“I close my eyes, only for a moment, and the moment’s gone
All my dreams pass before my eyes, a curiosity
Dust in the wind
All they are is dust in the wind
Same old song, just a drop of water in an endless sea
All we do crumbles to the ground though we refuse to see
Dust in the wind
All we are is dust in the wind”
What is your difficulty?
My brother committed suicide a little over a year ago on Mothers’ Day. He was a person who struggled with mental illness (OCD, hoarding, bipolar disorder, addiction) and Lyme disease for the better part of his life. He was the youngest of my siblings. I’ll call him M.
I am troubled by some of my feelings around M’s death.
What feelings arise?
I feel sad.
There is this persistent sadness about his death, and guilt that I never really grieved him. I feel heartbroken when I remember the bright-eyed baby brother that he was and the way he did the Twist at my birthday party. He had so much hope as a little kid.
I feel relief.
I am troubled and have a hard time admitting that I feel relieved that he is no longer living and that I don’t have to deal with his mental illness.
I feel guilt for thinking sometimes that M was so much work, and caused so much stress for us that sometimes it could be easier if he were not alive.
I feel guilt because I live 3000 miles away and have not been so present for my family as a beloved sister could be.
I feel guilt because I actually stopped talking to M from 2012-2013 after he had a major breakdown and started writing letters accusing family members of all sorts of things in 100+ FONT. The letters blamed me and my family for our religious beliefs.
I was teaching middle school when he sent these letters, and I was so upset, I told him to not include me in the emails because I could not handle his rage. When he raged, I felt scared, because my dad raged, too, and it was uncomfortable—that kind of anger makes me want to run away. And I felt anger back, how dare he. But M was mentally ill and not to blame.
I also feel guilt because, in a horrible way, I am relieved that all the drama that was happening in the family is now over. That is what caused me to make sure that he was OK right after his death. I knew after my first medium visit that he was finally surrounded by unconditional love.
I feel a sense of protection for M that I felt when he was my baby brother and the nine-year difference between us shaped the way I related. That is why I check in all the time with him on the other side. I write him letters, talk to him, and I am open to his communication, but it comes and goes.
I feel loss—of hope that M would turn his life around. There were so many opportunities from my way of thinking, to transform, but he couldn’t. I feel a loss of my dream that I could ever be close with M ever again.
I am grieving the relationship I chose not to have with M when he was an adult because of his mental illness. I am not even sure if grief is the proper emotion for me because I so strongly believe that there is no death, that we live, we die, we return.
How does it affect you?
I haven’t grieved.
I felt relief, but not grief.
I could not tell anyone the truth of the complexity of feelings except another sister. This is why we are so close. We have a secret: we admit to each other that we’re relieved that M died.
This is complicated because, after M’s death, I went into scholar/researcher mode, reading every book I could about the other side, mostly spiritual books, and memoirs, and near death experience books.
They comforted me. I went to a mediumship class less than two weeks after he died and M showed up strongly. This kind of work comforted my soul and my mind, but not my heart. M also showed up for me in meditations and reminded me that there was nothing I could have done.
There is still this persistent sadness about feeling relief.
What is your part or connection in this experience?
My part in this experience is that I knew for years that M had serious issues.
I knew that a suicide might happen.
I knew that it was not a matter of if but when.
I didn’t know what to do. No one knew what to do.
What are you learning?
I am still figuring this experience out.
I am figuring out what I am learning and what this means to our life as a family, to my life as a person, to M’s son.
I am not from an introspective family. I was not introspective either until my late thirties.
M had a hard time on the earth. He was a kid with dreams, wanting from an early age to do nothing but write and play music.
M spent much of his time in his room and did not joke around with the family the way the rest of us did. He was creative and serious. He could not always get out of his moods and perhaps even felt different from a very young age. He lacked a sense of joy and freedom after about age nine, but I was not around then too much.
He was a kid who was out of the box, and the teachers of the 1960s and early 70s were not used to dealing with unusual kids. My parents sent him to a progressive school where he could be “seen.”
When M was in his early 20s he left home and tried to find his way in the music business but ended up moving back home to work for my dad selling clothing. Underneath all of that, he was a talented musician wanting to make it.
Sometime around this time M was diagnosed with OCD and learned as much as he could about it. He was fixated on numbers.
M married a woman who also had OCD and they moved to Colorado. They had a son. They both worked.
M had a hard time keeping a job because he had a temper.
Money was an ongoing issue. He did not understand how to save or pay bills on time. It was complicated by the fact that our mother supported him for a long time when he was out of jobs which were often and needed to buy a car or pay rent.
Then, when M was in his 40s, he almost died of heart disease. He had a heart attack. Part of his healing was to get exercise. He hiked often and ended up with Lyme Disease.
As an adult, M lived in a home that was piled with magazines and had not been cleaned for months. My sister and I did not even know about it until we went to clean out his place after he died. M’s world seemed to get smaller and smaller as he hid in his office and went on the Internet, sure that he would find the cure for Lyme disease.
M treated his wife like shit in front of the family. I realize that his abusive behavior was not his soul. M was not his behavior. It was his persona.
M’s rage problem escalated. His wife was terrified of his rage and responded with verbal attacks. Eventually, there was an incident and he was arrested for threatening to kill her.
When M got out of jail, his wife left him and their son.
Then his wife got cancer and eventually died. It was a horrible time for them.
M and his son had a parent/son relationship only his son was the parent. His son became overwhelmed with the responsibilities of taking care of his dad.
I experienced M as self-absorbed. It was so hard to be with him in person in the last twenty years. He was angry and sullen and argued with all of us. He blamed most of us for something…being Democrats, not understanding him. He argued with us for our liberal politics and being against guns. Sometimes M would talk about being a medical marijuana expert and help people.
All of his talk about guns now feels eerie, especially since he used a gun to take his life.
I eventually lost touch with M.
All of the siblings, all of us lost touch with him.
Except my mother.
He used to call my Mother demanding that she send money. I think my mother felt guilt that her son could not make it in the world. M was her baby, her last child, her sensitive child and Mom was overly protective. Mom was afraid M would die in the gutter. Tough love was not something that neither mom nor my dad could do. And M had few inner resources to make his life better.
I had money and could have helped but I didn’t because once I opened the door, I was nervous that he would call me for help whenever he needed it. I have no idea whether I would have been able to say no to him. I was afraid of getting sucked in and in a way, I was angry that he was not able to cope, with life and the material world.
M had little sense of being responsible. However in his last year, he got a job delivering groceries. He was starting to get his life together.
I can see that I was unable to allow M to be as he was. When he could not listen to my point of view, I felt angry. When we had a phone conversation, I could not wait to get off the phone. It was not even that I was troubled with his extreme point of view. Sometimes he was so wrapped up in his life that he did not ask me about mine. He always wanted the final word, which irritated me. Maybe because I have wanted my words to be heard most of my life and until recently they weren’t. I’d hang up and then talk about this with my sister in a not-so-kind way.
So many of us, family and friends have talked and wondered about the collective role that we played in M’s life and how we were not able to be there for him. We did not insist that he get help. But honestly, I am not sure if he could have received help. Sometimes M would talk about being a medical marijuana expert and help people.
I have wondered how we could be unconditionally loving to my brother in this circumstance. By allowing M to be who he was? I am not sure.
I did learn that the world is filled with love. People who share the experience of a family member committing suicide seemed to come out of the woodwork to support us.
I learned that there is NO death. I say this because M comes to me often. I wish to continue to develop our relationship more and more.
I learned that my mother has softened and is more expressive of her love for me, and her remaining children, as she approaches her last years. My mother was not as physically expressive (affectionate) as my late father. Before M’s death, my mother rarely said I love you. Now she says those three words every time I talk to her on the phone.
I am learning that compassion trumps everything. An example of this is that rather than blaming my mother for favoring and protecting my brother, I am accepting mom for who she is and being there for her no matter what she says or does. She is 87 so our time left will be shorter rather than longer.
I wish I had just loved M for who he was. I wish I had the emotional fortitude to deal with his rage after his heart attack.
I often think about how I want nothing more than to repair what I didn’t say or do. I wanted M to know he was talented and loyal, and passionate and that we all did love him.
I am in the process of integrating what I’m learning about death and forgiveness into what I do for others.
I think I am learning about forgiveness. M was loyal, kind, funny and passionate. He was an incredible friend. But when his mental illness took over, he was stubborn and did not listen. Depending on the mental illness, I didn’t know which person I was with. Sometimes, he would spew the need to have guns and blame the family for his childhood. When he did this, I got really angry and just wanted to not have anything to do with him.
I wish that he admitted that he had mental illness.
I wish I had thought and said again and again, “You are amazing M and I love you.”
The thing that I feel most strongly about is a responsibility to care for and love M’s only child. I will visit him once a year. I call and text and send him books. He is the only one of the nieces and nephews that I can relate to on a spiritual level. He talks to my Mom every Sunday and me periodically.
What can you shift or turn around in your thinking or feeling, beliefs, or behavior?
I am shifting how I think about M. He wasn’t the only sick one.
M was thought of as the sick one. He was bipolar and would not take medication. But other family members had mental illness, too.
My mother is not expressive at all, and spends most of her time with others, and gets depressed or thinks there is something wrong if she is alone. She also had a hard life.
My dad was kind, loving, compassionate, and generous. He loved and embraced everyone no matter where they came from or their beliefs. He was a role model. He loved music. He was bi-polar and was bullied a lot as a kid.
I have a brother who is a great guy, but totally spacey and self-absorbed. Most of our communication is about his job as a teacher. He talks non-stop, but often only about himself. He rarely calls, and is non-committal about getting together. When I’m with him, I feel not seen and frustrated. I wish he were more aware of my sister, but over time, I just roll my eyes and let him be who he is.
I can see the effects of M’s illness in his son, my nephew. He is 27 and has a life, but he just lost a job. He lives with his girlfriend and her parents and they have virtually adopted him. He is successful in school and is very intellectual, loves to read and talk about ideas. We click there. He lost his job in a biotech company after he kept telling his boss how to do things better. He is living on the money from unemployment and the sale of the house.
There really are no answers to my questions and thoughts except to find peace and continue to live my life.
How do you choose to respond to your uncomfortable feelings around the death of M?
I choose to grieve M.
I forgive myself for doing the best that I could at the time.
I will write M letters of my feelings and thoughts.
I will talk to his soul each evening.
I will talk to him on my walks twice a week.
I choose to connect with my mother more now. I choose to call my mother more and verbalize appreciation for what she did for me as my mom, to help assuage her pain. I want to tell my mom that M is very much alive and with her all the time.
I choose to be kinder to others. We never know what others are going through. If someone does something that makes me mad, my thoughts go to forgiveness rather than anger first. I greet everyone I meet with a smile, hold doors open for them, ask clerks in stores how their days are going and remember often that we have no idea what others are going through.
I have become a better friend to my sister since M passed. I reassure her if I feel her anxiety and that she is loved and forgiven. I am present for her often by sending her love and prayers and angels.
I am 62 years old and a retired teacher with health and energy, and a desire to keep helping. M’s death and my response to it have changed me on a deep level allowing me to realize that indeed we all are going to die, and we react to death in an interesting way with grief. Perhaps my experience of losing M can help me reframe my relationship with my life and death. Experience is my teacher.
How might you use what you’re learning in the future?
If I can grieve the death of my brother, if I allow myself to feel and process loss as it comes up, I can better connect with other loss.
I have grieved the loss of many people, especially my late dad, and most recently my friend who died in March. So the not grieving M is an anomaly.
If I let myself grieve M, perhaps I can help others.
I want to help others. If others are open, I want to counsel them about death in general, not push my beliefs by any means, but tell them how I connect.
I signed up for mediumship class not that I think that the skill of dead people appearing out of nowhere can be learned, but to educate myself more about the communication process and then, possibly, teach others what I learn.
I hope when I reach the end of my life, I can approach it knowing that I made a difference during my entire life. I am about to birth a business as an Akashic Records reader helping others with transitions in their lives and understand death. I hope that I can be there for all who need me as a friend and possible spiritual counselor.
This James Taylor song came out about a week before M’s memorial. On the day we gathered to say goodbye, I was reading a book on my iPad and suddenly he arranged for this song to play. M had sent signs but none was more dramatic or synchronistic than this.
“Today, today, today
I’m finally on my way
The time has come to say
Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye
The world will open wide
And I’m running with the tide
It’s time to cut this side
And I must not miss my ride
Somehow I haven’t died
And I feel the same inside
As when I caught this ride
When first I sold my pride
The way ahead is clear
My heart is free from fear
I’ll plant my flag right here
Today, today, today” – James Taylor