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A Sister's Grief

Excerpted from I am Not Myself: A Year Grieving Suicide

By Julie Gray, is a regular contributor to the Huffington Post. She directs the Just Effing Entertain Me Screenwriting Competition and The Golden Age of Television Competition.


On movie screens around the world right now, people are dying dramatically. Memorable deaths. Breathy, sad, ironic deaths. Spectacularly violent, torturous deaths. We are drenched in and numbed by video game make-believe, stuntmen, prop guns and fake blood.

But in real life, people die every day, according to the newspaper. In riots and protests and freak accidents. Of old age, of starvation, of horrible diseases. In Gaza, in France, in Russia and in India. In train accidents and mine collapses and of cancer. It is horrible. We put the paper down and turn off the news.  

And then it happens to you. In your family. And it's surreal. It's the mother of all record scratches. It is the mother of all unchangeable facts. It has ripples that will be felt down the years. Your birthday. His birthday. Thanksgiving and Christmas. Mother's Day. Father's Day.

Suicide is the mother of all woulda-shoulda-couldas.

I am busying myself trying to get back to normal in an attempt to blunt the excruciating pain of the loss of my brother four weeks ago. Four whole weeks. Four weeks and one day since he was on this planet. And now he is not. It's still unbelievable to me. Unthinkable. But more and more the fact that my brother is dead– such an ugly word– is becoming a fact, not a mind-bending impossibility.

Suicide is the howl that sucks out your breath and hollows out your insides in one jagged pull.

Dealing with a person in the throes of serious clinical depression is like paddling madly on the starboard side of the Titanic, trying to get that huge ship to avoid the looming iceberg. You just can't slow down that kind of momentum. Paddle ceaselessly toward the green light as you might. And with each dip of the paddle this can't happen this can't happen this happens this can't happen. And then it does. And the icy water gushes in and the ship is fatally wounded. And you watch it go down, panting and exhausted. And furious. And helpless. And guilty. I could have paddled harder.

I look at the picture on his memorial pamphlet and my heart clenches up hard. This can't happen. But it did. Gone. Dead

Grief is a strange, many-faceted thing. It creeps up on you at odd moments, on little pig feet, and takes you by surprise like an undertow. Other times, when one is, say, having a laugh, one realizes one should be grieving and not laughing and one reminds oneself of the horror at hand and simmers down guiltily.

I exclaimed at the dozens of floral arrangements that filled my home with their uniformly white, sickly sweet smell, and the cards that kept coming every day. How loved I felt! How special! Until I remembered that this is the result of the immovable fact that my brother is dead. He's dead. Gone.  

I have learned that one should never shop grieving or one is liable to come home with three pounds of organic gumdrops and two bottles of Belgian beer. One should never drink Ouzo grieving, and I think that is self-evident.

One step forward, two steps back. The bizarre begins to take on a hint of normalcy. The unthinkable has come to pass. It's over, despite my constant imaginings in which I roll back the tape and try to change the ending. Paddling ceaselessly.


07/09/2019 at 7:18 PM
My brother took his life in 1988. Today isn’t any easier than the day I went to his house for what should have been a birthday party for my nephew who would have been five. When I drove closer to his house I had to pull over and park. I saw ambulances, and police cars, and perhaps worst of all, the local news vans. I parked my car, tucked a birthday gift under one arm, and began walking to his house. My Mom came running up to me, and told me that my loving adorable goofball of a brother had shot his two children and then himself. I collapsed face down on the ground. A police officer came running over to me as the camera lens taped everything. My Mom and I were put in the back of a squad car. A camera was pressed against the window. Voyeurism at its worst. Thirty- one years later I still suffer from insomnia. The stress of the entire unspeakable and taboo situation, taking care of my Mom and Dad (who discovered the bodies), cleaning out my brothers house with help from friends. Six months later the chronic fatigue and insomnia started. No amount of therapy has been able to rest my mind. I cried a lot. I cried everyday for three years. I moved away from the state where this happened and still I can’t sleep. I will never understand what happened. My brother was a good person, brother, son and father. He had legal custody of his children. People judge, so I usually say they died from carbon monoxide poisoning. My brother was born on December 25th, and that year was the first time ever where there was no tree, no dinner, no gifts to unwrap. Thanksgiving and Christmas and my brother’s birthday and New Years, and then my Mom’s birthday, and then Easter. Nothing would ever be the same. We didn’t have these holidays until my other brother had a child. After several years, I convinced my Mom that it was time to put up a tree. By then, my Mom had another grandchild. The tree my Mom eventually put up was a table top tree about two feet tall. Years later, that is still the only tree she puts up. My family doesn’t mention his name. They don’t talk about him or his two children. I loved those kids. I told my brother that if anything ever happened to him that I would raise the kids. I wasn’t given that opportunity. I don’t have children of my own. My baby brother. I will always love you.
12/07/2018 at 8:20 AM
My younger brother, ( and only sibling) committed suicide in 1997 at age 20. Still, not a day goes by that I wonder why, and wonder what part I had in his sadness or inability to cope with life. Sometimes I am still angry at him, sometimes at myself, sometimes at my parents for whatever role they may have played in it. Mostly though, I miss what could have been, and wish we had been closer siblings.
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