A while back I shared with you how this blog came to be. I explained how I felt caged by my limitations. Like a bird wanting to break free. That bird metaphor was not randomly chosen, there is more to that story. It is that story I wanted to share with you today.
Note: Upon request I wrote a (one time only) Dutch translation. You will find a link at the bottom of this article.
On the morning of September 7th 2014, at around 4.00 a.m. I was woken by my husband. He told me that my younger brother Mattijs had committed suicide. I screamed and the sound I made still gives me chills to this day. In a daze I woke up and started to get dressed. Meanwhile Hans explained that my sister Marissa and brother-in-law Marlo were waiting downstairs. They had told him what happened. Downstairs I fell into the arms of my sister. (Who was 8 months pregnant with her first child at the time.) We knew he had been depressed for years, but we had not seen this coming.
Marlo explained that they were themselves woken by the police. The police had explained what happened and had handed them a suicide note. Five notes actually. One each for my mother, my sister, my husband and brother-in-law, myself and one for the five of us. He said he was deeply sorry, but that he couldn’t go on anymore. He told us that we had done what we could and that it had been because of our love that he had held on as long as he did. In his note to me he told me that he loved me and his last words were: Stay strong.
What followed was the darkest day of my life. Thanks to the shock I was in, I could manage as well as I did. We had a cup of coffee and drove to my mother. She lives an hour away, but it seemed to last forever. I wanted to get there as fast as we could. It seemed wrong to me that her son was dead and she didn’t know yet.
My mother’s cries echoed mine. Her sobs broke my heart. We hugged, we cried, we talked. Then Hans and I drove the whole way back, this time to tell my father and stepmother.
More cries were added to the sounds that will be with me forever.
We came home around 11.00. Due to my stroke I am usually completely spent after two hours of activity. On this day I felt as though I had already run several marathons and the day wasn’t over. We still had a funeral to plan for.
While making arrangements we came across the metaphor of a bird with broken wings. That resonated with us as he was like a bird who believed his wings were broken, a bird who was now free. We chose a card with a bird and wrote a poem for it ourselves. The search for a song, however, proved challenging. Then I remembered Matt having posted something on Facebook a while back. I found the post and it was an instrumental song by Lindsey Stirling. We all loved the idea of a song without lyrics as Matt had always been a man of few words. We looked up other songs by her and when we found “Song of the Caged Bird” and “Taking flight” it all came together.
As you will undoubtedly understand, this was the darkest day of my life. But there was light as well. Light in the shared love and connection with my family. Light in the amazing strength that was summoned in each of us. Light in the loving support from family and friends. But most of all; light in the understanding for my brother that we all felt. None of us blamed him for even a second. We all understood how he came to do what he did.
To this day I am amazed at the strength he displayed in his final hours. His last words were (and still are) of such great comfort to us. I don’t even want to think about where we would be if it weren’t for those letters. He demonstrated such strength and it sounds strange considering it was a suicide, but there was grace in the way he ended his life.
The months that followed were the hardest of my life. The grief coupled with the exhaustion brought me to my knees. After a while, I started to feel restless, like that caged bird. Where he was caged by his depression, I felt caged by my physical limitations. I too wanted to break free and take flight.
I thought the key to the cage, the key to freedom lay in physical healing so I proceeded to work harder than ever to try and find some improvement. As I wrote in my first blog post I eventually found the freedom I was looking for. I found it through loving acceptance of myself and my limitations.
That became the starting point for this blog and that is also my main message. I realize now that this is what my brother’s death teaches me. He taught me how important it is to love yourself. How vital it is to believe yourself to be worthy, vital to your very survival. For in my mind my brother died from a lack of self-love. He died from a lack of self-worth.
That to me, is what makes his death so tragic. He couldn’t accept the help we offered, couldn’t even see the options that were open to him because he didn’t believe himself to be worthy of it. Tragic, to die believing yourself to be unworthy, when we are all inherently worthy.
We are all worthy, always. Worthiness isn’t earned, it is bestowed. Nothing we ever did or failed to do can take that away. We are worthy from first breath to last.
So this then is my message, the song of this once caged bird.
This is what my brother’s death taught me about life:
The thing is: you have to believe it yourself. Those around you can say these things until they are blue in the face, but it will never be enough until you yourself embrace this truth. Self-love isn’t about selfishness or arrogance. Quite the opposite:
When we believe we are worthy we can take responsibility for our own lives.
When we love ourselves we have more to give to those around us.
When we accept ourselves for who we are we deepen our compassion.
When we know ourselves to be whole we stop looking to others to complete us.
So let this be my brothers legacy. Let his death teach you that you too, are worthy.
Thank you Matt. Thank you for your love. Thank you for your strength. Thank you for what you continue to teach me. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
I love you.
A thank you as well to you, reading this, for letting me share this with you. I’m sure you understand how important this message is to me.
If this resonated with you I would be grateful if you would help me share this message by telling someone you know or by using the buttons below.
P.S. If you have a minute, check out the video of that beautiful song: Song of the Caged Bird. And pay special attention to Lindsey’s message at the end. It echoes the message of this blog.
Click on the link below for the Dutch translation:
Klik op de link hieronder voor de Nederlandse vertaling: