I’ve been suffering from something.
No, not something physical, although at times, it can feel like a huge albatross hanging around my neck. And, nothing really helps – except time. It is of course the one thing no writer wants to get: writer’s block. This is a bit of a nightmare when you’ve just nabbed a writing gig and and the words don’t come.
But the recent death of Phillip Seymour-Hoffman from drug overdose seemed to lift my block. His death somehow compelled my fingers to the keyboard. Because yet another young man, though not one I knew, had died when he seemingly had everything to live for.
I’ve become somewhat accustomed to loss. I know how his family is feeling right now. And it’s not nice.
Let me explain.
The first man in my life to lose his life had me spinning out of control into a pit of misery. My 33 year old brother, whilst sitting in a University class, dropped dead. I realise that sounds dramatic but it’s exactly what happened.
His. Heart. Just. Stopped.
They call it SADS. Sudden Adult Death Syndrome. Like SIDS in kids. People thought he was joking, “Oh look, there’s Justin being funny.” Until someone realised it was no joke. It was real. People tried to resuscitate him to no avail. Eventually, the adjoining classroom heard the commotion and somehow, someone with medical expertise entered the room and gave him correct CPR. It still didn’t matter. He was a big boy and nobody’s hands could do what his beautiful heart could.
After the ambulance workers arrived and got his heart going, the massive task of getting him out of the classroom caused a big delay. The only way my brother could be transported down a winding staircase was by several big burly firemen who eventually came and got him into the ambulance. An hour and a half later, he was delivered to the hospital which was just five blocks down the road from the school. By then, his brain had starved of oxygen.
Doctors quickly upgraded their diagnosis from cardiac arrest to brain injury. They cooled him down with ice and put him into a medical coma. It was then that my family received a gift. You see, the medical experts already knew what we didn’t. That my brother wasn’t coming back. They knew that the day I had hugged him and told him I loved him, I would never get to do so again. They already knew whatever it was that had been in him, that made him the person he was, was gone. He was moved to ICU on life support and the doctors gave us the gift of eleven days to come to terms with what had happened. Eleven days to say goodbye.
And so, after those eleven days, as we turned the machines off and held him in our arms, my brother left this world and went into another. As I whispered in his ear “go to the beautiful light”, he did. Devastating. Something you never forget. Something you never really get over. We celebrated his life.
We cried. We still cry. We will never stop crying.
The next man to depart from my life did so just over twelve months later. This time I was expecting it. My dad had suffered dementia for a long time.
Dementia is horrible.
I know people know this, but I feel I have to say it again. It is just horrible.
Every ounce of your dignity is stripped, you lose independence and your mental and physical state declines to that of a newborn – unable to move freely, feed, wash or even speak. Someone else must do everything for you. And it doesn’t happen over night. It is a slow death, one you experience every day in little ways. One day, you forget how to turn on the shower. The next you forget if you showered at all. Then you forget how to shave or make a cup of tea or open a jar, and the list goes on. In my father’s case, the end came when he fell and broke his hip. I knew it was probably getting close to the end, but still I had hope that he would open his eyes one last time and say the name he gave me: “Bronwen”.
Even though my dad could barely speak, I could see in his eyes, he knew it was me and I was there for him. Two weeks later, I was given the news “we recommend palliative care”. This basically means, going home to die. That’s what we chose and my father was gone 24 hours later. As I looked on my father in his coffin, I saw what he had longed for through his battle with dementia – his dignity returned to him. He looked so beautiful in repose, quiet, calm – the torment gone. It was a small intimate celebration of the life of the man who gave me life.
We celebrated his life. We laughed, we cried, we were thankful he was no longer in pain and left this world with dignity.
The third death was of a beautiful, vibrant, young man with everything to live for. He had been my fiancé. We had wanted to get married, we had made plans for babies, new house and trips overseas. He loved my child as though she were his own and tickled her until she could take no more. He made me laugh and was proud of me and my achievements. But he carried secret demons that eventually revealed themselves to me in full blown detail. It was too much, I couldn’t take more heartache and pain, and misery. I had been through too much already.
My fiancé had a mental illness called Borderline Personality Disorder. And much in the same way my father’s dementia stripped him of dignity, this particular mental illness also somehow found a way to do the same. Eventually, for mine and my child’s own safety and security I broke off the engagement. I cried for weeks. Not just for the loss of love, but for the loss of a dream, of a father for my child (who is in my care 100%), for the loss of a beautiful man who couldn’t get past his demons.
I wished him love, peace and happiness and some way for him to manage his mental illness. Ten months after our last phone call, I received another phone call. It was late afternoon, the last days of Spring. I was going to collect my daughter from day care “Bronny… Jesse took his life today.” I pulled the car over and sobbed, my heart breaking for this young man, only 34, who just couldn’t see another way out of his torment other than to take his own life. His funeral was tragic, a celebration of his life, but a tragic reminder of what could have been. We cried, and then I thought of my brother, dead – not his choice, and I cried again. The tears flowed and flowed and flowed. I wondered if the grief would ever end.
Two and a half months later, and I’m not sure what happened, something changed inside me. The grief I have felt since losing my brother has somehow lifted. I am lighter, I feel better, my house is organised and decluttered. My daughter has started school and I am writing.
So the writer’s block has lifted and I have shared with you three stories of grief, losing three different men in my life. And my message is this.
“Nothing stays the same. Everything changes. This is merely but a moment in time.”
If you are feeling the loss of someone close to you, or suffering depression yourself, talk to someone. It helps.
It might seem rather flippant to say “get help”, “talk to someone”, “nothing stays the same,” but I have learned over these past few years that all the old sayings are true. There is always a new day. Take it second by second, then minute by minute, then hour by hour. Then half a day, then a full day, then two days, a week, and eventually time passes, and you will discover that time really does heal all.
Posted by bronnylane, 5th March 2014