October 5th, 1979 is the last day I awakened unaware of the searing pain that is inflicted when someone you cherish inexplicably ends his life. If there were warning signs I would not have known because my brother was living with his paramour who he had married three months earlier. His marriage was a source of consternation among the other members of my nuclear family. Although his rejection of our religion was the supposed cause, the real conflict arose because he decided to marry at all. My mother had spent her parenting career specializing in manipulation and narcissism and was beside herself.I adored my brother who was six years older. Throughout my childhood and coming of age, he had been my Sherpa in our dysfunctional and emotionally unstable home. But some time ago, my brother had ceased trying to bridge the almost daily rift or conflict that inevitably arose and decided to live his own life. And I chose to watch the unraveling of our family rather than become embroiled in an emotional battle to defend him. I was eighteen years of age and thought that this too would pass. Besides, I had my own relationship with my mother to navigate while we both lived under the same roof.
The last time I spoke to my brother was 10 days before his death when he called and discovered the extended family had gathered for the Yom Kippur break-fast meal. Ironically, none of us had fasted. Despite my parents’ sense of betrayal when he chose another religion, he seemed genuinely surprised that he had been excluded. Impatient with his outrage and oblivion about his own role in this family drama, I hurried to the end of our brief conversation without a hint of sympathy. Had I known this would be our final communication I surely would have adopted a more thoughtful and sensitive tone. I am consumed with inconsolable regret more than 30 years later when my memory wanders back to that telephone call. I know he felt alone when we hung up the phone.
—Debra Kriete is an attorney in Pennsylvania