On January 29, 1999, I flew into Chicago to attend a conference for work. Being from a relatively small city in eastern Canada, Chicago was a whole new experience for me. I was travelling with one colleague whom I was looking forward to sharing the trip with, and remember feeling like I had the world by the tail. I had been on a very successful weight loss journey since the previous August and had already lost almost 50 lbs. I felt like one of those Ally McBeal types - with my cute little outfits and ability to fit nicely into the plane seats and all. I had a great new assignment and exciting opportunities lay ahead of me. This was the first of many planned excursions with this new job.
We checked into our hotel, which was located on the "magnificent mile" in the downtown area. I can recall getting a kink in my neck and worrying that I was going to get pigeon poop in my mouth if I didn't stop staring upward, gawking with my mouth hanging open!
I moved through the conference sessions, listening, taking notes, meeting people from all around the USA and enjoying my odd status as an "international visitor", being all the way from Canada and all, you know. I was having a great time. On January 30th, I made arrangements with some new friends from California to join them at a taping of the Oprah Winfrey show - we were hoping to attend a show on the Monday or Tuesday of the conference. Then I met up with other new friends who actually lived in Chicago for supper. We went to a local bar in their neighbourhood where I watched my friend's son and daughter kid each other - dancing and hanging out in that very cool brother and sister way. I remember telling them how they reminded me of a time when my brother, Tim, lived with me and we used to hang out together like that - and how lucky they were to have such a great friendship with each other. They laughed and shrugged it off ... the way you do when you're with your sibling.
And then on January 31st, I watched as those in attendance at the conference successfully petitioned the organizers to cancel the afternoon sessions so that they could gather in various rooms and the hotel bar for a Superbowl party. My colleague and I joined our new friends in the bar, experiencing Bud Girls and giveaways, but most importantly, the Superbowl commercials!!!
I went back to my room, feeling very cosmopolitan and grown up. Tucked my prizes and purse away, and crawled into bed. I woke up very early the next morning to a ringing phone. The phone call that would change my life forever.
It was my secretary at work - an incredible woman who had become a good friend. All she said was "you have to call your parents. If you want, call me back after you speak to them".
I pulled my cell phone out of my purse to make the call home, and saw that I had missed 28 calls the night before. The noise in the bar had been such that I hadn't heard the phone ring once.
I knew something was very very wrong. I called my parents' number, and when my father heard my voice, he started to cry. My mother picked up the other line and started to cry as well.
They managed to get out the words "oh Sandy...it's about Tim".
And I knew.
My only brother was dead. He had committed suicide.
His wife and daughter had been away, visiting her family for the weekend. They came home on Sunday. Their daughter raced into the house and up the stairs - excited to see her dad again. She was the one who found him, lying in his bed, dead. The autopsy revealed that he had most likely died on Saturday. I can't even begin to imagine the horror that little 8 year old girl went through - finding her father like that.
I have always avoided describing how he killed himself. The recent media coverage of the mother who assisted her son to commit suicide, however, has brought the horror of Tim's chosen method back to me. He used the same method with which this young man chose to end his life.
I have been a certified teacher of suicide intervention since 1986. I had long ago dealt with my own feelings about the right of choice, and had helped countless others recognize that their feelings about suicide directly impacted their ability to be effective as someone who would intervene with a suicidal person. All the skill in the world couldn't help me to intervene with my own brother.
For a long time, I raged against this man and his book. We found a copy of the book in my brother's home after his death. It had been opened to the page that described his chosen method so often that, when it was found, the crack in the spine made the book open naturally to that page.
I don't know what the purpose of writing about this today is ... except that Monday, January 30th is the 7th anniversary of the date that Tim chose to kill himself. The ongoing debates about assisted suicide and the right to choose have been keeping his method of death first and foremost in my mind.
I've watched my parents age dramatically in the last seven years, most of it in the first two years after his death. I've watched my niece that found him struggle with her life and her emotions. I've watched his other daughter, who lived with HB and I for a year, just recently begin to say her dad's name again and be able to look at pictures of him.
I hate that Tim never got to meet my incredible husband. I'm pissed off and angry at my big brother that he chose to leave my world before I was ready for him to be gone. I'm angry with myself at how busy I've allowed myself to become .... too busy to see my aging parents and my one remaining sister on any kind of regular basis ... knowing that the day is coming very soon when one of us will once again be racked with guilt and regret that we didn't make that one hour trip to spend time with each other. I've been having regular thoughts about death again - feeling that very soon we will experience another death in our family.
HB's brother, who is an active alcoholic and drug addict, but who is also receiving dialysis three times a week, was admitted to ICU this week. This is the brother that HB used to hang out and use with when he was practicing. For many reasons, HB has had to choose to put distance and space between them. HB's been clean and sober for quite a few years now, and is grappling with what he is meant to do in this situation. He has forgiven his brother in his heart, and has accepted responsibility for his actions in the situation ... but he's never had a conversation with his brother, who is still actively using, about all of it.
I'm just feeling overwhelmed today. I miss my brother. I love you Tim.