Angels crying

One of my aunts told my mom that suicide is a selfish act because when you choose to end your life, you’re thinking only of yourself and completely disregard how people who love you will cope with your death. While at first glance, that may seem to be the case, but that’s only because this outsider has no empathy regarding the depth of the pain and suffering one is experiencing when choosing that final action. Depression can be so deep that it completely prevents you from truly taking in anything that is said or done around you, and it just envelopes you to a point that nothing else can be absorbed in your mind. That’s pretty difficult for a lot of people to wrap their heads around; it’s even difficult for me to completely understand even when my own brother took his own life. None of us will fully know what that means unless we ourselves experience it.

My brother is one of the least selfish people I’ve ever known. I’m not just saying that because he’s not around anymore, either. He always thought about other people – what they thought, how they felt, what they wanted. His generosity sometimes drove me crazy because he’d want to give things to the most random people, people he barely even knew! Although his life was not long, it’s like what Rick Warren writes in The Purpose-Driven Life: God measures you not by how long your life is, but rather what you do with your life and how you choose to serve others (or not). In his short time on earth, Ed gave so much of himself to the people around him and those he cared deeply for, and that’s ultimately what makes me firmly believe that my brother is in heaven. He has a heart that would make angels cry.

Bickering with my brother

Chris and I are spending the long holiday weekend here in Toronto, where his brother Ben currently lives and works. Like Ed and I were before, they are close despite distance and age gap, and they certainly bicker in similar ways. As I get lost in their arguing and bickering back and forth, I suddenly realize that Ed and I will never have another bickering session ever again; we will never agree or disagree or raise our voices at each other. I will never cut him off again when he’s saying something inane, and he will never respond “nothing” again, as he had done in the last few months of his life when I asked him what he was up to. It’s depressing to think about how all the things your sibling once did that annoyed you before when he was still alive can be things you actually learn you miss once they are gone.

The sight of water

I have always loved water – the sight of it, the sound of it, and the taste of it. Seeing the ocean and being at the beach have always been things that have calmed and made me happy. Yet oddly today, after we arrived in Toronto and walked along the waterfront here along Lake Ontario, a dark feeling came over me when I remembered that water was the last place my brother was when he left us forever.

Drowning wasn’t what ended his life; it was the blunt trauma caused by the fall. He fell a long way down before hitting the crashing waters under that bridge. And it took the coast guard about 45 minutes to get out there and take his poor, lifeless body out and declare that he was no longer alive. It’s as though when I look at water now, I can’t feel the same way about it anymore because throughout today, I just kept on thinking about my brother’s body sinking, then eventually floating to the surface, his spirit gone.

My traveling brother

I always wanted Ed to travel more. We never traveled growing up since our parents were very frugal, and the farthest we had ever gone with all four of us was southern California – the main reason was to visit Disneyland in Anaheim. I was 5, and Ed was 12.

I tried to get him to come to New York to visit me last year and said I’d pay for his airfare. He had come the year before for our cousin’s wedding, but it wasn’t that enjoyable for him since my mother and I were arguing the whole time, and he never enjoys himself as much when our parents are around. I wanted him to come with just himself, and I was planning on taking a few days off to show him around the city and convince him that New York wasn’t as dirty and disgusting as he thought it was.

I wanted us to take a trip together for a long weekend – we’d explore a city somewhere in the U.S. together, and I’d get him out of his comfort zone that is the overcast and gray depression of San Francisco.

I often envisioned Chris and I having a destination wedding on an island somewhere, and I would tell my brother not to worry about the expenses because I’d take care of everything for him. As long as he was there to experience it all with me, that would be the only thing that mattered. I wanted Ed to travel the world, and I wanted to take care of him and all his worries. Money wouldn’t matter.

He isn’t physically with us anymore, and I’m still angry about it. But he will continue to experience life through us, through our Bart Simpson. He’s coming with us on his first trip across the northern border tomorrow to visit Ben. Ed’s finally going to Canada, and I’m taking him.

My big brother the teacher

I was listening to Nelson Mandela’s audio book version of his autobiography A Long Walk to Freedom, and during it, he discusses how he once thought that to have a BA meant that you could then become a true leader. I thought about this for a little bit, and recalled my brother and how he felt about education. Though he never did earn a BA, he did value education, particularly for me.

When I was in fifth grade, I expressed that my teacher was very poor in her teaching of long division. She really wasn’t a very smart person, and teaching was certainly not her forte at all, particularly in the math realm. Ed was so mad about this that he decided to take it upon himself to teach me. So a few hours a week, he’d set some time up with me to go over the fundamentals of long division, how it works, with many examples where he’d walk me through each step, and end with a few sample quizzes for me. I was terribly slow at learning it, but with his nurturing patience, I eventually grasped it. In retrospect, I realized that my brother could have become a really great teacher. He was so patient and empathetic.

I remember the summer after my sophomore year of high school, I took a psychology course at City College for fun since it was free. I’d always wanted to study psych, so I figured this would be a great opportunity. I loved that course; it’s by far one of the best classes I’ve taken in my life. However, I knew that it was an elective and would not be counted against my high school GPA, so for the first exam, I didn’t study. My professor (Robert Gurney) said that he would drop the lowest test score, so I figured I could slack off for the first exam. The night before the exam, I sat in our living room, watching TV, and Ed came over and asked how the class was going. I told him it was going well and that we had an exam the next day. He looked at me, puzzled, and then asked, why aren’t you studying? “He drops the lowest test score for the final grade,” I responded. “Yvonne, just because he drops the lowest test score doesn’t mean you don’t study!” He exclaimed. I laughed and said it wasn’t a big deal. This was Ed worrying about me as usual, hoping I would do my best and showing his big brother concern. I ended up getting a B on that test. On every test following that, I studied and got all A’s. Ed knew this, and he still thought I should have studied for that first exam. Oh, Ed.

I’m so lucky and blessed that I have so many great memories of my brother and that I was given 27.5 years with him in my life.

Happy 34th birthday, Ed

Ed's 34th birthday cake

Happy birthday, Ed! Today, you turn 34, yet every time I look at you in all your photos for the last eight years, you’ve never seemed to age. And now, you are ageless to me. You will always get older and wiser, but your face will remain beautifully youthful and wrinkle-free.

Life isn’t the same without you, Ed. Each day, as I think I am moving on with my life, something triggers pain in me that reminds me that you are not awakening each morning the way I do or breathing air like the rest of us. This sounds gross, but even when I put on my retainer before bed each night, I think of you because you were always so good about wearing yours, too. I still have a hard time believing I will never speak with you again or feel your embrace. It hurts so much when I think of all the suffering you went through. I’m so sorry that I couldn’t do enough to take it all away. I feel like in many ways, I failed you.

You came to me again in another dream two nights ago, Ed. In it, I came home to San Francisco, and I saw you standing in the kitchen. I immediately ran up to you and threw my arms around you and squeezed you until you started coughing. For a few seconds, you were okay with it, and then after that in your awkward way, you tried to get rid of me by squirming, and saying, “Yvonne! What are you doing?! Let go!”

I don’t want to let go of you, Ed. I’m madly infuriated at the world for how unfair everything and everyone has been to you. I’m even angry with myself because I couldn’t help you more. I wish I could have made all the wrong things right for you. I’m so sorry. I miss you. I miss my amazing brother, the best brother I could have possibly had. You will be my inspiration to be stronger for the rest of my life. You will always be inside of me. Please know that.

His birthday eve

Today, I spent most of the morning in bed, lying awake, crying because I still hate the fact that Ed isn’t here. I thought about how I was supposed to fly home with Chris tomorrow to see him and celebrate his 34th birthday (which is tomorrow), and how all of those plans are cancelled now. Does anyone else in our family care that tomorrow is my brother’s birthday, or are they just going about their regular everyday lives as though nothing is different? If he were still with us, would they have called him to wish him a happy birthday, or sent him a gift to show that they cared?

Chris and I are going to Jackson Heights tomorrow for Indian food to celebrate Ed’s birthday. We originally had plans to take Ed to have Indian food to celebrate, and we are still going to do this. We’re getting a little cake and will sing for him.

Ed, we’re never going to forget your birthday. We are going to celebrate it every year, light candles, and make sure that we remember you and show that you will be loved forever.

Angry week

I’ve spent the last week probably being the most angry I have ever been in my life. A lot of that anger is directed at my family and how I don’t think anyone ever did enough or cared enough for my brother. I have cousins who say they hadn’t talked to or seen Ed in months (you think your life is that busy? Well, he’s dead now, so I guess you will never talk to him again); I have relatives who used to come over who would barely talk to Ed, and then lo and behold, they are crying at his funeral, probably more for themselves for being so petty and superficial rather than the fact that my brother is gone. And then there are my parents, who are criticizing everyone and accusing everyone of not caring. “So what if they came to the funeral? I didn’t ask them to come. They took the day off? It’s not like it was unpaid leave; it was paid time off for all of them.” It’s such a negative, petty, miserable, sad world at home. To be surrounded by this constantly would probably drive anyone to jump off a bridge.

I dreamt last night that Ed was in his casket in his bedroom, with the lid open, so we could see his serene face. He is fully dressed in the suit and purple tie that I pressed for his final time being clothed. My parents dumped all their clean laundry on top of him to begin folding. I started cursing them non-stop, asking them what in the world they were doing and to take all of that laundry off of my dead brother.

I think I’ve come to terms with the fact that my Ed is no longer a part of this world with us. But I have not accepted the stupidity of our family and the world around us that mistreated him.


Family dysfunction

I realize a lot of people have some degree of dysfunction in their family, but once you introduce suicide into the picture, you realize that your family probably was pretty screwed up.

My dad’s mother experienced a physical and mental breakdown when she was just in her 30s, which resulted in my dad, his brother, and sister needing the care of their aunt for an entire year. My mom was born and raised in Vietnam, where she saw the war happen right in front of her eyes, and had to actually witness her two brothers get shot and killed right at their home. After my parents got married, my dad took my mom back here to the States, where she had to endure constant verbal abuse and yelling from my dad’s mom, who rejected her because she was Vietnamese (seen as lesser in the eyes of an old-school Chinese mother) and spoke only broken English when she first arrived. My brother grew up with low self-esteem due to bullying at a young age, hyper-critical and verbally and physically abusive parents, and jobs where he was verbally demeaned. He attempted suicide for the first time at the age of 17 (when I was 11 1/2 years old), and was then diagnosed with clinical depression, multiple anxiety disorders, and obsessive compulsive disorder shortly after. My dad and his living brother and sister do not communicate unless they are obligated to when I come home or when a family wedding or funeral happens. My brother never finished college and never had a job to fully support himself financially, so because of that, many family members rejected him and looked at him like he was lesser – even our own parents. They treated him that way, as well, and continued to do so until the last day of his life. And this is not even all of it.

So when you look at all the above in my family’s history, it kind of might make you think, no wonder Ed was so fed up with the world and ended his life. I escaped all of that when I left home in 2004, and I don’t think I’ve ever made a better decision. But what makes me feel so horrible is that I was able to escape myself, but I wasn’t able to take him with me. All the time when I was in college or here working in New York, I’d get massive guilt pangs, thinking about how I was enjoying myself and learning and loving, and my Ed was not. Like in a dream I had my senior year of college when I was deciding where to move (or not to move) after school finished, it was as though he cut himself up into pieces and stuck himself in a box in our house, and there was nothing I could do to save him. I feel that even more so now that he is not on this earth with me. I just hate everything and almost everyone today. Too much pettiness and negativity exists in this world, and Ed realized how pointless it all was, and he decided he didn’t want it anymore. How can anyone want any of that?

What death feels like

Today marks one month since my sweet, beloved brother left this earth and went to heaven. It’s still hard to believe that he is not in the same form as we all are. The strange thing is that even though he has been gone for this long, I still feel his presence around me all the time. It’s like he is living through me inside of me. It almost makes me feel more at ease at times.

The other day, I contemplated what death actually feels like. I know none of us will know for sure until it’s our time, but I thought about it anyway and did Google searches for “what death feels like.” I came across a blog written by a mother whose 20-year-old son committed suicide by a self-inflicted gun shot wound four years ago. In it, she discusses how she can still feel his presence around her, and eventually begins communicating with her son through mediums. He tells her that death isn’t as bad as people imagine it to be. It’s really just like being alive, except that your soul leaves your physical body, and with it, it leaves behind all worry, stress, and every other negative feeling. You are then left with all of the memories of your earthly life in heaven, which is filled only with happiness – and love. I guess in this case, happiness and love are the same thing.

I hope that is where you are, Ed. I want anguish and suffering to be a distant memory of your past, and only love and happiness in your current place. Selfishly, though, I wish you were still here, just without the pain that drove you to leave me. I miss you so much. Please smile down on me from heaven every now and then and let me know you still love me and are watching over me.