Death is sadly something that all of us have to deal with in one way or another. Whether its a pet, a relative, a member of the immediate family, or even something like the death of a friendship or relationship, it is or will become familiar to us until we too eventually meet our end. We as human beings like to think about death as little as possible for obvious reasons. For lack of a better terminology, it sucks, we can’t do anything to stop it, and we don’t want to have to think about something that sucks that we can’t do anything about. In fact, we generally prefer to not think about anything negative, as it only serves to bring us down. We do far better when our outlook is bright, as oppose to one shrouded in the dank fog of depression. Unfortunately, when the darkness touches you, occasionally you must answer it when it comes to call, if only so that you can tell it to come back again later.
I write this with a heavy heart as a birthday approaches tomorrow. My family and I will once again be confronted with the holiday of another year passed by a loved one no longer around to celebrate with us. This loved one being my younger brother Kevin. Who would have been 29 years old tomorrow, if on a January afternoon 15 years ago, he hadn’t decided to kill himself.
He was 13, and he was, well, your typical younger brother. So of course, that meant that he and I would not get along. Not though, as often as you might think. In fact, in that last year together, we often had conversations after school sitting on the upstairs staircase, discussing everything from my loved life to the concept of heaven, religion, life, you name it. He was quiet, artistic, and willing to help anyone out at any time. He had great friends whom he hung out with frequently at school and outside of it. He was involved in the play, banged out rhythms on drums in the band, and earned himself a spot on the National Honor Society. He was smart and knew his way around tools and projects working with his hands. He and Dad could often be found outside in the garage, where Kevin would help as much as possible. He dressed like a teenager figuring out his identity which, in 2001, meant he was very much drawing himself into a very prevalent gothic culture. He would wear a bike chain necklace constantly, had a pair of combat-style boots he was extremely proud of, and wanted very much to own and wear a black trench coat. This last request was shot down by my parents, as the ghost of Columbine was still firmly in the hold of the nation’s attention. There was no way the attire of a pair of killers was going to be worn by my brother to a school of any kind. Baring this set back of sorts for him, he seemed to be living a comfortable life. As the end of eighth grade was approaching, he would be leaving the friendlier confines of a school he had gotten to know very well over the last four years. However, he would be entering a high school that I, 2 years his senior, would be happy to help him adjust to. As he was still very interested in band, it was going to be fun to be able to maybe boss him around a little during band camp coming up that summer, even though he was a drummer and I a clarinet player.
But that all for the future as on a cold, grey January afternoon, Kevin left to walk home from school as was typical. The school was about a mile away and thus easy enough to walk from rather than take the bus. As his school day ended earlier than mine, his walk would have been by himself, or perhaps with a friend or two that may have been able to walk part of the way home with him. A half an hour later after he had no doubt completed his walk, it was my turn to bare the elements on the shorter trek as the high school was only a few blocks from home. Only…it was a little later than normal because in my habitual forgetfulness, I hadn’t remembered that I had a speech meeting to go to after school. So the normal 3:30 trek had become a 4:00 one as I walked along the sidewalk-less road, about 2 blocks from home. In a feat of divine intervention or coincidence or perhaps a little bit of both, Mom happened to be able to take her lunch break then and was driving home from the library where she worked. Seeing me, she honked and while it wasn’t the coldest of days or longest of walks, I was still grateful for the ride. As we got home, we heard the telephone ring, which resulted in a rush to try to open the door to answer. However, it had already gone to the answering machine by the time we could open the door. Which should have been the first clue that something wasn’t quite right. Kevin should have been home. But maybe he chose not to answer the phone. He listened to some pretty loud industrial/metal/punk music so he could have just not heard it ring. So as I was getting ready to walk upstairs to drop off my book bag, I heard what I can only describe as the most bloodcurdling scream and Mom running upstairs. Following behind her, obviously immediately concerned as to what was going on, she tried her best to shield me. But I saw, if only for a moment. My little brother was dead.
The wake and funeral were blurs. The people, both those who knew Kevin, and those who knew my family and I, came in droves even in the damp conditions. They came to the church where my confirmation had been 2 years earlier and my brothers would have been in just a few short months to pay their respects. They brought food, they brought comfort, they brought what all they could. What they could not bring back was my brother. What they could not rid us of was the fact that parents were burying a son. It was impossible. It wasn’t their fault. But we were angry and still are sometimes. We were sad and still are sometimes. We couldn’t understand and still can’t. At 13, a kid wanted to take such an ultimate and permanent step like that. It made no sense. Mom and Dad were good to us both. They were involved in our lives. He had friends, he had some popularity. He was a good kid overall. But he hid from us and enjoyed it. He was pulling the wool over our eyes and reveling in it as we found written later. He deceived us.
It took a toll. We would argue, fight from time to time. But, thanks to the help of a grief support group in the area, we gained tools and worked on mending. We would later become facilitators of the group to help others. We would not, could not ever forget what happened. We dealt with figuring out how to establish a new normal. A life without a younger brother, without a son. It’s still not easy answering the question of how many sons/brothers and sisters you have.
Kevin inadvertently revealed many lessons to take to heart. I can only speak for myself, but I learned to just be honest with things. I didn’t want to hide like my brother had been so expertly doing. Openness, transparency was important. Keeping secrets was out of the question. Laughing about life and not treating it so seriously became necessary. Life had its problems, but they were not so insurmountable. Things were going to happen. You were going to be judged. But we knew who we were and if people wanted to judge us for what happened to Kevin, that was on them not us. We would band together to help each other and others. We were not perfect. We weren’t going to be. I don’t think I even ever want to be.
So now Kevin, my younger brother, has been gone for longer than he was alive. He never knew what love was out there for him. He didn’t want to, or wasn’t able to. He was too wrapped up in the problems that he felt he could never solve. I hope that perhaps I might be able to see him again one day. If so, I will punch him in the shoulder and then give him the biggest hug I can. I will tell him of all the things he has missed. The technology, the fighting, the history, the relationships gained and lost. He will be forced to listen to all of it. I will then want to hear all about what he had been up to. For now though, my family will honor his birthday as we have before. We will gather together. We will remember the stories we all have. He will live, if only in the words we speak of him and the memories we relate. We want him back but we can’t. For our family, its just the trio now. But he will be remembered. The lives of all who have lost someone from suicide will be remembered. They shall not be relegated to the darkness. To the blackness. They lived there too long while they were alive. They shall not suffer the same fate in death. For those who contemplate early the grip of death, do not fall for its false promises. Find help. It’s out there. There are people who care. They will listen. I can’t tell you that in person Kevin. But I wish you a happy early birthday little brother. Wherever you are.