Janet writes in: I, along with my sister and now deceased brother, have always suffered from mental illness —  hereditary-based and environmental. We grew-up in an immensely dysfunctional home, with a raging alcoholic father. My sister has bipolar disorder, and I suffer from depression.

I knew my brother planned on killing himself and argued for my parents to look for him after they had had a terrible fight and he left our home in a rage. They said because he was addicted to drugs, he was on his own. He was missing for 2 weeks, until a reporter found him dead in his car, parked in front of the jail where he was inevitably going to serve time due to drug related charges. Knowing his court date was soon, he threatened to “die before he was stuck in a cage.”

It has been six years, and my anxiety and depression has only worsened. I have seen numerous doctors and tried many medications. I am married now, to the most kind and supportive husband one could ask for; but, I still feel like when Travis died, a part of me also died. My parents divorced after 34 yrs of marriage, and my father remarried and no longer speaks to any of us. It feels like now, everything I attempt to accomplish, I end up quitting due to anxiety attacks or another bout of depression. How do I pull it together?

I’ve tried writing about it, but my pain seems to make my thoughts come out messy, without any order. Meds, doctors, financial support, even my amazing husband, aren’t able to ease the intense yearning I constantly have to see my brother again. People question why I haven’t worked in 2.5 years and I don’t know how to explain the reason. I only do small projects at a time because I can’t escape the utter despair I’ve felt since he died. In many aspects, I myself feel dead at times. I have so much love and passion for people and life, but the pain often engulfs the very essence of who I am, or who I thought I was.

How do you regain your life after the death of a sibling, when you yourself suffered from depression prior to the event?

Michelle Linn-Gust, a grief specialist who also lost a sibling, responds: First, I am so sorry for the loss of your brother. He obviously was very important to you, and I’m sure it was like one more thing was added to your pile. I have heard similar stories from other siblings who had dysfunctional homes and lost a sibling from whose death they didn’t feel they could recover.

What I have also seen is an amazing resilience to hold on until things get better. Sometimes you have to take things just one minute at time– even if you have to do that for years. Obviously, while you might not feel so strong, I can see a strength in you because are reaching out, you have survived, you are trying to move forward. It seems that something hasn’t clicked to make you feel like it will be okay. But from what I see on the outside, you are going to be okay. You have made it this far and you aren’t going to give up now.

I bet somewhere in your life, your brother is leaving signs that he is okay and he wants you to be okay. Only in the last few years of the 15 since my sister died have I come to believe our bond is closer now than it was before she died. We had our own dysfunctional family although I don’t think to the degree of what you and your siblings have been through.

I have come to believe that Denise is helping to guide me through my life and the more I am thankful for the signs (a song on the radio that reminds me of her, pennies and dimes she leaves in places, particularly when I’m having a difficult day), the more signs that come.

Ask your brother to leave you a sign that he’s okay and that he’s thinking about you. It might not come right away, but be open and it will. I strongly believe that we need to find peace, hope, and relief anywhere we can find it.

I have the sense that you need something to carry you to the next level of relief. I have been there many times in my life for different reasons and when I reach out, it comes.

I know you’ve tried many ways to find the way and they haven’t worked so I’m just suggesting a little different route. I hope it helps. And you might also check out my web site (www.siblingsurvivors.com) because many sibs just like you leave their stories in the guestbook. And they would be willing to email you and help you in any way they can.
Take care,
Michelle Linn-Gust

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Michelle L. Rusk

Michelle L. Rusk

Michelle Linn-Rusk, Ph.D., Past President of the American Association of Suicidology, has spent the past twenty years educating people worldwide about coping with loss and change following the suicide of her younger sister. Her eighth book, Conversations with the Water: A Memoir of Cultivating Hope, chronicles her grief journey as she moves forward beyond the suicide and loss field. Her first book, based on Denise’s suicide, Do They Have Bad Days in Heaven? Surviving the Suicide Loss of a Sibling, inspired siblings around the world in their survival after a loved one’s suicide. She writes the weekly Good Causes column for The Naperville Sun newspaper and helps people accomplish their goals through her life coaching practice. https://www.voiceamerica.com/episode/14201/michelle-linn-gust-surviving-the-death-by-suicide-of-a-sibling

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