The Beginning of Sorrows

Me and my brother, Robert.

The thing about tragedies is that they can catch you by surprise.  You get up in the morning and lazily eat breakfast as if you have all the time in the world.  You pick out something to wear (as if it mattered), and lackadaisically wander through the routine of a morning.  You think your meaningless thoughts, none of them giving you any warning as to what’s about to come.  All the while a tragedy, is secretly unfolding, sneaking up behind you, changing your life forever.

As far as my part in it, it began with a phone call from my mother, but it had been put into motion hours before.  If only I had known…

My older brother Robert and I were extremely close.  So close, even his wife was envious of our relationship.  We could be in a crowd of friends, look across the room at each other, and nod, as if to say, “yeah…I get it, I am thinking the same thing as you.”  As my psychiatrist, Dr. Teemis told me once, my brother and I had to keep close to each other just to survive our childhood.  We remained close even after I had gotten married at sixteen and was pregnant with my first-born son and he was a world away, fighting for his country and his life in Vietnam.  He was eighteen-years-old.  I tried not to let my worry consume me, but I kept a good luck charm for him on a shelf in my living room.  Some days I would take it off the shelf and hold it in my hands, hoping it was working its magic and keeping him safe.  But fear still gathered in my stomach and buzzed in my ears when I thought of him there, alone, without me to watch over him.

When he got back to the states, he had seen too much, done too much, to ever regain the innocence of youth.  He self-medicated with drugs, and got kicked out of the Army with a “bad conduct” discharge after getting caught stealing pills out of the pharmacy at the Presidio.  By the time he got back to Los Angeles, he was suffering from major depression and the after effects of malaria.  I watched him sometimes, while he slept with his eyes open.  I worried more about him now that he was home then I did when he was in Vietnam.

Several years went by; Robert had married and I had finally gotten away from Michael the Archangel.  Both of us were suffering the horrible effects of our childhood and our own choices.  His depression was as bad as my anxiety.  He was living with my parents, and I was frantic, trying to get him help.  I took him out to the Veteran’s Hospital, but he was turned away (bad conduct discharge).  I took him to the Los Angeles County Mental Health Department.  Before we went for his appointment, I called and made sure they understood the problem in case he wasn’t exactly open about it.  I told them that he had tried to kill himself by swallowing pills and that I was really worried about him.  A week later, he left the appointment with a 30-day supply of Elavil.  (His estranged widow later won a lawsuit involving this incident).

The call came at noon.  “Linda, I can’t wake up Robert!  I’ve tried all morning long.”

“All morning long?  I’ll be right there,” I said.  My legs turned to jelly.  I got my boyfriend to drive me to the apartment, about five minutes from my place.  I ran into the bedroom and shook him.  “Robert,” I yelled.  He was lying on his side with one arm over his head.  He looked peaceful, as if he had just fallen asleep. When I shook him and yelled his name again, he grimaced, and the word “seizure” entered my mind for the first time.

I ran into the living room and grabbed the phone.  I called for a paramedics and waited for what seemed like a half hour.  Once they got there, they took over.  I waited in the living room with my mother and tried to listen to what was going on in the other room.  My fear kept me frozen to the chair.  I kept waiting for one of the paramedics to come out and tell me that he was sitting up and talking, but all I heard was the beeping of some machine they had taken into the room.

“Seizing! Seizing!” I heard one paramedic shout. The two young paramedics burst out of the bedroom, and wheeled him quickly through the living room and out the door.  He looked gray.  One young paramedic attempted to reassure me as he passed by, but even he looked scared.  By that time my father was home and we all jumped into his car and followed the ambulance to the hospital.

As we got about halfway there, the paramedics suddenly pulled over and tried to wave us on.  My father pulled up behind them and stopped anyway.  I was sitting in the middle of the front seat, hanging on to the dashboard, unable to sit back into the seat.  I could hear my heartbeat in my ears and my breath caught in my throat.

One paramedic jumped out of the van and threw open the back doors.  I watched as he frantically pumped on my brother’s chest.  The other paramedic shut the doors behind him and jumped back in the driver’s seat, turning on lights and siren as he screeched away from the curb.

Once at the hospital, I did not see Robert again.  By the time we parked and got through the emergency room doors they had taken him away.  We gathered together in the waiting room.  No one said a word.  Finally, a doctor came in and shook his head.  “I’m so sorry,” he said.

For some reason, all I could think was that I had to call someone, a pastor who had been counseling both my brother and me for free through the Salvation Army.  I had called him as soon as we arrived and asked him to pray.  I stumbled over to the pay phone and placed my quarter in the slot at the top. I needed him.  I needed him right that second. He answered on the first ring.  “Wilber?” I started.  I heard myself start to scream.  “No!!!!” I wailed.  I screamed again.  My knees buckled and the receiver flew out of my hand.  A young woman, sitting by the pay phone, jumped up and ran out of the room.  A doctor hurried in and told us it would be best if we went home.  There would be nothing left for us to do there.  We had to leave my brother in that cold, unfamiliar place, all alone.  Robert.  Robert Bruce Amthor: March 27, 1950-August 24, 1975.

16 comments on “The Beginning of Sorrows

  1. What a moving depiction of love and tragedy, Linda. Thanks for visiting my review post about Comedy emerging from Tragedy today. Glad we found each other. Please stay in touch. Blessings on your memoir journey.

  2. So sorry for your loss. My anxiety and agoraphobia was manifested in childhood but through the loss of my grandmother to murder by the hands of my grandfather, who then took his own life, I grew more and more anxious and later afraid of everything. I am on the road to recovery and I pray you are as well. I enjoyed hearing you on Linda Bassett’s show. Great job. Please check out my website.

  3. I am so incredibly sorry for your painful loss.

    Your writing is beautiful and you really transported me to that sad time and place.

    Peace to you on your journey to healing.

  4. HI LInda, This is very poignant. My heart aches for your loss of your brother. My dad died by suicide at age 79. So very, very sad. Good thing we have the Lord to lean on.

    • Thank you AMy for your kind words! Writing that post brought up some memories. My father also killed himself, three years later. It is so hard to go through these things, but God comforts us in our sorrow. God bless Amy!

  5. Really good post that resonated with my. My brother also committed suicide. It was 7 years ago and he was 44. I still don’t understand to this day.

    • Hi Carla,

      Thank you. I am sorry for your loss too. It is so difficult. I went to your blog. It’s so nice! I also clicked into “She Writes” from your site and signed up. Thank you so much for posting your comment!

  6. I am so sorry this happened to your brother, to you and to your entire family! Have you read my testimony? I also tried to take my own life. Now I have hope and a new life God has given me.
    I am praying you receive Gods healing in your life for this sorrow.

    • Hi Estrella,

      Thank you so much! I went onto your blog quite awhile ago and read your story. I am so thankful you found the grace and strength through God to continue living. If you continue reading my blog, you will see that I did receive God’s healing for my life. The suicide of my brother happened in 1975, and it was the incident that brought me into a relationship with Christ. As I continue to write, you will see where He takes me on my new journey. Thanks again!

  7. Linda: tragedy happens so many times as people try to self medicate with alcohol/drugs and sometimes prescription drugs can be just as dangerous with out proper counseling.(as you have just shown us!) I am so sorry for your loss and your family. I practiced pharmacy for 23 years and just couldn’t do it anymore. People don’t realize how dangerous medications can be. such a false sense of hope in pills (of course there are times when they are needed), but true hope comes from Jesus Christ. I hate when I say there is nothing I can do for a person that doesn’t want help…BUT I CAN, I can never stop praying! Life on earth is hard and sad for so many. Looking forward to reading more of the healing that has taken place through Jesus in your life! Eva

    • Hi Eva,

      You are so right…it reminds me of that Scripture that talks about trusting in horses and chariots instead of the Lord our God. I went through a long time of having suicidal thoughts come to me unbidden. I think the enemy of our soul feeds us those thoughts. Thank you for your kind words.

  8. Hi Linda, I felt your fear, anxiety and loss through your words. I feel deeply for the loss of your beloved brother and the circumstances that took him from you, I understand how trauma and PTSD can cause someone to change and turn to drugs numb/block/hide from the reality of the situation, I see this in my own family BUT. I know that your journey has continued for a reason, by Yah’s grace you will not only receive your own emotional, mental and spiritual healing but you will also make the difference in another family’s life. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

    • Hi there! Thank you so much for your words. Nice to see you here again! Yes! you are so right. My story doesn’t end with the trauma, substance abuse, etc. It ends with redemption. I’m so excited to begin to write about that part of my journey…within two months of the suicide of my brother, God rescued me. Many things happened, and it’s an amazing journey. Thanks for joining with me!

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