My brother Brett died 2,628 days ago today. But whereas others have moved on with their lives, I am one of the few left counting. Please don’t get me wrong, I am glad others have moved on. He would be glad too. But my life and how I see it has changed forever.
The morning I learned of my brother’s passing was a day I will never forget. I miss him very much and at times I am still overwhelmed with enormous grief and paralyzing sadness. When I think about him, warm tears instantly well up in my eyes and roll down my cheeks.
Typically, those feelings catch me off guard: a song, a memory, a family event like our Uncle’s 70th birthday this weekend where for me his absence is always felt. Or a wedding or the birth of a baby, events that bring so much joy, yet I always remember that he will never experience two of life’s greatest moments.
It may not make sense to some but my most of my hardest hitting moments are at times when I am happy, not times when I am sad. I am forever left with the feeling of “I wish my brother was here.”
The American Foundation of Suicide Prevention states that suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the USA. The World Health Organization estimates that each year approximately 800,000 people die from suicide, which accounts for one death every 40 seconds. Some sources predict that by 2020 that will increase to one death every 20 seconds.
These deaths are our sons, daughters, moms, dads, husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, friends, neighbors, and co-workers. And in the approximately five minutes it takes you to read this article, seven people will have taken their life. Seven families, friends and loved ones will very shortly feel a pain like no other, their lives changed forever.
The last time I saw my brother is etched forever in my mind.
A surprise 43rd birthday party for me in December of 2011 filled with love and laughter. That cold, snowy evening ended as usual—a hug, a kiss on the cheek.
“I love you,” I whispered in my brother’s ear.
“I love you, too,” Brett replied to me, like a thousand times before.
That was the last time I would ever see my brother.
Just over 7 years ago, a little after 3 a.m., on March 19, 2012, I was awoken by my husbands’ words, “Jodee, I think someone is here.” I still remember vividly the image of four black pant legs with yellow stripes on the doorstep as my husband opened the front door.
My brother had taken his own life.
My brother’s death taught me so much, not about dying but about living. I try to remember to cherish life every day, to be open-minded, empathetic, and understanding, and to tell the ones I care about that I love them. I strive and am successful in not being bitter, angry and blaming as those emotions serve no purpose other than to break my spirit and keep me stuck. I work hard to remember that not everyone has the same opinion, that we all experience life and the circumstances surrounding it differently. So, I never get argumentative when others do not agree with my perspective. They have not lived my life, nor I theirs. Without realizing it, my brother and his complicated journey taught me that you never know what someone else may be going through, so I try to be kind.
Because of my brother and his absence, the beauty of life is always fresh in my mind.
It doesn’t mean that I don’t wish he was here, or that I don’t love him. It doesn’t mean I’m not feeling an underlying sense of sadness. But in his memory, I try to enjoy life everyday.
I have made a conscious choice to celebrate how precious life is. That it is filled with so much beauty at the same time can be filled with heartache, challenges and hardship. I am blessed to live at a small resort town at the lake; the water brings me joy and peace. It always has, which I believe stems from my childhood with my brother. Family vacations where we were blissfully happy and constantly in the water.
As much as I can I breathe the fresh Alberta air; I swim in the water and feel the warmth of sunshine on my face. I love the sand between my toes. Because of my brother, I remember how short life is and you can’t take any day for granted. You never know what tomorrow may bring. In fact, you never know if there will be a tomorrow at all.
Today, I celebrate the lives and memory of everyone who has lost their lives to suicide and the families that love them.
Today, my sweet brother, I celebrate the memory and love I have for you.
Jodee Prouse is a sister, wife, mom, and author of the powerful memoir, The Sun is Gone: A Sister Lost in Secrets Shame & Addiction & How I Broke Free. She is the CEO of the beauty brand Seriously Shea where a portion of all sales of their products are donated to Mental Health Programs. She is an advocate & speaker to help eliminate the shame & stigma surrounding addiction & Mental Illness.
If you or someone you know needs help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). If you think someone is in immediate danger, do not leave them alone, stay with them and call 911. Read about warning signs for suicide and more at mentalhealth.gov.