Cliches become cliches because they are true.
‘Time flies’. ‘Blink and you miss it’. ‘They grow up so fast’.
‘Time stood still’. ‘It lasted an eternity.’ ‘Time lies heavy on your hands’.
This September, it is ten years since my brother Ian died by suicide. It’s been a tumultuous, endless period… and simultaneously the blink of an eye. Time and life goes so fast, and yet I can barely recall who I was before September 11th 2011. There are times when I refuse to believe that it can be ten years since I heard Ian’s voice and saw his face, and other times when living without my brother and with the fallout which comes with suicide bereavement seems totally normal, as though my entire 43 years has been this way.
And so once again, it’s the time of year when the shadows and the nights creep longer, a chill starts brushing against the skin, and greens turn to yellows. Viscerally poignant; the physical indicators all around in nature that change is coming. It makes it impossible not to reflect on days which have passed.
So much has happened in ten years. My two year old son is somehow twelve. He has learnt to read, to sleep over at a friend’s house without me, and to play the guitar annoyingly loudly (and annoyingly well). My second child arrived and is over half way through junior school. She has learnt to talk, to be dropped at the school gate without me going in, and to do near perfect cartwheels and walk-overs. Such development and learning! – from total dependence to stages where they are beginning to reach out into the world with partial self-reliance. Although my learning has not been at quite such an extreme gradient, I have also felt fundamentally changed by the last ten years and all its undulations.
It has been a very long road, this ten year stretch. I could never have known the complexity and the different phases – grief, trauma, fear, depression, guilt, self-loathing, comfort eating, comfort drinking… the list goes on. And I would never have been able to understand how working towards healing could possibly need TEN YEARS of reaching into the past. In fact during the initial stages of grief I would not have wanted to know that – what a daunting prospect it would have been. But I have learnt that healing takes as long as it takes, and often it is going on quietly in the background without you even realising. There is no time frame, and in many ways I feel I have had very little control over the different phases of grief, trauma and processing in the ten years.
I have recently felt a shift where I’ve become more future-facing. It’s a cautious acceptance and a cautious peace with the events of ten years ago and before. It is finally a determination that this will not define me, that I can break some psychological patterns of thought and behaviour, and that I deserve to feel free of guilt and anxiety.
The truth is that, with bereavement by suicide, there is a gnawing guilt and longing which means that the distress and the sadness is oddly comforting. It may be hard for people who have not gone through a similar trauma to understand, but I recall very clearly feeling for many years that I did not want to feel better. If I felt better then it would mean that what had happened was true and it would mean that I had accepted it. It would mean that I had stopped thinking about my role in what happened. It would mean that I was letting Ian down and leaving him behind. I could not bear the thought of him, or what had happened to him, being forgotten. I did not want to move on – even the phrase made me flinch. Instead, sitting with the horrible feelings was almost like a reassuring self-flagellation. Why should I feel better again when Ian could not work towards the same thing?
It is a relief after ten years to have tentatively accepted that I can change this and that I will not be letting Ian down by working proactively towards changing my mindset and building my resilience up. After ten years – an eternity and a split second – I do feel a weight has lifted; I am allowed to stop longing for the past, to turn around, smiling, and face the future.