Today is my brother Dexter’s birthday.
As many of you know, this February I lost my strong, funny, hard working brother Dexter to suicide. That week was the most difficult of my life, as my loved ones gathered together to prepare for his funeral and grieve our unexpected loss. He is the oldest brother in our family and we miss him very much.
There aren’t words to describe the grief of losing a loved one. Some of the words that helped me kind of identify what I was feeling & find comfort were these:
I wish I could say you get used to people dying. I never did. I don’t want to. It tears a hole through me whenever somebody I love dies, no matter the circumstances. But I don’t want it to “not matter”. I don’t want it to be something that just passes. My scars are a testament to the love and the relationship that I had for and with that person. And if the scar is deep, so was the love. So be it. Scars are a testament to life. Scars are a testament that I can love deeply and live deeply and be cut, or even gouged, and that I can heal and continue to live and continue to love. And the scar tissue is stronger than the original flesh ever was. Scars are a testament to life. Scars are only ugly to people who can’t see.
As for grief, you’ll find it comes in waves. When the ship is first wrecked, you’re drowning, with wreckage all around you. Everything floating around you reminds you of the beauty and the magnificence of the ship that was, and is no more. And all you can do is float. You find some piece of the wreckage and you hang on for a while. Maybe it’s some physical thing. Maybe it’s a happy memory or a photograph. Maybe it’s a person who is also floating. For a while, all you can do is float. Stay alive.
In the beginning, the waves are 100 feet tall and crash over you without mercy. They come 10 seconds apart and don’t even give you time to catch your breath. All you can do is hang on and float. After a while, maybe weeks, maybe months, you’ll find the waves are still 100 feet tall, but they come further apart. When they come, they still crash all over you and wipe you out. But in between, you can breathe, you can function. You never know what’s going to trigger the grief. It might be a song, a picture, a street intersection, the smell of a cup of coffee. It can be just about anything…and the wave comes crashing. But in between waves, there is life.
Somewhere down the line, and it’s different for everybody, you find that the waves are only 80 feet tall. Or 50 feet tall. And while they still come, they come further apart. You can see them coming. An anniversary, a birthday, or Christmas, or landing at O’Hare. You can see it coming, for the most part, and prepare yourself. And when it washes over you, you know that somehow you will, again, come out the other side. Soaking wet, sputtering, still hanging on to some tiny piece of the wreckage, but you’ll come out.
Take it from an old guy. The waves never stop coming, and somehow you don’t really want them to. But you learn that you’ll survive them. And other waves will come. And you’ll survive them too. If you’re lucky, you’ll have lots of scars from lots of loves. And lots of shipwrecks.
– G. Snow
“The only way to take sorrow out of death is to take love out of life.”
-Russel M. Nelson
I love my brother, and I miss him every day.
For his birthday, I wanted to just share some thoughts that I hope will add to the discussion of mental illness. I also wanted to do something special, that might help make a difference in someone’s life.
My thoughts are mainly what I wish people knew about mental illness.
I wish they knew that mental illness is a real illness. My brother’s physical struggle was as real and as potentially deadly as my diagnosis with diabetes.
I wish they knew that it can be a very serious illness. Jess said it perfectly on the blog BP Hope (a blog dedicated to those living with bipolar disorder). “One in every five people with bipolar disorder will die by suicide this year. I say death by suicide specifically because it’s inaccurate to say that we take our own lives. Our lives are taken from us by bipolar depression. It’s the same as saying someone died of cancer. The cancer took them away; not their own hands. Those with bipolar disorder will have fought tirelessly in a vicious internal war with depression and lost.”
I can’t say how much I wish they knew that suicide wasn’t a choice for my brother. His illness consumed him. He didn’t lose a battle. He didn’t make a choice. He was consumed by it, and there’s a difference.
And I want them, I want you, to know that there is hope. There are resources and treatments available to anyone who lives with mental illness, to help you heal and live a long, full, beautiful life. I hope you can be aware of the symptoms and treatment early on, so you can manage it well and prevent suicide from taking place.
In honor of my brother, I want to raise money for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
I created this beautiful print while I was in Iceland. I went to Iceland a few months after my brother passed. This place reminded me of him. He loved the outdoors – wild beautiful places where he could be free from society’s pressures and grind. It reminded me of him because he was a strong, rugged person – and the wildness and freedom and beauty of the landscapes there reminded me of him.
This print reminds me of him. It also reminds me of the grief that loss brings – the waves that come. It also reminds me that there’s a beauty in it – even though it is so incredibly painful – because the only way to take sorrow out of death is to take love out of life. It reminds me of the love that I have for my brother.
So, here is that beautiful print. You can buy it here.
All the proceeds after the cost of printing will go to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
Or, if you’d like, you can also donate and find a way to help here.
Need help? United States:
1 (800) 273-TALK (8255)
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Hours: 24 hours, 7 days a week
Languages: English, Spanish