This post is not intended for any future readers, other than myself.
I never shared this story with anyone. This is my attempt of letting it go.
I still experience the same breathing difficulties I first experienced when I received that call.
That fucking call.
It was 22:10 on Sunday, March 22 2015. I had just finished my dinner. I was trying a new restaurant. Horrible, but still edible.
I grabbed my phone. 2 missed calls: Father.
Strange. Why would my father call me twice at this time? I bet he’s angry about something; the usual crap.
I wasn’t going to call back. I didn’t have to – he was calling again.
That’s 3 times in less than 5 minutes. Something bad happened.
At the time, my mother was out of the country. I didn’t want to think about what my fucking brain was thinking about. Please not my mother!
My heart sank immediately. I put on my fake persona and answered the phone.
To this day – more than a year and a half later – I can still recall that phone call. Verbatim.
My father was distraught. He was crying. Please let it be a flat tire, I kept wishing.
“Your oldest brother,” my father cried. “Your oldest brother is dead.”
Death. My automatic reflex was a deep breath in, but that wasn’t enough. Another deep breath. I couldn’t control my deep breaths, though. they just kept happening.
“Where are you now?” I asked my father. “Stay where you are and I’ll come pick you up.”
I was so fucking and confident. I acted so naturally and automatically. It was my job to stay calm and confident, right?
My father is fucking overreacting. That was my thought the moment I ended the call. He is definitely overreacting like he always does. Fucking drama-queen!
But … what the fuck was that strange feeling in my chest?
I started walking around in my room. Death? Impossible. Not my oldest brother. He’s just probably not answering my father’s calls – he hasn’t answered his calls for more than a decade. He was having fun in another country away from my fucking father.
I wanted to go out for some fresh air – it’s becoming harder to breathe. When I went for the door, my twin paternal-aunts walked in crying. I hugged them because I was calm and confident. I made sure to sit them down and get them water. They asked me what’s going on. Why is my oldest brother dead. I calmly replied that I don’t know and gently told them to breathe and drink water.
My paternal-uncle arrived. I asked him to come in but he said he’ll wait for my father.
Father arrives. Parks his car normally. Walks out carrying his usual shit of electronics and whatever. I walk up to him and ensure to wrap my arms around him. He was crying. He was shaking. I walk him to the living room and sit him down.
I must stay calm. I must appear confident.
Then my father told me I must fly tonight to bring my brother’s body back to be buried here. I must coordinate with my maternal-uncles right this instant. I calmed him down and promised him I’ll take care of it.
I’ll take care of it because I’m calm and confident. I will fix this, family. I will bring my brother back, world.
I get a call from my maternal-uncle. He tells me we’re heading in 15 minutes to the airport. Roger that, sir.
The drive to the airport was awkward. I was asked what was my brother doing in that country? When did he go there? Who found him? Is he really dead? Or was he simply not replying to my father?
I don’t know the answer to any of those questions.
I was sitting in the backseat trying to control those sudden, deep breaths my body keeps taking. I was staring out the window, but I couldn’t see anything. My lower lip began to tremble. No, I will not cry! My oldest brother .. dead? But .. but he’s my oldest brother. He’s not the dead bodies I’ve been seeing in the morgue on a daily basis for months. He’s my oldest brother, universe! Do you understand?! He’s my fucking brother and he shouldn’t be dead!
The tear found a way out, even though I made sure not to blink. I wiped it before my uncles could see it, took one of those involuntary deep breaths, and exhaled out very slowly. I don’t my uncles to think I’m crying. I’m not weak, uncles. I’m strong. I’m confident.
We’re in the airport now. The flight was booked. We walked to the gate and waited. I sent a text to my boss telling him that I’m sorry but I won’t be able to attend tomorrow because my brother is dead in another country and I’m flying there in a bit.
At that time, I wasn’t fat. Not at all. I 35kgs less that what I already am. I played tennis at least 3 times a week. I worked out regularly. I only binged for fun; I missed the easy access to delicious food without having college to worry about. Regardless, I was fit. But at the airport, I had to drag my legs to the gate because they felt heavy and weird.
We get on the plane. I have a couple cups of coffee, and then I doze off. I woke up when we landed. I drag myself out of the airport. We rent a car. I sit in the backseat again. I stare out the window, again. I avoid blinking, again.
But now it’s becoming more real. We were driving to the hospital they claimed my brother was at. He’s not dead. He probably had an accident or something. Maybe he broke his collar bone, and that’s they found blood coming out of his nose when they broke in his hotel room.
We got closer to the hospital. It was 2am. They direct us towards the morgue. They have a morgue. That’s where they examine dead people before writing their death certificates. First, they measure their weight and height. Then, they remove the white hospital sheets and examines the entire body (they cover their genitals out of respect). They start with a superficial external examination – position, color, features. Then they move closer to the body. Head, face, neck, shoulders, rigor mortis, lividity, injuries, bleeding, various samples ..etc. I know that because I’ve been doing that for a while now.
We park the car outside the morgue. We walk in. I take the lead because I’m fucking confident and calm. I hope they haven’t heard of the foreigner who was found dead in a hotel room. I wish my brother’s credentials weren’t behind the reception counter – you never want to have your credentials behind the reception counter in any morgue.
And then I saw a copy of his passport. My brother’s passport. My brother’s credentials were behind the reception counter in the morgue. My brother is dead. He’s really dead.
My brother is dead in that country and I can’t do anything about.
Any hope of finding him alive was now lost.
My oldest brother is dead.
They can’t release the body before 7am. That’s when the doctor comes in to sign the release papers and death certificates.
We drive to a hotel. It was 4:30am. We decide to rendezvous at 7am to coordinate with our Embassy re how to ship my brother’s body back.
I walk in my room and close the door.
That’s when I allowed my eyes to blink as much as it wanted.
That’s when I allowed my irregular breathing to be freely irregular.
My brother is dead.
I doze off for a couple of minutes. I don’t want to sleep. I mustn’t sleep. My brother is dead and it would be disrespectful of me to sleep – even if for a couple of hours. I have to start liaising with the Embassy in a few hours, anyways. We also need to go to the morgue again to pick up the death certificate.
I wake up my uncles at 7:30am. We drive to the morgue. Same reception desk, but this time I’m allowed to view the body. My oldest brother is now another dead body with a serial number and an ICD-10 cause of death. I walk in while my uncles stay outside. I’m the fucking medic, right? It should be OK for me to identify my dead brother.
I notice a body prepped on that steel table, covered in the hospital’s recycled, cheap white covers. Maybe it’s not my brother. Maybe it’s all a fucking dream. I ask them to remove the covers. My brother’s face. Blue. Dead. Asleep. Lifeless.
And then what I do? I ask for gloves. I need gloves to examine my brother. I skip the weighing and measurements. I ask for the covers to be removed, except around the genitals. I examine the body superficially – from the right side, just like all the other dead bodies i examined before. I look for asymmetries. I observe the skin’s color. I pretend to know what I’m looking for.
I move closer. My fucking irregular breathing is working up again. Why is my mouth dry? I’ve done this dozens of times – never to a family member, though. I observe the livor mortis – the bluish discoloration was on his face, neck and torso. He was on his face when he died. I can observe the blood line running down his nostrils. Froth at the side of his mouth. Something related to the lung? Nothing can be certain without an autopsy.
Then I began to feel dizzy. I asked technician to cover up the body.
I left the room and went outside. My uncles were there. I told them I examined him and that his death was the result of something called SADS (Sudden Adult Death Syndrome). I was amazed to read the examining doctor’s notes: “Cause of death: cardiac and respiratory depression”. Basically, the doctor wrote the cause for EVERY DEATH IN THE ENTIRE WORLD. In other words, his cause of death was death.
Off to the Embassy. On the way, sitting in backseat, I had to answer my uncles’ questions about the cause of death and all. I had to lie, of course, and bullshit my answers into appearing as if I was saying something useful.
Now my brother is dead and they want me to explain it to them medically. Fucking assholes.
Embassy. Done. Paperwork done. My brother will be shipped back tonight.
Guess what? I must provide proof to the airlines that my brother is dead so he can be exempt from paying the “no show” fee.
My brother is dead and I must prove that to the fucking airlines.
Can it get worse? It did. Now, my family were debating – without my knowledge – who will contact my mother (who was in London at the time visiting my Uncle, who was undergoing cancer treatment) that her eldest child is dead. Mother, your first born baby is dead
No one wanted to do it. (My adult family members exceed 30 people). So your man here, Mr. I’m confident and calm, had to do it.
In my medical school, you are not allowed to break bad news on your own until you graduate. You can merely observe a real doctor doing it, and that’s only after consent from the family and approval from the consultant.
Well, this wasn’t stupid med school. This was real, fucking life. I picked up the phone and called my mother. I’d just sent here a few suggestions for bookshops to visit the night before. So when she picked up, she informed me that she still didn’t leave the hotel room, but she plans on going later. My fucking breathing keeping fucking with me. But I’m calm. I’m confident.
I asked how she was and how’s my uncle. And then I asked her if she took her medications of not. Finally, I asked her to sit down if she was standing and listen carefully. What is wrong? she demanded. I asked her again to just sit down and listen. Your oldest son is dead, mother, and I’m the one informing you of that.
I began to sense her panic. Or was it my panic? I didn’t care, because I’m about to tell a mother that she lost her son. “My oldest brother has been in a car accident and his condition is currently critical. My uncle will book you a return ticket for this afternoon.”
She told me not to lie and to tell her is he was dead. “He’s in a critical condition. That’s all I can say.” I confirmed that she understood what I said, and hung up.
That’s the moment I hated my entire family – uncles, aunts, cousins, anyone related to them, everyone, the entire fucking world.
Now I was in the back seat of a rented car in a country I never again want to visit. I had done my job successfully. Now it was time to go back home.
Later that night, our plane landed with my brother in a coffin between the rest of the cargo. My brother is dead forever.
I go to my room the moment my uncles drop me home and hide myself in bed. My mother will be arriving shortly. I haven’t slept properly in more than 36 hours. I don’t want to see my mom. I’m the one that made the call. I’m the one who told her about her son. Tomorrow morning, I’ll have to go the morgue and finalize some papers before heading to the cemetery. When I got there, the receptionist thought I was here for work. He was smiling, but his smile faded when I pointed at the log book in front of him with my brother’s name in it. He offered his condolences. Papers finalized. Off to the cemetery.
This was the first time I visit our cemetery. My family were there. I had my glasses on so no one can look into my eyes and see my. The grave was ready. My brother was wrapped completely in white, but I could still his face. I jumped down in the grave. At this point, my irregular breathing had replaced what’s supposed to be regular. Who cares, right? As long as everyone else can grief and show their emotions, I shouldn’t say shit. They slowly lower his body into the grave. I put my arms under the outline of his neck and head. I lower him slowly onto the ground. And then I pulled myself out of the grave. I washed my hands. I walked past everyone who was crying, anyone who was offering his condolences, and made it back to my car.
After the funeral, I noticed how I began to hate my brother’s wife (aka his widow). I just hated her. She killed him. She never cared about him.
I hated my entire family.
I went to back to work as if nothing happened. I went back to my life as if nothing happened.
Only for a while, though.
Soon began the slow and steady decline in my own life. I never attributed it to my brother’s death – I didn’t know him. We never spoke. The last time I spoke to him directly was more than a decade ago. And I was only letting him know his friend was outside.
My parents lied to me. They said we will talk when grow up. Need we grow up more?
I lived abroad complaining about my life of a medical student, while my brother was struggling with debts to survive. I was looking for some investments to put my money in, but my brother was trying to pull loans here and there. And his fucking, worthless wife is an unappreciative cunt.
Any psychologist/psychiatrist can tell you that my continuos decline towards more self-harm and self-destruction is the result of bottled-up grief: dropping my studies and using my lack of interest as an excuse, non-stop drug and food binges, the huge pile of weight I gained to “protect me” and act like a figurative shield.
To this day – even while I’m writing this – I can’t completely let go of the notions I have regarding my brother’s death. I’m more conscious of death, now, even though my work involves visiting the morgue almost on a daily basis. I used to be more empathetic. Now, I couldn’t care less about those kids in Africa; I couldn’t help my own brother – be it financially or morally or whatever – and I’m expected to help strangers on a different continent? I couldn’t help my brother when he was less 20 miles away. So, yes, the world can go fuck itself.
More than 1 year and 5 months have passed, but I’m still not fully over it. Please save your self-help bullshit to someone who cares. Or, even better, write your advise on a piece of paper, roll it tightly, and then shove it – either down your throat or up your ass, sir.
If I don’t delete my blog sometime soon or in the near future, then this post is dedicated to a future version of my current self.
When I had the idea of writing this post, I thought I might feel better at the end of; like I’m letting go of some secret I’ve been hiding.
I was wrong.
I don’t feel any better.
Categories: The Journal