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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.


03/31/2018 at 6:39 AM
Lena Dargan
Thank you Colleen for your comment. My brother took his life a year ago this week, we don't have an exact date. He was found in the River Thames on the 10th April 2017. We were not even informed until we reported him missing on the22nd April, even though they had his ID, there was an inquest with an open verdict. There are/were 7 of us and two of my siblings think it was an accident and the rest of us think he did it to himself - his circumstances at the time were quite desperate, although none of us knew. We are all struggling, our parents passed away three years prior to that six months apart. I am finding this week so difficult, to think that this time last year he was struggling so much but didn't reach out to any of us. I can't believe MY brother took his own life. When I let myself dwell on it, I feel like vomiting. I try not to. I find it hard to speak his name, I can't remember the good times, I scroll through his FB page looking for signs (and there were a couple - with hindsight). Did see a counsellor but it didn't help, I was still in a state of disbelief/denial and she was trying to get me to come to terms with it - it was too soon. I do appreciate your thoughts from further on in this journey.i am trying to be resilient, I have two young kids but I also know I'm using alcohol as a crutch at the moment - I can't bear the thought of going to bed with my mind all over the place. I am particularly worried about one of my brothers- he is not coping well at all. I am trying to be supportive but he is bringing me down. He needs to talk but his words are causing me to wake up in the night. I have told him to seek more counselling. I know I am forever changed but I also know my life will go on and I feel guilty about that. I just wish he had given us the chance to help him! Thank you for your words - one of my issues for my counsellor was how can I live with this, how do I move on - it was probably too tough for her - but I do realise now that it's ok to be kind to myself. As a wise friend said to me "If you go down, three people go down with you". I'm sure my brother would understand that.
02/17/2018 at 5:11 PM
My brother committed suicide 6/19/15. He was 31 and I was 27. My family didn't know he was depressed or that there was any danger. He had been having problems with his fiance for a while. The worst part for me is that he reached out to me the night before he did it and asked me to help him. I was having my own crisis in life and I did nothing. I told him that I loved him and wanted to help, but I didn't want to get in the middle of anything. His last message to me was "Do something please" but I didn't even look at it. I was depressed in my own world at the time and to this day I hate myself for being so selfish that night. I can't believe I did nothing to help him and now I have to live with that for the rest of my life. The grief never goes away but it does dull. In those first six months I cried harder than I ever have in my life, harder than I ever thought possible. I would have panic attacks and couldn't breathe. It didn't matter where I was. And in those moments I would pray and the pain was immediately relieved. For the moment. Never have I experienced that with prayer before. I really dreaded the first Christmas and I got a second job for the holidays so that I would stay as busy as possible. Because for about a month I was drinking a LOT. I didn't want to go down that road. It's been 2 years and 8 months and I think about him every day, but I don't cry like I used to. Everyone is different but you get used to the fact that they are gone, it is just part of your life now. I'm sad that he's gone and I wish we had been closer. I'm terrified of forgetting his voice, his laugh. His facial features. The way he walked. I know when I'm not wearing makeup that I resemble him and while that used to annoy me now it is a comfort to kind of see him in the mirror. I have several of his possessions and when I'm in those rooms in my house for an extended period I'll get really sad thinking of him. The guilt still hits me really hard sometimes, and those days are rough. I used to write him letters sometimes and that would help. The pain is always there and I'm sorry you all are going through this too.
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