Colours Went Flat: Losing My Brother to Suicide
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It was around 8:45 pm when the doorbell rang. My dad and I were at home, my brother was out for his daily run and Mum was in a different city for work. I was in my room when dad went to answer the door. I could vaguely hear him call out to me as he rushed out of the house. I wasn’t sure what was going on so I decided to wait for a bit before giving him a call. After a few seconds, he answered and I realized that he was sobbing. I’d never seen my dad cry. And then he said something that will haunt me forever—“Raghav is gone.”
My brother, Raghav, was the kind of person who knew when to slow down in life and live—truly live a moment—not just with his eyes but his soul. Be it a sunset, the night sky, a butterfly, or a rainbow, he would give due credit to these little things that we seemed to always take for granted. I don’t know… maybe he somehow knew his days here were numbered so he wanted to take in every detail; embrace it.
Often, I would find him on our balcony looking up at the sky.
“Sunsets give me hope,” he would say. I’d sometimes furrow my brow in confusion at a statement like that. “Why?” I’d ask. “Because they are testament that nothing truly lasts, be it good days or bad. So if you’ve had a bad day, the sun shall take it away as it sets and then it’ll rise again tomorrow, giving you a fresh chance at life and I think there’s hope in that.” His words have stayed with me.
On the 6th of January, 2019—we lost him to suicide.
He was only 18 years old.
It was very sudden, shocking, and it happened when we least expected it.
Just six days prior to this, on New Year’s Eve, he was dancing right next to me and, if you saw that video you wouldn’t believe it’s the same person who decided to end his life a few days later. I would like to share that video with you all. It’s about 30 seconds long. Captured by Mum, you can see us dancing to a corny Bollywood song and you can see how happy he is which goes to show that suicidal people don’t have a “look,” people need to understand that suicide looks like EVERYTHING, even dancing, happy, young men.
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I remember finding the letter he left behind. A letter; that’s all we got. I couldn’t even process it the first time I read it. I remember rushing to the hospital and watching the doctors give up and take him away. I remember calling my mum. I tried my best to sound okay, but she knew. She’s a mother after all. I remember feeling numb and broken and then nothing at all.
The days that followed were the darkest days of my life. There was trauma, there was grief, anger, and guilt. I was an ugly mix of emotions. I can’t begin to describe the feeling, I was full yet felt so empty. Everything reminded me of him; colours went flat and songs that I had previously loved didn’t sound the same. I remember praying. I’d go to bed hoping for a sign and then I stopped sleeping altogether because of the nightmares.
I would see him in my dreams. Most nights, it were images from his last rites. He lay a few feet away from me, dressed in white. He looked so peaceful, almost like he was in a deep slumber. How could the gods expect us to believe that he was gone? These questions kept me awake. I wouldn’t sleep for weeks at a time and would cry uncontrollably. There was this one time when I experienced a severe panic attack in the middle of the night. I couldn’t move, I couldn’t speak. I just wept like a baby, my mum right next to me. I wouldn’t wish this upon my worst enemy.
I was struggling but I did not consider suicide because of two reasons—I saw what it does to those left behind. I also believe that it takes a lot of courage to be able to take such a step and I didn’t have that in me. When a person takes his own life, people call him weak and cowardly—I think it is quite the opposite. We cannot even begin to fathom the pain they must be in to want to not live anymore. I eventually told my parents that it was getting too much and that I needed help.
I’ve been on medication ever since, I was also asked to go for therapy to deal with my trauma and grief. In our society, there is a deeply-rooted stigma against mental health treatment. I am lucky that my parents are very understanding and supported me during my treatment. And yet, I kept this a secret from the world. I didn’t tell my relatives or friends because I didn’t think they would understand. I was ready to share this part of my journey with everyone only after a few months when I was in a much better place. That’s when I realized that you can get better if you ask for help and if you ask the right people. I could say this with assurance because I had been there and I wasn’t ashamed anymore. Shame is a fuel for the stigma and I was ready to douse this fire.
I feel death by suicide is one of the most challenging losses to live with. Grieving survivors receive far less support from others as compared to death by cancer or accident, for example. Survivors of suicide loss face a lot of stigma as it is believed that they brought this upon themselves and thus are less worthy of being mourned. My family and I faced agonizing questions from people who didn’t get it.
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There were all sorts of rumours doing rounds, people were making up stories about how it happened and why. Some people believed that it was because of the board examinations, some said that it was because of a relationship, I recall reading an article that stated that he was at a house party and fell from the roof. They couldn’t be more wrong, my brother hated parties. These people didn’t know him. They were just trying to jump on the bandwagon.
He had friends and they too were mourning him but I knew they’d eventually go back to their respective lives. They would think a little less about him with every passing day and eventually move on. This pained me but I couldn’t blame them either. This is how the world works.
It was the three of us—Mum, Dad and I, who would feel this void forever.
This was something that we as a family had to tackle, we couldn’t run away from our collective grief.
Many families break up after a tragedy like this one but I’m so thankful that we decided to stick together and work through our pain instead. That was a turning point for all of us. My mother turned to spiritualism and my dad found his peace in supporting the two women in his life. My parents tried going for therapy but it wasn’t very helpful. Eventually, we became each other’s therapists. There were times when one of us would fall behind, the other two would wait patiently. We were also desperately looking for a “Survivors of Suicide Loss” support group but couldn’t find any. This came as a real shocker for me. I finally found an online support group on Facebook and made my mum join it. It has really helped her cope. I think meeting other people who have experienced a similar loss can help you navigate through your own pain. This is why I am planning to start a suicide loss support group in my area. I want to build a community where people can share their grief and stories, where they don’t feel alone.
I, on the other hand got better with therapy and medicines but the thing that really helped me cope was talking about my grief. I started using social media to talk about my brother, my trauma, and struggles. This is when other people started coming out with their stories and I found an online support system. This gave me a purpose.
I decided to take a year off in order to be with my family and work on a number of campaigns surrounding mental health awareness and suicide prevention.
I am an engineering graduate. I was placed in a company and deciding not to join was one of the hardest decisions I have ever made. Most of my friends were moving ahead with their lives, I knew they were going to get busy, start earning, make new friends and nothing would ever be the same. It was terrifying, to say the least.
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But I can safely say that I don’t regret it one bit. In fact, looking back—it changed my life, in the best way possible.
I’ve also realised that I want to pursue psychology so that I can work more diligently towards suicide prevention and get one step closer to reducing the number of deaths that are caused by suicide. This is a huge step as I’ll be changing my fields completely but I’m convinced.
In the meantime, I conduct workshops and sessions on mental healthcare and suicide prevention in schools, colleges and organisations in order to talk about its importance in today’s society. I have launched my own blog called “All about mental health” where I write on mental health and self-care.
We have also published a book in Raghav’s memory—it’s called “Liberation Through The Bridge of Insanity.” It is a collection of poems, narratives, and short stories written by him in a span of 18 years that he was with us. We wanted to immortalize him through his work.
I’ve been told by my therapist that there are five stages of grief—denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance.
That’s not it, you don’t just stop at acceptance. You can’t.
The sixth stage where the actual healing begins to take place is called—meaning.
The pain never truly goes away, but it gets easier once you start moving forward in life while sustaining your love for the person after their death in everything you do.
This is how I’ve found meaning.
Life has taken a completely new course for me and my family. I’ve come to realise how strong and resilient one can be in the face of tragedy. I’ve come to realise the importance of family and how much I’d previously taken them for granted. I can also tell you that grief is not linear. It’s a funny thing; some days I can talk about my brother with a smile on my face. Other days, I can barely leave the bed.
But I have received immense support from my family and friends, I’m so thankful for them.
I am thankful for my therapist who is helping me get better. I am not ashamed to admit that I am on medication, that I go for therapy and that I cry every once in a while. In fact, I make it a point to cry at least once a week. I find it quite therapeutic and there’s something that I’ve come to realise only recently—only the broken can heal.