I was in line to board a plane from Madrid to Barcelona today and my mum sent me a message on Facebook chat from Australia to let me know that Edward, your elder brother and my cousin had hung himself back in Sydney. So yes, you’re now a membership of the club. I’d like to say it’s a very exclusive club but it’s not really, membership is expanding at a rapid rate all over the world, as we, the sisters of the dead, are left to pick up the pieces. It’s an onerous task, not unlike the time I dropped a huge jar of pickles on the footpath, as it slipped from my overly stuffed shopping bag. A kindly, elderly, East German Frau, offered me tissues to use to pick up the pieces, lest I cut myself trying to clean up the mess (puppies are walked along footpaths several times daily here in Berlin and I’d be horrified if any were subject to slivers of glass in their little paws). But not matter how hard you try, the shards of glass always get stuck in your fingers, underneath your nails where their extraction is painful, their tenacity inexorable.
I’m not going to offer any words of support or comfort, as really, there are none. When David, killed himself, aged 33, all I wanted to do was get blind drunk. But as I was poor at the time after needing to buy a new pair of glasses, I couldn’t even afford a bottle of cheap gin. People kept giving me flowers when all I wanted was the glorious, albeit temporary, oblivion that complete and utter drunkeness provides. For of course, we come from a family of well documented alcoholics, you and I, along with the depressives, the eating disordered and those with bipolar, schizophrenia and god knows what else. I know you have daughters, they too get their own share of our shitty, brain disordered, damaged genetics-did you ever think of that before you decided to have children?
Do you know how weird it was to write his name just then? Today, I just call him ‘my brother’ not ‘my twin’ or ‘David’. I don’t know why, maybe it’s slightly easier? Maybe it helps lessen the degrees of separation?
People will try to rally around you, really. But the hardest thing you’ll deal with is the guilt and grief of your parents. Seeing your ageing parents cry again and again is one of the most wretched things. I never went to David’s funeral for he hung himself in London. Instead there was a memorial service with his ashes. So my parents had to sit through it twice. I never thought the idea that people could age from grief was actually true until I saw it on my parent’s faces. It’s ok, you’ll get through the funeral, somehow, it will be over eventually and you’ll be too numb at the time to worry how you embarrassed yourself in front of your brother’s old school friends that you haven’t seen for 20 years.
There’s nothing anyone can say that can make grief any better. It’s a process to be endured, like being punched in the stomach when you least expect in-walking down the street, seeing a photo, hearing a song. Anywhere and anyhow. Hopefully you won’t be like me, subject to bouts of spontaneous public crying. It makes people avoid you and you turn around and realise that many people you thought were friends, were mere acquaintances that you don’t really share all that much with.
There’s so many anniversaries. Birthdays are the worst for me, being a twin, born on my (our) mother’s birthday. It’s not helped that my husband’s birthday is three days (and several years) before mine, meaning he has had to endure again and again, a day of celebration marred by grief-especially those unpredictable explosions of grief I referred to earlier.
Then of course, there’s Christmas and of course, the death anniversary itself. How you do you cope with that day as it crawls closer and closer? Travelling helps, specially if you are luckily enough to cross multiple time zones so you barely know what time it is, let alone what date. The kindest thing my husband did on my first overseas trip after David’s death, was let me forget what day it was. I’m still grateful for that.
Oh and then, there’s all the people. So many people. People will say things to you as time goes on, like, ‘oh you’re crying for those left behind, not for him’. But they never really understand that you’re crying ( empathizing?) for the pain that they felt as they made the decision to end their life. Hanging is such a violent death. Do you picture it? I still do. I don’t know if Edward hung himself by the curtain rail like David, but it’s certainly a final exit and not one you can come back from.
If there’s only one thing I could say to you, it’s that you’re not alone. Your tears have joined mine and the rivers, creeks and floods of tears that we, the suicide club of sisters left by our brothers have cried again and again and again. You can add to this tears, the tears of our mothers and the girls, oh the girls that left our brothers at some stage and broke their hearts or had their hearts broken by our brothers and now carry their own tears as their lives are inextricably linked to a ex-boyfriend that killed himself.
As time goes on, your’ll nod as your workplace joins in some pithy mental wellbeing day or suicide prevention 1 hour seminar. Did I tell you about when I went to see the workplace psychology? At the first session he said, ‘you won’t need to see me again’, like it was a contest and I would only lose. So I didn’t.
As time goes on you’ll hear the stories of the other sisters in the suicide club as they grieve their dead brothers. Some will be raw, in shock and for others, a painful memory that has gradually faded to make everyday living more bearable. You’ll cry with them and for them, for all of them and all of ours as we live and grow old, without our poor, sad, gone, dead brothers.