Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Brotherhood

I  have always believed that we walk through the fires of life for several reasons.  The first to teach us things about ourselves and others.  The second, to be able to help others when they walk through the same fires.  We cannot fully appreciate the pain and suffering of another person unless we too have felt it's sting and levels of agony.  Whether it is healthy issues, financial difficulties or the loss of loved ones, we cannot empathize with someone else unless we have felt their despair.  Sympathy is pointless, mere words designed to comfort both the other party and ourselves.  Empathy, on the other hand, is knowledge beyond question.  Empathetic words have value and they come from a place littered with a debris called experience.  Trust me , the person suffering knows the difference.

A year and a few months ( I think that's right, I still dont have a firm grip on timelines) after Logan's suicide (as determined by law officials and medical examiners) I was functional again.  My life had direction, I was moving forward and had more focus.  I worked and cared for my family and personally, I think I did it well, all things considered.  I had endured the second set of holidays without Logan and while he remained the ghost in the room at family gatherings, we did alright.  The Christmas break from work was nice and much needed.  I tend to stay home during that time, emerging for trips to the grocery store. Home is theraputic for me.  It is my shelter from life's storms.

When I returned to work afterwards, I emailed a coworker, Michael,  that worked at another campus. Cheerfully, I inquired about the holidays and asked if Santa had been good to him.  His reply left me stunned.  Michael explained to me that his baby brother, a contract worker in Iraq,  had committed suicide during the holidays.  I felt my stomach sink and things got a bit blurry.

It reminded me of the time shortly after Logan's death, only a year earlier, that I was helping a student in the office.  She was visibly upset.  I was always one of the first adults to see a child at school. I could see if they were having a good day or not.  I could also see if there was a serious problem and when that happened, I would get them back to their counselor instead of letting them try to go to class with a burden they could not carry.  On this day, I asked her if she was ok.  She said "No, my best friend committed suicide last night".  I remember trying to fill out her pass to class.  But I couldn't see the words on the paper.  My coworker was standing next to me, I looked at her and said "can you finish this for me please?". I instructed the girl to wait for me inside the office, that I would be right back.   I got up, walked out of my office and into the back interior of the vault where I could be alone.  I couldn't breathe.  My mind was racing and I remember telling myself  this isnt happening to me.  This is not Logan.. This isnt me that had a friend commit suicide last night.  This isnt me, this is her, this is her, this is her.  For several minutes I stayed in there, in that vault and cried, mentally trying to seperate myself from this girl's situation.  I then composed myself and breathed deeply.  I wiped my tears, met the girl and took her back to her counselor.

When we are traumatized, we remain easily traumatized.  It takes very little to send us back to that dark place, that place of chaos and pain.  The good thing is that, with time,  we dont stay there for weeks and months.  The roller coaster still runs but we are out of the dips much faster and back on top where we can breathe.

Now here was Michael. His brother was gone.  His devastation evident.  His world had come crashing down, it was imploding and chaos had taken over.  For several months we talked.  I shared with him my loss and he told me that no one understood how he felt like I did.  Sadly we both shared the same kind of  horrible loss.  We talked about how we had lost people before to illness and accident and how bad that was to endure.  We also talked about being a suicide survivor and how much longer it took to find our way out of that darkness.

I did what I could to help Michael.  But just like me, one traumatic experience was followed by another and instead of finding his way through it, he crumbled. He had to leave his job and for the most part disappeared.I would contact him and have brief conversations but he had retreated to a safe place to heal.

Today, Michael was on my mind.  So I sent him a message to see how things were going.  We began talking via phone messages and finally I got him to send me an email.  I hope that he will let me do what I can to help him as we share the most horrendous of brotherhoods.  We belong to the same awful club of suicide survivors.  That elite group of people who never wanted to be there, never wanted to know the criteria for entering and never ever wanted a lifetime membership.  But if we are to be good stewards of our fellow man, then we have to help each other out. We have to offer comfort when we can and a hand up to those that have stumbled.

I hope Michael will be receptive to my suggestions to put the focus on himself now.  To eat foods that make him strong instead of weak.  To take walks to exercise both his body and his mental demons.  To make plans for his future and leave what was, in the past.  His "what was" wont go anywhere, it just wont be able to trip him up quite so easily.   I know I can only do so much but I certainly want to give  him what I needed when I needed it most.  Hes been on an island far too long.  I'd like to try to be the ship he sees on the horizon. Even if he waives me to pass, I will have known that I tried.  Thats all any of us can do.


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