THOSE FOREVER MEMORIES
My brother took his life more than four decades ago. Over the intervening years, I have written a book about teen suicide now in its second edition. I've penned articles, blogged. I've led suicide prevention workshops, been interviewed on radio, appeared on TV--the Works! I was on a mission to turn the most painful episode in my life into something good. I took to spreading the word like a Pentecostal minister preaching to his flock.
About a year or so ago, I decided to hang up my "sermons." I'd run out of steam. It was time for me to move on. No more talk about depression, drug/alcohol abuse, lack of self-esteem . . . I wanted to be free.
I was certain that I'd put my brother's suicide behind me or at least in my back pocket. The hole in my heart had closed enough so that my sadness, anger, and, yes, guilt were no longer piercing responses of a sister left behind. I talked easily about my brother's suicide as if I were discussing last night's rainstorm or the struggling Chicago Cubs.
I was wrong. Forever memories are just that. Forever.
It's a known fact that anniversaries of a loved one's death or accident or illness can stir up emotions and spit them out like a mighty dragon spewing fire. Early on, I would call my now deceased parents and reminisce in the hopes of starting the communication we'd never had. But that wish was never truly granted. My parents had put up impenetrable guard walls to protect them from the unimaginable pain of losing a child to suicide.
Last night, I dreamed that my brother who'd stuck a hunting rifle in his mouth and pulled the trigger was alive! My younger brother had gone to visit him several times, but neither he nor my parents ever uttered a peep.
I was furious, hopping mad, out of my mind. Why wasn't I ever told that he had survived and as I found out later was severely compromised but still there in the flesh? I confronted my brother and in my rage, I screamed out, a curdling heave that woke my husband sleeping next to me and turned my throat raw.
"For God's sake," my husband said. "What the hell is going on? I'm amazed that you didn't wake the entire block."
It was 6 a.m., and neither of us got back to sleep. I tried but every time I closed my eyes, the dream repeated itself over and over again like a movie caught in an endless loop. Why now after more than four decades had I had this nightmare? Why in the world would my parents and younger brother lock me out? Didn't they know how much I loved my brother? Didn't they understand how their betrayal would split our connections apart like a woodchopper on steroids?
I'm not a therapist who specializes in interpreting dreams. I'm not a therapist, period. But it's not a stretch to parse this nightmare of mine--or, at least give it a go. Perhaps the dream was a painful reminder of how devastated I was that my brother never said goodbye to me or to anyone. Perhaps the dream unleashed feelings that despite my many years' efforts cannot be resolved. Who knows? Maybe I am harboring lots of anger toward my younger brother.
And so it goes.
My deceased brother would have turned seventy-three in just a few weeks. He'd probably have adult children; I would be Aunt Jane. He might even have grandkids, white hair, and a belly once taunt that now spills over his waist like the blubbery folds on a Shar Pei. Maybe he'd become the musician he'd dreamed of being or maybe he'd taken over my dad's manufacturing company.
There is one thing I know for sure: My brother would still be the sensitive, caring man with the duck walk (I don't know why my parents never bought him corrective shoes), light brown hair, and a smile as wide as his two front buckteeth.
And I would be his beloved big sister who god damnit still misses him.