I’ve been staring at this blank page practically since the day he died. In an instant, my world turned and for
so too long I just barely held on. So wholly consumed with anger and sadness I lost nearly every last bit of myself – my emaciated, skeletal frame was a tell all, a pointed cry for help I would not accept. I’m ready to fill the pages now. This is my story of love and loss and beginning again.
On a crisp November morning in 2004, my 19-year-old brother shot himself on the patio of his condo as his roommates slept peacefully inside. No one even woke up. While he lay there not breathing and alone, I found my rhythm racing along the roads of Cape Elizabeth, Maine some 800 miles away. The force of my heartbeat and piercing chill in my lungs assuring I was fully alive. More than anything I was looking forward to my brother coming home for Thanksgiving so that we could all be together as a family once again.
All day I awaited news of his arrival, eagerly discussing the holiday with friends at school. What I received instead was notice of his sudden and horrific death. A gunshot wound to his head, the police told us, by his own hand.
Unfathomable. Not my Sloan. It is as vivid today as it was nearly a decade ago.
Losing my brother meant losing my best friend, my role model, my sense of identity and my confidence. Losing my brother to suicide, however, nearly destroyed my once bright spirit. Having just celebrated my 17th birthday when he died, I was launched into a decade-long crisis of faith.
It’s safe to say the years since his death have been messy, my path far from linear. Trite it may be, but as the saying goes, ‘the only way out it through’. God has led me to where I stand today. I don’t feel as if I’ve arrived just yet, at least I hope I haven’t. But, I have gotten this far and I honestly look around and marvel at how blessed I am and I am more than a little bit grateful for what got me here.
I’m not done learning from this experience just yet – and I hope I never will be – but here are some lessons this last decade has taught me:
1. Happiness is a decision and it requires some work. Alas, neither those Prada shoes nor that Burberry rain jacket will make me happy. Hurray! I don’t have to spend $600 on a pair of heels I will wear once to be happy!
2. We may never see ourselves as others do. Truth: For years I felt weak, exhausted, out of control, stupid, worthless and pretty much every other negative descriptive you could imagine. Also true: others continually remarked at my strength, beauty, bravery, resilience and wisdom. If only my brother could have seen himself as I and so many others did.
3. “Should” is a useless word. It makes you feel crummy and rarely results in any meaningful productivity. And, in that vein any comparison of my own mistakes to others’ shining successes is equally unfruitful.
This experience has most certainly bestowed me with empathy for others and an ability to connect with those very different from myself. From anger and mistrust grows imperfect understanding and faith. And that is the miracle of this tragedy as I see it.