Wow. An entire year has passed since my last post. I can’t get over how quickly it has gone by. Here we are, waiting for 2016 to begin in just a few hours.
The last time I wrote, I thought I was on the road to making blog posts a daily thing, something that I would look forward to so much that I would rush to my computer to write each day. Unfortunately, tragedy struck our family when my brother shot and killed himself in February. Between traveling back to the Midwest to be with my grieving parents and dealing with all of the issues of an unexpected death of someone close to me I just couldn’t figure out what to write. Ten months later, I feel the need to write this and be done with it. Please know that I am not attempting to show expertise in what I am about to describe. I am writing this based on the feelings of my parents and my own feelings from the loss of a family member.
My brother had been burdened for many years by depression, anxiety, and severe lack of self-esteem. My parents and I believe it began when he was in his mid-teens. He also began smoking then, and as so many teenagers do, he began drinking with friends. I’m embarrassed to admit that for awhile I was the “cool” big sister who bought the beer for them. At the time, his drinking seemed to be just a rebellious act that he would eventually grow out of. I’m sorry to say that, in reality, the stage was being set for a life-long struggle with drinking and using drugs to cover up the underlying issue of depression.
Fast forward to Christmas 2002. My sister in-law revealed to the family that my brother was drinking heavily and needed help. The rest of us were completely unaware of the problem. We hardly ever saw him because he turned down our efforts to include him and his wife in family celebrations and gatherings (this became a sign of trouble in the future). So it was a total shock to hear he was drinking so much that she needed to appeal to us for help.
My parents immediately tried to fix him. At first, he refused to even concede that he was an alcoholic. Then after about a year of daily heavy drinking, he finally allowed his doctor to admit him to a rehab facility. Thirty days and thousands of dollars later he was dismissed, only to buy a bottle of whiskey the very day he left the facility.
Just two days before Christmas in 2004 he was arrested for violating a restraining order that was issued to protect his wife after he tried to strangle her. My quiet and kind brother had descended into a very dark place. He spent thirty days in the county jail, then another thirty days were spent in a local rehab. Claims of a miraculous encounter with a preacher while in jail gave us hope that he was finally free from his addiction. We rejoiced when he was released from rehab and he went home to reunite with his wife. Our family relaxed, eventually moving the memories of my brother’s nightmare to the secret places of our minds. The early morning and late night emergency phone calls no longer came, and we felt at peace with his recovery.
The promises my brother made to stay close with our family were soon broken. Invitations to family gatherings were turned down. Phone calls became occasional text messages. Our parents left messages that weren’t responded to. Their requests for his help around their house were answered with lame excuses. The old feelings of uneasiness began to creep in. None of us dared to admit that he might be slipping back into the nightmare we thought he’d been rescued from.
My husband Doug and I eventually moved out of the state. Sadly, I didn’t even tell my brother that I was leaving. I hoped that he would step up and be supportive to our parents, spend time with them in my absence. That didn’t happen. Instead, he distanced himself further away from family. Again, just before Christmas 2014, (why always at Christmas?) I got the dreaded phone call from my parents. They had heard from my sister in-law that he was drinking again. This news broke my mother’s heart, and it made her cry. A lot.
On a few occasions over the next two months, my brother made promises that he was seeking help from a new doctor, was on a new medication, and was going to try to find a good church. He assured our dad that he was indeed saved and confident that he would spend eternity in Heaven. We were all comforted by these promises. We felt that we could breathe a bit.
Then, while having dinner on February 22, 2015, Doug received a phone call from my dad. I knew immediately that something horrible had happened. I was afraid it was my mother. It wasn’t. With tear-filled eyes Doug looked at me and said, “Your brother shot himself.”
In the months since, our family has tried to figure out why a man who had everything to live for – devoted wife, grandson, successful business, good friends – would throw it all away. To end his life was such a waste. To do so in such a violent way was incomprehensible. Why couldn’t he beat the depression and anxiety that plagued him for all of his adult life? Why didn’t God answer our prayers for him the way we hoped? What more could we have done to help him? My parents have anguished over the possibility that they weren’t good parents. I have felt remorse for not trying harder to restore our relationship. We all have been angry with him. I even thought for awhile that he was a coward to end his life rather than try harder to overcome his depression. I know now that cowardice isn’t a part of this story, nor of anyone else’s.
I have read articles about depression and have found that there are just no clear answers. Depression is a mysterious disease. Yes it is a disease, not any different than diabetes or heart disease except that there is quite often a social stigma attached to it. However, it is usually a chemical imbalance, an actual physical symptom that needs to be addressed by a doctor. And it must be treated with medication that is taken properly and monitored regularly. A person battling depression can’t take medication and drink alcohol, or take it one day and not the next. My brother had stopped taking his medication because “it made him feel bad”. We also found out that he had been drinking while taking his medication. He didn’t quit taking the medication under the supervision of his doctor, therefore, he wasn’t being monitored. He chose instead to struggle every day with the alcohol and depression demons without help from anyone.
I truly believe that a spiritual need was also at the heart of my brother’s depression. He had been away from the Lord for a long time. While I know he believed in Jesus and had been saved as a teenager, he still had a deep hole in his life. The void caused by an absence of that spiritual relationship had to be filled somehow. My brother filled that void with material things, alcohol, and drugs. All of these fixes produced temporary relief from the nagging of the depression. That relief became shorter and shorter each time. Eventually, my brother had to be constantly high in order to escape the bad feelings he had. Ultimately, even that didn’t help. The only way, distorted reasoning told him, was to end his life.
Losing a family member so suddenly and violently causes major upheavals in one’s life. In addition to the emotional distress and grieving, my parents have had to come to terms with having to make changes. I now am more concerned with my own health and well-being, now that I’m the only child left. While Doug and I have been living temporarily in Florida, our parents have been slowly moving into the phase of their lives when they will need us close by. The plan to move them down here to Florida hasn’t worked out the way we’d hoped. It has become necessary to move back to Missouri. So, to the Midwest we go.
“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen”. Hebrews 11:1, NKJV
“For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.” Jeremiah 29:11, NKJV
The Adventure begun last year isn’t yet over. Part of the joy of moving back to Missouri comes from a sweet surprise we received a few months ago. Our Father God, being the amazing, loving, almighty God that we know him to be, is blessing us with a grandbaby in March. She will be born the same month that my brother was born. She will bring joy and life to our family, part of God’s plan to give us “a future and a hope.”
With all the unknowns in our lives, our family does know one thing for sure: my brother is in Paradise and we will see him again one day. He is no longer tormented by depression, no longer needs alcohol to get through the day, and is celebrating eternal life with our Lord and Savior. That gift of peace of mind comes only from our relationship with Him. Praise be to God!