Between Life and Death
Probably one of the most unnatural acts in the human lexicon is the taking of one’s own life. It leaves a trail of human wreckage that seems to spread like the ripples in a body of still water disturbed by a stone. Family and friends are left to ponder the obvious questions, as well as to pick up the pieces. Fortunately, in our modern society we have begun to build upon the success of such groups as Alcoholics Anonymous and the idea that individuals with similar experiences can find common ground and help one another to heal. So it is with the suicide of a loved one. There is a myriad of assistance for those left behind in the form of various media and support communities. But what happens to those of us whose loved ones have tried, often repeatedly, to take their own lives and were unsuccessful? Where do we turn? How do we find peace when we are unable to grieve, but also unable to rest emotionally from the pain that accompanies the knowledge that it will most likely happen again?
In the dark early morning hours of April 17th, 2009, my younger brother walked out into the woods behind his house while his wife slept, put an SKS assault rifle under his chin, and pulled the trigger. The 7.62 round tore through his mouth, shattered his jaw, blew out all of the teeth on the left side of his head, removed the roof of his mouth, broke his nose, shattered his cheek, obliterated his left eye socket and blew out his left eye before finally exiting what was left of his eye socket. It was his third attempt at suicide and the most violent so far. His wife woke up a little later (not having heard the gunshot), and noticing he was not in bed commenced to look for him. She checked the guest room and saw the gun case on the bed. While still wearing her night clothes she ran out behind the house frantically searching for her husband in the pitch black. She wandered into the woods, alone, and had to follow the sounds of his moaning to locate him. What a sight she must have been presented with! She then had to retrieve a flashlight from the house, call 911, and wait for help with what she must have thought at the time was her dying husband. A call to my parents was made shortly thereafter. I can only imagine how horrible that call was for my mother and my father. Again, this was the third such call they had received over the years.
Later that morning, I was shaving in preparation to go to work and my wife came to see me. She was shaking so badly that I at first thought she was having an attack of some sort. “Johnny, sit down I have to tell you something” she said. When I heard what had happened, my first thought was “well I hope it killed him.” Upon finding out he was still alive, I grew angry and especially so because once again, my brother’s inability to cope with life had invaded my home and my family. I ended up comforting my wife because she was more upset than I was, which made for a rather odd scene. I went to see my brother once that day, and once more the following week before finally deciding that I was done with him, and that it would have been more merciful had that bullet killed him, for everyone.
Sound harsh? I’m sure it does. Those whose relatives “get it right” the first time are given a starting point, albeit a terrible one, from which they can begin the healing process. The rest of us are in limbo. We never know when the next “call” is coming, and after a few attempts we may find ourselves wishing that the person would just die and get it over with. So it is with me and my brother. The first such call I received before my first child was born. He had taken a bottle of pills and had to be rushed to the hospital to have his stomach pumped. The second such incident came a few years later when his wife caught him with a gun and had to wrestle it out of his hands. He then ran out to the swamp behind their house and had to be dragged out by the police. The third I have already described. I don’t want to be around for the fourth, and I am not convinced that it won’t happen again.
I am the oldest, and the most successful of my parents’ children. My brother is three years my junior, and has been nothing but trouble since we were kids. My brother is bipolar, and of course this plays a role in his repeated attempts. Alcohol also plays role, in addition to an arrogance the likes of which I have never known in another person. He is quick to point out the failings of others, but takes no responsibility for his own actions or the effect they have on others. The last fifteen years have been punctuated by divorce (and subsequent return to live with my parents), lost jobs, overall failure to cope or demonstrate even a little bit of human consideration, and of course the suicide attempts.
To say that I am “done” would be an understatement. I have gone above and beyond to try and help my brother over the years. That all my (and everyone else’s) efforts have been repaid with yet another suicide attempt is almost too much to handle. The seething, unbridled anger that I have felt in the weeks since my brother’s attempt have led me to turn away from him completely. I am also slowly becoming estranged from my parents, whom I view as enablers. No amount of money, time or effort has been spared by them over the years and I have seen very little, if any of it. Heaps of praise, encouragement, approval and the like have been directed towards my younger sibling whilst I have been called on every little infraction.
I am left with a great deal of anger, shame, guilt, resentment and sadness. I feel angry that nobody listened when I said the guns should go. I feel angry that my brother cares so little about anyone else. I feel shame because I wished him dead and that I don’t care whether he chooses life or death as long as he chooses. I feel guilty because my life has turned out so well while he and my parents are suffering and I wonder what I did to deserve all of the blessings I enjoy. I feel resentment because my parents have ignored my feelings and my uniqueness over the years in favor of my brother’s illness. Lastly, I feel sadness because I know that I am the last of my tribe. I am certain that my brother will try again, and will probably be successful. When my parents die, I will be the last one. I’ll be the only one left who was “there”, growing up in that house and having those experiences. There will be no one else. There is no one else.
My brother’s latest suicide attempt has not only taken away any hope of reconciliation between us, it has taken my parents and my children’s grandparents away. For the rest of their lives, my parents will be consumed by all of this. If my brother’s wife leaves him, and I wouldn’t blame her if she did since two of the attempts have been on her watch, then he’ll head right back to Mom and Dad. Our family, already strained, has been utterly destroyed by his selfish acts. We are unable to move forward, unable to grieve, unable to find peace. We are truly between life and death.
By: John Hudak