April is the worst of all possible months. I hate it, though my hatred is due to a singular dreadfulness. Four years ago during this very month, my 27-year-old brother Elliot killed himself.
The best way I can describe this experience was that my soul went into shock. Everything started moving very quickly, while at the same time everything stopped. A rush of adrenaline kicked in to help me process the new information and to deal with the aftermath. I raced through thousands of thoughts, but was unable to concentrate on completing a simple task.
My two brothers, my two sisters, and I felt shattered to pieces, not to mention our mom. Elliot was everyone’s favorite. Many of my family members couldn’t accept that the baby of the family had done this, so they told themselves that he must’ve been murdered. My intuition, which suddenly had become very strong, told me that he had done this to himself. Sometimes I think that it was my brother’s spirit whispering to me.
He was a young man with an old soul. As a member of the military, he served three violent tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, the horrors of which followed him home. My poor brother couldn’t unsee what he’d seen; he couldn’t undo what he’d done. The severity of his trauma was so painful that he isolated himself and shut out the world. It didn’t help that he was a Spider (INTJ). I believe that, left alone with his thoughts, all of his accumulated rage eventually turned inward, and it seemed like the only logical thing left to do to ease the pain was to rid himself of himself.
About three months after his death, the adrenaline in my body began to run out. It left me with no defense in emotionally unfamiliar territory: learning how to cope with the tragic and sudden loss of a close sibling. I had no compass to guide me. I had never experienced death on that level before. I found myself having trouble doing the most basic things like cooking dinner, putting gas in the car, and dressing myself. It was like I couldn’t see purpose in doing “worldly” things. I made a rash decision to leave my job—it seemed foolish to keep working at a job that was extremely stressful—and move closer to family.
My mind was confused, so I chose to listen to my heart, and it told me to be around those who reminded me of my brother most. Yet grief continued to show up in my inability to function in my daily life. I had trouble setting my mind to doing something and following through. I couldn’t sit down and concentrate, even for a few minutes. My existence became something I measured hour by hour. Everything bothered me, especially my family. I moved close to them for my own comfort, forgetting that they too had lost a brother, or son, and by invading their space of grief, their despair collided with my own. Their sadness and anger overwhelmed my fragile state, and then it turned into a situation where any tiny bit of intensity (loud noises, fast music, the telephone ringing, or cars honking) threw me into a panic.
This lasted for the first 18 months after Elliot died. My life felt terribly hopeless and wrong, and the more depressed I got, the more I felt as though I might be better off dead too. These scary thoughts pushed me to call a crisis support hotline where I was referred to a “survivors of suicide” support group.
The group helped me. It gave me a space to get more acquainted with my grief and express my anger and resentment about the situation. Most of all, I learned that my grief was grounded in an extreme feeling of abandonment. I realized that being the closest in age, proximity, and emotional connection to my brother left me feeling rejected by his decision to voluntarily check out without even confiding or consulting me, as if he was leaving a party a bit early without giving me a courtesy hug. I’m not sure if an extreme fear of rejection is typical of Pandas (INFJs), or if it is related to growing up in a large family and having to fight for my mother’s love and attention, which wasn’t always as consistent as it could have been.
Grief can be debilitating, and mine wrapped itself around my life for a whopping three years. I went to a psychiatrist who diagnosed me with PTSD. I met all the criteria: trouble concentrating, nightmares, intrusive thoughts of terrible things happening to me or my family, isolation, lack of interest in once enjoyable things, flashbacks of the scene of the suicide, startle response, mini panic attacks, hypersensitivity, and finally, particular to my Panda sensibilities, magical thinking, or as they like to call it in the clinical manual, “loss of reality-based thinking.” I didn’t feel “crazy” or unwell, however. Maybe it was society’s way of labeling a person’s problems so they can be looked at and treated systematically, a diagnosis to justify prescribing me more medication and referring me to support groups that might help me. Psychiatry was helpful, but it was not the tool that ultimately helped me start to heal.
I heard that INFJs are one of the most likely types to experience supernatural events. Ever since I can remember, I’ve believed in the existence of God and spirits. It’s something I have always known in my bones. To me, magical thinking is basically spiritual thinking, and since my brother died, magical thinking has been the most healing part of the process.
During the three years after the event, I was obsessed with death and the afterlife, whether it was a book, a movie, or a medium I saw on television or Youtube. Eventually, I consulted a medium, who told me my brother was still tied to Earth because of the immensity of our grief and the lack of forgiveness surrounding his suicide. We needed to let him go so he could crossover and be in Heaven. She told me to hold a special “letting go” ceremony for him at the home where he died. Two days before his birthday, I flew my mom over and we drove to the small guest house he lived in at the time of his passing. We parked behind the home to avoid the homeowner or neighbors noticing. We called a priest to come over and say prayers with us. We brought white roses, but most importantly, we brought all of our intentions of finally letting him go, so that he could move forward in his new spirit form. Everything went beautifully. From that day forward we started to heal.
Four years later, I have finally started to feel hopeful about someday having an ordinary life again. I now understand my intense grief was another side of my intense love for him. I never knew that I had this much love for him. I now know how strongly bonded I am to my loved ones. It terrifies me to think I will have to go through this again, but then I remember that we are all from the same spirit family, and we will be together again in the afterlife. The funny part about all of this is that I don’t miss him at all; I still have an active spiritual relationship with him in energy form. He sends me signs and reminders of him all the time, like hummingbirds, songs, vivid dreams about hummingbirds and songs. I know I will see him again as a spirit when I cross over. And when I do, I’ll thank him for the lesson his death taught me: grief is one of the most extreme forms of love you can ever experience in this life. It pushed me to be more of who I’m already supposed to be: an intensely spiritual person deeply connected to those around me.