I’m not one to sit around and think of the roads that diverge in life as events lead you down one path or the other (this always sends me back to Frost’s The Road Not Taken), but today would have been my brother Jeff’s fifty-fifth birthday and my mind has drifted backward, undoing all the intervening years to his twenty first year which was his last proper birthday, the day he became of legal age, and he was on his way to getting the life he wanted. I had turned nineteen a week and a half prior and we were looking forward to being in the same city for college that fall as he was transferring to his dream college only they didn’t have space for him on campus, an incoming transfer student in his junior year.
I imagine if I was looking down on us that fall as our paths came together and we met up once a week after being apart for the last three years as he went off to this college and that until he became serious about his future. Little did I know they’d only cross for a short time because over the next few months, something undetectable to the human eye took him over and by the new year he had only a full day left in him. On January second, he hung himself from the rafter of his basement bedroom, leaving only questions and more questions behind him.
But today is not the day for those questions. They question of why, why, why. The thing I wonder today is the who, what and where. Who would he be? What would he be doing? Where would he be living? These are questions I can only take a wild stab at and in my imaginings he would live near me, doing something awesome with a lovely family beside him. But the other side of imagining something different is that it would throw a big question mark over my own life. Who would I be? Where would I live? What would I be doing?
These, of course, are useless questions because I am here and Jeff is not. Who I am married to and the family I have now would not be possible if Jeff hadn’t died the way he did, as a stint at a suicide prevention center and hotline led me to a friendship with the director which led me to my husband many years later. It would never have occured to me to get involved with suicide prevention if I hadn’t lost Jeff that way. And those years showed me how to let go of the question why which was as important as anything.
It feels like this post has a downward vibe, with talk of death and suicide, loss and grief. But it really started as a celebration of someone I deeply loved and lost and imaging the beauty of what his life could have been.