I didn't know it at the time but when I said goodbye to my older brother that night it would be the last time I would see him alive.
He departed the next morning on a bus for Dawson Creek, B.C., where he had been living since he left home. He left a note on the table saying how glad he was to have had a chance to visit with me for a few days.
I went to work with the satisfactory feeling of having seen my big brother for the first time in a long time. It was 1965, I was 24 and I was brimming with confidence after having started my first job as a recent graduate engineer working for an oil-well service company in Brooks, Alta.
A few months later my sister and I were summoned home with the news that our brother was dead. He had committed suicide at the young age of 30. I still vividly recall the cries of anguish when my mother, who was in hospital at the time, was given the news by my father of his death.
A nurse was standing by and quickly injected a sedative into my mother's arm. We tried to comfort her as best we could and eventually the tears subsided as the drug took effect.
My brother had left our small southern Saskatchewan home when he was 16 and I was 10. I hardly knew him. I do recall many, many arguments between him and my father. He finally decided he could no longer live in the house, left school and took a bus all the way to Dawson Creek, where an uncle lived.
Strangely, I recall that his death seemed to have little impact on me. I didn't shed any tears. Where I was raised grown men didn't cry. We were supposed to be made of hardy prairie stock and I was determined to measure up, and I did. I told my dad he should not blame himself for what had happened, but deep down inside I know I did.
I was assigned to drive to Dawson Creek to bring back my brother's few belongings. I went to the local RCMP detachment to find out more details of how he died. I was shown photos of the small bedroom where he shot himself in the head after sitting up on the edge of his bed. His girlfriend had been sleeping beside him.
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The black-and-white images of his dead body slumped on the bed remain with me, although dimmer as the years have gone by. I was glad my parents never saw those pictures.
He left a suicide note that was short and indicated he was having relationship problems with his girlfriend. I asked if I could bring it back to my parents. I was told by the RCMP that it was evidence and could not be taken away.
I remember the officer telling me that we could never be sure why he ended his life, and saying with all sincerity that I would one day find the real reason when I met him, as he put it, "in the great beyond." Not being a big believer in the great beyond or even a modest beyond, I remember thinking that just sounded silly.
The years passed, I changed jobs, moved to Montreal, got married and started a family. But one night, many years later, I had a strange dream. In my dream the phone rang and I answered. It was my brother at the other end of the line. I was excited to hear his voice and remember thinking in my dream, he really isn't dead after all, he's alive! I experienced an overwhelming sense of happiness and relief - I had my brother back.
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As I was about to speak with him the dream faded and he was gone. I woke up, realized it was only a dream and a deep sadness overcame me. I tossed and turned but couldn't get back to sleep.
The next day I began to wonder about the dream and what it meant. Was I finally beginning to deal with his death after suppressing it for all these years?
Time passed and the memory of the dream faded. Then it happened again, and again after that, many times over many years.
The dreams were basically the same. The phone would ring and I would answer. I would ask who was there and he would say, "Your brother." As soon as I would ask a question the voice would fade away, and try as I might to prolong the dream and continue the conversation, I could not.
Each time I was filled with happiness that he was still alive, and each time I woke up feeling empty and sad, realizing it was just a dream.
It prompted me to finally begin thinking about his death instead of pushing it to the back of my mind. How could he take his own life with a single bullet? What was he thinking at the time? Why was he so depressed?
I began to feel guilty. Why had no one seen the signs? Why could he not talk to someone? How can one become so depressed that ending one's life is the only option?
I am now in my 60s and the dreams have stopped. Perhaps I have finally accepted the fact he is gone after all these years. I'm beginning to wonder if what the RCMP officer said about meeting my brother in the afterlife is likely. I would like to think so, but something tells me it's not going to happen. I truly wish I could, though. I miss the brother I never really got to know.
Fred Fox lives in Oakville, Ont.
Illustration by Juliana Neufeld.