In the years since I lost my brother, Jay, it is still hard to believe that the whole thing actually happened to me, to my children, to my family of origin. It remains only partially dealt with and only
partially believable. And of course, the pain continues.
I feel that I can remember every detail of every second of the afternoon I was told of Jay’s death. I can remember what everyone said and what their faces looked like. I can remember my Mamma wearing an orange cotton pants outfit with a scarf loosely tied around her neck. I found the scarf later that night after she left it lying in the driveway. I put it under my pillow that night as a way of being close to her. I remember walking up to the car to greet Mamma and my sister. Because of what a family friend had said earlier when he called looking for mother, I knew he had some very bad news to tell me about one of my brothers. I remember Mamma walking up to me and saying, “Something terrible has happened, Ann Marie. Jay is dead. It happened in the car.” I remember screaming out and thinking that the best thing for me to do would be to run. Somehow I knew if I could run away from Mamma before she finished telling me about my brother that I would be able to interrupt this thing and it would not have taken place. Mamma told me she needed me though, and I did not leave her.
We came inside the house to call one of my other brothers. It was during my Mamma’s conversation with him that I realized that Jay had killed himself with a gun.
It was too horrible to believe. I remember some weeks after the funeral calling the coroner for a confirmation wondering if it was really my brother that was dead. The casket had remained closed. Perhaps he was still really alive. Perhaps it was not him the police found in his car but a body some kidnapper had placed there. Or perhaps Jay was playing some awful trick on us. Or perhaps he had been murdered and the murderers were still at large. The coroner gently confirmed that the person the police found in the car was my brother and that he had died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.
I remember the days after I heard about Jay as being heavy, filled with pain, and very confusing. I remember lying on the kitchen floor and crying and crying. I went to work, but driving was a tremendous effort. I canceled a few appointments at my partners’ insistence. There was such an element of unreality about it all. I had very little emotional support. I tried to contact a few old friends but didn’t get very far. One of my oldest and best friends immediately responded by saying she could not go to the funeral because of her busy schedule. I had not even asked her to come. Another very close friend was out of town and could not be located. My pastor was also going out of town. When he returned, he did not come to our home or call.
My relationships with my family of origin were tremendously affected. Immediately after Jay died, my role as sister became more important than ever to me. My parents had placed a significant responsibility for taking care of my three younger brothers and one younger sister on my shoulders, and at times I was sort of fussy and bossy towards them. I became bossier and fussier after Jay died and probably appeared critical of them but I was really concerned for their welfare. I can see now that this process was more an attempt at self-protection than anything else. I was trying to protect myself from losing another brother or sister. I have recognized that their are limits to what I can control, but I have to keep reminding myself of those limitations.
In retrospect, there are two experiences I wish we could have had as a family after we lost Jay. First I wish that we had all gone to family therapy. Not that anything was “wrong” with us, or that we were sick or evil persons who needed fixing. I believe that the power for the most thorough healing is found in the family context and that therapy for the whole, extended family would have been very helpful. Secondly I wish we had gone to the beach as a family unit and processed our grief together. The beach is a special place for my family of origin and my nuclear family. We’ve made many trips to the ocean and have always found them nurturing and revitalizing. I really cannot say that I knew Jay was going to kill himself- I didn’t. I knew that I was worried that something terrible was going to happen some day to someone in our family as evidenced by recurrent dreams. I still deal with feelings of guilt regarding Jay’s perception of my availability or unavailability when he needed me. Jay must have been in excruciating pain. That is what hurts the most now. That my brother was hurting so deeply that he killed himself to stop the feelings.
No one should hurt so badly.
The reason I have called this event “The Thing With Jay” is because for the most part, the subject is taboo and I have personally had such a hard time dealing with it. Also. I did not tell my young son about it, he was only two and a half when it happened. The phrase “The Thing With Jay”, to me, underscores the difficulty of actually pinpointing what happened and what meaning this event has had and will have in the future. Plus, the phrase sounds like the kind of perplexed comment a sort of bossy and fussy older sister might make about her younger brother’s behavior.