Yesterday was my brother’s birthday.
My brother, who would have been 47 years old, committed suicide by hanging himself from his attic trapdoor in the hallway of his house on December 15th, 2008. He left no note, no explanation, no message of any kind. Since his death I’ve had the near-obsession of recreating his life from the scraps that were left. An email here and there (I was able to hack into his computers), a receipt from Home Depot (for rope, plastic zip ties, and a metal pole) that was dated four weeks prior, bills and business files, phone calls and messages on his cellphone, the potroast that he cooked the night before, it’s remains neatly stored in tupperware in his refrigerator, a DVD movie that was left in his DVD player — these bizarre findings are all clues now to me on this quest.
But, I digress.
On the morning of December 15th, my 74 year old mother got an early phonecall from my brother’s office, from employees at his computer sales/service/tech business. They said he wasn’t there to open up, which was strange, it had never happened before. So my mother drove across the small town to his house, knocked and beat on the door for over 30 minutes, and eventually broke a small window on the kitchen door to let herself in.
She started to scream when she saw him, still lightly swinging, the rope around his neck, a ladder-backed chair that I had given him kicked out from under the lifeless body swaying in the hallway. My mother was torn between the complete horror of the situation and the strong surge of maternal instinct to relieve him somehow, to hug him, to get him down, to help him, this child she had borne and loved.
She only stopped screaming when she was so hoarse she was barely able to whisper and the police had arrived.
An investigation ensued that lasted a week, my brother was sent to the crime lab in Atlanta, was photographed and prodded by a coroner and a pathologist and who knows how many detectives and others. The official finding was suicide even though he was clever enough to use zip ties to bind his wrists behind his back. The body was released to us on late Friday night, we were made aware of the laws in his state regarding un-embalmed corpses by the funeral home director, so we had to plan and execute a memorial service and cremation in less than 24 hours.
I wrote the obituary, bought food and drink for a wake, arranged for my brother’s best friend and business partner to give a non-religious eulogy, bought new clothes for the mortuary employees to dress him in, made financial arrangements with the funeral home director, and went to a private, family-only viewing of the body, all in the small space of around 12 hours. I didn’t cry, I didn’t even think the whole time. I was strong enough to do this somehow. To this day, I do not know how.
The private viewing was the most horrific and gut-wrenching one event that I’ve ever had to endure. My brother was barely recognizable, although the mortuary workers had done a good job in camouflaging his grievous, mortal injuries. His face was pale and swollen and I could see the deep purpley bruising marks that ran under his shirt collar and on his wrists. I wish that there was some way that I could erase this sight from my memory but it’s burned deeply into my retinas and my brain. My mother, my brother’s ex-wife and his two sons, and my other brother all broke down pitifully and loudly and understandably several times.
All I could think, the lines that kept running through my mind like a reel-to-reel tape loop was, “How could you do this to these people who so loved you?” “How will I ever be able to fix this massive pain in my family?” “How could you do this to us?”
We survived the ordeal as a family somehow, and I have now returned to my home some 450 miles away. My mother will never fully recover and her health is failing as a result, she probably will not live through this year. And every now and then, at the most absurd and inopportune times, a picture of my brother kicking that chair away or of him in the pitiful cremation casket at that funeral home will flash through my mind like an electrical current burning it’s horror all the way down to the pit of my belly and I have to suddenly sit or bend over gasping at the pain that courses through the very core of my being.
If you’re ever considering suicide, PLEASE, reach out to someone and PLEASE, do not put the people who love you through this never-ending agony.