I always say that when my brother died he went to heaven and I went to hell. His pain ended and mine began. He went into the light and I was swallowed whole by the darkness.
The memory is still so clear. The distant sound of a phone ringing in the middle of the night. Blearily getting out of bed to answer the phone call that would change my life forever. Listening to my mother’s voice tell me my only brother, who I loved more than life itself, had taken his own life. I remember walking on shaking legs back to bed and my husband asking me what happened. I remember calmly telling him, ‘Paul is dead.’ And I couldn’t understand why my husband was getting so emotional. I had immediately gone into deep shock. And in that state I would largely remain for almost two years.
It’s strange, I can’t remember much of last Christmas, but I have so many vivid memories from the weeks and months following my brother’s death. I remember the big rainbow that appeared near my parent's house the day after I flew home, I remember the overwhelming kindness of neighbours who looked after my family, I remember a friend hurrying to get me tissues when I started to cry, I remember the sensitive and insensitive things people said, I remember one evening not being able to see my dinner on the plate because I was crying so much, I remember the real hugs and I remember the friends and family who travelled long distances to support us.
It is quite a testament to the human spirit how one can still move through life even when in deep pain and shock. Each day I was engulfed by a new tsunami of grief. There was no escaping it and it was relentless. I would break down sobbing in public places, I would go to bed crying and I would awaken in the middle of the night crying. My heart was being broken wide open. Despite all that, life went on and at best, I was a spectator. I sat with friends and I watched them laugh, maybe even laughed myself. I listened to them talk about their lives and all the while I was wondering, ‘Will the pain ever stop, will I ever be truly happy again?’ I would look into peoples’ eyes all the time and try to read them. I know now that I was searching, searching for someone else who understood trauma, someone else who had been devastated by suicide. This summer, I finally found someone who knew, someone who had lost a loved one in similiar circumstances, and was trying to rebuild their life. Talking with them, looking in their eyes, was so incredibly cathartic. Someone finally understood. It is an entirely different conversation, talking with someone who knows utter devastation and someone who doesn’t.
Today, one week before my brother’s five year anniversary, I find myself reflecting on the journey. Five years may be a relatively long period of time in a ‘regular’ life, but in the life of someone overcoming devastation, it is but a drop in the ocean. I am no longer the person I was before October 15th, 2014. I have had a shift in consciousness that has changed me on nearly every level. I have realised on a deep level the importance of human connection, of being selective of the energy you have around you, of looking after your physical and mental wellbeing and of telling people you love them. Us humans are so much more powerful than we realise. We can change someone’s day with a smile, a hug or a kind gesture. If we see pain in someone, we can try to help. We can reach out to each other. We can look after each other as we all make our way ‘home’.
“Your grief will become your companion… The part of you that is compassionate, and strong, and deep.” - Helen Exley