Note: This is long and excruciatingly tedious. Please consider skipping it if you are pressed for time.
I gave a link to a rock song about the songwriter's troubled brother, named James, who took his own life. The writer lists Bruce Springsteen among his influences, and anyone that can tolerate rock music, should find it accessible. It gave me the chills when I heard it. In spite of the band's name and title of song, they are not a 'Christian rock' act. I promise.
The sweet middle-aged pharmacist was chatting with me. She is matronly with a full face and large expressive green eyes. I was filling my prescription for levothyroxine. She had brought up the subject of depression, after I mentioned mood swings, as my dosage requirements fluctuated.
She told me about her son's struggle with depression, that began after a head injury. She grew more and more distraught as she continued. Eventually, she was sobbing as she related how her son had taken his life, one year ago.
Now, I don't consider myself fully competent at consoling grief-stricken people, though I may have held her if a counter hadn't been intervening. I leaned close to her and began to tell her about the brother that I lost to suicide. I had barely begun when my voice started to fail me. I fell silent as I struggled to maintain my composure.
She told me all about her son's interests and achievments, and eventually recovered from her emotional crisis. She appeared to be ready to face the public when I took my leave.
The incident got me to thinking about those I'd lost to suicide, and reminded me of all the headlines and articles that I have seen on the subject, recently.
Joe was a homely and gangly young man. He was quick to laughter or wisecrack, and a hard drinking hard smoking partier and occasional fighter. A lot of people were unaware that he was well read and possessed quite an intellect. He had little luck with the girls, and I never told him, out of the few that he got, every single one had made a move on me, even the one that he married.
Joe was the engine, just as I was often the brakes, on our adventure-mobile. He was almost like another brother, and would often run with another of my brothers, when I was unavailable.
My wife seemed to despise my friends and family, and it was reciprocal. It was hard for me, but I discouraged him from visiting when she was home. We often hung out at his place.
Then he met a fundamentalist Christian girl. He was madly in love. She was a member of some biker church, of all things, but Joe got some religion, and they got married and had a baby. I had never seen him so happy and contented.
Then things went to hell in a hurry. She threw him out of the house and used his cop-beating episode from years before to paint him as a dangerous man.
I was as supportive as possible, considering my own dysfunctional marriage and the on-going alcohol fueled crisis.
Then Joe announced a reconciliation. He had borrowed a large sum from his father to buy another house, because his wife had rented out the original house. I had reservations about that arrangement, and told him so, but he'd hear none of it. About a month later, she threw him out of the new house.
He came over and we were talking in the driveway. It isn't easy to be supportive when your wife comes out the door, periodically, to glare and then slam the door.
Joe related how she had maxed out the credit cards and cleaned out the bank accounts. He was allowed two supervised visits a month with his little girl. He descibed how members of her congregation had stripped all the appliances, and the plumbing and light fixtures, right down to the toilet paper holder. He had been terminated from his job for excessive absenteeism.
Joe was defeated and morose. I struggled to cheer him up and help him with a plan. I countered every defeatist statement. Nothing worked until I announced, "Road trip! You will be welding for someone else when we get back."
It seemed to work. Joe started reminiscing about some of our adventures and exploits. We were having a great time, especially under the circumstances. I was grateful that my wife had finally gone to bed, though she'd be sulking or miserable the next day.
After a week, I checked Joe's new house, but he was gone. At two weeks, I checked with his friend, the John Prine fan. He said that we know that Joe is unpredictable and was probably with an old girlfriend in Grangeville. I was somewhat relieved.
Weeks turned into months, as my situation and turmoil kept me from giving it much thought. I did check with Joe's witch, who hadn't heard from him. She came on to me again, but this time I was repulsed instead of shocked, as I had been the first time.
The following spring, I was uneasy when I saw on the news that a body had been recovered near the cliffs. Almost immediately, a relative called and said it was Joe's body. I had climbed those cliffs with him, but it wasn't for me, partly because clumsy people have no business climbing cliffs. I can't imagine Joe was in the mood for climbing. He was busted up, but I was told that he died of exposure.
I was the last person who spoke with Joe, and I know, now, that he was saying goodbye. My brother, unbeknownst to Mama, would say goodbye to her, some years later, in a similar fashion.
You'd think that a devastating loss to suicide would help prepare you for an even more devasting loss, but it doesn't.
Some years later, I planned an excursion for my brothers and their families. Although I had a keen interest in the event, I had an ulterior motive of getting the brothers together, and cheering up the gloomy one. Only one brother was interested, and he bugged out at the last minute.
A single nephew accompanied me, and we had a great time. I got a peculiar feeling of anxiety, so I decided it was time to make the journey home, a bit early.
A relative informed me of the suicide, the minute we got home.
We had fought like cats and dogs when we were young, but became thicker than thieves. Back in school, I was content with my books and records, but competition with him forced me to strive for more. I got a job because he got one. He did pushups, so I installed a pullup bar and did pullups and pushups. He bragged about kissing a girl, so I found a girl to kiss on. I couldn't compete with his shooting and hunting, so I ran a successful trapline, instead.
He was ever the bold adventurer, and I was playing catch up. I and another brother followed him to Texas. Later, I followed him to Wyoming, and got a third brother hired at the same project.
Not too long after his death, I found myself in a terrible morass of debt and ruin. I sold almost everything I owned at the auction, in order to put a grubstake together. It got me back to Wyoming, and kept me in food and fuel until I had a paycheck. My late brother would have approved, since I was using his template.
I lost my confidant and the person that I trusted most in the world. My amazing, but troubled, brother was the person most like me in the world. If I can't match his abilities, I don't attempt to match him in carrying the weight of the world on my scrawny shoulders, either.
Some brothers and friends will try to fleece you in trades and deals. We would argue and accuse the other of being too generous. He would make a fuss if I tried to give him something, even though he had fed me and let me live in his camper when I had no place to go. He rewired an old house that I had bought, after my wife left me because it was a 'firetrap.' In retrospect, I wish he hadn't come through for me, that time, because she did come back after the work was done.
I took a look where my brother had died. I was alarmed that little seemed to have been done, except to remove his body. I couldn't leave it like that for his kids. One sister offered to help me clean up. It was the hardest thing that I have ever done. Thank goodness my sister was there. I have an incredibly keen sense of smell, and cerebrospinal fluid has a peculiar odor that is powerfully strong. I would be overcome at times, and visit with my sister, who was occupied with ordinary housecleaning. I gritted my teeth as I used my pocketknife to pick every single bone fragment out of the ceiling. We discarded items that could not be cleaned. It took most of a day. I am still convinced that it needed to be done before his teenagers wandered over there, though another sister thought we were crazy. We left the place in good order, and reeking of Pine-Sol. I hope that if I ever leave a mess behind, someone cares enough about me to clean it up.
Although my brother was incredibly capable and self-reliant, it could be that I have become far more emotionally self-reliant.
Many years ago, a rural county in north-central Washington state was having a fuss about all the suicides among farmers. Almost all of them were elderly, and suffered from a terminal illness. That is much different from my great niece's father taking his own life last month, or the teenage niece of a sister's partner taking her life last year.
A terminal illness, or an accident that left me unable to support myself, could cause me to cash in my chips, and head for the exit, I suppose, but otherwise, I get a lot of pleasure out of life, and am still seeking that great contribution to society that Mama said that I would make.
I can't be certain how I will go, but with a little luck, it will be by my own hand.