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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.


07/09/2018 at 8:06 PM
R. H.
Today is the 6th anniversary of my little brother's death. He took his life this day in 2012 via a shot-gun to his own head, listening to existential propaganda and believing that his death would, in some way, benefit his family as he believed himself a burden. My brother was lazy, opinionated, off-putting for some, and yet extraordinarily brave. He was annoying yet brilliant. He was at times excruciatingly frustrating; and yet, me was my little brother, my P.I.C. (Partner In Crime)... I found him frustrating, and yet I loved him so dearly (Probably more than I ever admitted to him)!!! I am a therapist... a FREAKING Therapist, and I did not see this coming... Imagine the excruciating guilt... My 24 year old brother was suffering from, not only depression, but severe despair... and I missed it... I find myself wishing that I could take my training and education and put it into work in my own family; yet alas, this is not possible... We often miss the cues of those most close to us because they are just that... TOO Close to us... Every "death day anniversary," holiday and birthday, I find myself beating myself up for not seeing the signs in someone so close to me... And I act the martyr, pretending my pain is not real in deference to my parents... yet this self-punishment is frivolous... It does me, my parents and my family no good... 6 years since my "little bro" killed himself, I continue to do the martyr thing... I am considered a "Forgotten Mourner" in many circles... as a "Big Sister" of a person who completed suicide, I find myself forgotten in the mourning letters, posts and tributes to and by my parents... as though they were the only ones who lost *CR*, but he was a significant portion of my life also... *CR* was my little brother... a significant (albeit, often irritating) portion of my life too... His death killed a piece of me, too... but it is highly interesting that everyone seems to forget that the individual lost to suicide affects more than just the parents or spouses... I hold no grudges... And I continue to work through my own "crap" with a fellow therapist... yet writing this post helps me to feel less resentful that I, as a "simple" sibling victim of his suicide and not a "significant" presence am equally impacted by his choice and marked absence from my life...
05/29/2018 at 7:21 PM
Ann Ramsey
Mylittle brother laid down across the railroad tracks. He also called and wanted me to come be with him. So I tried to call in sick but my boss said I was fired if I did. So I gave him my work number and promised to take him out to breakfast when I got off that morning. That work phone number was on a scrap of paper covered in blood was still in his jeans pocket. I would give anything to go back and tell my boss to shove it. He was born May 29,1963 and he died May 29, 1995. Tonight is May 29, 2018. I am drinking and crying again as I have every May 29 for the last 23 years. I know he was in a lot of pain, I was told he had gone outside the bar after she walked in with another man, and cried for what seemed to others who were trying to console him for hours before he started off presumably for home and wound up on the railroad tracks. She didn't even come to his funeral and we announced it in the paper and invited anyone who wanted to come. 23 years and all these details are as fresh as they were in 1995. Will I never be OK again?
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