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Religion

It’s just past 7:30am on a Sunday morning in the mid- to late-1970s, and our family is attending mass. The Roman Catholic church we attended in Montreal was usually full at every mass, but not so at this stupidly early one. In fact, there are so few worshippers present that the priest doesn’t use the main alter; instead, a board is placed across the baptismal font to the left of the church close by the organ, and it is from there that mass is said. We were pretty much the only family with school aged children present. For the rest there were, to my memory, only senior citizens. We stuck out like sore thumbs, which must have made our father pleased.

I don’t remember how long our family of six attended this first mass on a Sunday morning, but you can bet it was for as long as that mass was available. My age was still in single digits, so a super early Sunday morning wasn’t too bad for me, though I was bored stiff in every mass and never paid attention. My youngest brother is four years older than me, and bore through the mass much the same way I did, but it was worse for the two older brothers, eight and nine years older than me. The oldest brother in particular needed to be pried out of bed and, much to my father’s dismay, would return straight to bed after we came home from that mass. Looking back I can’t say I blame him.

What I remember is our stomachs growling, as we had not yet had breakfast. Catholic dogma dictates that one cannot eat one hour before receiving communion, but my ultra religious father never gave much credence to the Second Vatican Council, and wouldn’t let anyone eat at all before any morning mass. Even when that stupidly early mass was scrapped and we returned to attending the slightly more reasonable 9am mass (and later masses once we could get away with it, though my father always went to the Earliest Mass Possible) there was no eating beforehand. No compromise.

And there was no compromise on attending mass on any Holy Day of Obligation.  None. It didn’t matter if you were an adult child, it didn’t matter if you no longer lived at home and were just visiting the parental abode, and it didn’t matter if you weren’t even my father’s child, as several cousins found out to their dismay over the years. If you were with my father on a Sunday you went to church. You had to be literally bedridden to get out of Sunday mass, and if that did happen he dragged you to the first weekday mass you were well enough to attend to “make up” for it.

And it went further. Much further. No meat on Fridays. No reading Ann Landers, who was “an instrument of the devil”. No going to movies, as “movie houses are bad places”. The same for concerts. No dates, and no being out “after dark”, which really did mean 4pm in December. No going out in the evenings during the summer months, either. No school dances. Everything we read and watched was monitored. Our father’s extreme religiousness affected every aspect of our lives. He reveled in it. Everything was in black and white. His word was law as the head of the household, and he could change his word whenever he felt like it. Every move he made was to show what a Good Catholic he was. No child was allowed to have a mind of their own, and must unquestioningly obey every authority figure.

It wasn’t a pleasant way to grow up.

I’m 48 years old, and only in the past few years have I come to realise that I never believed any of the Catholic dogma, or was Christian in general. Never was there any kind of relationship with God or Jesus, nor was I ever happy to praise the Lord in any religious context. Yet I clung on to some level of Christianity for years, and that reason was a fear of going to hell. That’s it. That one fear is the one legacy I had as a result of having my father’s idea of religion shoved down our throats. Nowadays I identify as Pagan, out of my own choice and quite happily so.

Our religious upbringing did stay with my youngest brother and J. Youngest brother attends mass every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation, but knows better than to tell me I should be doing the same. J, well, he would bitch to me about having to take our father to mass whenever he stayed in Amsterdam with J, but I’m pretty certain he went every week by himself. Whether J got any comfort out of going to mass or religion in general is something we’ll never know, but we do know for certain that J also had a fear of what would happen to him in the afterlife.

About 10 years ago my father gave all four of his children the book Catechism of the Catholic Church for Christmas. My copy sat untouched on a bookcase shelf until I was certain my father wouldn’t be able to travel to England again to visit me, at which point it was promptly shoved in a charity shop collection bag and I thought no more about it.

When Youngest Brother was clearing out the personal items of J’s flat in September he told me that he’d noticed that J had bookmarked a page in his copy of the Catechism book. It marked the section relating to what happens to the soul after death.

J had the same fear of hell I had for so many years. And this fear looks to have played a role in the manner in which he committed suicide.

I’ll write up the details about J’s suicide at a later date. For now I’m setting the scene, as it helps me to contemplate on the horrible events more clearly.

 

The suits

The suits are piled on DD’s bed. She’s away at university, which is why the suits have been able to stay on her bed for a month, maybe more. I do have plans for those suits, but getting around to fulfilling those plans is just too much right now.

The suits belonged to my late brother, J. They’re not any ordinary suits, either.  Oh, no. From what we can tell J had every one of them custom made. Every one. A tailor in Toronto made them. They must have cost several thousand dollars each. Because J didn’t want off the rack. Off the rack was for ordinary people.

There are three three-piece suits.  Lost track of how many two-piece suits; probably 20 or so. And two or three loose jackets and about five loose trousers.

One of the jackets is tweed, as is one of the suits.  J never wore tweed in his life.

Oh, and two custom made long woolen winter jackets.  There were three, but one has been given to a charity shop already.

No material is duplicated. J was known in the family for his excellent memory, and he’d have known which fabrics he had chosen previously. The same goes for the ties. The 83 ties our youngest brother packed from J’s flat. 83. None of them cheap.

My guess is that he wore maybe five of those suits. The rest? Probably never worn after the final fitting. Ever. And seeing as he was still living with our parents when they were made–the labels in the inside pockets are dated–where the hell did he keep them?  Certainly not in the house. Even keeping them in my former basement bedroom (I’d moved to England by then) would have been too risky, never mind in his own room.  Hell, they wouldn’t have fit in his cupboard alongside the clothes we did see him wear. No, we have no idea where he kept all those suits. It’s one of those mysteries to which we’ll never know the answer. One of several such mysteries.

Why would one man need so many suits, and then feel the need to hide them somewhere?

Mental illness.

J was never diagnosed with any particular condition, but there’s no doubt in the minds of his surviving family members that he suffered from Bipolar Disorder all his life. This, along with other factors that contributed to his having had absolutely no inner self worth, lead J to having an obsession with all things luxurious. He relished having top brand name items and custom made items like his suits. They gave him a sense of self-importance that he felt unable to gain any other way. Bipolar Disorder meant he was beyond awful with money, spending lavishly not just on himself but on other people as well. Buying people with money. Not in a malicious way, but because he felt he had nothing else to offer them. He desperately needed people to look up to him, and everyone looks up to a man in a custom made suit and a Burberry jacket, right? It made him Someone. Because stripped of the fancy clothes he felt he was nothing.

Not that he ever said as much. To be honest, it’s conjecture on my part, as what I’m writing in this blog, apart from my own memories and any concrete evidence we have (and there is little of that), is what I’ve pieced together from what he left behind. I was the sibling closest to J. The youngest brother was the Golden Child, and the oldest brother was and still is distant and self-centred. I’m the youngest, and craved love and attention from our emotionally distant parents. I’m the depressed, anxiety-riddled mess who was diagnosed by a doctor with “nerves” when I was 11, to which my father responded “The [maiden name] family doesn’t have nerves”, and that was the end of that. It’s the same reason why J never received any diagnosis or support as a child: mental illness was a weakness which did not exist in our family. Thanks, Dad.

J showed no interest in me until I was 9 or 10, when I think he realised we were the only two siblings who could get along. We were also the two siblings who lived with our parents the longest, by quite a margin, in fact, so I gained more insight into J and our relationship with our parents. I clung to J, as unpredictable and verbally and mentally abusive as he could be, because I needed someone. In my own way I think I knew him better than anyone, but still the months since his death have revealed how little any of us knew about J, and how well he could play his delusional game.

And those suits. Those suits which must have cost six digits in total. Part of J’s trust fund blown within a year, judging from the dated labels in the suits. Money he may have been given by our father when he gave me part of my trust fund to help my husband and me buy our first house in England.

Yes, trust funds. Dad was a religious fanatic and a narcissist, but he was a high earner and we were all housed, clothed, fed, and educated. He was stingy as hell on himself and his own house, but there was always money for school, his children’s housing, and his grandchildren. I’ll give him that much.

It’s why J was able to live his delusional life for so long and get away with it.

The suits do have somewhere to go. They will go to a local charity for homeless and vulnerably housed people. The two winter coats will do two people good, and the two-piece suits should help people going for job interviews and such.  Hell, they can raise funds by selling or auctioning all the suits for all I care.  They will still be helping some good to come out of this hellish situation. I was going to drop them off this week. Honestly, I was, but a major fire near the homeless centre means there’s no car access at the moment. I could make several trips by bus with my shopping trolley, but I want rid of all of them at once. So the car it has to be. The suits may have been custom made, but J was of average weight and height, so they should be a near fit for several people.

They need to be moved off the bed anyway. Our youngest brother is coming for a visit, and he’ll be sleeping in DD’s room, so the suits will be stuffed in black bags and stored in the garage until I can drop them off next week.

It’s tearing me apart.

 

There may be some of you who have subscribed to this blog who are surprised to receive this post as I’ve not posted anything for, well, a few years now. What’s happened is that I’ve kept the same blog, but have deleted all the old posts. Here’s why:

This past spring one of my brothers committed suicide. He was 55 years old and was mentally ill, much more so than I or my two surviving brothers (our parents are dead) realised. I already suffer from lifelong anxiety and depression, and J’s suicide and the circumstances around it have left me barely holding on.

I am in counselling, am not at work, and am taking things one day at a time. Part of my own recovery (as much as I can recover from this) is for me to put my thoughts down in a blog, which I am now doing.

In other words, if you do NOT want to read a blog written by a sibling survivor of suicide, and I don’t blame you if you don’t, please unsubscribe or relegate me to your spam box or whatever. I thought it only fair to warn you all before I share my first “real” post.

With thanks,

M