“I’m just goin’ down the road feelin’ bad,
tryin’ to get to Heaven before they close the door.”
This phrase from the Bob Dylan song (from his 1997 album, Time Out of Mind) has been on my mind from the moment I woke up this morning. It took me until noon to figure out why. Five years ago today, my brother Steve had been goin’ down the road feelin’ bad. Five years ago today, he drove his well-worn red truck into a gravel pit on the outskirts of Kindersley, Saskatchewan, Canada, and took his life.
Bob Dylan was his hero in life. Bob Dylan’s music is Steve’s emissary in death.
In 2008, I launched Did You Know I Would Miss You? – A Healing Journey, a memoir/guidebook about mending the heart after losing a loved one to suicide. (I’ll be giving a talk about it at Banyen Books in Vancouver on May 13 6:30-8:00 PM.) Having felt pretty light ever since, I have assumed that I no longer needed to walk the healing path.
It didn’t take much to bring on the tears today. Just a CBC Radio story featuring Clarence Asham, a 56-year-old blind man with an IQ of 32, a musical savant, master accordion player, and the subject of several documentaries. He had been separated from his older brother, Hal, when Clarence was taken from his family and sent to an institution at age 6. The brothers were reunited as adults and Hal, a volunteer at the Carnegie Centre, a vibrant gathering place at the centre of Vancouver’s troubled Downtown Eastside, asked Clarence if he would give a concert there. Everyone was moved by a performance that, in the words of a woman in the audience, “reminded us that every human being is valuable.” As a footnote to the story, the producer said that shortly after his concert, Clarence’s proud, once-estranged brother, Hal, passed away peacefully.
I burst into sobs. Anything that reveals the mysterious, enduring tenderness of the human heart has been reducing me to tears lately. It’s about Love. In a world where the judging, worried, fearful, gossiping, nagging, deceitful, merciless sorcerer of an ego tells us that our bank balance, career, or squabble with our neighbour are what matters, the lessons of Love need endless repeating.
There is no greater teacher of Love than death. Especially death by suicide, which tears us to shreds and abandons us at the threshold of the Heart, our only sanctuary. When my brother died, I vowed that I would bear witness to his death and to his journey thereafter. I didn’t realize that this vow was lifelong, but of course it is. His suicide was a painful act with profound reverberations. The Earth still weeps for my brother. There was only one Steve.
I can never deny Steve’s death or the pain of losing him, when it arises. I walk a healing path, where there is no escaping Life’s sorrows or Love’s lessons, and where every human life matters. My brother is not here in body, but my love for him and his for me has never left and never will. That is the gift of Steve’s life. It is the gift of Steve’s death.
(I wrote the above piece this time last year. For some reason, I didn’t publish it. As this May’s anniversary of Steve’s death approaches, and my heart feels heavier, I take comfort in my own words. For more stories and wisdom about the loss of a sibling, go to this wonderful website, The Sibling Connection.)