My brother died on September 9th. In adulthood he suffered from mental illness. During the last months, depression made his life appear unsustainable, and he chose to end it. With my parents leading the way, we have been open and honest about the circumstances of his passing to forward the conversation about mental illness and suicide with the hopes of reducing the stigma and ultimately providing more resources for those in need. Below is the Eulogy I read at his memorial service.
I have begun trying to establish my “new normal.” Grief is certainly a process. I hope to be back in the kitchen and sharing recipes with all of you again soon.
Eulogy for My Brother, Andy
A sibling is someone that shares your full trajectory of life. The common daily minutia of your childhood forms a bond unlike any other. A sibling is a personal historian who can validate the nuances of your upbringing.
Andy knew the many optimal hiding places in our old 801 Plymouth house that allowed us to prevail at hide-and-seek. During my parents’ dinner parties, of which there were many, I was allowed to sleep in my big brother’s room where we shared secret rituals. He was my comrade in sandcastle making during annual spring break trips to Marco Island, his golden skin darkening each day while mine was smeared with white, zinc oxide.
Andy was the only other person in the world that knew that the northeast cement edge of our swimming pool was the ideal spot to warm our chilled bodies. After hours of swimming, we would lie on our stomachs, heads touching, arms squeezed to our sides like soldiers, balancing on the ledge. Cheeks pressed against the hot stone, breathing hard from our endless play, we warmed and relaxed our bodies before rolling back into the water for another round of fun.
We ran in the sprinklers. We had lemonade stands. Our parents loved us. Ours was a wonderfully happy childhood.
As a teenager, Andy thrived in East Grand Rapids. He was an athlete who played football, basketball and baseball. Often he would procrastinate, do his homework last minute, and still easily achieve good grades and accolades. At the high school talent show, he slipped on dark sunglasses, took the microphone, and became a rock star, belting out Mustang Sally with gusto. Andy’s senior year he was elected class president, beating very worthy if not even better qualified candidates. In his youth, things came easily to Andy. Sadly, that was not the case during much of his adult life.
During the past 25 years, Andy shouldered his share of suffering, and we suffered with him. A battle with mental illness and substance abuse caused a roller coaster of difficulty and a painful fall from grace. Andy felt the pressure to live up to what others expected of him and to defend his alternative lifestyle. Many times, he asked that we stop worrying about him and insisted that he was happy. And often, he was.
My brother was a seeker of a “good time.” He loved music and somehow when he had just a few dollars to his name, he still found his way to concerts, music venues, and festivals. He recounted many tales of travel and wild adventures. A few years ago, he joked that he had thought of a name for his autobiography: Don’t do What I Did – But I Sure had a Helluva Lot of Fun.
Andy was a storyteller. When telling tales, the protagonists of his many adventures were always “my buddies.” These unnamed heroes were present during good times and bad. One consistent theme was that they always had each other’s backs. Andy formed friendships easily. Though he sometimes abused relationships due to his illness and addictions, he kept many long-lasting, meaningful connections. In the past year in particular, Andy reconnected with many old friends and was very pleased to have renewed old bonds.
My brother gave good hugs. He and I were the same height and when we hugged our ears lined up perfectly. We joked that our “ear lock” created secret sibling super powers. His hugs are warmly remembered by many because they were genuine and involved a true transfer of affection. Andy had great capacity for love. Mental illness and addiction are inherently selfish diseases and yet Andy was often able to express his love for others. Though he suffered from his worst depression these past months, he repeatedly articulated his love for us. “I love you, Sis” was the last thing he said to me and love was the last sentiment that he expressed before leaving this world.
Last week, when going through Andy’s belongings, we found some recent journal writing. In it, he wrote “I wish I could detach myself from this brain of mine.” It is tragic that one would feel the need to do so. But, we witnessed in the past months his terrible pain. In the end, he did find a way to detach himself from that complicated brain of his. As we use words like grief, sorrow and loss, let’s balance them with relief, freedom, and peace. And, let us deny any feelings of anger or guilt.
In his 43 years, Andy lived. He traveled across the country and abroad. He forged meaningful relationships. He painted. He danced. He lived with family. He lived with friends. He lived under the stars. He loved. He was loved.
When I lie awake at night, swallowed by sorrow, a clipped movie reel of memories plays in my head. Luckily, the memories that come to me most easily have been all the happiest times that I had with Andy. I hope it will be the same for you.