My brother died last week. He killed himself. My baby brother, at just 42 years old, took a shotgun along with him for an afternoon run, laying it inside the car as casually as if he’d just loaded some no-longer-needed cardboard before heading off to dump recycling. There’s security footage that shows him doing exactly that. What we don’t know yet, and may in fact never know, is why my brother – also a treasured father, partner, son and friend – decided that August 10 would be his final day on this earth.
It’s hard, but the only emotions I’m trying to feel right now are a mixture of happiness and sadness; happiness because I had the chance to know Mike like I did, and sadness because someone I loved is no longer here. These polar opposite feelings only make sense when you know that like many, including the Princess of Whales herself, my brother suffered from severe depression.
A Quick ‘Cure’
The first time I caught a glimpse of how debilitating depression can be should of been one of the happiest days of my brother’s life. Through The Herald and my writing, my brother found his birth mother and we excitedly embarked on an across-province road trip to meet her and her family.
The first morning I found myself embarrassed that my brother hadn’t even bothered to get out of bed to spend time with these people. I snuck away, ready to haul his lazy arse out of bed. When I got to his room, my heart sunk. This big, giant, bear of a man lay on the floor in the fetal position, appearing no bigger than a toddler. I thought he was in physical pain, and I suppose in a way he was, but what he was going through was unlike anything I had ever witnessed. Not knowing any better, I offered up items in the hopes of a quick ‘cure.’ From a hug and a kiss, to a back rub, to a hissed; ‘get the f*#k up!’ I tried it all. I even pinched him, hard, hoping I’d piss him off so much he’d give chase like when we were kids. Then, I tried offering up over-the-counter meds; everything from something for period cramps to a diarrhea remedy (hey, you never know on a road trip, right?). There was no response.
I tried humour, holding out a piece of gum and an out-of-the-package Life Saver candy I’d found at the bottom of my purse, because hey, nothing curses sadness better than a good chew and some sugar. Nothing worked.
So I just sat and watched my brother suffer in silence. Hours later he began talking. This type of thing happened, and feeling overwhelming depression and anxiety that left him helpless seemed to be happening more and more, he said. The rest of the time, he felt as if he was living life underneath water, fighting a little harder for every step, struggling through every movement, no matter how small, just to get through each day. Again, not knowing any better, I asked him why. There must be some cause, some reason, something he could fix? If it was his relationship, get out of it. If it was his life, change it. I remember saying it was probably his diet – not the best to be certain – though now I know how useless those suggestions were.
Over the years that followed I learned more about my brother’s depression and came to accept it for what it was; part of who he was. I really was proud with how my brother seemed to live a beautiful, giving life in spite of the challenges he faced. He sought professional help when needed. He took his meds, mostly. He was also a hard worker, a giving son, a great friend, a loving partner, and an amazing dad to his seven-month old son, Kyson. And he was very, very funny.
Fatal Parting Shot
And Mike remained all of those things until the day he loaded a gun in his car and went for an afternoon drive. He told no one his plans, said no good-byes. He left no explanation that we’ve found yet. He just left us. But while I’m devastated, I also refuse to focus on that fatal parting shot.
That one seemingly selfish, cruel act will never define the loving, selfless, giving, funny, treasured man that I and many knew and loved. What I will try and focus on instead is nurturing the one thing that only a brother I loved and wanted to understand could have ever given me, and that’s the gift of compassion towards those who suffer as he did.
Mike, I hope you finally have a chance to rest in peace, but enjoy it, because know this; when we do finally meet again, I just might have to pinch you. Hard. For old times sake.
Love you, brother.
Pam Pardy Ghent, The Herald’s Managing Editor, can be reached by emailing [email protected]