Today is my brother’s birthday; Vince would have been 29 this year. He killed himself slowly over years of inner turmoil, drug use and self-medication. There’s so much I know now that I wish I could have shared with him, yet I know I only learned these things while healing my broken heart. These are some of the lessons I’ve learned since the experience of losing him and watching my parents and sister ache over their own loss. It’s my hope that someone out there reading this will heal a little from theirs.
What I know for sure:
We must feel to heal. We can try to bottle up feelings and contain them for awhile, but eventually they seep out in unintentional ways. I was pregnant when my brother died, and I was so afraid to feel the depth of my sadness for fear that I would pass that darkness along to my son. I swallowed my sadness and anger over his death for almost 3 years and it nearly drowned me. Only after I finally allowed myself to feel that depth of sorrow and darkness that I’d been avoiding, did I begin to see and feel the light.
Our thought patterns form our beliefs, and our beliefs form our reality. We can change each of these, but only if we want to. My brother believed that he was somehow broken inside and couldn’t be “fixed”. Towards the end of his life, he was tormented by these thoughts and yet didn’t accept the help to change them. In fact, my brother wasn’t broken; he didn’t need “fixing”. He refused to accept help, and therefore no one could have changed this for him (Mom, Dad, Sis – this includes all of us).
When we allow ourselves to live fully in the present moment (without the emotional baggage of the past or the fear of the unknown that exists with the future), we open up space to feel truly alive and to live our lives more fully. I could have kept dwelling on “what could have been” forever and continued to be miserable. That’s not the life I want (and I know that’s not the life my brother wanted me to have). The fact is, we cannot change the past or skip to the future; now is really all we have. It is always now.
Practicing mindfulness is as simple as observing one’s breath, and it is a gift we can give ourselves anytime, anywhere. Focusing on my breath reminds me I can get through “this” one moment at a time, no matter what “this” is. Focusing on my breath reminds me to slow down and to be present. Focusing on my breath energizes and relaxes me, and winds down any anxiety I am experiencing. (In retrospect, the fact that I was pregnant when we lost him is likely how I was able to keep so steady in the immediate months after. Because I was so focused on my body and the life growing inside of me, I hadn’t yet begun the soundtrack of regret and remorse which snuck up on me later.)
We always have a choice, even when the choice is to stay stuck. My brother didn’t actively commit suicide. He chose to stay stuck in his perspective that he couldn’t be helped, and therefore didn’t want it. He chose to live each day like Russian Roulette with what he put in his body. Once I let go of the anger I felt at him for making those choices, I realized that they were his choices to make.
I believe we all are born with a basic purpose for our lives, and it is up to us to fulfill it before we move on. I don’t know whether my brother fulfilled his purpose just before he died, but I do know that his life was not wasted. My grief over losing him began my spiritual journey and through my own work I uncovered my life’s purpose.
“Today is my brother’s birthday; Vince would have been 29 this year. He killed himself slowly over years of inner turmoil, drug use and self-medication.” But that’s not his whole story. Nor is it mine. Although he felt helpless to his loops of thought, he could also laugh at himself and signed his name “Vinsanity.” He loved laughing with his close friends. He loved playing golf and basketball. He loved being around his niece. It’s sometimes strange to think how much I’ve learned about life since his death. That was his gift to me. It took me a few years to accept it and to begin paying attention, but when I finally grieved him, I felt a huge release and then immense gratitude. I’m grateful for the chance to have held him as a baby, to have made him belly laugh as a child, and to feel his strong arms bear hug me as a young man. I’m grateful for the journey of discovery I am on and all that I’m learning.
I’m having new discoveries every day, so the last one I’ll share now is this: we are all connected. Although he’s not here in the flesh, from time to time I can feel my brother’s energy and hear his voice in my mind. Sometimes he’s in the room with me, in the car beside me, or out on the trails behind our neighborhood. The point is, he’s in me. I need only be still and listen.