The Last Enemy

Earlier this week, I had another post planned for today. Then on Friday, I got a different idea. Then, I went to Easter Mass today, and it became clear that, at least for now, writing about anything other than death and resurrection on Easter isn’t an option. My faith certainly isn’t anything to brag about, but I like to believe that God (or Grandma S, or 3) occasionally take the time to send me messages, and this morning was full of them.

As I walked into the generally uncrowded service at the university chapel, the priest stopped me and asked if I’d be willing to do a reading. (I imagine it’s because I was wearing a dress instead of the jeans that most congregants choose). Sure, Father, happy to! More Jesus points for me :) The reading to which I was assigned was from St. Paul’s letter to the Colossians, a short passage that speaks about life with Christ after death, exhorting the reader to focus on heavenly, rather than earthly, things.

I suppose I should have seen it coming, but it still managed to catch me a bit off-guard that the entire focus of the Mass was death. The theme of the homily was that there can be no resurrection without death, no joy without sorrow. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death and all that. The priest told the story of a young man who lost his sister to a car accident and broke down sobbing with a deacon. The quote from the homily was “It is safe to grieve in the arms of a man of Christ.” Come on, now. Talking about death and then telling me it’s safe to grieve? I just wanted to go to Mass, dude, not a personalize counseling session!

I guess I haven’t yet talked to anyone else who has lost a loved one about going to church services. Do mentions of death just automatically take on more significance? Are Easter celebrations forevermore tainted with your own experience of loss? Honestly, I don’t even remember what the homily was about last Easter. I was too busy playing with B in the pews.

I have believed in heaven and resurrection my whole life. It’s not that 3′s death has dented that belief; it’s just that I have a new appreciation for what it means if I’m wrong. Now, when the readings or the priest talk about death and resurrection, they’re talking about 3. Resurrection is no longer an abstract concept for me – it’s a legitimate hope if I ever want to see my brother again.

 

The Genetics of Crazy

I had another post planned for today, but then I got a letter from my dad. The contents of the letter so perfectly encapsulate the man I grew up with that I thought I’d share, hoping to shed some light on not only my own considerable daddy issues, but why I place a considerable amount of external blame for 3′s suicide on my father and his family.

Since Dad’s word processor apparently died, all of his letters have come scrawled on yellow legal paper. The most recent gem is 4 full pages, front and back. It started with a relatively innocent discussion of basketball, then segued into a litany of bland, cliched advice, “values” that he “had hoped to provide” to his children, a dream tragically dashed by “circumstances” [read: my parents' divorce, which has never, ever been even remotely his fault]. The last piece of advice was about choosing a spouse. Naturally (well, naturally if you know my dad), this segued reminiscence about his marriage to Mom. His “greatest, most enjoyable memories” were times spent with Mom, and his love for her “grew every day.”

I, of course, know where this story goes when my Dad tells is, having heard dozens upon dozens of lectures on the topic when I was younger, but Dad still devoted 2 more pages to describing how Mom cheated on him and turned his world “completely upside down.” Now, I will be the first to admit that, as I was not present for any of the alleged cheating, I can’t know for sure if Mom was actually unfaithful, but based on Mom’s side of the story and my own considerable experience with both Dad’s pathological lying and his frequent lack of cohesion with reality, I firmly believe that Mom’s “affair” is yet another figment of Dad’s imagination – Dad’s way of explaining the divorce without having to exercise any self-awareness or take responsibility.

Anyway! Here’s where it gets good. Dad writes “I do want to apologize to my remaining children.” Oh, yeah? You want to acknowledge that you did something wrong as a parent, other than “not being there” for us? (His go-to non-issue when trying to sound humble) My intrigue was richly rewarded in the next line as Dad explained that he wanted to apologize, not for the years of mental and emotional abuse, not for the refusal to seek help for his plethora of mental illness, but for “telling [us] about [our] Mother’s relationship with [former coworker with whom the fictitious affair took place].”

Wait, it gets better: Dad then went on to say that he’ll “never know what long term impact the divorce and aftermath” had on us, but that “the possibility” that he “contributed” to 3′s “behavior” will “bother [him] for a long time.” [Note: the behavior to which Dad was referring wasn't even 3's suicide, but his underage drinking and smoking, because *that's* what we should be concerned about, right?]

Please wait while I get some tissues to dry my tears of deepest sympathy. The possibility? Like there’s just a chance, not an absolute certainty that you contributed, not to your son’s suicide, but his generally common adolescent illegal activity? And that teeny-weeny chance, that will bother you? It’ll bug you? Irk you a little bit? For. Fucks. Sake. Whatever. I blame Dad enough for several people.

So there you go. I don’t think I really had a lesson here or a point to make; I just wanted to rant. If his own son’s suicide can’t permeate the finely-honed personal reality that Dad has created for himself, I suppose there’s really no chance that I’ll ever get a real apology or acknowledgement of just how damaged he made all of us. I know 600 words isn’t nearly enough to convey how frustrating a single letter can be after a lifetime of crazy, but for now, I consider this blog a viable coping mechanism :)

On Suicide

Since 3 died, I’ve maintained that the manner of his death really isn’t that important to me. Yes, there are certain grief quirks that are unique to suicide – lack of “someone else” to blame, the thankfully outdated history of theological implications, etc. – but to me, the fact that my brother is dead overwhelmingly dwarfs any details about the manner of death. That being said, I do find my worldview noticeably altered by 3′s suicide.

I’ve written before about my newfound appreciation for just how much gun violence is depicted in TV and movies. Suicide, by gun and other means, is no exception. It’s stunning how cavalierly people throw around the concept of killing themselves: miming putting a gun to their heads, saying things like “If X happens again, I’ll throw myself off a bridge,” etc. Saying that something makes you want to kill yourself is played for humor, a dark exaggeration of just how much someone doesn’t want to be in a situation. Usually, the situation is something shockingly mundane, like listening to a coworker or waiting in line.

In addition to no longer finding such lines even remotely funny, I think they show a profound disrespect for the seriousness of suicide. People with mental illness, people who consider taking their own lives already believe that death is preferable to whatever pain they’re in. And here is some character in a movie saying they’d rather die than spend another minute with their mother-in-law. If death isn’t even any worse than having a conversation with someone you don’t like, how bad can it be? At the very least, I think it’s lazy writing. There are so many other, more clever examples of hyperbole to illustrate just how little someone wants to do something or be somewhere. One of my favorite examples (from a highly inappropriate movie that, naturally, 3 recommended) is a character saying he’d rather “Fellate a hot curling iron” than do whatever the other characters were suggesting. Graphic, plausible, and taking advantage of the fact that, I think, most people don’t even know fellate is a verb. Much more effective than saying “I’d rather kill myself.” (There you go. A little window in to the sense of humor 3 and I shared – a strange mix of erudite vocabulary and low-brow genital references)

For once, I’d like to see other characters react appropriately when someone says they’d rather die, even in a joking manner. When I was a sophomore in high school, for some reason, our creep of a biology teacher was telling us how females are far less likely to “succeed” at suicide, because girls tend to try to overdose on Tylenol, while males use guns, which are more effective. Sarcastically, I muttered “I’ll remember that the next time I want to kill myself.” My lab partner, a talented and popular basketball player who you wouldn’t expect to care about such things, slapped me on the arm and said “Don’t talk like that.” 12 years later, I still remember being stunned, and subsequently pleased. He and I weren’t especially close, but he cared enough to let me know that suicide is never OK, not even to joke about.

I doubt I’ll ever know if anyone ever said anything like that to 3. I have no idea if it would have made any difference. But what if it did? What if it would for someone else? What if we stopped joking, stopped treating suicide like a punchline, glibly legitimizing the possibility? If you’re reading this, consider it your slap on the arm from me. Don’t talk like that. I know it’s not that simple for most people, but I think the world would be a lot better off if, instead of laughing at suicide jokes, we all had someone to slap us and say it’s not something to joke about.

Land of the Living, Part III

Noticing a theme of this year? Me, too.

Over the past few weeks, as I’ve settled into life in Dublin with everything in place – staff ID, internet in my apartment, basic housewares, etc. – I’ve started to develop a nice little weekend routine. I’ll sleep in on Saturday, walk to the library in the early afternoon to check out a new novel, stop for some fast food on the way back, then go back to my apartment, eat, read, and catch up on TV online for pretty much the rest of the weekend. It’s relaxing, it’s antisocial, and I love it.

If you ask most of my family members (certainly my mom!), they’d tell you that they want me to met my future husband in Ireland so I they can all attend a wedding in an Irish castle (and probably so they can have an in-law with a cool accent).Hate to disappoint them all, but I am obviously not putting in any effort to meet Mr. Right. In fact, I’m not putting in any effort to meet or interact with anyone at all. I’m spending my free time curled up in my room, reading dozens of novels and spending way too much time online.

While I’ve never been one for huge social gatherings, I’ve always considered myself an extrovert. I like people (for the most part), I like interacting with people, and I like making friends. But, as you all know, it’s been a hell of a year for me. It’s been exhausting. So now that I’m slowly making my way back to a life that isn’t consumed by grief, I find myself taking it slowly – giving myself quite a bit of protected me-time where I don’t have to worry about the rest of the world. And you know what? It’s been a blast. I absolutely love to read, and I’ve been devouring new books, finishing novels in days only to return to the library and check out some more. I really need to get a Kindle…

That’s not to say that I’ve purposely avoiding all social contact. Just this weekend, three of the girls from my research team took me to the Cliffs of Moher (see picture of the cliffs draped in rainy mist, aka Ireland in a nutshell!). The trip itself was just over 24 hours, and was very enjoyable. The girls are pleasant and easygoing, and I didn’t find myself feeling like I was holding back by not talking about 3. It was a perfectly nice weekend that had nothing to do with my dead brother.

In addition to this weekend’s little jaunt out west, I have two big trips planned for September: a resort in the Dominican Republic with M, and a week and a half in Florida with Kay. I am ridiculously excited for both trips. I’m treating them as my reward for surviving the past year+, and have told both M and Kay this. They were both instrumental in helping me survive 3′s death, and I’m so looking forward to sharing days of joy and relaxation with each of them.

So I have, I think, plenty going on as I emerge into this post-misery world. I’m just going to take it a little bit at a time, with plenty of quiet reading days to ease the transition.

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Slipping Away

For the past several weeks – almost since I moved to Ireland, really – 3′s voice has been less clear than ever. My nightly ritual before I go to sleep is to mentally tell him that I miss him and I love him, then “listen” for him to say “Love you, too.” While his voice has never been as clear as it was for the few days after he died, I could generally imagine a response that closely matched how he would say it when he was alive. Now, I have to “ask” 2 or 3 times, or just give up and settle for something close to what I remember.

At first, I thought it was only because I hadn’t actually heard 3′s voice for so long. No big deal; that’s what home videos are for! It really had been too long since I’d watched some of the video clips retrieved from 3′s computer. I enjoyed the movies – my family is hilarious, and I giggle just as much now, watching clips of Christmas 2010, as I did at the time. But, as none of the videos actually contain a shot of 3 saying “Love you, too,” watching them didn’t make our nightly “conversations” any clearer.

Of course, I know that I can’t hang on to everything about 3 forever. I recently read somewhere that, when we remember something, we’re not remembering the actual event; we’re remembering the last time we remembered it. Does that make sense? If that’s true, it’s natural that our memories get imperceptibly weaker every time we access them, gradually diminishing over time.

So I approach this next stage of life without 3 not with fear and misery, but with a resigned sigh. I know there’s nothing I can do to get my brother back. Do I enjoy not being able to hear my brother’s voice? Not at all. Do I wish with everything in me that he was still alive? You’re damn sure that’d be my first order of business if I ever found a magic lamp. But life is for the living, as they say. (Maybe no one actually says that. I don’t know) I suppose I’m just not as willing anymore to let the repercussions of 3′s death keep me from doing just that.