The Year Without My Brother

Erik after a long afternoon skateboarding
Writing has always come naturally to me. But today, I found myself dragging my feet when it came to this post. I knew I wanted to write something on PSS about the anniversary of my brother’s death–because part of the reason why I love blogging so much is the shared human experience. Just as I experience ups and downs about my self-image and fashion sense (and sometimes lack thereof), I also experience pain, grief, and loss. None the more poignant or heartbreaking than the loss of my 20 year old brother, Erik, on October 6, 2009.

As a baby, Erik was permanently attached to my hip. Just five years his senior, I took on the role of Second Mommy with ease. He was a towheaded child with gold-rimmed glasses, luminously large olive-green eyes, and an impish grin. He was mischevious, and sensitive. So sensitive, in fact, that he grew a tough outer shell in his adolescent years–a shell molded by years of torment by teachers and classmates for his learning disabilities (namely, dyslexia, dysgraphia, and ADHD) and a crippling stutter.

He was precious.

I saw through the chain necklaces, baggy jeans, and predilection for heavy metal music–for he was much like an M&M to me. Tough candy shell, but thin, and surrounding a sweet chocolate center.

That was my Erik.

As the years turned darker and more difficult for Erik, he was found to have Bipolar Disorder. Bipolar Disorder was formerly called “Manic Depressive” disorder, and there are two types. Type I is more common and associated with the shifts in manic behavior (much like somebody who is on a “high”, doesn’t sleep for days, earning the “fast and loose” stereotype) which alternates with depressive episodes.

Erik was Type II, a rarer type that was characterized by nearly constant, refractory depression, punctuated by brief episodes of hypomania, which is a much milder form of mania (wherein people become functional enough, motivated enough to do the things they want to do–aka the “Super Producers”–Ted Turner is a known hypomanic). It is notoriously difficult, if not impossible, to treat. Unfortunately, these are the people most at risk of successfully (though I cringe at that word in this context) committing suicide–they get just enough motivation and determination to actually go through with it.

My mother, who is a physician, worked tirelessly to help Erik. Everything from coaching, tutoring, homeschooling, counseling, therapy, psychiatric appointments–anything a mother could do to protect her baby boy, my mother did. I too was particularly protective of my baby brother. I’ll never forget being at a birthday party at a “Discovery Zone” and coming across my brother being pelted with those multicolored plastic balls from the ball pit, right in the face, as his bully laughed and taunted him. Little to our knowledge, back then Erik could barely see, and couldn’t have been more than 4 or 5 years old, unable to see or flee from his tormentor. In my ten year old pint-sized glory, I didn’t hesitate.

I marched up to this boy much older than me, growled in a furious rage, “Don’t you mess with my little brother!” and punched him squarely in the face. He ran off crying to his mommy. That was the first and last time I have ever punched a human being. I remember being surprised at how much my hand hurt afterward.

Erik lost his battle to depression and bipolar disorder on October 6, 2009. I had just returned home from Target, when I got the most horrifying, life-altering, earth-shattering phone call of my life.

I will never forget my mother’s words.

Sobbing, hysterical, she screamed, “Erik is dead! He’s dead, oh my God, I want my BABY!…”

He had shot himself in the head with a gun nobody knew he possessed. Guns were not allowed in the home since his diagnosis nearly a decade before.

The drive to my parents’ house was a blur of tears, pain, and denial (No, it can’t be, my baby brother, no…). I’m honestly not even sure how I got there in one piece.

All the death, gloom, and sadness that filled my life in the months that followed prompted me–perhaps in some strange way of escapism–to start a blog called Pretty Shiny Sparkly about all the happy things girls love. I wanted to fill it with all of the things that made me happy. And this is what it has become. So in a way I have Erik to thank for this wonderful journey so far.

But I’m sure you will understand that I would give it all back in a heartbeat to have just one more minute with my baby brother. Just one minute. 60 seconds. Just long enough to tell him that I loved him, just like I had the urge to do via text message, sitting in my office studying (a medical school lecture on suicide–the ironies of this world never cease) mere hours before he died. My phone was in the other room, and I never sent the message. My single biggest regret of my entire life.

My mother also healed with blogging. She started a blog, Channeling Erik, in which she tests the boundaries of her faith, and spirituality, and has connected with Erik in the spiritual plane–whether you’re a believer or not, it’s truly an amazing experience, and I suggest you start from the beginning.

So bear with me today; I fear I will be unable to avoid replaying the events of exactly one year ago today in my mind, over, and over.

I was the one who wrote my brother’s obituary. I remember kissing his nose when he was born, and I kissed his nose when he was gone.

Kristina’s Eulogy

My sweet little brother. I love you so much. I will miss you forever and always. I wonder what Thanksgiving and Christmas will be like without you. I cry just thinking how you will not be a groomsman at my wedding one day. I am sad because I feel in this world you did not fully comprehend how much you were loved. But I think now, in Heaven, you do. Now you are free. I never thought I would be writing your obituary, or speaking at your memorial service. You were supposed to be doing that for me one day. I used to carry you around on my hip, just 5 or 6 years old at the time, when you were just a toddler. I beat up the bullies for you, but I guess I couldn’t protect you from everything. I know I will never get over the loss of you, my little brother. But I hope the memories that now make me sad will one day make me smile in fond, loving memory of you.

Poem: Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep, by Mary Elizabeth Frye

Do not stand at my grave and weep,
I am not there, I do not sleep.
I am in a thousand winds that blow,
I am the softly falling snow.
I am the gentle showers of rain,
I am the fields of ripening grain.
I am in the morning hush,
I am in the graceful rush
Of beautiful birds in circling flight,
I am the starshine of the night.
I am in the flowers that bloom,
I am in a quiet room.
I am in the birds that sing,
I am in each lovely thing.
Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there. I do not die.