Saturday, April 30, 2016

Life After Suicide - Part II - The Aftermath

Catch up with Part 1 here.

The first task we took care of was getting my littlest brother out of jail so he could be with the family during this time. It stabbed at me later when I found out that Amir was trying to save/borrow money to get him out before he died. It took one week to finalize funeral arrangements, for the ME's office to finish their exam, and for LifeGift to find recipients for my brother's organs. Five people's lives were saved due to my brother. We didn't eat, we didn't sleep, we did not do a whole lot except obsess and make arrangements. We talked to my brother's girlfriend, to some of his friends, to family... we sought answers to questions. Those questions remain unanswered. The only thing we were sure of is that my brother had a drug relapse before he died. Would he have done what he did if he hadn't relapsed? I like to think not, but we'll never know for sure. My own mind turned on me. I was given no relief, no rest, no freedom from my innermost thoughts and I felt like I deserved none, so I never resisted the attack. One night my dad fell from lack of sustenance, sleep deprivation, and grief. After screaming at him that he had to eat and drink something because I didn't know what to do, later that night I almost passed out for the same reasons. I realized that I couldn't keep going this way and I had to try to eat and sleep if I was going to hold the family together through the next few days. I managed to get by after that.

Services for my brother began at 10:00 am Monday, October 19th. We buried him in the town that last all five of us kids were together, the last place we were together before things fell apart when I went to college and left the kids. It was a beautiful sunny day and the services were suiting for him; he would have appreciated them. My family came together in a way that I hadn't seen in many years. I even saw my mother and father hug for the first time in 17 years. My dad and I stayed in town for another day before we headed back to Oklahoma.
The last Christmas we had together before I left for college.
The next several months were the worst of my life. I moved in with my dad when we returned, he didn't need to be alone and I had no purpose or desire or drive to do anything but grieve and punish myself. Like my dad had hit his limit in the parking lot of JPS, I had hit mine. I held my shit together long enough to do what needed to be done. I contacted my department head and professor and was given an incomplete for the classes I was enrolled in. I didn't return to work for a couple weeks and when I did go back, I'm not sure that I was actually ready. I was a wreck. I had to leave work early some days because I just could not handle functioning, other days I did not make it in at all. I am so thankful for the support net I have at work, I know I would not have made it without them. I was barely sleeping or eating for weeks after my brother's death. I was a chain smoking zombie that when not working did nothing but lay on the couch under the pretense of watching TV. In reality, I was trapped in my mind where the walls were cracking and crumbling and memories and emotions were flooding and pulsating at the seams. I cried, I fought myself, I hated myself, I asked why, why, why? I pitied myself. Grief is selfish. Most of all, the guilt and pain I felt for my brother are what crippled and suffocated me. How badly he must have been hurting to choose the path he did, and oh, how much more I could have done for him. Quite frankly, the only thing that kept me from choosing the same path many times throughout that time span was the fact that I just couldn't put my family through what we were already going through. I could never inflict on someone else the horror we endured. And my dad needed me. In my eyes, I did not deserve to live or enjoy anything if my brother did not make it, I had lost all hope. I tried to workout a couple times - that's what everyone said I needed to do; then when the endorphins were flowing and the post workout high hit, I would feel so guilty that I would hate myself for feeling good and have another break down, so I quit trying.

I turned 30 exactly one month from the day my brother died. This was hard, too. I was supposed to go to Vegas to celebrate with a half marathon and my FFTFL friends. Before I realized my brother was using again, I actually was wanting to bring him with me. He had talked about Vegas many times and I wanted to celebrate his freedom and make up for lost time by taking a trip with him. My poor brother had been through so much and never got to enjoy his youth, I wanted to do something fun with him. This was a double whammy, not only did I reach a milestone birthday, the big 3-0, when my brother didn't make past 24, but what could have been a great memory with him was cruelly stolen from me. The guilt continued.

After my birthday, I continued about the same, looking back, I must have known how rough the holidays were going to be and was subconsciously holding my breath until we made it through. I also knew that Amir's 25th birthday was coming up, the last time I got to spend my brother's birthday with him was on his 21st birthday.

I got to buy my brother's first (legal) beer.
We went to Texas a couple times, the presence of family and most especially my baby niece was comforting. In fact, seeing my cousins and their kids helped, too. Children have an incredible healing element in them. Every time I held her sweetness, I was reminded that there was beauty left in the world and that it was not time to give up.

My other brother came and stayed with us for a couple weeks, which truly helped because he helped get me out of my head. Maybe also because he reminds me of my other brother, and reminded me that I still have loved ones left. His presence gave me strength. My brother went back to Texas before the holidays and I resumed doing nothing but sitting/laying around chain smoking, eating or sleeping (albeit restlessly). At some point before, I had to start medicating to start eating and sleeping; functioning had become increasingly difficult. In fact, some would say I was not functioning at all.  The trend of losing weight switched to gaining weight though I did not notice. My dad would bring me food and pressure me to eat and I knew that seeing me like this couldn't have helped him, yet I couldn't change, so I would at least eat in a half-assed attempt to pretend that I was okay. My dad gave me strength. He had just lost his son and yet he still refused to give up on me.Once the holidays hit, the despair I felt was so heavy that I really gave up, I took leave from work and did not leave my dad's house for near two weeks and literally did nothing but lay on the couch. I became afflicted with crippling back pain and a respiratory infection.I drank heavily during this time, as well, although it only made things worse. On January 6, 2016, my dad and I drove to Texas to visit my brother's grave for his first birthday after death. At the end of the month, we visited my sister and her new little family in Indiana.
My beautiful sister and my precious nephew, yet another reminder of life's blessings.
This is probably around the time I really started accepting the reality of what was and where I started turning things around. I realized I couldn't continue down the path I was going. I had a niece and nephew that were going to be growing up fast and I did not want to miss out on that. I did not want them to see their aunt as a shell of herself. My brother would be ashamed of me. I decided I had to start getting better.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Life After Suicide - Part I - The Nightmare

 This is a post that I've debated writing for some weeks now. The debate as follows: To begin, who wants to hear about death and sadness, right? And really, making myself vulnerable on such a heart-rending topic is completely out of my comfort zone. On the other hand, some of you may have gone through similar circumstances and you should know you aren't alone, and others of you still might benefit from knowing more about what those you care about have been through. If my experience can in any way, shape, or form help someone else, then I need to share. Finally, since I am a writer at heart, perhaps putting everything out there will be a therapy of sorts. So here we go.

On October 12, 2015, at approximately 2:35 pm, I received a phone call that marked the beginning of the end of my universe as I knew it. It was Monday morning and I'd had a rough weekend, I was feeling down and Monday morning I felt especially depressed and anxious. I had no idea that this was a foreshadowing of what was to come. I was sitting in the break room having a late lunch with a friend, talking about my little brother whom I'd been worried about and trying to figure out how to help, when my sister tried to call me. We were almost finished with lunch so I figured I could call her back in a few minutes when I returned to my office. Then my aunt called and I stared at my phone for long seconds - something was wrong - the sense of foreboding was dense. When I answered the phone I tried to sound casual, I didn't get far before she said words I never even thought to imagine. She told me that my brother, Amir, had shot himself in the head. I didn't hear a whole lot after that, I could only stare at my friend sitting across the table, tears streaming down my face, as my aunt explained that it was serious and I needed to get down there (to Texas) and she already spoke to my dad. All I could think was no, no, no, not my baby brother, no, she couldn't be right, this wasn't real.

When I got off the phone I started crying harder and I started losing control. I was shaking and convulsing and I couldn't comprehend the call I just received and had no clue what to do next. My friend ushered me to his office and retrieved my supervisor. I cannot explain the thoughts that were rushing through my head. Guilt, horror, incredulity, the deepest sort of grief imaginable. I sat there shaking and crying and probably babbling for what seemed like hours, but was really only about 15 minutes. At some point I remember something along the lines of confirming the severity of the situation, something like: "This is really serious right? People don't typically recover from gunshot wounds to the head.. my brother is going to die, isn't he?" What a question to have to answer. The sadness in his eyes confirmed more than anything he could have said. I knew deep in my heart, that I would never, ever get to see my brother alive again in this lifetime. I thought of my father and I knew I must get moving, we were going to Texas and I was wasting time. I started rambling about what I needed to do and bless his heart, my supervisor really tried to help. I'm sure it was obvious that I was in no condition to drive, but I did not want to involve anyone in the horror that awaited and so I insisted on handling things on my own. Somehow I made it to my dad's house and somehow we got on the road. After talking to him on the phone, I was sure I'd need to drive, but my dad was adamant about driving and proceeded to do so better than any professional driver I'd ever seen, with more intensity and focus than I'd ever witnessed in my father. We flew across the state. Without a thought, I picked up one of my dad's cigarettes and started smoking again. And I continued to smoke the entire drive - whilst sobbing and staring out the window, praying to any and all sources of Higher Powers that be and chanting to myself that he was going to be okay. I couldn't remember the last time I'd prayed before that, funny how crisis suddenly instills hope and faith. The closer we got to JPS Hospital in Fort Worth, the more my chants changed from he's going to be okay, to: please wait, please wait baby brother, wait for me, for us, hang on, you're going to be okay, please wait, baby brother...

When we got to the hospital, my family was there. My uncles, my mother, my sisters, my niece, my cousin and his family. My aunt had to leave, but she was there with my sister until others could join her. My other little brother was incarcerated and unable to be there. The moment my dad stepped out of the car he fell apart and I knew he held onto strength as long as he could to get to his son, but that now it was my turn. We held each others arms, greeted the family, and went up to see my brother. I think I expected/hoped to get there and it come out that a mistake had been made; that either it was a terrible joke, or that the wound wasn't as serious as it sounded, or that somehow they had the wrong kid... anything other than what we encountered. Even though, deep down I know I knew. Why else did I start grieving from the moment I received the call? There, lying in a hospital bed, was my beautiful, strong, hopeful, selfless, stubborn, misunderstood, tortured baby brother. The first of four younger siblings that I held in my arms as a baby, that I loved with all my might at five years old.

The first to have been able to instill rage and laughter in me simultaneously as he would vandalize my "things" while looking at me with this impish, "aren't I cute" glint in his eyes.
See what I mean? 
The first to have my back when things were tough as a kid, the first to help me take care of the others when I really needed help (otherwise he really enjoyed causing me more stress), the first to protect, the first to pounce if someone threatened his family. He was the first being that I ever loved more than I loved my parents or myself. And he lay in a hospital bed looking fragile and nothing like himself. His handsome face was swollen and his head was bandaged and there were tubes and wires all over him. I went to his side and again "no" was all I could think. this couldn't be real. I held his hand, his left hand with the word "Hope" tattooed on it, and I tried to make sense of what was going on. I tried talking to him, telling him that it was okay, and he was going to be okay, and it was time to come back to us and we'd take care of him. I missed the part where the doctor said he had been pronounced brain dead approximately 15 minutes earlier.

We spent hours at the hospital the first night. A gentleman from LifeGift, the organ donor organization in Texas, met with us and went over numerous questions regarding my brother's health and lifestyle. If there were such a thing as comfort during this time, this man would have been a comfort. He seemed like a genuinely good person and was one of the few people I dealt with during that time that I could handle being around. The questionnaire was one of the hardest things to endure because the truth of the matter was that my brother had spent years incarcerated with short bouts of freedom and he had just been released in July. There was much we did not know about my brother over the past several years and coming to terms with how little time we had with him was difficult. It felt like a failure on our part. Though the prospect of lives that could be saved due to my brother choosing to be an organ donor kept us answering questions. Finally we finished, and though we didn't want to leave the hospital, staying there was unbearable. We said good night to my brother, got in the car to drive to my sister's and this song came on the radio:
Instantly I was flooded with memories, scents, images... How many times did my brother and I talk about being kids and wishing we could turn back time? How many times when we were kids did we talk about our dreams and plans? How often had we stressed over money throughout the years? I kept driving, tears never stopping, cracking under the surface, listening to the song, heart breaking. The song was only playing in the background, but I heard it loud and clear.

That night I did not sleep, I'm not sure if anyone did. I lay on my sister's couch in the dark staring at the ceiling with a terrible cacophony in my head: different flashes and memories of my brother throughout his life; endlessly screaming gibberish inside my head; all the conversations and letters that I should done differently; horrific images I won't describe ... I silently raged, cried, berated, shattered through the night until it was morning and time to make arrangements. (I repeated this process countless nights over the next several months.) I knew no one in my family was able to handle the business at hand and I honestly think that taking charge and having something to focus on is the only thing that kept me going the next week because otherwise I have no explanation on how I survived. I was desperately driven to make sure my brother was buried with honor. I used smoking as a crutch. I went from not smoking at all to smoking two packs a day. We had to drive back to Oklahoma the day following our arrival to get pictures of my brother. I needed one for his obituary and others for the slideshow the funeral home would prepare. So my dad and I sped back to Oklahoma, conducted our business and went straight back to John Peter Smith hospital.  My brother's body was still on life support until they could find recipients for his organs. I held his hand for the last time and whispered things I'd wished I'd said to him over the years, I told him how sorry I was for failing him and how I wish he'd given us and himself a chance and how that miracles happened and if he chose to come back to his body and awaken that we were there waiting and that there was still an opportunity to come back. I said a lot to him. I said a lot, but not enough. Too late I realized that I had never said enough.We sat there quietly for awhile. Then, when my pleas went unanswered and no miracles came, I told him it was okay, that I loved him so much and that somehow, we would be okay, and that it was okay to move on - it was okay to seek that peace he couldn't find in life. And then I told him that I would see him later.