“What I learned from my brother’s suicide.”

Trigger warning: Story contains content regarding suicide. 

Being the oldest child gave me a few privileges growing up.

One I remember clearly was being able to stay up later than my brother. It was probably only 15 to 20 minutes later, but being eight or nine years old at the time, it seemed like I was up until midnight!

I remember laying on my Mum’s lap watching M*A*S*H with her. Not only did I have my parents to myself, but my Mum was different. She laughed, she smiled, she was relaxed… and best of all, she seemed to actually like cuddling with me.

Looking back, I’m not sure M*A*S*H was the most appropriate show for me, but I have held on to two memories over the past 46 years. Alan Alda was a good actor because he made my Mum laugh out loud. My preference was Radar, because he kept everything together behind the scenes (my kind of person!).

The other thing I remember was the theme song Suicide is Painless. I used to sing it all the time not knowing what it was saying… it just sounded pretty.

Fast-forward 37 years, and I’m no longer the oldest child, I am the only child. I am the one keeping everything together behind the scenes. Ironically, my Mum seems to laugh more now than she ever did.

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And, I don’t sing or hum the M*A*S*H theme song anymore. In fact, it makes me cringe.

Suicide affects different people in different ways. Watch Robyn Bailey speak to Mia Freedman about her husband’s suicide:

My brother, Sean, killed himself in 2012. If it seems like I am coming across as cold and detached, trust me, saying my brother killed himself is the most painful phrase in the world for me.

It may seem matter-of-fact, but the truth is, I became tired of being “polite” and saying either, a) my brother passed away and then I get tons of questions followed by blank looks as I explain he committed suicide, or b) my brother died tragically and then everyone assumes he was killed in a car accident, during an avalanche, or while helping someone rescue their cat from a burning house (all of which were possible for Sean).

This only brings about more questions and more awkwardness as I try to explain what happened, and then get the head tilt, the polite, “I’m so sorry for your loss,” and an awkward change of subject.

Suicide is not painless, contrary to what the M*A*S*H theme song states. Suicide SUCKS at first (and still does), but the results of Sean’s death have been fascinating as they continue to unfold:

1) My brother was tortured for various reasons, which I will share in another post. From my view it was clear he actually died a slow death as a neurological disease (CTE) took his mind and heart from him and us. My brother just finished the process as he was tired of losing himself and hurting those he loved.

How could something positive come out of his suicide? We started a non-profit organization that focused on providing information and resources about CTE, also known as the football players’ disease.

We have helped educate so many families, individuals, and organizations about concussions, brain injuries, and CTE. My hope is that no one else has to experience what my brother did, or we did as a family and community of support.

sad man via istock
My brother was tortured for various reasons. Image via iStock.

2) Grief is a journey that everyone goes through differently. I grieved while my brother was still alive, as he was in our care and I saw what he was going through 24/7.

My parents didn’t see it coming. They never thought their son would be the one to take his own life. We were the “model” Catholic family. Well, at least they thought we were. We were “impervious” to tragedy. HA!

So, three years later, they are still unlearning their old-school Catholic teachings about suicide and finding their truth as they continue to grieve the loss of their son.

My brother’s death opened my parents. It was like my version of the Matrix movie. It was their version of the Red Pill. Are they still grieving? Yes. Can I “fix” it for them? No. Is that my job? Not at all.

So what can I do? What I always do (or try to do). I look for the lessons. I look for the learning from the experience. I thought I would start my official life as a blogger by putting out something very raw for me and see what comes next. My hope is that my journey and lessons learned will at least bring comfort to others who are experiencing their own life lessons. Oh, and speaking of lessons …

woman bench via istock
“I look for the learning from the experience.” Image via iStock.

What have I learned through all of this:

1) Honour my need to grieve my way, and honour others as they grieve their own way.

I found a spiritual grief coaching center and surrounded myself with chosen family. My views are fairly expansive, so I tend not to hold on to the physical world as much as my parents did. My Mum took a deep dive into her religion and finally came up for air and she found she had her own answers and needs, as it related to losing her son.

My job was not to judge her process, or my Dad who ‘shut down’ his emotions. My role is to honour their experiences and join them as needed. I couldn’t take their pain away, nor was it my job to.

2) When I learn of a tragic death, a terminal diagnosis, a suicide — I’ve found it is okay to say to someone impacted by tragedy: “That sucks!”

Honestly, that sentiment captures it all. I also appreciated when people told me they didn’t know what to say. There was a comfort in knowing we both felt the awkwardness of the sympathy exchange.

3) I love my daughter until she pulls away! 

And even then, I sneak in some hugs, cuddles, or even just hold her until she falls asleep on my lap — no matter what age she is, she will never doubt she is loved! As I continue to grow as a Mum and see my daughter struggling with her own growth, I make sure to create time for play and love. I tell her corny jokes, we have sock and pillow fights, I tickle her, she tickles me, and I am very conscious of being present with her.

I used to spend so much time working on my laptop that my daughter’s family portrait showed me with my laptop. No one should ever go through life not knowing they are worthy of being loved. (Nor should they think Dell, Apple, HP, or Acer are somewhere in the family tree and deserve to be in a family portrait!)

If this story brings up any issues for you, please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14. 

This post originally appeared on BlogHer.com and was written by Colleen O’Malley Weber from Sunsei Media. You can visit her Facebook page raising awareness about CTE here.

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