Sunday, March 21, 2010

Countdown to the Memorial

Mike’s memorial is one week from tomorrow.  Lately I’ve been channeling my grief into planning for the event.  I spent most of the weekend digging through old photographs for the slideshow we’re making.  I’ll add more when I get to West Virginia next weekend.  My parents ordered the flowers.  I am confirming the speakers.  Mike’s best friend Chas is going to speak.  I asked Mike’s friend Jeff to speak, too.  Dad might say a few words, if he’s up for it.  Mom will just try to make it through the day.  I will speak, though I’m not yet sure what I will say.  Eulogy for my baby brother.  I still have a week to write it.  Mom and Dad talked to the priest.  I will pick out the music.  Mom and Dad ordered the food.  I ran Mike’s obituary in our hometown newspaper, though none of us has lived there in years.  Mom and Dad will run an announcement about the memorial in their local newspaper.  I have been sending out emails.  Dolly wants to buy a funeral dress.  Mom and Dad called the funeral home.  The funeral home will call the cemetery to make arrangements for the internment.  I will borrow a projector for the slideshow.  Mom and Dad will pick out photographs to bring to the church.  The funeral home will bring the ashes to the church.  I will write a eulogy for my baby brother.

One hundred six days since Mike has been gone.  Eight days until Mike’s memorial.  Keeping busy, keeping time.

Sunday, March 14, 2010


I reconnected with an old friend who I haven’t seen in years.  He struggles with depression.  When I told him about my brother, this is what he said:  “Forgive me, but when I hear about someone killing his or her self, all I can think is...peace. You can be angry, sad, frustrated, etc. And it is certainly understandable. But that person is now at peace.”

Peace is something Mike wanted, something he believed he could never have so long as he was alive.  Who knows, he might have been right about that.  I’m not sure if he was ever at peace in his 37 years on this earth.  He said he wanted “a place where there was no self, only calm.”

My guess is that Mike, my brother, the guy who loved to fish and build computers, the guy who deep-fried turkey and barbecued ribs, the guy who cared for the elderly and the homeless, the guy with an eye for photography – that guy is gone, and lives on only in our memories.  Also gone is the guy who worried incessantly, the guy who suffered and was in pain.  His talents and his worries, his beauty and his pain – all gone.

I know that his body is gone.  His body was reduced to heavy ashes, now being stored in a funeral home in West Virginia in a black and gold box, which will be interned in a cemetery on March 30.

Then there’s the question of his soul, his spirit.  It’s the part detached from the body.  It’s the part detached from the mind, and from the troubles and joys of human existence.  It seems that this detachment from body and mind must bring peace, because it’s the body and the mind that keep us from peace.  But what is this peace?  Is it heaven?  Is it nothingness?

It’s clearly not a question I can answer until I meet my own end.  So the idea that Mike is now at peace does not bring me much peace.  

I have been thinking of Mike’s suicide as something that happened to me, something that keeps happening to me.  Perhaps that’s the inherent selfishness of grief.  This tragedy happened to Mike a long time ago, and kept happening over and over until the end.  He found peace, or at least tried to find peace, the only way he thought he could.  Now the tragedy lives on in us, in this black hole of sadness.  I would give anything to go back in time to try to shoulder some of that pain for him, to help him find another road to peace.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Time in a Bottle, and the Ending of Time in a Folder

One thing that surprised me was learning how meticulous Mike was.  When I arrived in West Virginia the week after Mike died, my parents pointed to several boxes of paperwork and said, “Here’s your project for the week.”  The task of settling Mike’s financial affairs went more smoothly than one would think.  Who knew that Mike would have perfectly organized files with every document I needed?  He even had a list of his online accounts and passwords.  Had he always been this organized, or did he intentionally get his files in order because he knew we would inherit them and need to make sense of them?  I feel sorry for whoever inherits my own chaos. 

As awful as his death was, there were little things he did that showed he was trying to be kind to others.  He left notes for us to try to explain his actions instead of leaving us to wonder.  He killed himself in a remote area where his neighbors and vacationing families would not see him.  He used a method that would make his body appear to be intact so we wouldn’t have to see the destruction.  He left notes and numbers so my parents would have people to help them.  Suicide is inherently selfish, because the one who does it cannot see past his own pain.  Certainly he didn’t know how his death would change us forever.  But even within this blindness, Mike performed small acts of kindness in his final hours.

I was inspired my Mike’s files, although he held on to too much.  Since I've been home, I have been organizing my own files.  My home office is filled with mountains of paper that I have been trying to sort for years.  Now I feel like I am doing it for him.

I have one folder in my file cabinet that is called “Mike”.  It is not a folder of Mike’s life.  It is a folder of his death.  Here is a list of its contents:

  • A copy of the note Mike left on his neighbor’s door the morning he killed himself, asking them to help our parents.  He tried to leave my parents’ cell phone number, but he wrote the number down incorrectly.  The neighbors left message on Mike’s cell phone instead—messages Mike would never hear, and I would be the first to hear 10 days later.
  • A copy of the note he left on his body for whoever found him, telling them to contact our parents and his employer, his address, and that there were more letters back at his apartment.
  • A copy of the letter he left for our parents.
  • A copy of the letter he left for Dolly and me.
  • A copy of the letter he left for our aunts.
  • Lists of people who could help and other contacts that he left with the letters.
  • A list of grievances he had against his employer that he left with the letters.
  • An old letter from his landlord that he left with the letters.
  • A Wikipedia entry for Wendy O. Williams that he left with his letters, apparently to argue that suicide can be justified.  He quoted from her suicide note in his letter to my parents.
  • A copy of his death certificate.
  • A copy of his obituary.
  • A list of the telephone numbers that were in his cell phone, just in case we need them, which I doubt we will.
  • A list of his creditors and notes of our contacts with them.
  • A list of resources for survivors of suicide.
  • A copy of the receipt for the gun he bought from a pawnshop in Virginia Beach.
The “Mike” file is a time capsule of the end of my brother’s life, and the worst month of my life.  It sits in my file cabinet in between “Medical Bills” and “National Lawyers Guild.”