Losing My Little Brother


Two fears have fought within me since my brother died. One is the fear of grief; that utterly unbearable darkness that hurts in places I’ve never known could hurt. The other is the fear of forgetting him. Forgetting the way his hugs feel or the way he loved Alba or all of our inside jokes. The first fear has ruled in the months that followed his departure from this world.

I’ve built a fortress in my mind around the very thought of him. I had to, it is such a delicate thought, as tender as a nerve. When I am reminded of him I let his name swim only in the surface of my mind. Deep down within that fortress I know there lays great horror I am afraid of, but there is beauty too. There is Zake. I picture a pile of treasure guarded by some fearsome monster. And so, with my wounds unhealed and the sound of his laughter still fresh in my mind; it’s time to dive.

I cannot pretend this is his story, the only stories I can ever tell are my own.

But these are some of the stories we lived together and the story I lived apart.

Before

Zake was born into water in our home, just like I was. From the moment I saw him I announced to the world he was my baby. A declaration I will wear across my heart forever. Our father stubbornly refused to hold him for four days to punish our mother. He did not try to hide the fact that Zake was unwanted. A tiny helpless infant, days old and already treated in ways he did not deserve.

I have a hazy and perhaps imagined memory of the sound of our parent’s fighting and our dad’s van driving away forever. We moved north near our grandparents to live in a small house on Love Lane. Just Zake, mum and I. These memories are bathed in gold. The gold of light streaming through open windows, of ripe mangoes from our backyard tree and of bare skin honeyed by the endless sun.

I wonder sometimes if that period was made idyllic by what was to follow. All I know is I spent a great deal of my childhood wishing to go back to that little old house in Love Lane. Back to just us three.

Life changed when our stepfather came into the picture. The connection we had to our mother was torn by his jealousy. He was short tempered and violent. He sexually abused me when I was a child (though at the time I didn’t understand what that meant) and I hated him with all the fire I had in my little body. Most of all I hated him for how he treated Zake.

How many nights did I fall asleep to the sound of Zake crying until he lost his voice? How will I ever scour from my mind the memory of our stepdad dragging him across the grass like he was nothing? I wanted to pummel my fists into that man, to scream and scream and scream but I didn’t because I was afraid of him. It felt like it was us against the rest of the family and we could never win.

I learned to detach from my mother and brother, to become independent because the burden of their pain was too heavy. To escape into books and other worlds. It was selfish but it was what I did.

And yet there is always light. Our little sister Pixie was born, tender-hearted and covered in freckles. She would one day become the muse that led me to photography. There were five of us kids including our stepbrother and stepsister. We played on the street until late, climbing mulberry trees and building shelters to sleep in.

Zake would write novels hundreds of pages long and I’d love reading them even if I couldn’t care less about epic battle tales. When our stepfamily were away we’d sleep together in one bed like old days. We’d dream that our heroic father would swoop in and rescue us.

Then one day he did, for a short time. He was living in London and he flew us across the sea. I was eleven and Zake was ten. We’d hardly been on an airplane let alone out of our small hometown. We explored real castles, ate ice cream on windy pebbly beaches, rode double decker buses through busy city streets and chose any toy we liked from Harrods.

We had our elusive father in our grasp and we were in London. Far, far away from what waited for us back home. This may have been the happiest we ever were as children and it ended as suddenly as it began.

Mum had tried to make our lives stable. To find a man with a steady job, a home and a family. To tick all the boxes. Once she pulled us aside into her bedroom and asked us, “would you prefer if we left? We wouldn’t have pay tv or a nice house anymore, things would be different.” We said yes, of course, please. But he was unstable and she was afraid of him. The fighting at night grew worse. He told Mum if she left he’d kill us or himself.

He faked his own suicide, leaving mum to find the blood and send us running hand-in-hand to the neighbours to call the police. Zake was so afraid mum was going to be killed he began to cry. For much of his life, mum was the only one on his side. He loved her more than anyone else.

Then one day when we came home from school mum told us we were leaving. She anxiously hurried us to pack our things and I wondered when I’d ever see my step siblings again. Seven years in this house, I knew every inch of it and now where would we go? As I walked through the rooms they suddenly felt as unfamiliar as the day we’d moved in. I was leaving one world for another, swept up in relief and uncertainty.

Our stepfather came home unexpectedly. I remember the rage in his eyes and his voice, how mum handed him a handwritten letter and how he tore it to pieces. He laughed and he yelled. He began to throw mum’s books from the house. Everything went up in flames.

We moved in with our grandparents on a great big property dotted with fruit trees. A river cut through the land and from safe in the treehouse our grandfather built we’d watch the cows drink. Once when we were walking back I was bitten on the foot by a bee. Zake was so worried he’d tried to carry me home himself.

One afternoon on the long bus ride home from school I’d found a doll in Zake’s backpack and I’d pulled it out in front of all the kids. The bus was loud with cruel laughter. When I got off the bus I ran as fast as my legs could take me. It was like life or death. I managed to lock myself in a bathroom just before he caught me. Mum passed sandwiches beneath the door and it was hours before he calmed down.

It was not the only time I was trapped in a room barricading myself from his rage. My bedroom door wore deep angry marks from kitchen knives. My best friend stopped sleeping over. If crossed, he’d destroy anything you held dear.

Mum saw psychiatrists who told her he just needed harder discipline. One spelled out that it was because he didn’t have a “D.A.D”, while he was in the room. I was always sensitive to the way everyone saw Zake, the way they labelled him ‘difficult child’ and saw nothing else. He never made it past primary school and he wasn’t diagnosed with Aspergers until he was 18.

He wasn’t aggressive by nature, in fact he was calm and kind. He was delicate with curling blonde hair, laughing brown eyes and deep dimples. He’d sleep curled around his cat. He held a beautiful trust in the world that was slowly and surely lost. I cannot pretend I was a good big sister to him as a teenager. We were enemies mostly. Though our bond was unspoken it was unbreakable in every moment that mattered.

We had a secret tradition. Late every Christmas Eve one of us would wake the other and we’d quietly open our presents beneath the tree, careful not to rip the paper and desperately trying to stifle our laughter. Once we mistook a popcorn maker for a gaming console we were longing for. It was the most disappointing Christmas ever.

A man came along and promised to help Zake at a time when mum was struggling. She trusted him and he treated Zake like he was special when no one else did. He took Zake away to Germany for six months but when he came home he was even more broken than before.

He became severely addicted to online gaming, he stopped leaving the house and he barely ate. He was a ghost of himself. He lived in another world inside his computer and the real Zake was nowhere to be found.

He wouldn’t talk, so I’d sit on his bed and watch him play his games for hours on end. It was all I could do to connect with him. He never said it but I know he liked me being there. When I moved out of home at sixteen he didn’t come to the airport. I don’t remember if he ever said goodbye.

I was in Los Angeles, staying in my friend’s house in the Hollywood Hills when mum called me. At that point we weren’t close and she never called so I knew instantly something was wrong. She told me Zake had attempted suicide. I was in shock. I relived all the ways I’d failed him as a sister, blow after blow. I needed so badly to be with him, to apologise and to love him.

Then something extraordinary happened. I came back to my hometown to find my brother with light in his eyes. A brother who hugged me, who made me laugh, who couldn’t stop talking. I remember trying to act casual, trying not to cry at the miracle of what was happening in front of me. He told me that when he was in the ambulance he was struck by the realisation that life was just a big game and he got to choose how he wanted to play.

His change was a joy that rippled throughout our whole family. He went back to school and made more friends than I’d accumulated in a lifetime. He got a job at a fast food place where he was known for dancing as he cleaned. He became passionate about what it meant to be a good person. He questioned everything and wanted to be a stand-up comedian.

It became apparent how alike we were. In our sensitivity, our inappropriate sense of humour, our fear of being misunderstood and our way of seeing the world. He’d talk about Aspergers and his depression openly. During his first stand up routine he told a joke about how when he’d tried to electrocute himself in the bath our mother had complained that the short circuit would have broken her computer. It is a true story, our family have a strange sense of humour.

He made a list of his fears so he could conquer them. One was the fear of what others thought of him. So he walked through a busy shopping centre dressed in the most ridiculous outfit – a fairy dress, a spotted tie and a red cape with a colander tied to his head and a pirate’s sword tucked into our mother’s belt. He walked around until he could let go of what everyone else was thinking about him.

He asked me to come along when he got his first tattoo. It was a flying spaghetti monster. Later he would get a tattoo of a deer without eyes. People would ask him what it meant and he’d grin and say, “no idea.” No eye deer. He also got a gorilla with a unicorn in it’s mouth whose moustache read ‘be kind’, a dingo shooting laser beams out of it’s eyes and a rainbow that led to a pot of books. Mum designed most of them. He told me each one was a reminder he needed to be a better person. We planned to get matching tattoos on our middle fingers.

One night Zake told me he was sexually abused in Germany. I told him that the man who abused him had two cousins who abused me around the same time. Two much older men who took advantage of me when I was fifteen. There was something beautiful in being able to tell him he wasn’t alone. Even apart we were collecting the same scars.

He was the highlight of every visit home. He was such a skinny little thing but he gave the warmest hugs. When we’d walk down the street all kinds of people would shout out his name and cross busy roads just to hug him. He knew that every single person had something to teach him and so he treated everyone with the same respect and curiosity. He made a lot of people feel accepted. The broken days seemed to disappear from memory.

We held our hands together, standing on the sand by the sea beneath the stars on Magnetic Island. They were almost identical. Same fingers, same skin, same curves. We talked about how by blood there would never be a single human being as close to us as one other. I thought about the way that went for our histories too.

We’d have entire conversations in made up languages. We’d dance like we were dinosaurs and skype late into the night when we were apart. When his phone was stolen I bought him a new one because I missed his voice. I flew him to the Blue Mountains when I was pregnant and taught him how to cook. He was one of the few people I always had time for. I tried to make up for the years I wasn’t the sister he deserved and in return he was the best brother I could ever imagine.

Zake still struggled with depression. One bad day he rode his bike to a bridge with a rope in his backpack. He sat on the side of the bridge thinking for a long time before deciding he wanted to live.

As he was riding home a policeman stopped him for cutting across traffic. In an attempt to explain himself he mentioned he was suicidal. They told him they would have to take him to the hospital but Zake refused, eventually they held him down and sedated him. He broke a policewoman’s nose with his foot as he thrashed.

He was sent to acute mental care. Mum didn’t sleep that night. She begged them to keep him in there longer but they released him into the watch house instead.

When I came home for him again he was horribly depressed. He kept fretting about court and jail. I remember him standing in the hallway telling me that if he had to go to jail he would just kill himself. He said it so easily, as though it was the logical thing to do. I tried not to cry as I told him I loved him and needed him.

The policewoman took a liking to Zake and didn’t want to press charges. I listened to the interview and thought I could understand why. He sounded so unusually honest, like he was talking to his best friends rather than the police. It seemed so odd within the formality of the interview that I couldn’t help laughing. His lawyer told our mother that the police had had no legal right to force him to go to the hospital. He wasn’t going to jail.

Things got better again. Zake and Alba became inseparable. Every time Zake left the house Alba stood at the door crying, “my ache, my ache!” She’d curl up in the beanbag and he’d spin her around and around and her giggles would bounce off the walls. He told me Alba saved him.

One day Zake, Pixie and I spontaneously ran down the street under the pouring rain in just our underwear. When we got home panting and dripping Zake told me, “I see you’ve put on some weight Nirrimi.” And I just laughed, because he was the only one who could get away with that sort of thing.

He told me I was beautiful often, giving compliments as statements with no expectations or underlying motives; just as truth. When he said something kind you wrapped it up tight and tucked it away in your heart because it was precious and real.

Zake had a housemate who was a young single mum. She had a little girl called Willow who he helped care for from birth. When we’d skype she’d sometimes be sitting quietly in his lap. He’d read parenting books and buy Willow healthy food so she was eating well.

The last time I saw Zake I was on a photography tour with Bee. Our last stop of the east coast tour was my hometown. When we arrived we all sat together in mum’s living room. There was an air of joy about, like simply sitting in that room with my siblings and our mum was incredible. We were all together.

We caught a ferry to Magnetic Island. Zake brought Willow to give her mum a break. In Zake’s arms she was happy and content. I kept thinking about how wonderful a father he’d be.

I remember bickering unfairly with mum, running into the sea with Pixie and laughing with Zake until we both hurt. But mostly my memories of that time are lost and unrecorded. All I know is it felt indescribably right to be together with my family. After the trip Bee said to me, “I don’t think there’s anyone who makes you laugh like Zake does.”

We moved across the country to a beautiful place in the hinterland of the Sunshine Coast. Closer to my family. Zake kept trying to call and I kept missing his calls. Days were full and I was distant. He told me that he needed to tell me something.

“What is it?” I asked when I finally called him back. “I just wanted you to know you’re the best sister ever and one of my favourite human beings.” I laughed, I’m not very good at accepting compliments. He told me things that had happened since we last spoke. When he was excited he’d talk so fast I could hardly keep up.

But he couldn’t tell whatever it was that he needed to. He’d start and stop and change the subject. He told me I’d be hurt and disappointed. I went through a dozen silly guesses before he eventually said, “I’ve been thinking about suicide lately.” And somehow that was a blow I didn’t expect.

Nothing was funny anymore. I felt upset but tried to be calm. He said he wasn’t really that depressed but it seemed to make sense, that every time he thought about it he’d get butterflies in his belly. I told him if he was dead he’d never get butterflies again. He said, “you’ve cured me Nirrimi!” and we both laughed. He made me promise not to tell mum. We spoke about life, death, perspective and meaning. He listened thoughtfully. It felt as though I’d changed his mind. That things might be okay.

I spent the night reading about how to talk people out of suicide. I was going to call him the next day. But by the next night I realised with pain I hadn’t called. The day had been so busy I’d barely had a moment to think. I could get out of this warm cosy bed beside Alba and call him or I could just call him tomorrow. I stayed in bed.

After

Alba and I wake to the sound of our car driving over the gravel of our driveway. Bee has gotten back from his first night shift at his new job. Outside our window is the forest and the birds are loud in the trees. Everything is beautiful and peaceful here. When Bee comes into the bedroom we pounce on him with questions and cuddles. “So what was it like? What did you do? Who was your boss?” He begins to unravel his stories when my phone rings.

It’s my mum. It’s so strange for her to be calling this early and things immediately feel wrong. When I answer she makes no noise at first and then she sobs my name. It’s a frightening sound, I have never heard anyone say my name like that. My blood runs cold and as she begins to speak I realise very quickly I don’t want to listen.

I hold the phone from my ear, screaming at her to stop. Yelling at her to not tell me because if I don’t hear the truth I can exist in this world a little longer. This world where he’s okay. Bee and Alba are staring at me and I’m someplace far away from our cosy home in the trees.

The only reason I finally let her speak is because I want to hear her tell me he attempted but it failed again. Yes, that must be it because he cannot die. Because that kind of thing only happens in films and this is real life. He can’t die because he’s my brother and he is the only one in the world who truly understands me.

She tells me he hung himself this morning. We cry together for a long time, the sound of our hearts breaking under waves of pain. With horror I realise I should have called him yesterday. But I didn’t. He warned me. The guilt is suffocating me. It’s dark and it’s unspeakable. Alba hugs me and asks me what’s wrong and I tell her Zake is gone but she doesn’t understand yet. Those words taste so bitter in my mouth. I thought I had more time.

I stand on the balcony. I can feel the cool breeze, the heat of the sun and smell the trees so clearly. Everything looks the same and yet everything is different. I have walked into a portal and stepped out into another dimension. I walk compulsively over the planks of wood on our deck, back and forth and back and forth. Careful to keep my feet between the lines.

I ask Bee to buy me a pack of cigarettes, he asks me what kind but I don’t know any types of cigarettes so I just shrug. I smoke on the balcony, pacing again. In between the horror are these strange moments of lucidity like euphoria. They flash for only a moment like my emotions are getting confused.

A song I wrote a few weeks ago plays in my head without pause. “If you die, I die too. No one sees the world like we do. If you die, I die too. No one shares my scars like you do.” A white butterfly lands on the railing and doesn’t fly away. My stomach makes hungry noises and I don’t recognise them. Time ceases to exist.

I search for portraits of us but there is nothing but childhood photographs. I have a terrible habit of hiding from cameras because of the stupid belief that I’m not photogenic enough. I vow to stop caring about something so superficial and unimportant. The first little lesson his death gifts me.

I tell my mum I wish I had a guitar to play. She tells me she wants to buy me one right now, I object but she asks me what the point of money is otherwise. That kindness means the world. Bee drives us to a guitar store and I tell the man at the counter I need a guitar because my brother committed suicide today. He must think I’m insane. I want to tell everyone. I want to scream it to the world. My little brother is dead. I loved him more than anyone and now he is gone forever.

We walk into a shopping complex and everything around me feels false. The glaring lights are too white and the walls are lined with advertisements for push up bras and KFC and 70% Off Everything. Shopping carts full of plastic bags full of stuff.

An old man walks by and I’m struck with the realisation that Zake will never grow old. That I will never grow old with him. I begin to sob as I walk and Bee squeezes my hand. A stranger stops me to tell me they love my blog, of course this happens today. I don’t tell her about Zake, I hope she will read it later and make sense of my red eyes and shakiness.

I can’t stop thinking about mum. On his last night Zake had made her laugh so much she’d doubled over with laughter. When the police came the next morning and told her he’d hung himself from a tree in the nearby park she asked if they were sure he was dead. Clinging desperately to hope.

They confiscated a suicide note that read, “they told me to hang in there.” Making inappropriate jokes until the end. Zake was always mum’s favourite though she’ll never admit it. They were best friends. Now he is gone. I can’t even bring myself to imagine what it’s like to lose a child.

I grow obsessed with how long it has been since he died. The sooner it is the more possible it feels to go back and change things. I imagine catching him in my arms as he falls and telling him it’s going to be okay. I imagine calling him and telling him to pack his bags because he’s coming to live with me. Or I’m going there. Or something. Or fucking anything. The guilt is a dark hand that forces itself down my throat and fills my body with black. It says the same thing over and over. “You should have called.”

The image in my head of his body swinging from a branch makes me sick to my bones. I want to know how long it took for him to be unconscious, how much it hurt and how he did it. I spend hours on suicide forums.

There doesn’t seem to be any point to doing anything. I barely eat and I don’t work. Georgia brings me chocolate, home cooked meals and sleeping pills; the latter of which helps on the nights when all I see when I close my eyes is his face.

Everything feels so fragile. He may have taken his life by choice but it seems to me that anyone could die so easily at any moment. Every time we get into the car I wonder if we will crash and die. I forget what life used to feel like before it happened.

Countless people message me to tell me their loved ones took their lives too. Suddenly it’s not some extraordinarily rare and horrific tragedy; it’s everywhere. It both reassures me and makes me sad. People are so kind it often brings me to tears. The tide of love from both strangers and friends carries me above the darkest parts.

I watch my hometown draw closer from the airplane window, so familiar and yet I’d never return if it weren’t for my family. It almost wavers under the tropical heat. At the airport I am crippled by a flashback of Zake picking me up. He was grinning ear to ear as he shouted, “hey sis!” and he hugged me tight, right here where I stand alone now. He wouldn’t shut up all the way to the house.

I expect to see him here. It seems entirely possible that he will jump out from behind a corner at any moment and yell, “surprise! I got you! I’m not really dead!” I lay awake at night fantasising about it like I used to fantasise about my dad coming home. This expectation stays with me my entire trip. But of course he never does jump out from behind any corners.

I watch his suicide video from his bed, it’s less of a goodbye and more of an explanation for why he’s doing this. There are times when I’m laughing. Damn it Zake, I think, suicide videos aren’t supposed to be funny they’re supposed to be serious. And yet there is an unmistakable darkness behind his eyes, like he is possessed. It frightens me so much I’m unsure I’ll ever be able to watch it again.

At the end he says, ”I’m really sorry for my sister because I have a really strong bond with her and she’s the person I respect most and want to be like most, except the dead part you know, but that’s my own thing,” he laughs, “well see you guys, I’m going to go hang out now. Goodbye.” He signs off by making dinosaur noises.

When I see Pixie she looks at me fiercely and only says, “don’t cry.” Mum hugs me for a very very long time. My grandparents are here and our entire family arrives one by one. I cannot deny the beauty in that, the fact we are all here together. And really, as strange as our family is, it is special how close we are.

Everyone seems so strong, planning the funeral and laughing about all kinds of things. “Zake wouldn’t have wanted us to be sad,” they say, but I am a mess. When I begin to cry in the middle of conversations hands reach for me and I’m so embarrassed that I disappear.

I stand in the shower tracing the lines between the tiles thinking about him standing there. Did he use this soap? This shampoo? Am I using his towel? I drink the almond milk in the fridge, grateful for the passion I gave him for eating kind. I remember him scanning ingredient lists in supermarkets and teaching his friends about sugar.

I meet Zake’s best friend Rumour. She was the last person to see Zake before he died. I’d heard many stories but never met her. The first thing she says to me is, “wow, you’re so beautiful.” And I can instantly see why they were friends.

She holds my gaze as she tells me how often Zake spoke about me and how clearly he loved me. I try not to buckle under her words. She is sunshine at our house, singing like a Disney princess and always smiling.

His friends are around most days. One boy tells me that Zake used to read my blog in class. I never knew he read it. I talk to his best friend from when he was a child, a sweet little boy who is now a grown man covered in scars who has been in and out of jail.

I sit in the same tattoo shop where I watched Zake get his first tattoo. Only this time I’m with mum while she gets her first tattoo. She has a phobia of needles so she’s taken three valiums and rubbed numbing cream across her arm but she is still nervous. She’d found a rough sketch in Zake’s journal of the next tattoo he wanted and that is what she is getting. She’s an artist herself but she doesn’t tidy it up. She wants it exactly how he drew it.

It’s a switchboard with two switches. One says go/stop and the other says life/exist. I read his journal while we wait for the numbing cream to work. I laugh aloud at the first page, ‘I will tell you the deal. Do not read this book, it contains all of my deepest secrets and most embarrassing moments. Just kidding, read to your heart’s content!’

The journal is a battle between light and dark. Some pages are full of advice to himself to be better, others are written in the throes of depression.

’My whole life has flipped around as emotions deceive me. Knowing this I still continue to follow them to the point where I want to destroy everything I hold dear and make everyone hate me. To the point of no return. This is my life currently. I don’t understand why I do what I do, I know where to go to get out of this but for some unknown reason I wish to stay.’

Next to the tattoo sketch he wrote, ‘This ability I have, I like to see it as a switch. Like an on/off light switch. But this switch does a bit more than a light. It gives me the power to be who ever and do whatever I please. The only thing it requires is strong willpower. The cycle has made another circle. This time I won’t lose sight of its warning that this will continue if I slip. I have too much potential to waste another day of this life.’

While she is being tattooed Mum says, “I know it’s selfish but at least I don’t have to worry about him any more. I don’t have to stand outside his bedroom listening for the sound of him breathing to make sure he’s still alive.”

I get a ‘Z’ in the place we’d planned to get matching tattoos. I like the feeling of the needle on my skin, the way it blanks out my thoughts. I wish Zake could see us here getting tattoos. Around my wrist is the bracelet he was wearing when he died, a braided rope I will wear until it falls to pieces. I wear his teeshirts and they smell like coconut oil just like he did.

In year nine I dated a boy called Deiter. He could have played soccer professionally but ended up in the army instead. He seems tough and blokey and yet he reads Paulo Coelho, listens to folk music and thinks deeply about everything. He is one of the few remaining friends from my youth.

I swim with him on the rooftop pool above his apartment. He tells me a story about a friend who he saved from killing himself. It’s a beautiful and heroic tale but it doesn’t end there. His friend ended up committing suicide anyway, just a few days later. He tells me this because he wants me to know that even if I’d made that phone call, it may have still happened.

I look up at the stars and I say, “I think he’s free up there now. He was so curious. He wanted answers and now he has them.” Sometimes I can feel that he is everything and that feeling is peaceful.

I call Zake’s phone, waiting for him to pick up. He never does. I listen to his answering machine and it makes me laugh. Then one day it stops ringing and I stop trying. I will never be able to call him again.

I go to my cousin’s house for dinner. My cousins and aunt are there and everyone’s drinking and laughing and I can feel the tears come but I bite my lip and grasp for numbness because I don’t want to be the crying one again. I just can’t stay and I’m saying sorry and everyone is looking at me with the pity I’m growing used to seeing and I am angry at myself. Angry that I can’t just act like everyone else. I can’t even walk to the grocery store because it reminds me too much of him.

On the day of the funeral I feel I am standing on the edge of a cliff. Like any little thing might set me off falling and so I need to dig my toes deep into the dirt and be strong. More than a hundred people sit in a wide circle in the park where he killed himself. People wear superhero capes and the craziest clothes they own. I wear my orange velvet flares.

A beautiful woman called Donna performs an unconventional ceremony, which is perfect because Zake would have never wanted anything traditional or religious. She places a branch in the centre of the circle and people come one by one to tie white ribbons and say aloud one word that reminds them of Zake. Mum first, then me. I say “teacher”, and as I tie another for Alba I say, “love” and my voice breaks. Colourful. Unique. Inquisitive. Inspiring. Kind. Honest. Silly. Philosopher. The circle is full of him.

I give a speech where I talk about the lessons Zake taught me and even slip in a joke about us all hanging out, which I know he would approve of. In his spirit we’ve all been making hanging jokes ever since he left.

Our stepbrother is here too. He flew over from the other side of the country, spent the night in a bar and hasn’t slept. He comes to sit by me in the circle sobbing loudly and telling me it’ll be okay.

Mum shows me where the tree is. It doesn’t look like the type of tree where someone would hang themselves. It seems like a happy kind of tree. When I hug it my face disappears into the spaces between the branches and from that little leafy pocket I talk to Zake.

I visit the tree every day. Sometimes with friends. I bring Elise one afternoon, a muse from the days I began photography. She tells me her aunt was killed by her husband. It’s as though I’ve joined some kind of secret grief club and suddenly I’m aware of how many of us there are.

Sometimes I feel like everything is fine. I laugh and I joke. Grief doesn’t always look like grief from the outside. Sometimes I feel a strange pressure to look sad when I’m feeling okay. To be how people expect me to be.

I don’t really feel I belong with the grown ups so I spend most of my time with my teenage cousins and with Pixie and Josh. Josh is Pixie’s best friend. A tall boy who hides his intelligence and kind heart behind a hard act. When I’ve decided to fly Pixie home with me, I realise I can’t leave Josh behind. It means so much to Josh that his eyes well up when he thanks me. He’s never flown interstate or travelled without his family before.

I’d grown fixated on this idea that coming home would be the answer to my pain. That once I was away from the triggers and in the arms of my own little family I’d be okay. But sometimes it’s worse. Being here with Pixie makes me wish Zake were here too. We’re always saying, “how much would Zake have loved this?” He never saw Alba at four. Could she have saved him again? The what ifs are constant but pointless.

Josh is always raving about my cooking and Pixie is always pushing the veggies to the side. I watch dumb youtube videos with her for hours on end and we smoke on the balcony late at night, a habit that ends when they leave. She’s the only sibling I’ve got left now. Even at sixteen she’s way cooler than I’ll ever be.

Mum visits Zake’s body in the morgue and makes a wish for his next life to be better. Before she leaves she slips my own bracelet around his wrist, a swap. Zake had asked for his body to be donated to science but the university said he was so young he might traumatise the students. He is cremated instead. Mum boards an airplane to us.

We’re in bed together when she shows us the photograph of him. It’s still burned into the back of my eyelids. His chin and eyes are sunken, his tattoos are so bright they burn against his bloodless skin and there are his hands, our hands. Only they look so wrinkled and empty now. It’s not Zake.

I hear mum crying in the other room most nights. She talks about Zake more than I can handle. I practice staying on the surface, like Pixie does. Mum tells us we should cry more. She says, “if only he could have come here,” and, “if only we took him seriously.” All these impossible things. She is a constant source of reminders but I also don’t want her to leave.

Then it’s just us. My anxiety gets bad. Easily set off by Alba’s tantrums or Bee leaving for work. I fall asleep with Alba so I don’t have to be alone with my thoughts but time is ticking and soon I’ll have to take those nighttime hours to work again.

Alba helps me without ever knowing it. I find peace in sleeping tucked around her little body, distraction in the games we play and magic in the way I see Zake in her smile. She speaks into the glass pendant around my neck, the one mum made with his ashes inside. “Hello Zake, I miss you,” she says. She points to the stars and tells me one of them is Zake. The thought that he won’t be around as she grows up is one of the most painful.

Sometimes I wish he’d come alive again for just one last phone call. Just to tell him how completely insane this has all been. To joke about how mum has been talking to his ghost over skype and to tell him that I’m finally writing that post about him. I just wish it had a different ending.

The despair of not having portraits and the tales of tragedy I hear every day make me realise I need to do something. I offer ten free portrait sessions to those who need them. Emails come in by the hundreds and in the end I choose nineteen.

For two weeks I photograph stranger after stranger. They bear tragedies I can’t fathom and yet they smile, because they carry hope too. My days are full of them and my nights are full of editing so I’m too busy to sink into sadness. When people thank me, I thank them.

I’ve gotten good at pretending. Good at hearing his name and not flinching. I can go hours without thinking of him. I’m scared I’m writing him out of my heart in return for numbness like some pact with the devil. Everyone calls me brave but I’m a coward. I’m scared I’m forgetting. I have such a terrible memory as it is. The only times I cry now are when I’m playing my guitar and singing about him.

I’ve always thought of my past as just a story I know, it’s easier that way. But I don’t want Zake to become another story. The pain is there because of the love. People say he’s still here in an attempt to reassure me and I know what they mean but it doesn’t help because he’s not here. He’s not going to answer his phone or be there in his bedroom reading books or send me any more stupid memes on facebook. He’s gone.

Jess and Raph come over from next door unexpectedly with limes and a bottle of tequila. By midnight the walls I’ve built around the thought of my brother won’t hold. I am sobbing on their living room floor, crying about how unfair it all is. I feel terrible for ruining their night. They tell me they love me, that this is what friends are for.

A few months after his death we are flown to Europe for a shoot. One of the reasons I accepted this job was because it started in London, where dad lives. He’s 80 now, he’s battled cancer and recently had a heart attack. He keeps telling me he won’t be around forever and since Zake died there is poignancy in those words.

I want to forgive him. For abandoning us, for hurting our mother and most of all for not being there for Zake. But with the wound of his death unhealed I cannot do it. I feel I’m finally taking off the rose-tinted glasses we wore in our youth. I feel anger and rejection and disappointment but I keep it all inside.

And yet dad’s heart is good. He is full of pain and regret. He stays up until 4am every night editing a tribute film to Zake. He sings songs to Alba that he used to sing to me and tells me how much I mean to him every day. At night he is hooked up to a machine that helps him breathe. Anger is replaced by love. Late or not, he is trying.

Dad puts on a DVD. It’s a video of Zake and I on skype. The last time I’d spoken to Zake we’d laughed about the way dad had to record every single skype call, now here I am bursting with gratitude at dad’s obsession. I laugh and I cry and I think, this is even better than a portrait, it’s us.

Months later I’m editing little pieces of the recording to share when I notice another recording of just Zake. He talks sweetly about meeting Bee and about the last time we saw each other and how grateful he felt to be there. I cry grateful tears, because even though I lost him I had him.

His death has brought profound clarity. The loss opened my eyes to what I have and to the knowledge that everything is truly temporary. Even in the worst storms I hold tight to a silent gratitude for my family, my friends, my readers, my life. I’ve taken a vow to never take anything for granted. A vow to love loudly.

I am a seeker of silver linings. From the moment Zake left my heart was stretched painfully wide, allowing me to love in depths I never have. Like love is shining out through every single crack in my broken self.

Resources for depression.

Australia

https://www.lifeline.org.au/ 

13 11 34

https://www.kidshelpline.com.au/

1800 55 1800

https://www.suicidecallbackservice.org.au/

1300 659 467

https://www.beyondblue.org.au/

1300 22 4636

https://www.headspace.org.au/

US

http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

1800 273 8255

http://www.crisistextline.org/

Text START to 741 741

http://www.thetrevorproject.org/

1866 488 7386 (LGBTQ)

UK

http://www.samaritans.org/

116 123

https://www.childline.org.uk/

0800 1111

https://www.papyrus-uk.org/

0800 068 41 41

Other Resources

https://twloha.com/ – Online Resources

https://smilingmind.com.au/ – Meditation App

http://www.thetrevorproject.org/ – Support for LGBTQ

http://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/ – Online Resources

http://www.suicide.org/international-suicide-hotlines.html – International suicide hotlines

These organisations do incredible things, if you can donate (or even volunteer) you can help them continue to save lives.


The days when he lived in a world inside his computer.
His very first tattoo.

Zake & Alba.

Skipping stones on Magnetic island, the very last time I spent with him.
Walking into the sea with Willow.

 

/// After ///

A self portrait I took the day he died.
Hugging the tree where he hung himself.
Our Mum tying a ribbon to a branch at Zake’s “funeral”.
Our little sister.
Zake’s sketched tattoo on mum’s wrist.
Mum at the tree. The branch full of tied ribbons hangs there and every morning the old couple who found his body leave flowers in the tree.
Pixie and Josh with us at the tree.
Pixie.
Mum & Alba.
Our deck. Where I spent hours pacing and crying and sitting in the stillness of the forest that surrounds our home.

 

The closest thing I have to a portrait of us. Little pieces of recordings dad made of us on skype in all of our glorious dorkiness and love.

80 love notes

  1. What a beautiful video, thank you so much for sharing such intimate moments. 
    Sending so much love and light <3

  2. I loved your words from the first time i read your blog, but i didn’t really know what was that moved me so much about your poetry. I always felt connected to you somehow, like your magical ways of telling stories spoke to my soul. But i didn’t understand why until i read this one.
    The same thing happened to me four years ago. i remember thinking this exactly phrase > ”
    The only reason I finally let her speak is because I want to hear her tell me he attempted but it failed again. Yes, that must be it because he cannot die. Because that kind of thing only happens in films and this is real life. He can’t die because he’s my brother and he is the only one in the world who truly understands me.”
    I think i can understand the kind of pain you’re going through right now. I don’t really know why i am telling you all that, i think i just wanted to send you a virtual hug and many warm kisses. It’s gonna hurt, but you’ll be able to live the way he would be proud you to live. And, that way, he will always be with you.
    Let it rain, let it hurt, let it heal. Don’t give in to guilt. Fall and learn to be strong all over again. You can do it. Make him proud with the beauty in your heart.
    With Love,
    Alice

  3. I stumbled upon your blog just a few days ago and this is the first post of yours I’ve ever read. I’ve never lost anyone dear to my heart, but your story and the way you wrote it just stuck with me. The world is so unfair, because from what you wrote, Zake was an incredible person and you really loved him and I cannot even say how sorry I am that you lost him.

    I do hope however that wherever he is, he finally found peace. And he is happy.

  4. I had a mix of emotions reading your post; lots of tears lots of smiling and laughing and a feeling of relatability I lost my best friend (my dad) to cancer and almost lost my younger brother the fear of losing him was unbearable thankfully he came out of the coma and recovered, my dad however he went home early he was a christian and so his faith helped him to stay strong I know he is with God now no more pain, no more sadness for him only sweet rest only relief.

    He will forever be with me in my heart, in the sweet memories we made, and I still feel his love for me somehow, I cannot explain it or fathom it but when I feel sad or feel like giving up I see his face, his warm loving smile willing me to smile when life gets tough, and to continue to reach out a helping hand to others even more so when I have problems of my own it always helped not only others but me

    Helping others and counting my blessing for me it always works it reminds me that life is bigger than me, that our purpose on this earth is far bigger than we can ever fathom and that the skills and talents we posses can save lives and encourage, and build others up, I saw my dad do that, he was a great photographer and singer, and glass engraver he had dreams of running a business and sketched a lot of clocks, vases, glasses his ideas were beautiful.

    Unfortunately he did not get to fully fulfill that dream he did use he talents and sold some engraved vases and glasses etc as he not only engraved but knew how to melt down glass and cut the glass and create vases. My mother was sometimes but not always supportive of him although if I brought it up she would deny it profusely we don’t always get on I love the non critical side of my mom but sometimes I have to keep her at arms length because it can get toxic.

    I want you to know that I love your passion and the heart that not only you have but your little girl, I love the clarity on life that your beautiful writing and honesty provides, your such an inspiration to this 30 year old toffee colored Jamaican lady (to give you an idea of what I look like lol).

    Your brother Zake reminds me of my uncle Curtis who takes medication for Schizophrenia he would give anyone the last shirt on his back he has a giving kind heart and is such a ray of sunshine. Just remember Zake will never leave you he is always going to be a part of you he will be there in every smile on Alba’s face, and his love will always be there when you doubt yourself or are unsure I garuntee if you think about what he thought of you and how beautiful he thought you was those doubts will be eradicated because there is nothing more powerful than hearing who we really are from the one’s that love us most.

    I wish I could give you the biggest hug I know how it feels to miss someone I know its chessy and not the same but I don’t care (virtual hug) and lots of love your way live fully I have a feeling he is smiling down on you and cracking jokes ever so proud of his big sister, the disney princess 😉

    xoxo

    Becca

  5. I just finished reading your masterpiece and I loved it. The pure emotion throughout.. I don’t know what it’s like having a relative who’s suicidal but I can connect with you through loss of sibling. 

    I don’t like crying for him, I’ve cried too many times for him. I would have bawled throughout this and I didn’t want that because it would have been difficult to finish. My brother was older and it’ll be seven years this 2017 and everything you said is exactly how I feel to this day.. his death is a wrenching pain inside me and I only find it liveable by burying the fact he’s passed. I also fear I’ll forget him, his laugh, the burly beard he grew, his monstrous hugs.

    I think we put ourselves through pain(reading thing, watching, listening to things that’ll make us cry) because we know that that specific piece of writing will remind us of our loved one/s and it’s reassuring to be reminded of them from time to time. The quirks, annoyances, arguments, protectiveness they offered. How they held love greater than anyone you would ever know and safety. 

    Thank you for writing this. Even though It made me cry it was worth the heartache it provided. 

  6. I feel you. My dad died three months ago. I cared for him the last months. And it was out of the world heart wrenching terrible awful and sad. And it hurts and continues to hurt. Somehow though a realisation of that death is part of life has come. Death is everywhere and everyone at some point experience total loss. But somehow we as humans live, we laugh and we create life although we know just how cruel life is. And I think that is pretty beautiful. It gives me a sense of trust towards humans that I did not have before. We life despite death. Love to you <3

  7. I feel you. My dad died three months ago. I cared for him the last months. And it was out of the world heart wrenching terrible awful and sad. And it hurts and continues to hurt. Somehow though a realisation of that death is part of life has come. Death is everywhere and everyone at some point experience total loss. But somehow we as humans live, we laugh and we create life although we know just how cruel life it. And I think that is pretty beautiful. It gives me a sense of trust towards humans that I did not have before. We life despite death. Love to you <3

  8. Nirimi, you honour Zeke in the most beautiful way. I am new to your blog but I am moved beyond words by what you’ve written here. You’ll be forever changed for having him be such an important piece of you. He gave that to you in this life and it can’t be taken from who you are, whether he walks this plane with us or not; your souls and your story will be forever intertwined. It’s beautiful that you can live on, raise Alba, and in the process of just being you, share what Zeke gave you. Love and light to you and your family. 

  9. I cannot say how you should be feeling now but, your life and you yourself seems to be full of love.. I hope you continue to radiate love like that. I am sorry for your loss..

  10. This post was absolutely beautiful. Sad but beautiful. I cried reading it. Your brother’s spirit will live on forever in your heart and in the hearts of your family. Don’t be afraid of forgetting him <3

  11. Dear Nirrimi
    sending warmth from somewhere on this earth <3 
    thank you for sharing this. 
    my heart is with yours <3 

  12. Dear Nirrimi,
    I have been reading your blog for years now and following your story. I broke my heart to read these posts, because the thought of something so horrible happening to someone who brings so much beauty to the world just isn’t right. What happened to Zake is not your fault. I can tell from the way you write about him, and how the beautiful the love you two shared was from the video, that the time he spent with you was an incredible gift to the both of you. He was a beautiful person and I am so sorry he is lost.
    Reading this brings a pang of recognition, because my own brother (also slightly younger, also deals with mental health issues, also incredibly close to me) has attempted suicide himself several times. I would say I can’t imagine the trauma you’ve been through, but I can and I know how awful it can be just to think you might lose someone, not to mention losing them for real. You are incredibly strong and I wish you all the power and love in the world during this time.
    Thank you for everything you create, it is a gift to the world.
    Love, Eleanor.

  13. I was crying the whole time while reading this. I have been following your blog since a long time. I almost feel like I personally know you. You have a wonderful soul and you have inspired me to do so much.
    I have had my share of grief too which I’ve consistently tried to suppress it in order to move on. I’ve questioned life and death too and been afraid of the fragility of life. So yes, I do understand you to an extent. And I’m not going to tell you that one day the pain will completely go away. The tiniest of things may act as a trigger and bring back a storm of memories. But it will pass. And you will be okay. It will actually give you more courage to continue spreading happiness in the lives of those who really need you to. Like me.
    Nirrimi, you’re beautiful. I love your pictures, your writing, your honesty, your love, your family – everything about you. I don’t know you, but I do love you. Please take care.

  14. My dearly-loved cousin shot himself three years ago. None of us expected it. There was no note or good bye. I’m still angry with him for doing it. When we met for his memorial, everyone smiled & made small talk–we didn’t know how to process it.

    I still don’t.

    Thank you for letting me share your sorrow & so find the courage to face my own.

  15. Words cannot describe how sorry I am for your loss, and how deeply touched I am by this tribute and how you discribe your brother. Such beautiful souls, both of you.

    Be kind to yourself. The way he looked at you – you must have given him the greatest possible joy in life. Thank you so much for sharing this, and for the reminder of what is important. Sending you many thoughts and lots of love.

  16. This is the single most beautiful blog post I’ve ever read.
    I lost a brother to suicide three years ago. I actually felt like I, in a way, reconnected a bit with him again while reading your words. Usually those memories are hidden so deep within that I never acknowledge them anymore. One of those ways I manage to survive and put one foot in front of the other, I suppose. I can relate to so many of your thoughts and emotions that I never could have left this page without writing a form of thank you note. A HUGE thank you and so much love and hope to you from a cold Sweden. You really touched my heart and in a weird way gave me hope for the future. You show us so much beauty through your texts and photos, and that is so damn inspiring. I myself went to see a psychiatrist for the first time today, to try and mend my broken hearted patterns that has been haunting me for way too many years now, even before I lost J. This was exactly what I needed, Nirrimi. Don’t ever doubt your art, whether it be in text or picture, it has warmed me SO. MANY. TIMES.

    Once again, thank you so much. Wishing you all the light, love and warmth.

  17. This is beautifully written and I’m so sorry for your loss. I have a little sister who attempted suicide when we were in our teens. We never talked about such things in my family, so I hardly know anything about the circumstances or about what really happened. I don’t even know for a fact that she tried. I just know that for a few years in my life, I lived with the fear that one day I’d wake up and she would’ve succeeded. And even though this is quite a long time ago (I’m 24) and she’s ok now, it wasn’t until last year or so that I realized she probably wasn’t going to die just yet. I used to get these flashes of a sort of parallel universe where she wouldn’t be with us. I still do sometimes. It breaks my heart to feel that way but it also makes me appreciate her still being around. We made it through. She survived. Everything’s ok for the time being.

    Thank you.
    (another reader from Sweden.)

  18. I started to read this chapter last week, but was too busy to finish it. For four days I’ve been hoping to find time to read the rest of it, and now I’ve finally read it. 
    It’s an early morning, I’ve just driven my mom to her work. I’m visiting her and my brother in my home country for a weekend, cause I live in another part of Europe. Me and my little brother, and we are the best of best friends, and when reading you I cry so many tears because I cannot imagine even the slightest of seconds loosing him. 
    Thank you for sharing this Nirrimi. I will read your blog as long as you keep writing, and I hope it will be forever.

  19. Thank you for sharing. It is so inspiring how humanly you are. You are loved, and your brother Zake too. Thank you again for sharing. As I read, I thought about grandmother Ayahuasca, a healing medicine from the Amazonas. I think you may love to go to a ceremony <3
    You and your family have a home in Mexico. Love you!!!

  20. I feel so much while reading this. Your brother was (and is) a beautiful human being and I hope he feels at home now. I really wish I could give you a hug right now, even though I don’t know you. I love the way you write and this was such a beautiful tribute to him! I’ve dealt with mental illness within my own family and I know that it is impossible not to blame oneself somehow. Just try and remember that you were one of the biggest lights in his life.

    Love from Finland.

  21. This is one of the most profound writings on loss I have read to date. Thank you for sharing your sorrow, your pain and the aching reality of your experience from beginning to end. It is a beautiful account of your story and has opened my heart to you. Thank you for this.

    – love from a globe-trotting fan

  22. I’m so sorry for your loss! I’ve both been the one who attempted suicide (so severe my heart stopped at one point) and lost my former best friend in suicide (the only person I not yet had reached out to and told I was sorry for the hurt I caused him when being ill all those years). It’s still my greatest fear, losing someone I love through suicide, even though loss never almost always is painful.

    Someone once said: grief is love with nowhere to go and I find it both true and a comfort. Ihope you can find a small comfort in those words to. 

  23. I read this with a deep sense of immense sorrow for the route your story took, every suicide of a sibling that I read about makes my heart heavy, I am the sibling that attempted suicide; an attempt so severe that my family were initially told there was no way back. 16 years later, it still haunts me what I did to them and when life slipped into the darker moments, it was the guilt of how they felt that provides the safety gate, your story reminds me why the gate is there and I’m so sorry. I only talked about what happened with my sister recently, we joked that I’d do anything to get more attention than her, and how very different her wedding speech would have been. It’s taken that long to feel I could talk to her about what happened in our suitably light-hearted, dark-humoured way. So in a strange sort of way, I can almost visualise your pain, but only from a far removed point where I feel utter sadness for you that your story didn’t end the same way. That video is so precious . My thoughts are with you. 

  24. Oh Nirrimi I have never before read something that touched me so deeply. I feel extremely privileged that you have shared your story, your memories and precious photos with us and for sharing your beautiful brother. I wish you much love and healing <3

  25. I’ve been reading your blog for years, but have never commented. This was such a loving and powerful tribute to your brother, and I was crying pretty much the whole time I read it. Losing a loved one unexpectedly is a pain that is so raw it’s almost indescribable. The courage and strength it takes to put that all down in words speaks volumes about how much you loved and cherished your brother. Thank you for sharing with us and I wish you continued healing and comfort.

  26. This made me ball my eyes out all over again Nirrimi. But it was much needed. Very raw as usual, you never fail with this brutal honesty and I do wish more people would do it. Telling this story is such a great way to get awareness out about mental health. Much Love xo <3

  27. Oh Nirrimi, this story, that video, my heart. I completely admire your vulnerability, the absolute rawness, honesty and truth that lies deep within your words. 

    I began reading this piece last night, however had to stop as I struggled to read through my welling tears. This story shifted my soul, it’s left me pondering over my own life and how grateful and blessed I am for the loves within it. 

    Thank you for sharing your beautiful words with us and spreading awareness of mental health. You are kind, you are magical, you are strong and you are brave. Your brother would be so proud of you. He is forever with you in your heart and will live on in your memories, always. 

    Sending you and your family the biggest love, healing light and hugs. ❤️✨

  28. Dear Nrimmi,
    I can’t fathom the pain you must have felt when you wrote this. I read it like a story, but you, you had to write this whole thing as a first hand experience. Whilst reading, I imagine myself without my little brother and finding words to express the anger and sadness I would feel. I have a little brother, he’s still young, but I can’t ever imagine a life without him. I can’t imagine it, but you’re living it.
    I can’t tell you how grateful I am for sharing your story with me. I cried so many times and laughed at the morbid sense of humour you and Zake shared. I found your Instagram some months ago, and I have never seen a person be so real, so genuine, so unremarkably truthful on the internet.
    My heart goes out to you and your lovely family. Thank you so much for sharing this. ❤
    – Jayati

  29. he is a light, and he feels like a friend. i’m happy you know him, and that he is within you, i can see so clearly that he fills up your heart to the brim. than kk you for sharing, nirrimi. all my love.

  30. Nirrimi, your words are true and beautiful. Thank you for sharing. 

    In my professional life I work with children who are living through chronic-known as toxic in the psych world-trauma. Studies show that repeated traumatic events literally rewires a persons brain–especially when the happen young. The story of your life and of Zake’s is punctuated by trauma. I don’t tell you this as if you don’t already know, but rather of a way of saying Zake’s battle with depression and other difficulties are a direct result of the trauma he endured. Science can be cold, but it can also illuminate the ways in which we, as humans behave, act, are.  There’s a new movement that is attempting to bring trauma informed care to kids and young adults in an effort to mitigate the disasterous effects trauma can have on individuals. It’s incredible work and has the power to change lives in meaningful ways. The thing is, Zake, I’m sure could have  beniffited from some of those interventions, but know that his troubles, were not because of you. You are not responsible. I hope you really know that. I’m happy to speak with you more about the effects of trauma on young people, the brain science, and the way resilience can be developed, but if you’d like to look into on your own  I highly recommend looking in to the ACES screening and the body of knowledge that is being developed to help address trauma. What’s incredible is this is a movement that isn’t just happening in the social work world, but in the medical world as well. Because trauma doesn’t just change our mental health outcomes, likelihood of incarceration, addiction,  etc but it also changes our physical health outcomes as well.

    Take care sweet, Nirrimi. You are brave and you are full of goodness. 

  31. Nirrimi, thank you so much for this.
    I think, it’s a very beautiful thought that although you’ve lost Zake, you’ve had him before. It seems like it was such a special connection you two shared. There are a lot of people who won’t ever have such a strong bond to another human. I think you are very lucky to have known him and he was so lucky to have you as a sister. Although words can’t really do justice to a person, the text you’ve written is so full of love and makes really clear, that not only you lost your little brother but the world lost a wonderful and in all the best ways silly human being.
    Since the day you posted first about Zakes death I thought a lot about you and your terrible loss. My heart aches for you. My own brother is really depressive and suicidal and I am fearing his death every day but I don’t really believe it could happen anyway. Your story showed me that it can happen, even if you don’t believe it could. It teaches me to show my love to my brother and to all of the other persons I care about as often as I can. I wanted to thank you for that, too.
    I am glad you are surrounded by kind and loving people and I hope there are going to be more and more times you feel normal and good and I also hope you take good care about you and make it trough the darker times. I wish you nothing but the best ❤️ 

  32. Ring the bells that still can ring, forget your perfect offering, there is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in

  33. The little one of you and him, with his blonde bowl cut and big eyes finally got me. He looks like my two sons. One of mine was adopted from Russia, he also was abandoned, and struggled each and everyday. We love him, we work with him in so many therapies, and he is doing better. When I saw that picture it made me think of Elijah. How much I wish your brother hadn’t been abandoned, that he was helped by father figures, not hurt so deeply by them. Sweet little baby–it just breaks my heart.

    You have nothing to bear on your shoulders. You still cared for him even while caring for your own immediate family.

    Thank you for writing this.

  34. You created a space for your brother in everyones heart who reads this. He meant a lot to many people and that is a life well spent. Thank you so much for this!

  35. Thankyou for sharing. I hate that I am telling you that I’ve been through this too. So many similarities. I have also been the victim of sexual abuse, and somehow, it is the central focus to my life, to my battles and I just wish I could forget about it. Im 42 yrs old and have three kids, I look to most like a normal mom, but inside I fight with so many demons and I have to say that I am so glad to be a mother, because in the end, that is what saved me. I want to be there to see them grow, and fall and pick them up. I love them so much. My first husband died by suicide. My daughter was 10 and she didnt understand. It ruined her. She is and adult now and has had problems with drugs and she doesnt talk to me because she blames me somehow, which is fine. I just know how awful and empty you feel, and even though the pain never goes away, there is always hope. You are so beautiful, I’ve been reading your blog for years. I know that time is on your side. You have lots of time to figure out this crazy thing called life. Im still getting there, but I choose to have fun, and to be kind and the mother I never had to my kids, to choose life. xoxo, Angie

  36. Thank you, for being such a marvelous human being. Thank you for sharing your history, your brother’s history.
    Thanks because I want to be a better person, so beautifully kind and warm as you are. Thanks for giving me hope.
    The workd needs more humans like you.
    May we meet someday

  37. I almost could not read it, tears have been with me all the time. When I read it in your facebook I couldn’t believe it. I have a brother too and cannot imagine how it is to live something like this. I am so sorry for your loss.I want to send to you, and to your family all the strenght and love I can from the other part of the world.
    You’re such an inspiring person, Nirrimi. 

  38. Your words are so powerful, I had to take some time before writing this. Reading your words felt as though I knew Zake, and I wanted so much to comfort him, to comfort you. I had to stop a few times to cry, but each time it felt like that was my way of sending some of my peace to you and taking some of your grief. Even where there is heartbreak, I felt an abundance of love. I feel so connected to you and Zake, in a way – I think we’re sensitive souls and there is always a little darkness that comes with that. We feel so much it can be overwhelming at times, and that’s why we fight so hard for others. To help protect their peace, because I’ve allowed others to steal so much of mine.

    I worried about forgetting my grandmother. I didn’t want to forget her voice, beauty or her smile. I grieved all the times I’d missed visiting her, but after I’d gotten back home from her funeral out of state, I noticed a flower had grown outside my window, literally. I used to stare at it for what felt like hours because it seemed so magical. I’d pretend she was with me and hold conversations with her when no one else was around – I still do from time to time. I don’t think we ever forget loved ones, we just hold them tighter to our person and carry them with us everywhere we go. They bring us peace in times of sorrow and love in times of happiness.

    I’m so sorry for your pain, Nirrimi. I wish so badly there was a way to help, to bring you light. He is beautiful and kind and so are you. Thank you so much for sharing your beauty with the world. You’re amazing Nirrimi. I am in awe of you! Sending you love, light and hugs!!

  39. Your human being is just perfect, this story is so incredibly beautiful and inspiring, you change my world.
    I cried loud out the whole hour I invested in reading your piece of art and I wouldn’t rather have done something else.
    Being an human being is so hard but so special either, you help remind me of all the unexperienced chances we all have an of what we are.
    The ride on my bicycle after reading you words was different, because of you, I was broken, but I sáw the world, thank you so much.
    I love your love and individuality, you may be so proud of your self, eventough I never met you your soul touches me deeply.
    I enjoy our world again after my depression and I want this world be as peacefull and kind as you seem so badly. I start by my self with being kind and accepting, you help all us by inspiring for being kind and accepting, thank you my love.
    I SENT YOU THE DEEPEST EN PEACEFULL HUG, I hope the pain will pass a little and you can enjoy life, I wish you all the best

  40. This is so painful and yet so beautiful. I am sorry for the pain you, your family and your little brother had to deal with. Today is my little brother’s birthday and reading this made me want to hug him forever and tell him all the things I keep in my heart. Nimirri, thank you for sharing this openhearted post, Zake will not be forgotten. And thank you for spreading awareness of mental health. I hope you’re better each day. All the love, a reader from Brazil

  41. Profoundly beautiful,  thank you for digging for deeply to carve at these words…. know his memory will never leave you 

  42. I can’t stop crying reading this. I’m sorry for your loss and with time I hope that the thoughts of him will only bring smiles rather than pain.

  43. I just cried my eyes out at your story. At each bit of your jokes, your sense of humour that you shared, the pain you two shared. You’ve put it into words so beautifully. 
    My sister tried to take her own life during a six year battle with an eating disorder which I can only describe as hell. Like a bad nightmare none of us could wake up from, tearing us all apart as a family. We were fortunate to get to keep her, and she’s since made a full recovery, but even still i struggle to put those years into words. Yours just made me remember the pain and I am so sorry that he’s gone Nirrimi. Thank you for including helplines, so many people in dark places don’t know that there is help out there. My sister volunteered for Samaritans after her recovery and returned the help she received ❤️

  44. Thank you for this, it’s beautiful.

    I read the whole article at points with tears in my eyes.

    Then, scrolling through the pictures, the third one of Zake and Alba, when she nuturingly holds is head as he grins up at her, made me just break down and sob.

    I have followed your story and send all my love to you. You are processing. And it will feel excruciating and never ending but you are doing it right. Just don’t ever fear being numb. His memory becoming bearable to you does not mean you are numbing yourself, only that you are getting past the pain of his ending and into the truth of his being.

    Love, Leanne

  45. Thank you for sharing your story beautiful human. We have met once and I hope we meet again, I’d love more than ever to share stories with you. So much love to you and your family.

  46. Thank you Nirrimi for sharing, you are incredibly strong. Thank you for showing these raw and real feelings, it made me feel more alive and connected to the world than i’ve felt in a long time. You are such a beautiful soul and changing lives of so many people around the world through the love and honesty you spread. All the love for you and your loved ones <3

  47. Your writing is always seems so genuine and honest. None of my close family members or relatives have struggled with depression as far as I know, but from reading this I understood how difficult and heart-wrenching it was to see someone you love suffer through it. I think it’s easy to forget the seriousness of depression because our minds are rarely treated the same as our bodies – when we’re sick we are told to go to the doctors and no one feels ashamed or worried about it, but when its about mental health people began to avoid talking about it even though our brains are also one of our organs and there shouldn’t be so much stigma around it. Thank you for taking your time to write this. Please know that your words and pictures have helped me so much throughout the past year and although its across a screen, you made me realise how beautiful life is. Thank you Nirrimi x

  48. Nirrimi it has taken me more than an hour to read this, I’ve had to pause many times to wipe away my tears and blow my ever dripping nose. Thank you for sharing such a hard topic to discuss, suicide hurts so many of us left behind. I’ve been there both in the loss of my loved one and to my attempts to join him. Depression hurts so bad and takes over any rational thinking. You just want the pain to stop and you don’t see any other way out. You will never forget Zake, no matter how many years pass his memories will remain with you forever. Your honesty and rawness in sharing your story is so admirable. I hope it helps your broken heart heal. Love and light to you xoxo 

  49. I’ve never felt the urge to hug someone I don’t know (and who is also thousands of miles away from where I live) so badly.
    I started crying at the first sentence and couldn’t stop the tears from falling as I continued reading-  it is impossible not to feel the love, grief and forgiveness from your words.
    Thank you for sharing your story and by that, allowing me to simply ‘feel’. 
    Be strong and keep touching Orje people’s souls.

  50. What a beautiful tribute to your brother. It made me cry. It sounds like he was a delicate gem, who touched the lives of many people. I’m sorry that you both had such a difficult start at life. And I honestly doubt if you could have talked him out of his suicide attempt, depression can completely take over someones life. It can be so hard or even impossible to pull someone out of it. I wish you could have enjoyed eachother’s company much longer. He will always stay alive in your memories, but your story also shows why he will deeply be missed. Thank you for sharing and I’m truly sorry for your loss.

  51. Shit, I’m sobbing so hard, I’ve got snot hanging down to my knees. It must’ve been so hard for you to live through all of this again, day by day, to write this story and not shut yourself away. I can so clearly see the insane love that connects you to Zake. It’s unfair the universe put you two through so much grief, the list of people who’ve done you wrong is just way too long. I wish I could help you carry this load. And yet, you shine this intensely raw light out into the world, you phrase your pain so we can all understand outselves better, unite in love and live in gratefulness. Thank you, Nirrimi, for being real. Please continue to be so very much alive, to feel, be true, to shine, to forgive. Life is totally worth it. xx

  52. I lost my brother 21 yrs ago next month
    It just seems like yesterday still
    I have never meet you or your brother but have heard heaps about you 2 
    When I heard Zeke had died I was so sad 
    Your father is my uncle 
    I saw your father 2 yrs ago in London 
    Thinking of you

  53. Nirrimi, 
    I have been reading your blog for years now, at first it was because I loved your photography, how detailed and beautiful it is, you are inspiring to me. Then I started reading what you write, you have a way with words that draws me in and makes me feel everything that you’re saying down to my bones. By you opening up and sharing with us the loss of your brother shows so much strength. I too went through something similar about two years ago, I found my partner had hung himself in our bathroom, he didn’t leave a note and the last words I said to him weren’t very nice. I just wanted you to know that no amount of guilt will fix what has happened and that you aren’t alone. I still feel delicate to this day and little things feel so much deeper, but it makes you love deeper and see things in a light that maybe you didn’t see before. I’ve gotten into travel photography now and my dreams are just as big as they were before. 

    Keep doing what your doing Nirrimi because your strength gives me strength and I will continue to follow your journey, you are an amazing girl. xx 

  54. I’m really at a loss of words to say here. It’s such a beautiully written tribute to Zeke, at the same time brutally honest about his and your darkness. And that is life, and seeing you being so honest and open about it is so moving.

    Lots of love to you and your family from me <3

  55. Reading this made me feel like i’d made a new friend, and then lost him all too suddenly. All these feelings from nothing but your words, i can’t imagine what is must feel like to be the one behind him. You are strong, you are giving and you are human. Thank you for this.

  56. Watery-eyed, inundated and permeated in every microscopic cell of my being by the ecstatic, immense power of his soul, reverberating through your raw, painfully beautiful words. 
    Love and kindness beaming from his eyes and echoing across the universe from that heartwarming laugh and gently dancing lips.
    And so I can’t help but think that these are the blossoming seeds he planted, through which he is living and always will.
    Teaching strangers, oceans away, by delicately touching their hearts’ chords, how to compose the song we all together sing to make ourselves and this world a better place.
    Thank you Zake. Thank you Nirrimi. You both are pure and sublime magic.

  57. I lost my sister in September and I always hoped for the closeness level you had with Zake. We were closer when we were younger. But I was 7 years older than her. She was so competitive when it came to our mom. It caused her to feel ambiguous about me. But I still connect to your difficulty in the “what if’s”. And the pain from loosing her and not having more time to be with her. My pain centers in what I could have done better to bring her closer to me. Thank you for this blog, it is helping me tremendously to process grief and move along in my life. <3

  58. By posting this, you saved my life and revealed to me the pain I would cause my younger siblings if I commit suicide… thank you..

  59. the video of you and zake is so beautiful. it encapsulates my heart in this fist-squeezing kind of way. it reminds me of my sister and i, the love i have for her, have had for her since i was a child, and it has me thinking about the bonds between siblings. how they are on a level deeper than skin, blood, and bones, something instinctual, that we can feel in our throats and in our chests. wired with minimal communication. i see it in the way you lean your head towards him after a joke, after something warm; in the glances you swap after your father says something or when you both think something simultaneously. it’s subtle but it’s there. and i feel it. i’ve only ever felt that with my sister. and she is a state away from me and i have this impossible desire to reach for her and keep her close. i am lucky i still have her, though she silently and slowly fights an illness that will eventually debilitate her.

    i can’t imagine your loss. yet the empathy gouges me, and i have more sorrow for you than i know what to do with, and i want to offer all my love in the world to you. for opening up, for remaining so vulnerable, so kind. for helping me realize the importance of these bonds we may never be able to share with anyone else.

    i want to say something that is healing and helpful but i can’t find the words. but i think that you’ve known and had your brother in ways the world will never, and you will always have that. and i think that’s immortal.

    thank you. all the love in the world.

  60. Oh Nirrimi, that video. I can’t imagine what it feels like to experience such loss, but I imagine those recordings of your brother must help so much, to have something visible to hold close to your heart, a safeguard against ever forgetting the sound of his voice or his smile. I’ve followed you for so many years and felt so much grief when I heard the news, you are so strong and a constant inspiration in my life to be more loving, open, and brave even in the face of loss.
    Thank you for always being so open. I hope you always write. Much love, always.

  61. This story is woven with so much love and honesty. I’ve been sitting here in shock with tear in my eyes and hot shivers through my body because it speaks so much to me. I have two brothers with Aspergers. My older brother has attempted suicide several times. I’ve also struggled with mental illness and attempted a couple of days after my 21st birthday. It is several years later now but I recently went through a particularly dark period and planned to attempt again last week after hiding away alone for days on end. In the darkest moments I thought I’d either do it or take myself to the emergency room. Somehow I brought myself out of the depths and reached out for the love and strength of my friends. I visited my mum a couple of days ago and she told me my older brother took himself to the emergency room last week, the same day I was close to swallowing all those pills, because he wanted to kill himself. If things had gone differently my mum could have lost two children that day. Even though I know the dark comes in ebbs and flows and I can’t control the suicidal thoughts, I hope the reality of that moment, and the reality of stories like yours stay with me. Thank you for being so vulnerable and sharing your stories with such grace and clarity. The way you write is like bright spots of magic shining on ocean waves at night. Somehow calm and fiery all at once.

  62. Endless love N. Keep sharing. It’s the only way to attempt to heal. Sending you, and Alba, your mother, and sister, every ounce of love. 

  63. I don’t know what to say. It’s so unfair that he is lost to you all and it’s so unfair that you have gone through all of those bad times. Apart and together. I have a younger sister and the thought to lose her makes me hurt so bad. Thank you for sharing this and writing so openly. All my thoughts and love go out to you <3

  64. I’m at a loss of words. I am so sorry to read about your, your familys and particulary your brothers pain. And still through the pain there is such an enourmous love… as a big sister to a little sister who have and still is battling mental health-issues your descriptions of your sibling love, rivalry, hope and desperation to try and help but beeing so lost as to how, this goes straight into my heart. Thank you for sharing this openhearted and in a way naked post, covering human life all in one. Thank you for spreading awareness of mental health. ❤️ / reader from Sweden

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