My brother was studying for his master's degree in electrical engineering at the University of California at Berkeley, and when we called to wish him a happy 24th birthday, he didn't answer the phone. This made my mother nervous, so the next day she asked the CA police to conduct a "well-visit," where they found his body lying on the bedroom floor of his apartment. It turns out that two days earlier, he'd gone to his graduate school, handed in his master's thesis, gone home, and hanged himself with his belt. Needless to say, we were absolutely devastated. My father had only just gone to CA to help George move from Berkeley to Sunnyvale, so that he could start looking for a job in Silicon Valley. He'd even gotten his learner's permit two days earlier. What's truly difficult for me to come to terms with is the fact that I knew something was bothering him, and I knew what it was, but whenever I tried to talk to him about it, he would downplay the situation. My brother was the type where, if you pushed too hard, he would just shut down, and wouldn't talk to you about anything, so in order to keep him from pulling way, I just dropped it. And I was on the opposite end of the country, so it wasn't even like I could just rent a couple of movies and go over there to hang out for a while.
It's tough to realize that, even though "officially" he reached his 24th birthday, according to his date of death, in actuality he never did. And of course, it's hard for me to be the only child left in a two-child family. Sometimes it's easy, since he moved so far away, to pretend that everything's "normal," that he's still out there, working and studying, and that this is all a big mistake, which makes it hurt all the more when I remind myself of the truth. Even though I know that there was nothing I could have done differently, I still am plagued by guilt. I'm also still overcome by anger at times; my brother was born two months prematurely, and overcame such obstacles as an infant, to be a good-looking, kind, brilliant, and talented individual. Even though I know how overcome he must have been by despair, and how hopeless he must have felt, it's hard to reconcile how he could have fought so hard and worked so much, only to let it all go at the end.
In some ways, though, things are much better now. In the two years after losing my brother, I bought a house, got married, rescued an American bulldog from the ACC, and gave birth to a son. All of these things have given hope to me, and hope to my parents. At the same time, it's hard to reach these milestones and to know, particularly with the marriage and the birth of my son, that my brother should have been there to celebrate those things with us, and never will be. My husband is very like him, and they would truly have enjoyed each other's company, and George will give meet his nephew, who will only learn about him from stories. But my son has looked like him from birth, so at times, I watch him, and think that a part of my brother still lives on, and this gives me comfort.
Since my brother's suicide, the childhood holiday traditions that were always so comforting to me while growing up have run hollow in their incompleteness. But with my husband and son, my family can begin to create new traditions, and I have begun to find joy in the holidays again, by seeing them through my son's eyes.