Suicide - a different kind of grief

 

"We have found him, I'm sorry"
I heard the words
It felt like a nuclear explosion inside. Suddenly normality was shattered
The psychical and physical pain was unbearable

Many people don't think of depression as a serious disease
Well, they are wrong
My brother chose death over life

 

1999
My twin brother was diagnosed with a serious clinical depression in the fall of 98. I didnít realise the seriousness at first and I thought it would pass. But it didnít. It got worse. Sometimes when we spoke on the phone he was angry, bitter and discouraging. I felt totally rejected. Other times he was warm and sweet like always. We talked about suicide. I told him that the one thing I was afraid of was that he would take his own life. I told him how afraid I was of losing him. The months passed. He had critical phases when he had to stay at his big brotherís house. He just couldnít be alone. The crisis passed and he moved back home. He was divorced and lived alone. Mom and dad stayed with him during christmas 98. He had lost weight and looked ill. January and February passed. We were approaching our 40th birthday. I had asked him to come to the city I lived in to celebrate. He said he would. But a week before he called and told me he wasn't coming. I said it was alright. But I got an uneasy feeling. I called him a few days later and asked him: could I please come and stay with him on our birthday so that we could be together? His reaction was total rejection. He was angry and hostile and our very last conversation ended like that. 

Mom: "I have an ominous feeling"
We were worried and ill at ease. He didn't answer the phone, he didn't answer the door. Finally the police and medical staff forced their way into his house. My older brother was at the hospital waiting for news. I called his cell phone. Someone answered, I didn't recognize the voice. The woman said: "We have found him, I'm sorry". In a split second our family went to pieces.

Our 40th birthday
It was the day before our 40th birthday and my twin brother had committed suicide. He had hung himself. The whole thing was like a nightmare, only I never woke up. On the morning I turned 40 I was on a train on my way to my parents house. The funeral agent came to our house just after I got home. We made arrangements for the funeral. My parents were devastated. I had to be the strong one.

A frozen heart
The viewing was the hardest part. To see my beautiful brother lying there, lifeless. They hadn't covered up the rope marks properly. I stroked his face and he was cold. He looked as if he was asleep. Something in me froze that day. My parents were completely devastated. My mother wasn't even able to pick up the phone. I thought she was going to die, she was withering away - literally. There were so many practical things to take care of. On the day of the funeral I didn't shed a tear. My head was filled with a white, cold silence. I remember thinking; Tore, forgive me, I can't cry for you today - I have to be strong, I can't lose control, there are all these things to take care of. There weren't many tears in the months that came. My life as I had known it had come to a brutal hault, but everyday life hadn't. I had to cope the best I could, I didn't dare open up to the grief, I was afraid it would consume me completely, that I would break down and not be able to continue. I froze.

Best friends
Tore and I grew up together. He was my best friend. We were always referred to as the Twins, a unit, a team. When one of us did something wrong, they would scold both of us. When someone gave us something, we would share it. There was always a silent understanding between us. My life changed the day he died, and will never be the same. I look to the future - there are so many years left to miss him. I look back and I think to myself, who's going to help me remember?

Life must go on?
I don't remember much from the months after he died. The pain and the grief sent shock waves through my mind and body. I thought a lot about the way he died, the thought of it went on and on in my head. Every morning I woke up to the same unbearable pain. He is gone! He is NEVER coming back. There were times when I hoped I wouldn't wake up. Every little task seemed impossible, and I was so tired. I went into isolation. I felt so different from everyone else. His death was the only thing I could think about. I stopped listening to music, I didn't paint, I didn't go out. Apart from our family and close friends, people got all shifty eyed and evasive when I started talking about my brother's death. It made me feel even more lonely and isolation seemed more appealing than pretending. For a while I withdrew from my family. When the phone rang I just let it ring. I didn't want to talk to anyone. Everyone kept asking me: "how are your parents?" It was all about them. I know they went through hell, I'm not trying to lessen their grief, but I just wished somebody would ask me how I was. Losing someone to suicide can be a terrible strain on family relations. How many of us have been through the scenario - who is suffering the most?

Sometimes it is as if his death is holding me as hostage. I can't tell my family what I really feel, they have suffered so much, I have to compensate for his death by being cheerful and optimistic.

A confusing grief
And now over four years have passed. The sharp stabs of pain and shock have lessened, but the grief and loss are creating a void inside. Not a day goes by without thinking about him. Everything is subdued, I see life as if through a veil. Losing someone to suicide is a confusing grief. There is guilt, anger, resignation, sadness, loss, introversion and loneliness, breaking like ocean waves. And the never ending oppressive thought - if I had done things differently, would he be alive today? Should we have taken the responsibility off his hands? Had him hospitalized? Did we have the right to intervene? Would he have wanted us to? These questions are wringing my heart time and time again, wearing it out.  The pain he suffered must have been excruciating. And there was nobody there to save him. The thought of my brother feeling completely alone when he died is unbearable. I went over the last day of his life time and time again. It still comes back like a fist in the pit of my stomach, but not so often now. Sometimes I feel that I don't have the right to grieve over him since he was so angry with me the last time we spoke. Sometimes I feel as if I don't deserve to be happy, because he wasn't.

I need to talk about him. To remind people that he was here among us not long ago. He was the brightest and the most successful of the children.  I don't understand. Why didn't he make it?

The realization that I let him down during the last months of his life never leaves me. I didn't call him often enough, I wasn't straightforward enough. I was - in short - a coward. I so desperately hoped it would all pass. Perhaps he didn't think I took his problems seriously.

Why did it go so terribly wrong?
His self-esteem gradually became unrealistically low. He saw his life as bleak and desolate. And he wasn't able to talk about it. Finally, he couldn't bear it anymore.
Why didn't he see what the rest of us saw? In our eyes it seemed as if he had everything. Why didn't he see our love and appreciation. His family and his friends loved him dearly and we loved being with him. He was warm and kind, well-informed, enthusiastic, charming and funny. It seemed as if Tore wasn't able to see.
 It seems as if the depressions came and went throughout his entire life. Was the deathwish always there? Sometimes I think so.

A mother's love
A mother I read about in the paper said it so beautifully in a speech at her daughter's funeral;
"All of us have a room into which noone can enter. You couldn't enter mine, and I couldn't enter yours. In that room we can gather strength, but also lose our grip on life. It is with humility and respect I have to acknowledge your choice, even if I don't understand".

A lifelong sadness
The journey through grief is lifelong. But things have gradually gotten better, I am stronger now and more at peace, and for that I am entirely grateful.

Both sides of suicide
My thoughts and sympathy go to both  suicide survivors and those who are suicidal. Suicide survivors are trying to get over the impossible grief and the guilt. Suicidal people are battling with the loneliness and the excruciating pain. It is not easy to understand depression. To me it seems like a thief, robbing you of the life you could have had. And the fact that my brother chose death over life, gives me some indication just how terrible the disease is.

What could have been done differently?  I've been pondering over that question for months - years after Tore died. Maybe his councellors should have involved his surroundings more. Family, friends, colleagues. Created a network around him so to speak. I know the professional secrecy prevents them from doing so, but that has to change. Because it can be a question of life or death!

Our most important task after losing someone to suicide is to learn how to forgive ourselves.

 

A few months ago I was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer, I have mets to the liver, lung, bones and peritoneum. My odds are not good and sometimes I wonder, when I die - will we be together again, will the twins be reunited?
The bond between twins is incredibly strong. I hope that our spirits will be joined again and the thought gives me strength and peace of mind.