This week something awful happened, and I find myself still reeling from the news of it in many ways. On January 21st, at approximately 10AM my older brother Daniel decided to end his life following an extended period of strife and struggle within his own personal life. I never really talked much about him because we were living our own separate lives on opposite ends of the country, but I always wished the best for him and the family he’d made for himself. Many years ago, because of our shared childhood, we came to a mutual agreement to live our own best lives, and wish the best for the other. We didn’t feel that we could coexist after the things we had experienced. We would sometimes talk about life over the phone or via text message, and the death of our grandmother in 2017 brought us into more direct contact. It was my hope – all but dashed now – that this unfortunate event might bring us together, but it only served to drive a wedge between us as various concerns rose to the surface. I’m unclear on whether or not I’ll be allowed to attend his service, or if I’m allowed whether or not I’ll be welcomed, so I’ve prepared what follows as a eulogy for someone that I loved with my whole heart.
My first memory of you was with your back to me, standing in between myself and our father. Early in our shared lives you took on the role of protector, and our father could be cruel at times, driven by addiction and all of the maladies that follow. You took your role as my big brother seriously, and wore it as a kind of badge of pride; that day you took a beating in my stead, and it wouldn’t be the last time that you would shield me from the awful circumstances we found ourselves in. As we grew older, we began to drift further apart, but not before you got me involved in Scouting. You served as a leader in our troop, and as a counselor at our camp, but you never stopped being my big brother. Looking out for me in your own unique way while also giving me no end of grief in exchange for your guidance.
When you exited your early teen years, a change occurred that I’ve struggled with ever since it happened. I spent most of my time on grandma’s knee or at grandpa’s desk, working at my education and various projects under their tutelage, while you took a very different path in your own life. You never cared much for formal education, deciding instead to focus on the Explorer’s Program. You dropped out of high school, the same that I would attend later in my life – and pay for it dearly, thanks to your own precedent reputation – and focused on a life in the emergency services. I still remember the sparkle in your eye when you would survey new radio equipment, or the new vehicles that rolled off the line and into service. Your focus was a heroic one, but it was also one that was mired in self doubt and struggling against your own better nature.
Over the years you had earned the trust of these individuals, but then much as our father did, you turned toward unsavory choices and broke much of the trust that was instilled in you. You wrestled with anger, brother, and doubt. I can still remember a knock on the apartment door in the early hours of the morning, only to open up and find you stood next to State Troopers holding the front bumper of our Ford Taurus. I still laugh about it, even now with tears in my eyes.
You hated our parents for the situation they’d put us in, and any help offered to you only served to incense you further, including my own. You thought me weak for living with our grandparents, for accepting help from the people that produced our shared boogeymen. You turned your back on any semblance of this former life and found your own path through life. Your choices placed you in many different situations, some of which you handled much better than others. Unfortunately this meant that you and I would drift even further apart, and the zenith of our relationship had finally passed away. We would never be as close as we were then, though we came close a few times – my exit from military service, for instance, where I saw glimmers of that faithful big brother I had remembered so fondly. The change that I struggled with the most was the bottomless anger that you seemed so intent on feeding. Nothing in your life would ever quench the flames, no amount of kindness or well meaning words could apparently squelch the noise in your head.
I used to hate our parents too, but it lacked the intense quality of your experience with them. You endured our father for years before I was born, and from the few times we talked I was able to form an idea of what made you into the man you became. But even following that, it wasn’t the hate that drove you forward, but love – love for the family that you had left, and the one that you created. The hatred was fuel for you, because you were afraid to stop moving for fear of your shadow catching up to you. I know what that feels like, and I wish we could have talked about it sometime. I find myself harboring a lot of regrets today, and I’ll struggle with those for an unknown amount of time. What remains certain, though, is that I loved you. I never spoke much about you in the company of my friends and family here on the west coast, because I viewed you as something private and special. We fought, often and loudly, and this past year was something I don’t think we would have ever recovered from. You felt anger at me for not telling you immediately about my cancer, and I felt the same anger at you for not telling me about your struggles. Even then you grappled with depression and anxiety, turning to prescription medications to assuage the pain you felt on an apparently daily basis. I’ve found myself drifting off into thought today, wondering about how I might have changed things for you. What more I might have done to back you away from the chasm of depression and eventual suicide.
In reality I don’t think there is much that I could’ve done for you; I’m your brother, and I have no doubt that you loved me. But with the other things in your life – a dedicated wife, two loving children – what chance would I have realistically stood? If, in your final moments, you weighed the worth of all these things and found them lacking next to your grief, then there is nothing that any of us could have done to pull you back. Your life was your own, brother, and you took it. Irrevocably you are gone in the physical sense, and the rest of us are left wondering about why. I have thoughts on that, but I’ll save them for later when I pour you a glass of my finest. In the end, the “why” of it doesn’t matter really, only that it happened. You’ve left a giant hole in an apparently large number of lives, professionally and personally, and there can be no doubt that you will be missed. Receiving the news of your suicide over the phone felt like an invisible punch to the gut, robbing me of my senses and the breath I held in my lungs. To think that you, my brother, were gone from this world was too much for me to bear. I had always held out hope that years down the road you and I might reconcile over a case of Millers out past Goodnight Road, towards the church and overgrown lot that used to be our home. Sitting in your truck and enduring your questionable taste in music, exchanging stories and sharing excitement about new technologies.
But that will never happen now, and it’s going to take me some time to figure out what to put in that gap. I’m not angry at you, and I don’t despise you for making the choice you did. I sincerely hope that you have found the peace you were so desperate to find among our family in whatever comes after this life. In the meantime I write these words for you with a fondness in my heart, remembering the images of you from our childhood that I hold most dear. You lost your fight with depression, but I don’t think of you as weak or incapable. Your wife and children are going to miss you, and that cross is going to be theirs to bear for the rest of their lives, and I’m certainly going to miss you in my own way. The past two years have taken far more than I thought I would be able to bear, but I’m still here and I’ll continue to be here in your stead, carrying on whatever is left of our family’s legacy.
With that, I close these words to you with a simple wish – that wherever you are at this moment you can feel my love for you, and that you have found peace. I smelled flowers this morning, and I don’t know if that was grief or you – because you hated flowers – but the smell was distinct enough that I think I got the message. Just like the rest of our departed family, you and I will meet again someday on some distant and foreign shore, and I’m going to punch you in the face while our grandfather laughs. Afterward I hope we can share a hug and you’ll show me around. If you find a goofy German Shepherd up there, his name is Booth and I would ask you to take care of him for me in the meantime. He’s a good boy, but like me he can mean well while doing stupid stuff. You two should get along pretty well. God bless you, and keep you.
While the above is directed at my brother in a very familiar and jocular tone, I want to stress how serious the threat of suicide is. My brother had just finished a vacation in Aruba with his wife, and ended his life alone in a room while others were busy at work or doing other things. There were no warning signs that were apparently visible, and that’s precisely how depression works. A person can look completely normal and at ease to you, while secretly planning all the minutiae of their suicide.
Please make an effort to talk to the people that you love, whether or not you think they’re ok, or regardless of what they say. You never know what someone is going through until you ask, and the answers may shock you. The simple act of reaching out may be enough to pull someone back from the edge of despair, and you’ll have averted the ultimate tragedy. Life is meant to be lived and not wasted, so please don’t let the people that you love throw that away.
Absolutely nothing in this world or any other is worth ending your life over; if you’re depressed, talk to someone. Reach out to the people you love and get help.