After finding all kinds of excuses, despite knowing the necessity and benefits of getting trauma counselling, I finally made a commitment to myself to go on a proper healing journey towards the end of last year and have since done so. A couple of therapy sessions in, my therapist and I began the process of dealing with some of my most traumatic experiences growing up. My brother’s suicide topped the laundry list. I wrote about this in 2020, you can read the blog here.
What my therapy sessions have helped me realise is that cognitively acknowledging and/or accepting an event/incident and its implications and allowing yourself to go through the emotions of that event/incident are two separate things.
I was one of the first to discover my brother’s lifeless body. I knew for a fact that he was gone. He was declared dead right in front of me. I was kicked into action when I saw him hanging from the ceiling, I don’t think I shed a tear until almost 3 hrs later when his body was taken to the morgue. My mother was extremely distraught. Caring for her took up all my attention and energy. I had to be so strong for her. She had, after all, just lost her first-born child – she kept clinging to her tummy as she shrieked at the top of her lungs. It was as if her belly button had snapped open and her intestines were hanging out – a testament of a mothers connection to her baby, a connection that men could never experience, understand, nor appreciate. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that image.
Upon reflection, it turns out that I never actually mourned my brother’s death. Over the years, I have often dreamt of him. He would always assure me that he was coming to see me after work and that he would give me a call. My face would beam with excitement whenever I got a call from a number that I didn’t have on my phone a few days after dreaming of him. I was aware of his death, but subconsciously in denial about it. I never released him.
I went through an extended period where I didn’t want to talk about his death, and then a period when I eventually felt comfortable to talk about his death, but at no point did I feel the way I felt when I talked through the experience with my therapist answering her questions and describing some of the details from that day, details I would rather have completely disappeared from my memory.
I experienced such a harrowing pain in my tummy retelling the ordeal. This was followed by my body shivering, a huge lump in my throat, and an overwhelming feeling of incredible sadness and loneliness. It felt like I had just received the news of my brother’s passing at that very moment. It almost replicated the feeling I got when I first received news of the passing of my other brother (who died in a car accident). There’s a word in Sepedi that we use when we’re feeling unwell, “hlakahlakana”. I can’t translate this feeling, but I hlakahlakana’d in a way I had never hlakahlakana’d – I think I even experienced COVID-like symptoms. I needed to see a doctor.
My therapist assured me that it was natural for me to feel that way and she went on to describe in detail how the body and brain work together to manage (read suppress) the effects of grief. She told me to scream, shout, cry and talk about it as much as I can.
So, after our session, I got in my car and played my brother’s favourite album, 12 Play by R. Kelly and I played the song “For You” at maximum volume singing word for word from the top of my lungs whilst ugly crying and I felt the biggest sense of release. I could’ve picked another song, seeing that R. Kelly is deservedly cancelled, but I needed something that would reach the bottom of my soul and it did. It was so loud, and it felt like he was singing along with me, as he had done back then. I still have a long journey of mourning before I fully heal from my brother’s death (and many others), but I am glad I have embarked on the journey to heal and reduce the impact of trauma on my life and inadvertently my sons. I encourage every human being, especially men, to do the same. It is such a liberating experience and feeling.
The recent spate of suicides has been such a trigger for me and I’m sure of survivors, and other loved ones of those who have committed suicide as well. The next part of my healing journey is managing my triggers (conscious and subconscious) healthily. I look forward to that and God-willing, will continue to share my experiences.