Today I Celebrate My Brother's Suicide

Today I Celebrate My Brother's Suicide

By Jodee Prouse 03/18/19

My brother passed away from suicide seven years ago today. Without realizing it, he taught me that you never know what someone else may be going through, so I try to be kind.

Image: 
Jodee Prouse, the author. Celebrating the day of her brother's suicide
Because of my brother and his absence, today, more than any other day of the year, the beauty of life is fresh in my mind.

My brother passed away from suicide seven years ago today. It was a day I will never forget. I miss him very much and at times I am still overwhelmed with grief and sadness. When I think about him, warm tears instantly well up in my eyes and roll down my cheeks.

But not today.

Typically, those feelings catch me off guard: a song, a memory, a family event 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.

But I am prepared for today and what it means to me.

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, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, friends, neighbors, and co-workers. And in the approximately six minutes it takes you to read this article, nine people will have taken their life. Nine families 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.

On December 3, 2011, I was driving to my mother’s house after work to pick up my family. Everyone was taking me out for dinner for my 43rd birthday, which was the next day. Our brutal winters typically start early in Alberta, slowing everything down; the roads weren’t the best. I was running a little late and was doing my best to hurry since we had a reservation at a nearby Italian restaurant at 6:30.

I pulled up to a big snowbank in front of Mom’s house and honked the horn, once, twice and no one came. I jumped out and hurried through the front door, calling “Guys, c’mon, we’re going to be late.”

“Surprise!!” they all yelled, my brother’s dog Yuma barking his welcome and running over to the door. And from behind the couch popped my brother Brett, holding a cup of coffee. “Surprise,” he said.

We were not going out for dinner at all. I took in the beautifully decorated room and a couple of bags of gifts and smelled the sweet aroma of dinner filling the air. My sons Rick and Ryan looked so proud, beaming as they had managed to keep the party a complete secret. My mom had very obviously taken a great deal of effort to plan this evening, serving up salad and homemade lasagna.

I was overwhelmed and grateful. I hadn’t seen my younger brother more than a handful of times over the previous five years and my sons had seen him even less. Since childhood, my brother had been my greatest friend, my confidant, the one who was there; the one I could always count on. Always. And vice versa.

But sadly, things changed during our adulthood as he struggled with alcoholism and more severe mental health issues. I understand his illness so much better now. But back then, I had to set a healthy boundary between us, not because I gave up on him or didn’t love him, and not because I didn’t believe he could get well. My heart just couldn’t take the pain anymore of watching him self-destruct. He wasn’t sober much during those last years, so my love and support was from a safe distance.

Once the meal was over at my mom’s, I sat on the floor and put on my party hat. Brett snapped a picture, then handed me a blue gift bag. Inside was a little rock.

“It's for peace and luck,” he said. “The other thing is kind of a joke.”

As I pushed back the tissue paper, I found a black coffee mug with the familiar logo of a topless mermaid. I didn’t know what exactly he meant by “joke.” A reminder of our beautiful walk a couple of years earlier when he had been sober for a few months and we met at Starbucks? Or a nod to all those daily coffees we used to share on my front porch when we would just sit and talk and talk? Or was it just his funny way of letting me know that he knew I hated his habit of drinking coffee all day and late into the night, keeping him from sleeping. That is just a small example of me trying to give him advice that he never took.

Maybe the mermaid mug was all those things—I didn’t care. My brother knew me and I knew him. How much joy you can get from such a simple gift; I love and cherish that mug and drink my morning coffee out of it even today.

“Thanks,” I said with a warm smile.

I reveled in seeing my sons, almost 19 and 21, interacting with their uncle, talking, laughing, and sharing what was going on in their lives. Watching Ryan and Brett side by side warmed my heart. Memories of our once-happy family filled my mind. How close Brett used to be with his nephews.

As I sat and watched them, I felt a complete sense of pride and love. Ryan was taking Power Engineering at college, following in the career path of his uncle. Brett was showing Ry different websites and telling him all about the different engineering plants, which ones are better, what each has to offer. My heart melted for so many reasons. My brother’s addiction and struggles had caused him to miss years of my sons’ lives, but when I sorted through the pain, the destruction, and everything that we had all been through, I realized it had not changed how much they loved him. I hope he knew that. And he loved them, too.

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.

I never saw my brother again.

Just after 3 a.m., on March 19, 2012, I was awoken by my husbands’ words, “Jodee, I think someone is here.” I still remember seeing the 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 died 2,555 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.

My brother’s death taught me so much: 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 to not be bitter and angry as those emotions serve no purpose other than to break my spirit. 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 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, today, more than any other day of the year, the beauty of life is fresh in my mind.

I will not spend today crying. 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 I have chosen today to be on a cruise with my husband of 28 years and two of our greatest friends, all of whom I love very much. Today, I will breathe the fresh Caribbean air; I will swim in the ocean and feel the warmth of sunshine on my face. Because of my brother, I remember how precious life is and you can’t take any day for granted. You never know what tomorrow may bring.

Today, I celebrate life.

Today, I celebrate everyone who has lost their lives to suicide and the families who loved them.

Today, my sweet brother, I celebrate you.

 

 

In loving memory of Brett John Tisdale, September 15, 1972 - March 18, 2012


If you or someone you know needs help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or Text HOME to 741741. 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.

Please read our comment policy. - The Fix
Disqus comments
JodeeProuseAuthorTheSunisGone.jpg

Jodee Prouse is a Sister. Wife. Mom. Friend and outspoken advocate to eliminate shame and bring families together that are going through Addiction & Mental Illness challenges. She is the author of the powerful memoir, The Sun is Gone: A Sister Lost in Secrets, Shame, and Addiction, and How I Broke Free. To learn more visit www.jodeeprouse.com

Disqus comments