Sunday, June 10, 2012

Sunday Morning Musings

Good morning:

The chirping birds awakened me far earlier today than I would have predicted, given the happy fatigue that settled in my muscles on the long drive home from this year's "Destination: Success" Solo and Small Firm Conference, for the first time held at the Hilton Convention Center in the Branson Landing in Branson, Missouri. Down less than 10% from last year's record attendance, the conference afforded solo and small firm practitioners the opportunity to complete more than a year's requirement of substantive, technical, quality of life and ethics continuing legal education, while socializing and networking with others of their breed and visiting vendors whose services can assist in our practice, and whose vendor-fees partially subsidize our conference. I walked, talked, listened and laughed with 900 of my close personal friends and their spouses and children. We are, when all is said and done, more than a family: We are a tribe.

A glance at the calendar reminds me that an anniversary has come. Fifteen years ago, my brother Stephen let go of the gossamer thread by which he remained tethered to us, and floated away. I see his face as though I only parted from him a few hours ago, but it is the face of the man he was then, 38 years young, rather than the 53 years old he would be had he not taken his own life. I see him striding through Lambert-St. Louis Airport to meet me on a journey home in 1980; I see him snapping his fingers as he struts into the bar at which he worked near the end of my mother's life in the mid-1980s; I hear his voice calling across the room and feel the life and vibrancy that I did not realize masked profound depression and a raging battle with addiction.

At the conference, an old classmate and I reflected on those whom we know took their own lives from his law class and mine, and a few whom we suspect probably did. We shook our heads; we averted our eyes then raised them to exchange glances. We're the lucky ones, we both thought, though neither of us said. Survivors.

I recently talked to an acquaintance who had had a family member commit suicide. He quietly talked about the grief that each of the survivors felt. He used words like confusion, and regret, and guilt. I offered a few lame comments about how suicide is a selfish act, and it is no one's choice but the one who died. I did not convince him. I am not entirely convinced myself.

I look back at my brother's life, and see signs that I missed or ignored over the years. A chaotic childhood. Two traumatic divorces. Fury levied at our father after our mother died. Drug use. One failed attempt. The wince in his eyes, the shrug of his shoulders. The weak evasion in response to the lukewarm probing questions. I'm doing okay. I'm doing okay.

I scour my son for signs that his genes carry those of my lost brother for whom he is named. I watch for that same tilt of the head, the same cavalier attitude, the same jaunty step masking the same terrible pain. All the while, I beat back the tendency to imprint these things on what I see, to project the uncle's personality and choices onto the nephew's image. I have mostly stopped wondering why I didn't reach out to my brother, and have mostly decided that there was nothing that I could have done to change the course of his life. Mostly. I have mostly convinced myself that my son can overcome whatever traits he shares in common with my brother. Mostly.

We don't know when my brother died. We know the date that someone last saw him alive, and we know the date on which a friend found his body. We know, from the coroner's report, that he died in a seven-day span which roughly occurs from June 7 to June 14. We buried him, I think, on June 21st.

If anyone reading this has been the survivor of a beloved family member or friend who took their own life, know that I speak to you as much as anyone. I know your pain. The suffering you experience at the loss and lack of understanding will diminish. You will, eventually, accept that the choice was his or hers, although I cannot really attest that you will stop sharing the blame for his or her exercise of that particularly final form of self-direction. But lay down your guilt. It can destroy you.

My husband places a fresh mug of coffee on the saucer beside me. I hear the air conditioning start, and assume that the morning has grown warmer. I've trolled the Internet for little tidbits of news from those whose lives I follow in the virtual world, due to time and distance or the circumstances of our respective existences. The sounds of the television drift from the first floor, up the narrow stairway at the top of which is the pleasant bedroom in which I write, with its 90-year-old knotty pine paneling and its cathedral ceiling. A gentle wind blows through the trees surrounding the homes behind us, and in a nearby driveway, I see one neighbor coming home from church, slinging his jacket over his shoulder, glancing at my window. I imagine that he can see me, and that, like me, he feels the comfort of knowing that nothing, really, has changed in his absence.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

RIP, Stephen Patrick Corley, 25 December 1959 - 14 June 1997. We miss you, Stevie Pat, every day, in every way.

1 comment:

  1. Suicide is so very, very hard to understand. My cousin took her own life when I was thirteen years old. My daughter, Kori, attempted it three years ago this past February. Thank goodness she failed :-) as it ended up being the catalyst for her working through the issues that she had. It's a horrible place to be. I'm really sorry about your brother.


The Missouri Mugwump™

My photo
I've been many things in my life: A child, a daughter, a friend; a wife, a mother, a lawyer and a pet-owner. I've given my best to many things and my worst to a few. I live in Brookside, in an airplane bungalow. I'm an eternal optimist and a sometime-poet. If I ever got a poem published in The New Yorker, I would die a happy woman. I'm a proud supporter of the Arts in Kansas City. I vote Democrat, fly the American flag, cry at Hallmark commercials, and recycle.