Names have been changed to respect the privacy of the family.
On Saturday November 7, 2009 I got the terrible news that my oldest brother tried to kill himself. I live 1500 miles away from my family. I was so angry at my brother for doing someone so stupid that I swore I wasn't going to visit. I had no idea how severe his attempt was, so my initial response was anger. How could he do that to my parents?
Once I got a chance to speak to the rest of the family, I understood how bad it was.
My brother had set himself on fire.
He'd been burned on over 90% of his body.
He was still alive, and although the doctors told us there was a 125% chance that he would die in four days, the reality didn't really sink in.
Monday morning, I decided to travel to see my brother and the rest of the family. I couldn't leave until Wednesday. Before I left, I was in constant contact with the family and the hospital. By Tuesday, I knew he would be gone by the end of the week.
I found myself praying for a quick end.
My young daughter and I left home super early in the morning on Wednesday. I was so pumped with adrenaline and in such a hurry to see my family that the drive flew by. I drove 930 miles that day and spoke to my family many times.
Wednesday morning, when I first spoke to my younger brother, he told me that Robert could no longer breathe on his own. I called my dad who admitted that he and my mother had decided to sign a Do Not Resuscitate for him. If his organs started to fail, the doctors were ordered not to take action. My mother struggled with this. She thought we'd think she had given up on her son. What she didn't understand was that we were all waiting for the end, and that drawing it out would only mean more pain.
Late Wednesday night, my daughter and I met up with Robert's daughter and his grandson. I'm so glad we managed to meet up on the road. It made the night more comfortable, and I woke up feeling at peace because my brother's daughter was with me.
Thursday morning, November 12th, we got on the road, and when I called the house, my mom answered. It caught me off-guard because I hadn't talked to my mother since Saturday - she'd been spending her time at the hospital. When she answered the phone, I knew that he had passed away. I quickly told my mom where we were and when we should arrive.
Less than a half hour later, my dad called - bad news: Robert had died at 3:15 in the morning. My dad said he was sorry to tell me on the road but thought I'd want to know. He asked if I could pull over and let my niece know. She'd been calling the hospital regularly, asking about her dad's condition, and no one wanted her to get the news that way, especially if she was driving.
So, I pulled over. My niece admitted that she knew it happened. It's interesting that we both knew he'd passed that morning. We got back on the road and into town at 3:30, 12 hours after my brother passed. We had a very emotional reunion and spent the day in a fog.
Friday morning, we went to breakfast, then to my parent's house to clean Robert's room. He was constantly writing letters and journals. I was afraid of what I might find. He was always blaming everyone else for his problems, and I was certain he'd have left a letter attacking someone. I did find a letter he wrote to his daughter on October 10th. It was a wonderful note that we gave to her. In it, my brother spoke of his pain.
He'd been in a car accident in May - rear-ended while delivering pizzas. He'd hurt his back and was out on worker's comp. He was on a lot of pain pills and, although he was supposed to go to physical therapy, he ran out of money and had to stop. The letter went on to say all the things he was working on, how much he loved her and how proud he was of her. He said she was a great woman and a great mom, and he was proud to be her dad. She was happy to read it.
The rest of the notes, letters and journals were not as positive so I threw them away. In hindsight, I wish I'd have kept a few, but I did the right thing at that time.
Saturday morning, we had a memorial lunch for my brother. His children and grandson were there, as were his girlfriend and her kids. I think I'll remember every single minute of that day forever.
My brother wasn't a rich man; didn't have many possessions, but while cleaning his room, I found treasures - drawings his girls had made 20 years earlier, baby pictures of his kids, and even the hospital tags from their birth. He had items from his time in the service, awards he'd won, and sketches he'd made. I laid out his treasures at the memorial so his children got a chance to look through their dad's things and decided who got what. There were lots of laughs and tears. It was so good to be together.
We left Sunday morning to come home.
My brother and I never had a close relationship. The last time we spoke was 9 months earlier, when I told him he needed help and that I wasn't going to bring my daughter around until he got it. He said I wouldn't hear from him again, and I didn't. I don't regret my actions but I'm sad by how troubled he was. Reading his journals, seeing his thoughts, that terrified me. He was in so much pain. He truly hated himself.
The aftermath of my brother's suicide - how it changed the family - has been pure misery. I wish I could say it brought us closer, but we're all so raw with pain that we've retreated to our own corners of the world to heal. I wish things were different, especially now that my mother has passed (she died nine months later), but it is what it is.
Suicide truly is hell.