My brother killed himself a couple of months ago, overthrowing a lifetime of overdosing to try the new, more effective method of hanging. It worked like a charm, sort of. Found hanging in a toilet of the psychiatric hospital that was supposed to be keeping an eye on him, he was worked on by medical staff for a full twenty minutes before they could get a heart beat going again. How long he’d been there and how brain damaged he was, nobody could say for sure. He was whisked off to hospital, where he was placed in a full body icepack, to cool his organs, and he was of course intubated, to help him breathe.
It took him days to die, and that was a long and awful process. He convulsed non-stop, and when his eyes finally opened they roved constantly, blind. Until he stopped convulsing, they couldn’t read his brain, and until they could read his brain, they couldn’t officially say his brain was dead, and therefore couldn’t officially begin the process of letting him die. Immobile and pumped full of drugs – four kinds of anti-convulsants, antibiotics, sedatives, painkillers – he began to swell. His hands became too inflated to hold. His mouth, permanently propped open by breathing tubes, began to redden and crack. He was allergic to something – maybe it was the sticky tape used to hold things in place, maybe the laundry detergent – and patches of his skin erupted in huge, painful looking blisters. He became sore around all his edges, and although we were assured he was in no pain, and knew nothing, the indignity and agony of his situation was horrible to behold.
Because it’s not permissible to slip patients a little bit of extra morphine, what happens in cases like this is that they have to be allowed to die naturally. So he was taken off the stuff that was keeping the hospital infections he’d picked up at bay, and put in a general ward, where he died of pneumonia.
When I identified his body in the hospital morgue to the coroner, he was pale, bruised in odd places on his face, and bloated – as mortified (ha ha) as a beached whale, or a sandwich left to go off in a fridge.
I’ve been reading a lot of online blogs by other people who’ve lost their brothers, and the thing is, I’ve found them helpful. Way more helpful than the idea of talking to a counsellor or a group of people, because when I need help it tends to be in the morning when I’ve had a nightmare or can’t sleep. I hope maybe this blog will be helpful for others, too.
So here’s what I’m experiencing just now:
Because I have so many unanswered questions, I sometimes end up putting them to my brother. But in my dreams he looks the way he looked in the hospital morgue, bruised all over. He looks into my eyes but they’re dead eyes. Worse, he can’t give me any answers, which compounds my sense of rejection.
How I’m dealing with them: Image Replacement Therapy. I read about this online, apparently it’s the hot new thing for treating very bad nightmares, especially PTSD nightmares, which is, I suppose, what is happening to me. What you do is, you rehearse a new version of the dream in your head before you go to sleep. Imagine a new outcome, a new scenario. After a while, you can gain some control over the nightmare, and this helps to feel more in control in waking life, too.
It’s quite effective – I’ve been quietly practicing away, and I’ve had one lovely dream where I talk to him, and he looks like himself, and we talk about tea. It’s boring, but so nice, and he complements my tea making skills, which in real life would have been a big deal, because he was fussy about his tea. In my dream I experienced a huge leap of happiness when he did this, and I call up this feeling when I need it, to help me remember the bond we had.
Tyranisaurus Rex Syndrome
Otherwise known as towering rage, combined with a sense of my pain being the most important pain the room. Right now if a kid came to me with a bleeding knee I’d tell her to man up. Everyone else is trivial and incompetent in the face of this dinosaur. Raarrr!
This is leftover from handling the situation in hospital, handling his funeral, handling my family, looking after people. At this time I did not access my emotions as much as I could have, because there was stuff to do, things to organise. It was very important to me that he was never let down ever again, so my energy was devoted to making sure nothing was left to chance. I was flooded with adrenaline, and now it won’t go away. You can imagine how attractive and likeable this makes me!
How I’m dealing with it: Recognising it’s there, and not beating myself up when I feel it begin to ebb away to reveal what’s underneath, which is uncontrollable, messy and terrifying. And trying not to inflict it on other people. It’s not always successful; my tolerance for other people’s inadequacies is at an all time low, and sometimes I snap. It’s a work in progress.
Not talking about my feelings because I think I’m boring
This doesn’t mean I’m avoiding talking to people about it, just that I talk about it in a way which doesn’t require me to be emotional, or impose what I think of as unacceptable emotions on others. In fact, sometimes I have fun messing with people. I was talking to a friend yesterday and in response to something he said, I pushed my bottom lip out and said ‘My brother DIED.’ There was an outraged pause and then hysterical laughter. Then he told me off roundly for thinking I’ll bore people with how I’m actually feeling, which led to me telling him how I was actually feeling, which was nice. Although we did both agree that inappropriate, blackest of black humour can be really fun, if not actually very funny.
How I’m dealing with it: talking properly about how I’m feeling. Not all the time, and not to many people, but I’m practicing. Practicing trusting people, and feeling things.
Yep, there’s a big cushion over my feelings that my brain has erected. It won’t let me feel stuff very often. Stupid brain. Sometimes I think to myself, ‘My brother died,’ and there’s the briefest of little flashes where I can see and feel the colour of what that means, and then it’s covered over again by the fluffiest, nicest scab you ever did see.
But when I do feel things…
Rejection and guilt are the big two. Oh, let’s be honest: rejection, guilt and rage. Three big emotions, there you go.
He told me lots of stuff about his life, stuff I’m pretty sure he didn’t tell anyone else. He said the happiest day of his life was when I got married. When he came up to spend time with me, it was well spent, even when we had terrible fights. When I went down to see him with my wife after his first attempt this year (an overdose) I helped to get him out of hospital and back home, and he said he found it more reassuring when we arrived than when his girlfriend and her mother did. I was his big sister, and we were friends. So when he didn’t tell me what he was planning, when he began to be evasive, when he told me outright lies about how he was and what he was doing, I felt bad enough. When he hanged himself the very day after we had a lovely lighthearted chat, I began to obsessively, forensically, re-evaluate the relationship I thought I’d had with him.
How I’m dealing with it: Funnily enough, the more I investigate our relationship, the more apparent it becomes that he loved me, and his suicide had nothing whatsoever to do with me. He didn’t kill himself because I’m about to have a baby; he wasn’t triggered by anything I said; there was nothing I could have done, and he was very, very ill and not responsible for his actions. I’m beginning to feel better, which is curious, because I didn’t think I would ever stop feeling like his death was somehow my fault.
Yeah, it’s interesting – they say the loved ones of people who’ve killed themselves often end up statistically more likely to kill themselves later.
This, unfortunately for me, is an old, familiar feeling, but all his death has done is to reinforce what I already decided years ago – acting on it causes unimaginable devastation, and my sense of responsibility outweighs any motivation I might feel to do it. If I became very, very ill and more motivated, that might change, and I’m aware of that. I’m aware in a way that makes me think I’m going to be OK.
I’m going to be OK
I sort of believe this.