One of our daughters was a teenager when her brother ended his life; the other, was studying and the mother of a toddler. aged three and a half. They needed comfort and understanding from us but most of the time, they needed to try and cope with their own feelings and lives. My husband and I listened to their anger, blame-placing, guilt as well as their sorrow. We encouraged them to talk. We mentioned David’s name often and basically we were there for them while trying desperately to cope with our own feelings that were in shreds.
Their emotions came in intense waves. They felt guilty – why him? Why did it happen to their brother and not to them? How come they were unable to help him? They were shocked even though we had warned them that this might occur. But, warning is very different from what actually happened.
A sibling suicide death creates incredible life changes for the survivors. The death of their brother didn’t only emphasize their own mortality, but also destroyed the fabric of the family as it had been. Older generations are supposed to die first, aren’t they?
The importance of sibling relationships cannot be emphasized enough. Chances are that the longest relationships in our lives will be with our siblings since we are generally just a few years apart in age. Because our sibling ties are so strong, we witness more life changes than anyone else does. We have shared experiences and memories, shared bedrooms and chores, family celebrations and tensions – a history and a whole heritage. We have been bound by love and jealousy, we have stuck up for and fought one another and stood together against our parents on occasion. We have grown up together, sharing so much until the death of our brother severed that connection.
For the above reasons, sibling grief can be prolonged and complicated. They felt an intense sense of loss. With the passing of their brother, they lost an important sense of family ties and especially, security. Suddenly a family member, not much older than them, had gone, and they had to reorganize and redefine their roles. I know that they tried to overcompensate in an effort to make up for what we had lost.
Losing a sibling to suicide sets up what I now know is called complicated grief. As if suicide grief is not sufficiently difficult, adding in the factors relating to sibling loss, reminds us of how unique the sibling bond can be. I have no doubt that until then, my daughters had thought that they were immortal because who even thinks of facing death at their stage of life? They learned the hard way that life does not hold unlimited promises. I think that they were also angry at the mental health professionals for their lack of success with their brother’s case. They alternated between isolating themselves and being with friends as they tried re-entry into their social spheres once again.
My late husband and I were young when we married in 1959 and instilled in our children the importance of family, volunteering and being good people. We also showered them with love and attention. Growing up, we took the three of them on car vacations and camping trips. Holidays were special times in our family. We also felt that it was important to give each of them extra-special attention on birthdays. When David became ill, the voices in his head took over and he was no longer the same person. He studied and worked but when the voices became more insistent, they destroyed his concentration and peace of mind.
We all learned that to a rational, functioning mind, suicide is such an irrational, incomprehensible, senseless act that it was hard for us to believe that someone we loved so much could have done that. We now know that that he was in such terrible pain that he could no longer think of anything but the ending it.
Mental illness and suicide are still stigmatized by our society. The aftermath of our tragedy has been noticeable in our family as well as the extended family. Some chose to isolate themselves from the rest of us. Many banded together to try to cope with the ramifications of our monumental loss. Our daughters think of their brother every day, as we do, and when we gather for family celebrations and he is no longer with us, there is a huge gap in the spot he used to occupy. There is no doubt that David’s suicide changed us all.. It also forced us to join a club that we had not wished to join – the survivor’s of suicide club. Sometimes when life deals one lemons we have to learn to make lemon juice.
Their brother, David, was almost 34 when he took his life in 1996. During his stay on Earth, he touched many lives. He loved reading and surfing, was a hard worker, responsible, reliable, and dependable until paranoid schizophrenia took over.
No one ever gets over a death. It simply becomes a part of one and we will live with it till the end of our lives.
A message from our daughters to their brother – Like Mom and Dad, we hope that you have found the peace you were denied here on Earth. We miss you. We love you.