woman sitting on brown wooden bench

The Month My Sister Died

Trigger warning: suicide

September is suicide awareness month. And for the past three years, I have been wondering if that’s ironic or fitting. For the past three years, it’s been the darkest month of all. We’ve been shells of ourselves for the past three years, but my mother goes especially pale every September, my father especially quiet. And me? Especially drunk.

On a Monday, my sister collapsed under the weight of her world. We all hate Mondays, but wasn’t that a little much? I hate thinking like that; I do it anyway. On a Monday, she swallowed two bottles of over the counter pills and anything else she could find in her mirrored cabinet above the sink. I think most of it was leftovers from when her roommate had that skiing accent. We get especially drunk together every September. We both blame ourselves; we’re both angry at her. The guilt of that is almost worse than the guilt of the blame we both carry.

The pills were my sister’s roommate’s, but the calls that weren’t picked up were all for me. I was at some club with some guy. I was a freshman in college, being free, living life, partying it up. My sister used to say that the first semester is all about being free, the second about getting serious, and the other three years are for winging it, seeing how you feel on every first day of every new semester.

I hate all the advice she has given me. I admit, sometimes I’m like a stubborn kid, doing the opposite of it all. How dare she give me advice and then not be there to watch over me following it? How dare she miss the chances to say “I told you so” when I mess up in the exact ways she warned me about? How dare she just leave?

They say that anger is a stage of grief. Step three or four, I am not sure, but it’s one of the five. For the past three years, I’ve been cycling through them, month by month, sometimes day by day. In September, it feels like minute by minute. I am not a psychologist, but I swear there are more than five.

In school, I learned how to calculate a hypotenuse, how to spell, and how to write in pretty cursive. My sister always used to tell me how awful I was at it. Her words were the pretty, swirly ones; mine scribbled in, trying to keep up with my mind. Twelve years of school, four years of college, hundreds of hours spent in classrooms, and another couple hundred hunched over my desk. But you know what they forgot to teach us, forgot to teach me? They forgot to tell us how to speak about the ones who left you. Not the ones who had no choice because cancer or an accident took them. But the ones who left you, knowing they were leaving you, knowing the pain you’d feel and carry. The selfish ones who chose to hurt you.

You know what else everyone forgot to teach me? How to not think that way. I heard and learned about and accepted that depression is an illness, that suicide is a permanent solution to a so-called temporary problem, that it is the end of a disease. I knew that; I believed that. And then my sister died.

And now it’s September again and I’m at the bottom of another bottle, feeling helpless. I’ve done the crying, the begging, the yelling, the bargaining. What now? Acceptance, yes, I know, that’s the next step. Everyone keeps telling me that. Everyone keeps telling me that it will get easier eventually, that I won’t always feel that way. But it seems so hard to believe. I can’t imagine a September when I’ll smile and laugh and feel joy again.

I hate September, I really do; I’m upset and cross with the world and her and myself and everyone and everything in between. And I hate that about myself; the anger she can’t defend herself against, the anger I know isn’t fair. So in September, sometimes I hate my sister too. But what I hate just as much, what scares me even more, is that I understand. During September, I understand. My sister hated herself too.

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