The Image in my Mind

The image of my brother standing limp with his head drooping to his side invades my mind again. It is how I imagine he must have looked when he was lifelessly hanging from a rope. After my other brothers told me they found his body in the garage, I sprinted over in hopes to see his laughing face that revealed it was a hoax. My mom stood outside and ended my run by giving me an aggressive hug - a tight, aching squeeze that only a mother of a dead child can give. Her intention was to prevent me from seeing my brother, Edward, dangling from the ceiling. Even in her most fragile state, the primal instinct of a mother protecting her child remained with her. However, the silhouette of my brother's wilted body was created by my subconscious that night. It permeates my thoughts when I am in a vulnerable frame of mind. When Edward's image enters my head, the same question stands before me: have I learned from his death? Loving someone who has committed suicide can throw you on a desperate hunt for meaning. Mourners want to prevent the suicide of someone else. We have this yearning to be able to stop others from taking their own life since we could not stop the death of our loved one. Beyond this, we grieve differently. For me, guilt dictated my life. My guilt stemmed from my lack of belonging with my family and the belief that Edward would have blended so much better if he were still alive. I have been described to be the most annoying, stubborn, and sensitive family member. Even before starting elementary school, I asked my mom if I was born into the wrong family. Maybe Death was supposed to take someone from my family that fateful day, but He left with the wrong soul. The impact of my guilt was deeper than morbid thoughts. My actions ruined my peace. I became hypercritical of myself during arguments with my family. Even when I had justified reasons for being angry, the same pattern continued. First, I reflect back to the bickering that my 11-year-old self had with my brother before his suicide. Then the image of his slumped body forces itself to the forefront of my mind. This prompts the stage where I ask tortuous questions. How would I feel if my other brothers or sister died while we were in a fight? Is Edward disappointed in me for not getting along with everyone? Have I REALLY learned from his death if I do not maintain peace with my family? The last step begins after my self-loathing overpowers any valid anger I have. This is when I forgive people out of fear of being on bad terms rather than because they feel remorse. I performed this unhealthy routine for nearly two decades. Then a traumatic event happened. Feeling that my siblings did not support me exacerbated my mental health in the aftermath of the trauma. My siblings are people who would prefer to keep negative sentiments out of their conscious mind, whereas I am the type that believes that pain is the inevitable step for resolution. I frustrated them for bringing up the trauma I experienced because it was uncomfortable for them. At the same time, I was exasperated they chose to be oblivious when I was suffering in front of them. After years of ineffective fighting, I wanted to divorce my family. However, the image in my mind did not let me. Then I came up with a healthy idea: family therapy. My family needed to address our unresolved issues. I could not continue ignoring my hurt just to keep relationships. The trauma did not let me. I hoped this would be the method to get my siblings to see the agony that doing nothing can cause someone who needs support. My mother was invested as she longed for her children to get along. No one else was. This shattered my heart. My mom and I still went to therapy, and it taught us so much. For example, the honesty I spewed to my siblings never got through to them because they were too distracted by my cruel words and raised voice. More importantly, it gave me the clarity that I fought against. Instead of uncovering a secret way to be in harmony with my family, I learned that a person cannot force others to be invested in a relationship if they are not willing to be vulnerable. Sometimes, we have to find peace in the fact that there will not be peace. I continued to recognize and work on my faults. My destructive thought pattern was envisioning my brother in a way that added more stress onto me. I realized I forgot what he looked like when he smiled. This painful realization resulted in me rummaging through old photos. I found a picture of my siblings and cousins where Edward looked to the side with a wide grin. I had to be intentional about imagining this laughing face during distressed times. It was unnatural at first. Now, I feel empowered during difficult moments because I see a smiling brother who is proud of his indignant little sister. There are times when the old image is my intrusive thought, but it is now rare, and then it is replaced with the new image in my mind.

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Krister Axel

Music Blogger and Memoirist at

Ogdensburg, United States