by Tara J. LAl
My brother Adam took his own life shortly after his twentieth birthday and I was left, in my eyes, rejected and alone.
He had jumped from his study window at Oxford University and was placed on life support in intensive care for nine interminably long days. I sat by his bed. I told him I loved him, I forgave him and understood. But I didn’t. I wanted him to live because I just couldn’t lose him. It took decades for the full repercussions of his suicide to emerge, in ways that I could never have anticipated.
I was seventeen at the time. In the preceding years, following our mother’s death, my brother and I had built a treasured bond. It was as if, in our individual spheres of grief, we each held onto a small branch that connected us and prevented us floating entirely alone.
Adam made me feel safe. He was the rock upon which I tentatively placed my foot when it felt as if the very ground I stood on was crumbling away. Without my brother I would have slipped into an abyss of adolescent turmoil and confusion.
Only my brother seemed to understand me. Only with him did I belong. I loved and cherished him. He was charismatic, handsome and deeply caring, and he had a quirky sense of humour. People were drawn to him. Girls wanted to be with him, boys wanted to be like him. But he was my brother and I was so proud.
In the months before his death, I began to realize something was desperately wrong. The vibrant, funny Adam I knew seemed lost to me, replaced by a dark shadow. I wanted to bring him back from whatever awful place he was in. I tried desperately to help. I had a feeling of dread, but the thought that he might take his own life never occurred to me. My love would be enough.
Then in one terrible instant he was gone and my world collapsed around me. All the assumptions I had about life were shattered. I was adrift at sea, without a lifebelt.
Adam left behind endless journals filled with his thoughts. I grasped one line that I found: ‘All my hopes lie with TJ.’ And so I held onto his dream for me. I would live my life for him.
I loved him so avidly, so idealistically, that I built a picture around him, a picture of perfection. I didn’t realize how heavily that labour of love would weigh upon me.
Over the years I became aware of a pathological fear of rejection. It infiltrated every relationship in my life. Time and time again I found people I could rescue. My sense of self-worth only came from ‘fixing’ people. When they didn’t want me any more, I’d be left reeling. I knew my dramatic reactions were disproportionate to the depth of those relationships.
It was only many years later, when a close friend of my brother’s said she felt that his death had been the ultimate rejection of her love, that a light bulb shone and I knew instantly she was right. That was where it had all come from. My love hadn’t been enough to make him want to live. And that had left me with an unending feeling of failure, of not being good enough.
It is only now that I am able to see that Adam’s suicide wasn’t about my love. It was about Adam’s love for himself. It hadn’t been enough to keep him here, to overcome the pain he was in. In fact, his suicide was the ultimate rejection of his own love for himself.
Finally, twenty-seven years after his death, my brother and I still hold our love for each other. His death does not detract from that and the loss no longer defines the value of my love.
About the Author: Tara J. Lal is a female firefighter in Sydney’s eastern suburbs. Born and bred in London, she holds two university degrees and is a practising physiotherapist. She is trained in suicide prevention and crisis intervention, and managed the Critical Incident Support Program in Fire & Rescue NSW, working with the Black Dog Institute to promote mental health in firefighters. Her vision is to use her book to endorse evidence-based resilience training as a way to enhance growth through trauma.
Tara J. Lal
Standing on My Brother’s Shoulders
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