Emotional VS Physical Pain


In the first six months of this year, 2013, I experienced both emotional and physical pain.  At the beginning of the year it was the emotional pain I felt with the the loss of my younger brother to suicide, and in June, it was the physical pain of a pinched nerve in my low back and buttock.  Both pains brought me to a stand still in their own way.

There is not good way to describe the pain I felt when I found my brother down from a self inflicted gun shot wound in early December.  When the initial disbelief wore off, an overwhelming sense of grief overcame me.  It felt as if someone had torn my heart from my chest and I cried, sobbed until I could barely breathe.  The sounds of grief that came out of me were haunting.  I felt like there would never be light again in my life.  My emotional pain brought me to a stand still.

The physical pain came in the form of crippling pain in my buttock.   Back in June, I went to bed with a little nag in my upper buttock, and woke up barely able to get myself out of bed.  I couldn’t find a way to move that didn’t bring shooting pains down my buttock or allow me to straighten out.  I managed to get to the floor and crawled to the bathroom.  What the heck happened in the night??  I didn’t think the pain could get any worse than it was until I went to get a massage to help get rid of the “muscle spasm”.

I came home from the massage worse than before I left home, and immediately iced my sore butt.  It was amazing to see my technicolored left buttock the next morning as a result of the massage on my already traumatized tissue.  Looking back, it wasn’t the best choice I made, though at the time it seemed the right thing to do. The pain in my butt lasted a good 2 and a half months before it became but a mere memory.  I knew things were better when I was able to get out of bed and realized that I hadn’t thought about the pain as I no longer experienced it upon arising.

Emotional pain?  Physical pain?  Is there one you would prefer over the other? My immediate response to that question is,  I would pick physical pain over the gut wrenching pain of grief any day.  With physical pain, though it may always be there, there is hope that some day it will be gone.  With emotional pain, the pain of loss will always be there.  Nothing can bring my brother Vic back.  No matter how much I wish, how many drugs I take, how much time passes, the fact remains, he is gone and I am forever changed.





Gone Though Not Forgotten

Vic Toasting at PaulinaIn mid July, my immediate family and my mom’s brother’s family convened at a lake in eastern Oregon to have a family memorial for my brother Vic and to scatter some of his ashes.  Most summers while growing up we spent time at this lake with my mom’s side of the family.  My Mom’s parents had a boat, and we would meet at Paulina Lake, stay in small rustic log cabins and fish. My brother, sister and I each spent time as a baby, in a box, wrapped up in blankets, at the bottom of the boat, rocked by the gentle motion of the ripples on the lake.  I guess you could say our earliest fishing lessons were more by osmosis than actual hands on.  Since Vic loved to fish, and he loved Paulina lake, we felt that Paulina Lake was an appropriate and sentimental place to return him to.

My grandparents and my parents (who were taught by my grandparents) taught us kids to fish.  Linda, Vic and I learned to bait hooks to “still fish” in an anchored boat, and how to hold the pole in the right position while “trolling”.  We learned to reel in if someone caught a fish to prevent line tangles, and when a little older, how to net the fish.  Managing the lines of 3 little kids was no easy task, and tangles happened.  Mom and grandma patiently straightened things out while my grandfather told tales to entertain us.  Our early lessons didn’t end with the techniques of fishing, we we were also taught to clean our catch early on.  Standing on log round at the sink, we learned how to not only clean the fish, but how to determine if it was a boy or a girl, and what it had been feeding on.

Vic and my cousin Heidi had talked last fall about having a family reunion at Paulina this summer.  When the Oregon and Washington parts of the family were here in December for Vic’s memorial service, the plan was put into action to carry through with this trip as Vic would have liked us to do.   By January, a date was set, cabins reserved, and vacation time set aside to spend 5 days at Paulina Lake reminiscing and telling stories about Vic, and bidding him goodbye once again.

We hadn’t all been together at Paulina since the late 80’s when my grandmother was still alive, and there was much excitement about being together again at the lake.  I was totally caught off guard by my emotional response to being at a place where I had spent so many happy times with my brother.  I walked into my Uncle’s cabin the first night, and on the fireplace was a 11×14 inch picture of my “20 something” year old brother sitting in one of these mountain cabins.  He was toasting the camera person, with what was most likely a rum and coke.  What struck me was the memory of that the big smile on his face and how happy he looked.  It totally caught me by surprise and I started to cry.  It was as if I had walked into the room and he was right there with us.

Tears would well up and spill over many times during those 5 days.  My emotions were raw and my heart ached.  It didn’t take much for my feelings to surface and for me to feel that deep loss once again.  No matter how much time passes, and how many tears I shed, there seems to be an endless supply where those came from.

My sister and my dad worked out the logistics and the plan for the memorial service.  My mom and dad put some of VIc’s ashes in little bottles labeled with his name and dates of birth and death.  There were enough bottles so that each family member, even the two and three year olds, had a little bit of Vic to with as they wished – to scatter, to keep, or to do a little of both.   A quiet place on the lake with a narrow beach was selected and my sister would “officiate”(if that’s even the right word) the ceremony.

The day was sunny and warm, and the lake was smooth as glass, as our little flotilla of 5 boats, with all 24 family members, made it’s way across the lake to the cove.  It was quiet in our boat, except for the drone of the motor, for the 20 minute boat ride across the lake.  I drove the boat from the back with tears streaming from the time we left the dock. When we were all firmly on land, my sister beautifully summarized why we were gathered (through her tears) and read a verse my dad had picked out.  My nephew Luke played “Summertime” on his trumpet as each person silently said his/her own goodbyes and scattered Vic’s ashes quietly into the water.  After hugs and more tears, we loaded back into the boats and my father lead the way as we cut through the glassy waters, leaving a trail of rose petals behind us as we drove away from the beach.

I feel as if another chapter closed as I said goodbye to my brother once again – this time in both the emotional and physical sense of the word.   I choose to let the memory of my brother during the good times in his life, when he was vibrant and happy, out weigh the tumultuous times that proceeded his death.  I know he is at peace now which makes him being gone a little easier to bear.  Though he is physically gone, he will not be forgotten now, or ever.

Happy Birthday Bro

VIC dressed up

Today would be my brother Vic’s 53rd birthday.  My heart is heavy today thinking about him.  The whole family has had him in mind last week as we approached this day as it is his first birthday since he died last December.  We have all been wondering what can we do to acknowledge and celebrate him today.  My younger nephew Luke grew an “Uncle Vic” mustache in his honor. Linda and Sam (my sister and brother-in-law) and my nephew Peter and I are having a special dinner and birthday dessert for him.  The menu is barbecued steak, corn on the cob, salad and a Boston Cream Pie for dessert.  A dinner he would have requested if he was here to make that request – at least the first part.  Dessert we picked because it is my favorite and we all like it :).   We will probably sing happy birthday, and I am sure I will cry.  It has been said that the “firsts” after someone passes away are always the hardest – the first Christmas, first birthday, and so on.  I can truly say that the first Christmas was very hard as it was all so new.  Today has not unfolded yet so I am not sure what to expect.  I think about him and miss him just about everyday, and today is different – this would be HIS day, and I am sad that he is not here to celebrate it with us.  Who loves you bro?

And Then He Was Gone


Sunday December 2, 2012 my younger brother reached a place in his life where the thought of living was harder to fathom than the thought of dying.   My “little” brother, Vic, the loud boisterous life of the party, the man everyone loved for his big smile and warm bear hugs, could no longer see a reason to live, and no other way out of the situation he was in. Family finances were tough, Vic’s marriage had crumbled, and mediation was challenging.  It was becoming harder and harder for him to see his children who meant the world to him.  Life was just too hard and painful.

Death of a loved one is never easy, and the death of a loved one who takes his own life leaves many “what ifs” and unanswered questions:  Why didn’t I see this coming? How could I have missed this?  What if I had taken him up on the dinner invite that night?  What pushed him to this?”  What was going on in his mind?   These are questions that no one except him knew the answers to, and those answers went with him that night he put the gun to his head and pulled the trigger.

I texted with Vic the day he died, in fact, all of us in the family had contact with him in one way or another that Sunday.  His posts on Facebook were upbeat, he was setting up “Grandpa’s corner” with memorabilia he had acquired over the years.  He would take a  picture each time he added something new to the corner and would post it with the question: “What’s new in the picture”?  The night he took his life, my brother had been watching his 49er’s, smoking salmon, and listening to old LP’s that he had unearthed when he moved out of the family house.  Vic had a new job, was doing well and everyone loved him, and he was settling into his new home.  Everything from the outside appeared as if things were looking up. There was no hint that later that evening my brother would be gone.

So what have I learned from this?  Life is fragile and what we see on the outside is only the tip of the iceberg.  Feelings run deep and outside appearances do not always belie what is going on inside.  Some people are very good at masking their feelings.  In Vic’s case, his boisterous, funny and happy go lucky outside appearance covered hurt and pain that ran very deep.  He put on the appearance that all was well to cover his pain and sadness.  I can’t imagine how much emotional pain he was in, and for how long, to come to the decision that he did.

I loved my brother and am grateful that I had him living with me for two and a half months in late summer, early fall.  Finding him dead in his backyard when I went to check on him turned my life upside down and sent me into a spin.  Life as I knew it came to a screeching halt.  I couldn’t sleep because of the visions I saw when I closed my eyes.  I withdrew from friends and hovered close to family.  Anxiety like I had never experienced kept me from getting out to do things with other people.   I couldn’t stay focused or think straight.  I cried myself to sleep and had  restless nights with nightmares about not being able to do my job.  I anguished about a vacation I had planned to Maui as I would be alone and afraid of how I would handle it.  Anxiety kept me away from events where people outside my family would be present.  Driving by my work place, I thought my heart would pound out of my chest I was so overcome with anxiety.  I rocked and tumbled within my world of pain and grief.

Thankfully, with time, family support, help from my doctor and therapist, and well wishes from friends and coworkers, there seems to be a light at the end of the tunnel.  I cry less and laugh more, and yet there remains an emptiness in my heart that once was Vic.

Hold your family and friends close and let them know how you feel.  Have no regrets.  For life is short, and things may change in an instant, an “acute crisis” they call it with suicide.    I say this because I know.  One day my brother Vic was here, and then he was gone.

Who loves you Bro?