As part of Mental Health Awareness Week I went on a walk and talk with a friend which was enjoyable although we didn’t really engage with the other people. As part of the event we watched a film beforehand called Evelyn (currently on Netflix).
This film is a documentary made by an oldest sibling, in the face of his younger brother’s suicide some 13 years previously. He and his two surviving siblings spend 5 weeks walking through beautiful countryside where they used to walk as a family with their absent brother. They are joined, at different points, by their mother, their father and step-mother, and two best friends. They haven’t really talked about their brother since his death.
Watching this was painful. A documentary like this should probably not be filmed by a member of the family. An editor would have cut 20 minutes from it. But it offers raw witnessing to a family who have never come together after a tragedy, who haven’t healed, who have left the death of their brother/son/friend as a gigantic hole in their lives with relationships permanently damaged as a result. They haven’t moved on or let go and it’s clear that they won’t be able to without putting in an awful amount of work.
I was watching this film thinking all of the above, and observing some insightful moments which were fascinating. I was also considering that suicide had no relevance in my family and that thought brought me up short.
My oldest sister attempted suicide as a teenager, a serious enough attempt that she had her stomach pumped. I made a less serious attempt at a similar age. At least one of my sons gave it serious consideration. Suicide was not really that far away from me.
I then moved on to consider loss in the family. I have this year taken a baby step in approaching my sister and have met with her for the first time in over five years. I am making a relationship with my mother’s brother for the first time in a long time. These are long term plans.
Thinking about the long term reminds me of my grandfather I never knew and the uncle I never met, my father’s brother who had an accident at school and died, while my father was away on his National Service. If it wasn’t for my grandmother talking about her son, I would never have known of his existence as my father finds it too painful to acknowledge and of course, my grandmother didn’t encourage him to develop his emotions, let alone talk about them. In a bizarre way I miss this uncle, this unknown entity rather more so than my grandfathers.
A peer at college today talked briefly about her childhood. She prompted me to think about secrets in family relationships and how my family is burdened with them. I thought back to the family in the film and how they were all heavily burdened by not sharing what had happened for and to each of them, at the time of their brother’s death and since. How his death impacted on all their lives and their inability to discuss any of it tugged on their relationships. They had suffered the loss of good relationships between them. The film gave me bad dreams and that surprised me.
I returned my thoughts to my father. He lost his younger brother while he was a teenager. His mother never allowed him to develop a relationship with his father or with anyone else, for fear of being abandoned as she had been by her parents. He learned to take his emotions and brick them up so they couldn’t be accessed and he couldn’t be hurt and advised me to do the same. He suffered a double whammy of his mother’s teachings and his loss of his brother. It is perhaps inevitable and unsurprising that he was unable to show his emotions, listen to others and interact with his family on an emotional level.
Maybe it’s time I forgave him for that.