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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.


05/20/2018 at 11:52 PM
I lost my 44 yr old sister to Suicide in September 24,2016. She left behind a 5 yr old son. She was taking Wellbutrin to quit smoking. Dude effects are suicidal tendencies. Do not smoke or drink while taking this drug. She wS drinking & smoking. This was not her first Suicide attempt. My family doesn’t talk about it. I go to monthly meetings @Touched by Suicide@ which really help. My heart is broken & I grieve for her on a daily basis. But I do feel her presence with me.
04/19/2018 at 4:32 AM
My brother hung himself 04/09/18 a week before my birthday. I really wish I could I didn’t know why but I know exactly why. Apparently he’s attempted suicide before, he was my father’s son and we all suffer from extreme anxiety. He was also extremely depressed and insecure, he routinely went viral on Twitter for bashing Black women online. This troubled me because I’m a Black woman too, did my brother hate me? He later deactivated that Twitter account and created a new one it was filled with tweets about how ugly he was and how ugly he felt. Soon his mother kicked him out over his alterations he was getting into with her boyfriend and sent him to live with my father and her estranged older son. We were the same age, 20 but my brother struggling to get a job and get into college, he was engrossed in this online persona he created for himself, he was basically a big kid. My father and I recognized that supported him, I offered to tutor him and just be there for him. It seemed like whenever he’d become excited about something his mom would call and just yell at him. Like I said my brother was depressed and was coming to terms with being a productive person offline and not a popular and problematic person online. Soon his mother began to blame me and my father for his problems with growing into adulthood. I started to distance myself and stopped seeing my brother and father for a period of time. But when I did come over I noticed my brother was changing, he didn’t seem “down” or “lazy” like before, he was very hyper and always would talk about how “grateful” he was to be living. He started talking about God a lot, he even blessed me when I coughed. And he started rambling about even the smallest things. My brother would always sleep in but he loved basketball and would never miss a day to go to court. But he came home one day in a panic convinced someone was trying to kill and that they were going to shoot him while he was playing ball. None of this made sense to me, he didn’t live a particularly rough part of the neighborhood and my brother wasn’t anyone who would be entangled in some street drama. Then he called me at 5:00am accusing my baby sister of trying to set him up to be robbed, when I went to go and check on him he had the door locked and demanded I slide my ID through the door, even after that he still didn’t let me in. Even after I did he still didn’t let me in, I told my dad and said I think he may be mentally ill, later that week he ran down the street at 4am screaming that someone was after him and knocked on our neighbor’s door demanding he drive him to the police station. My father came to the police station and asked that he be hospitalized. My brother did well in the hospital, I was so happy my father got him help, so I made it a point to visit him everyday. Unfortunately that hospital was just for “crisis” and couldn’t treat him long term but agreed to house him another week. His mother who kicked him out became furious at the idea of me visiting my own brother in the hospital. “I don’t want people in my business, I don’t want that on his record.” She ordered that he be released prematurely and he only got worse, he began to get violent, he fought my father and his mother thought it was funny until he attacked her later that week. My brother was not the fighting type nor would he ever lay a hand on our father let alone a woman. My dad called me told me about these events and I knew where this was going. I told my father that if they did not get him help, he would hurt someone or hurt himself. Eventually the mother moved back in to the house she banished my brother too due to issues with her boyfriend and it seemed his mental state only seemed to decline rapidly. Almost like magic my brother was back to being “hyper” and optimistic, normally reclusive invited himself to our uncle’s birthday dinner. He sat at the table with ligature marks on his neck that he claimed were hickies. My uncle called his mother and instead of anyone driving him to the crisis center, he went home and was greeted with anger. The last words my brother heard were “make sure you do it forreal next time you p*ssy.” My brother was 6’1 and desperately hung himself on a doorknob barely 2 feet off the ground. I feel like I just watched a sad movie, I knew that he could do it but I didn’t expect for him to actually do it, I didn’t know that his mother would be more concerned with a 302 on his record than signing her son’s death certificate. Considering the way he did it, I don’t think he actually wanted to die. I’m convinced my brother was suffering with undiagnosed schizophrenia and those hurtful words from his emotionally detached mother made him do it out of impluse. I regret not doing more to make sure he got the help he needed but I was afraid to go against his mother and possibly put a strain on our own relationship, he would hate me but now that relationship his gone. I got an invite to that birthday dinner but instead I picked up a shift at work, I was so mad at my father for allowing that woman to take him out that hospital, I couldn’t be around him. That’s his son too! How can someone see ligature marks on their son’s neck and not be compelled to hug them and tell them they love them? I wish I went to that party to just tell my brother that I loved him and his pain was valid and we could get pass this and that he wasn’t the problem and he doesn’t have to die to be happy. My brother died sick, sad, lonely and afraid and no one is sorry, he was disturbed and hurt that he felt the need to die and I am so sorry. I am so sorry, I love you.
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