Friday, April 9, 2021

A Heartfelt Tribute To My Brother


10 years ago today, my brother Steve decided to leave this world behind. For the majority of his adult years, he secretly struggled with his mental health. On April 9 in 2011, his sense of hopelessness became unbearable, and it led to his suicide. Losing him, especially in this manner, was the most profoundly difficult period of my life. Death of a loved one is always painful, but when someone dies by suicide, the grief you experience is like no other. It is complex and traumatic and so intense that you can barely stand it. You’re left with unanswered questions and struggle with guilt that threatens to suffocate you. “How could I have prevented this?” you ask yourself. In time, I accepted that my questions would never be answered and that there is truly no way to have stopped this from happening. He was in too much pain and also doubly challenged. On one hand, he struggled with his disease and on the other with stigma. He suffered in silence, ashamed to admit he was ill in a society that judges, mistreats and blames individuals struggling with mental health. There are stereotypes and prejudices surrounding mental illness that oftentimes discourage those who suffer from not only reaching out for help and getting the necessary treatment, but from even admitting they have a problem. Consequently, they suffer in silence, and for some, it leads to suicide. I feel stabs of pain whenever people make insensitive jokes about mental illness or callous remarks about suicide. I don’t believe everyone who behaves this way is intentionally being insensitive or thoughtless. Sometimes it’s just unawareness or lack of understanding.

Today, I honour my brother’s memory. Not a day goes by that I don't think about him. Not a day goes by that I don't miss him. Introverted and unpretentious, my brother never thought he was very special. But he couldn’t have been more wrong. If only he could see just how much he meant to so many people. I miss his smile, his voice, his hearty laugh, his way of thinking, his wacky sense of humour, his unique outlook on life, his generosity, his kindness, his honesty and everything else that made him remarkable. Most of all, I miss his presence. He didn’t put on airs to impress others and he never pretended to be someone he wasn’t. He was raw and unapologetic. What you saw is what you got with him. Steve had a huge influence in my life. He was only 11 months old when I arrived into the world and, as Irish twins, we were inseparable as children. From morning to night, we were always together; practically joined at the hip. We ate together, slept at the same time, woke up at the same time, played together, shared everything we had with one another, and never fought. We went so far as mimicking each other’s actions. If he left three peas on his plate, I did, too. If I drank only half my glass of milk, so did he. If he didn’t want to put on a scarf, neither did I. We were two peas in a pod. And my childhood was that much more amazing with my brother - my first best friend - in my corner. He was bold and daring and fun and full of energy, and he dragged me along on all his crazy and wonderful and impulsive adventures. We created an abundance of heartwarming memories.

I will not allow his death to be in vain. His death left behind a vital message to the world. It is a reminder of the importance of continuing the dialogue surrounding mental health. I hope that in time, with enough information, with enough education, people will gain a deeper understanding, take it more seriously and eliminate the stigma. If you notice someone struggling, reach out to them. Many suffer in silence, feel isolated and even ashamed. One small act of kindness or support from someone can help alleviate some of the anguish and possibly save a life. There is a fine line between hope and hopelessness. Build a bridge with love and compassion that may encourage someone to cross over to the side of hope and hang on for a little bit longer. Someone contemplating suicide has mixed feelings about it. They don’t really want death; they just want the unbearable pain to stop. Help to alleviate that suffering. Be part of the solution and not the problem. Educate yourself and stop propagating the damaging stereotypes and stigmas that are very harmful to people struggling with their mental health, so that no other life is cut short and you never experience this level of grief.

Steve left much too early and the world became a sadder place without him in it. But I am forever grateful to have been given the time I had with him. It was an honour and a blessing. Wherever he may be, I hope he is finally at peace.

If you’ve read this far, I thank you. Let’s keep the conversation going and remove the barriers that discourage people from seeking the help that will turn their life around.


(My dear blogging friends, I realize I've been gone a long time. I've been dealing with many personal things in the past year and trying to overcome the emotions that go with them. The most amazing man in the world and I are doing well, otherwise, and I hope to be returning to my blog very soon. In the meantime, I wanted to share this tribute, which is important for me. It is the first time in 10 years that I've gone public with the cause of my brother's death. I feel a tremendous sense of relief, like a weight has been lifted. I hope you are all keeping well and I will visit your blogs as soon as I'm able to. Take care, and thank you for reading this tribute. Sending you all love. ~ Martha ~)