‘Everything finds its place, just as the colour and the beauty do so does the pain.’
Standing on my Brother’s Shoulders
Standing on my brother’s shoulders is a memoir, a dialogue between me and my brother that traces my journey of transformation through grief. It takes the reader on my path of loss and hopelessness to awareness, fire fighting and ultimately to freedom from the past with warmth, humour and compassion.
As far as I was concerned we were a normal family of five growing up in North London. Except, that is, for the recurrent crippling yet often amusing mental illness of my father who held a PhD in Neuro-physiology, but couldn’t work out how to use ‘this water heating device’, better known as a kettle. Adam and I both held a fearful respect for our mother and older sister; we formed an unspoken bond. Then, when I was eight our mother was diagnosed with cancer. When I was thirteen she died and our family disintegrated. My fifteen-year-old brother grieved silently through his writing.
The peace of love for my mother…I came and watched; my only contribution to a dying body. In my mind was a deathly emptiness, a tear of confused emotion compared to the reality of the love falling from my eyes. The peace that she held was contradicted by the hoarse roughness of her fight for her very own fleeing life. There before me lay the scaffold of my soul, the support upon which my own life had grown.
Our father was admitted to a psychiatric hospital, overcome by a frightening mania. Adam and I both grasped on to the letters our mother had written to us in her dying days.
As a teenage boy, Adam held a sense of compassion well beyond his years, ever thoughtful of others, always protecting his younger sister. His tall, dark, handsome looks and infectious smile made him the envy of many. Internally though Adam struggled. His supremely intelligent and analytical mind betrayed him as he wrestled relentlessly with the turmoil of his emotions. Only in his diaries did he tell of his inner torment.
I feel at the moment, the draining in my stomach as if my natural humaneness is filtering away. Please pray that I do not, once more become the sterile alien.
Adam and I exchanged letters. I began to feel a sense of doom descend upon me as I witnessed the subtle changes occurring in my beloved brother, changes which he adeptly hid from the rest of the world.
In his first year at Oxford University, he threw himself from his study window, leaving scrawls of disjointed writing.
I have lied all my life, I have cried all my life because I wasn’t perfect and I couldn’t accept it. I was thrown into a maelstrom of grief that threatened to engulf me. ‘I don’t want to die but I don’t know how to live,’ I wrote in a letter to a friend. I become haunted by the question Why?
Years later I came across my brother’s diaries. Within the words I found and grasped hold of my reason to live.
As a young adult the scars of the past came to haunt me. I moved my life to Sydney, Australia as I searched unknowingly for something or someone to fill my void. I fell in love but my fear of loss hijacks my relationships. I became a Physiotherapist and a Lifesaver as I strive to rescue people, searching for meaning and a sense of belonging. Eventually I became a Fire-fighter engaging my desire to save people. As it turns out, I saved myself. I disentangle my past from myself in a series of letters to my brother.
Can you help me, my gorgeous brother, to shed the chains and cords of constant restraint so that I may embrace my freedom and my life with open arms and a lightness of being, so that I can be me?
I ask his permission to finally let him go. With that I reclaim my life.
The most beautiful and moving book I have ever readVicky ArlidgeComposer and Comedian.
This is, without question, the most beautifully written, sensitive, balanced account of grieving that I have ever read.Patrick CasementPsychoanalyst and award winning author.
This is the honest and at times raw telling of the story of a strong but vulnerable firefighter, as she struggles with, and is transformed by, the legacy of grief associated with the childhood loss of loved ones. Those on a similar journey will find guidance, inspiration and reassurance in this open, heartfelt book.Susan BurtonPsychologist
With honesty, compassion, humour, and intelligence, Tara Lal has written a deeply affecting memoir. In adolescence, her family was devastated by a succession of hammer blows: a father's mental illness, a mother's terminal cancer, and an older brother's suicide. Through her calm examination of these events, Tara details the intricate and oblique ways in which tragedy reverberates through life. Her courageous book tracks the nature and processes of destruction, but more than this, the crucial reconstructions that can follow.Alex GarlandAuthor, Screenwriter and Film director
When she was young, Tara suffered two terribly cruel losses from her life in quick succession. The compounded grief could have left her emotionally wiped out for life, but instead, she learned from it in a most profound and moving way. She is now one of the bravest people I know, a woman of great competence working as a fire-fighter, rescuing people from burning buildings. She is an emotional and physical warrior. She knows vulnerability well, but has learned how to live beyond loss, to make a meaningful life. Her story will stay with you and inspire you forever.Dr Margo OrumPsychologist and Author | www.liferesolutions.com.au/ryde/our-team/
Tara's book grabs you by the heart. The journey she has taken and the courage and humanity that shine out of this wonderful memoir are truly inspiring. Tara unflinchingly deals with difficult but universal themes: loss, need, anger - but suffusing the whole is a loving and hopeful tone. For anyone who has lost a loved one, and may be dealing with some very difficult emotions, I thoroughly recommend their reading this book. It will shine a light!Wanda WhitelyPublishing Director, Harper Collins Publishers (1993-2005) | manuscriptdoctor.co.uk
Why is this book relevant?
In Australia there are nearly 7 deaths by suicide every day. For every completed suicide it is estimated that there are 30 attempts and over 1014 people think about suicide every day. Suicide remains the leading cause of death for Australians aged 18-44.
One in five Australians will experience a mental illness in any one year. In short every person in Australia will be touched by mental illness either directly or indirectly at some point in their lives.
Greater than 5% of adults aged 18-34 have experienced the death of a parent during their childhood.
Who is this book written for?
By sharing my story this book aims to create connection and understanding for anyone who has themselves, or knows someone who has been, touched by mental illness, grief or suicide.
It is also written for:
- Young men struggling with their emotions and how to express them
- Mothers coping with cancer and a young family
- Any parent struggling with terminal illness facing the prospect of leaving a young family behind.
- Parents who have suffered or are suffering mental illness.
- Parents who have lost a child to suicide.
- Any brother, sister or friend to a person that chose to take their own life
- Men experiencing depression
- Anyone who has contemplated suicide
- Anyone who has experienced childhood grief and loss.
- Women struggling with balancing strength and vulnerability in a male dominated work environment.