me a long time to find something good about living after Anthony died. I felt like my whole foundation had crumbled, as though I had played a role in masking Anthony’s problems, forced him to be someone he was not. My relationship with Mom was also affected – as the years went by I started blaming her for sending Anthony to ask for money and to talk about issues she should have spoken with my dad about. Anthony was not even an adult; why should he bear the brunt of their pathetic conflict resolution skills?
When I started college, I changed completely. I had always been a stay-at-home type of person with few friends, yet I really got into the party culture, drinking to the point of blacking out on occasions. I didn’t think I needed help until one day, I woke up in a public park, dizzy and with a headache and without any recollection of what I had been up to the night before. Eventually, my roommate at the dorm suggested that I see a therapist. She, too, had lost a sister when they were younger and she said that she would never have been able to cope had it not been for professional help.
It took years of therapy to accept that I was not to blame, and to stop feeling guilty about building the life that Anthony would never have.
Grieving for the loss of a brother is devastating as it is, but even more so when your brother was the one person who most understood you, who most shared your sense of humor and the very best memories you can recall.
My therapist helped me in many ways. She enlightened me on the burden I was placing on myself – I learned to see that it was not my fault. I was a child too, and just as damaged as Anthony. I also learned that grief comprises many stages – that I could feel better on some days and slip back into despair on others; that it was all a road leading forward and that it was okay to sometimes miss Anthony as though it was the first day after he had gone. She also taught me that it is possible to regain hope after a suicide in the family.
Dealing with grief after a suicide doesn’t go away, but is an on-going process and becomes more bearable as time goes by. Sometimes, I manage to almost forget Anthony’s face but other times, when I am traveling and I see a majestic waterfall or imposing rainforest, my mind always wanders back to the one person I wish were with me to experience it all: Anthony.
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