An Open Letter to My Dead Brother, September 2017

Hey Connor,

It’s been a while.

I was perusing the three Facebook groups that were made in the wake of your death earlier tonight. Rumor has it you were electrocuted at age five, and it caused you to have an abnormally high voice. Less creative was the rumor that you died in your bedroom closet of a drug overdose. I forget sometimes how vicious thirteen-year-olds’ imaginations can be.

At peak novelty, the most popular of those groups had over 1,000 members. Now, their membership count is down to sixteen, six, and five. Funny how bandwagons work. I remember being infuriated after your death that people who didn’t know you spoke of grieving over you like it was a fad, then forgot all about you after the first few months.

Rereading the nearly decade-old comments on those pages was challenging. Most admitted to not having known you but feeling sad. Others pretended to know you better than I suspect they did, including an estranged ex-best friend who betrayed you, yet boasted of your relationship. It’s hard for me to imagine how a loner kid’s death set such a convenient stage for kids to try to boost their own popularity by pretending they cared about him. It’s somewhat reminiscent to Winona Ryder’s disgust with high school social politics in The Heathers, which I’ve always liked.

While lots of kids remarked about how they saw you alone in the halls and at lunch and felt guilty for not socializing with you, one kid admitted to having bullied you. Dad’s reply encouraged the child to channel his negative feelings to make a positive change in his life and how he chose to treat other people. It doesn’t surprise me, now, that Dad would respond with such business-like tact, but had Mom been on Facebook in those days, her response would have conveyed a vastly different tone. She used to threaten to burn down the school, you know. Part of me once hoped she would follow through on those (harmless) fantasies.

Rereading my responses to people’s comments and questions brought me right back to my emotional state in the days after your passing: bitter, confused, and distant. Back then, I resented the superficiality of how I saw others reacting, but I acknowledged the social thirst their actions represented. Now, I recognize that I can’t really be angry at those who bullied you because they were children, the same way I can’t really be angry at you for killing yourself, since you were also a child. That said, it stuns me to reread the comment from a disgusted peer regarding others’ nonchalance — and absent-minded celebration — of your death. Maybe you were right about people disliking you for no reason. I hate to consider something so retched and heartless.

I don’t use Facebook much anymore, but tonight’s spiral was inspired by something you would have appreciated. Either USPS misplaced the box of clothes that was allegedly delivered on the 16th and never arrived, or a neighbor stole it. While I’m sure you would (eventually) empathize with my frustration, we both know you’d be far happier knowing I was prevented from getting something I love, and that I might be out $120 to boot. If nothing else, the silver lining in virtually anything bad that happens to me is that you would have been delighted in my misfortune, and that makes me smile.

Case in point: The boyfriend and I went to Six Flags this past weekend to ride roller coasters on your deathiversary. We spent the day drenched in sweat, achy and dizzy, with my head throbbing. The rides are rougher than I remember, or maybe I’m just getting softer, but it was exhausting. Worse yet, I’d misjudged the time of year and nearly hyperventilated when I learned that we’d be present for this year’s FrightFest. To spare myself the paralyzing anxiety of being repeatedly startled by employees for hours on end, I left the park early, and felt guilty for dragging the boyfriend out prematurely on what was supposed to have been a day and night of riding rides.

Grandma died this summer. My relationship with her had lost most meaning after her brain injuries, so I didn’t have much to grieve, but I’m disappointed that we didn’t get to share in this major life event together. You died before three of our grandparents; what the hell, dude? You’re still the sole missing link at every family gathering. With a small family, any loss is salient.

I always feel a twang of guilt when strangers ask if I have any siblings, and I say that I don’t. It’s easier than risking the tearful, awkward aftermath with someone who’s as uninvested in the conversation as I am. With people I see more regularly, I disclose that my brother died about x many years ago. If they press for details, I usually say it was an accident (I’ve been admitting to the suicide more recently, though) and redirect the conversation. Although I want to lessen the stigmas about suicide and mental health issues, those situations aren’t ideal for doing so.

Nine years later, and I have yet to attend a suicide walk. I can’t bring myself to be present in a crowd if I know I’m going to quickly need a private space where I can break down and process the rush of guilt and grief that would follow. Crying is most meaningful and healing for me when it’s a private experience or shared with a beloved companion.

Tonight’s cry was a good cry. My breakdown at work back in late August was less so. Usually my brain waits until September for my semi-annual heart re-breakening, but it struck early this year. Luckily, this cycle generally numbs my grief on your actual death day, but the three weeks preceding it can be rough. Although work provides a comfortable daytime distraction, I appreciate that my body forces me to grieve in the mornings and evenings around this time of year. Clearly, I still need it.

I miss you. Let’s catch up.

Love, C

———————–

2 comments

    1. Thank you for sharing about your tattoo! If I wasn’t intimidated by needles, I’d get one, too, of a semicolon inside an infinity sign, because that symbol is how I commemorate Connor’s life. Thank you for your continued support. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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