I'm wondering whether anyone has any advice on losing a family member to suicide. Eight years ago, my younger brother took his own life. I had been accustomed to loss--my mother died when I was a kid, and I cut my father off a while back for various reasons (I haven't spoken with him for more than ten years--indeed, I don't know whether he's still alive). I don't have any other siblings, grandparents, cousins, etc., and I've lost touch with a number of friends over the years. Of my two best friends in high school, one was hit by a car while bicycling, and although he survived the accident, he lost much of his brain function; the other became an Episcopal priest. Even though Episcopalians are supposed to follow "Religion Lite," everything with him is "God this" or "God that." My best friend from college has lived in Japan for fifteen years.

None of that prepared me for my brother's suicide, however, and not even therapy has helped much. I still find reminiscing about him painful. I feel guilty that I didn't see it coming, even though I was living in Chicago at the time and he in New York. I still feel the pit in my stomach that I felt in the immediate aftermath of his death, partly because he was the only person living who didn't need a frame of reference when we talked. He knew me, and I thought I knew him.

My wife is wonderful, but even though she's an empathetic person, she found it hard to empathize with me for very long, as it was just too painful for her. She knew and loved my brother, and she finds loss of any kind intolerable.

So how does one get beyond such an unexpected loss without the usual support system?

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Hi D (can I call you that?), I'm so sorry to hear of your loss. I think you're expecting too much from yourself in thinking you can get beyond your loss. I lost a cousin to suicide several years ago and was studying for my degree then. I approached 1 of my tutors regarding it and she explained that suicide is an out of time loss and it is particularly hard for men to cope with.

I struggled with the death because my entire family are practising catholics and there was no alternative perspective voiced. I ended up using some online chat forums and they did help. I had to move on because I lost other people in quick succession and the theme throughout has been that overtly religious god's plan bs.

The 1 thing I have found that has galvanised me in the face of my loss is focusing on who I lost and what about them makes me miss them so much. It's painful but it's real. My cousin was hysterically religious and I believe it lead to his downfall, I have had to cut through all of that to rediscover the man I am proud of. What I don't recommend is avoiding talking about him. He was a part of your life while he was alive and should still be now he is dead, for me people live on in how we remember them. Although I'm sure you've done it, try to avoid the 'what if's?', they will persecute you and there is no answer to them. I hope this helps, but as I say, it's the answer for me. Good luck with your quest.
Thank you very much for your thoughtful reply. My real name is Randy, but feel free to call me whatever you want. (I use a pseudonym so that the mildly Lutheran school I work for doesn't deny me tenure.) I, too, have run into the "God's plan" bollocks, which infuriates me.

I know what you mean about the "what ifs"--those were deadly. Perhaps I should think and talk about my brother more, but I find that increasingly painful. Perhaps, however, it would be cathartic.

Part of my brother's downfall may have been religion, too. His final act was a "leap from faith," in a way. Thanks again for your post.
Hi Randy if I read the 'fall from faith' statement correctly it sounds identical to my cousin. He threw himself from a 30 storey building, believing god and the devil were battling for his soul. His family chose to subscribe to that viewpoint rather than acknowledge his schizophrenia was out of control.

Is the increasing pain because you're leaving too much time between the events? I am a fan of writing things down. That way you can reread when the pain is less acute. I know from experience, what we hold in is much more caustic than what we vent, however we choose to do that.
Yes, my brother threw himself from a tall building as well. I think that he had been slowly losing his faith, and without it, he had very little left. The health care system in the States, especially for mental illness, is a disaster; he had little support and, I'm sure, felt existentially lonely. I talked with him on the phone a few times a week, and he constantly lamented that his friends had abandoned him owing to his bipolar disorder and his living circumstances. I was in graduate school at the time and could not send any money his way. Our father was too feckless to help.

In fairness to his friends, he did get pretty out there at times, so I can't entirely blame them; they were dealing with their own struggles and couldn't handle his occasional rants about the Lord's return when he went off his medications.

Perhaps I do need to write down my thoughts and feelings more frequently. I once thought of writing a book about my brother's life, but that idea now strikes me as acutely painful. Nonetheless, talking about him and jotting down my thoughts in a journal might be therapeutic. These exchanges really help as well--thank you.




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