I had this brother, see. He committed suicide 14 years ago, an event I can honestly describe, with no melodrama or exaggeration, as the worst thing I've ever experienced. He took himself out in such a way that his body was not discovered for three months. Three long months in which I learned, the whole family learned, that "the worst thing is not knowing" isn't just a cliche', and the true meaning of the word HORROR.
Grieving a suicide is unlike any other kind of grieving, because on top of the sorrow is a pile of anger and guilt. Sorrow because he was gone, guilt because I didn't see clear to stop it. Anger because I felt betrayed and slighted and because of the damage the whole sorry mess did to my parents and my sister and his sons and me. What a selfish prick, I thought. Not only did he decide to exit stage left, he did it in such a way that we were all dragged through three months of fear and grief and uncertainty. Search parties and search dogs and police reports; false reports of sightings and bank activity that raised hopes, only to see them dashed. More guilt because I felt relieved when he was confirmed dead; not the outcome we wanted, but better than not knowing.
A little more anger swirling around the fact that in addition to the anniversary of his death, in August, there's the anniversary of the discovery of what was left of him, which is in November. Anniversaries are hard, and we have two of them. This last August was especially difficult; it's the 19th, and this year a week or two before it fell a celebrity killed himself. High-profile suicides are horrible for survivors, for they bring about the inevitable flood of do-gooding self-help nonsense where everyone tries to convince themselves that it would never happen to them. Look for the signs! These are the red flags! Here are the warnings!
The reality is that someone who means to take themselves out don't give you a heads-up. They don't drop hints. People who are trying to get attention do this; the ones who mean business go off somewhere and do the deed as quickly and efficiently as possible. People will argue with me about this; those people are dead wrong.
Anyway, the histrionic do-gooding is really difficult because it's feels like we're being admonished. We missed the signs, ignored the portents, ran passed the red flags, dropped the ball. We didn't, because that's all crap, but that's what it feels like. And as much as I tried to ignore it all last August sometimes it's just unavoidable, so on top of the guilt and the anger and the grief I already carry around, more guilt is piled.
So this year I prayed. I have a few basic prayers: God grant me wisdom, God grant me strength, and Please Jesus help me not to be such an asshole (h/t to Anne Lamott for this one.) To this I added, "Please help me lose this anger. This particular burden would ease if the anger was gone."
Funny thing, prayers; sometimes you get what you asked for, but make a mental note to add a caveat next time that the vehicle by which the thing is delivered not be unpleasant. My request was granted in the form of excruciating pain.
The expurgated explanation: my brother hurt his back as a very young man, and as a result suffered with severe chronic pain nearly all of his adult life. I knew about his injury, and the one botched surgery plus the additional ones to fix the first one. I knew he went to a rehab hospital for pain management after drugs stopped working. I knew he could never sit for more than 20 minutes and had to either get up and walk around or lay on the floor. I knew he had to quit working. I knew these things, but I did not really understand until I twisted the wrong way and ended up with a bulging discs and sciatica that didn't respond to steroids or physical therapy.
It hurts so bad sometimes I can't think straight. My heart starts pounding; I get flushed and hot. I get the shakes, I get nauseous; I hold my breath and then I get light-headed. All because I sat too long or moved the wrong way.
At some point I realized that my brother had this for 20 years, and had been told there was nothing else they could do for him. This is what he felt like, I thought to myself, except it was worse. Day in, day out, every day for 20 years and no end in sight. Well, hell, I thought. No wonder he opted to bow out. I can't say I blame him. I can't say I wouldn't do the same thing.
So now I'm not angry at him anymore, and that particular load is no longer quite as heavy.