In Memoriam Brandon Bitner

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“Priorities,” I said. It was the only word I spoke.

As the parlor emptied, the young people clumped on the street, intermingling in a constant exchange of hugs. Some were still visibly shaken and some would remain shaken for some time. Tractor trailers roared past on the highway, not fifty yards beyond the small-town street we stood upon, as the majestic Susquehanna gently flowed just beyond. But as they awaited the embarking of the caravan, the November sun warmed their hearts as it did the crisp Autumn air.

Sounds of some gentle, stifled laughter filled the air. It was not lost on these young people that it was a weekday and they should be in school. The reason they were not was specifically because they needed to be here with each other, but what good was their companionship if it could not serve them in times of grief?

After all, they had just been reminded by the presiding minister that their teenage brains are not fully developed. No matter how mature they thought they were, clearly they could not fully understand or cope with the complexity of life and the challenges it entails.

Cold comfort, I thought, and viciously untrue.

The Bible, he also reminded us, does not condemn suicide. This was a mistake Brandon had made, but God would forgive him.

This, too, did not strike me as comforting in the least. Were there people sitting among us in that funeral home who doubted if they, themselves, could forgive Brandon? That rather than grieve for the pain that led him to end his life, they would selfishly blame him for the pain they felt for his loss?

I don’t want those people to feel better, I thought.

But of course, this wasn’t Brandon’s fault, the minister told us. This was the fault of depression, of a disease. We shouldn’t waste time asking questions about what we could have done, but simply hold onto faith in Jesus to move us forward. We don’t have answers, and we don’t have control; only God does, and so we must pray.

Fuck that, I thought. Seriously. I didn’t know who this man was or how well he knew Brandon or anything about him, but he could not have said a worse thing to comfort these people.

Noticeably absent from any of his words were, “bullied,” “tormented,” “tortured,” or “humiliated.” At no point did he say anything about the need to take responsibility. At no point did he point out that if we do not make it our mission to do better, to make it better on Brandon’s behalf, then his death will have been totally in vain.

His death is in vain.

It was only a close family member who had the courage to truly speak out. To speak of respect. To speak of difference. To speak of the love that Brandon had in his heart. We owe him that love, now more than ever.

Throughout the service, I asked myself why I was there. I didn’t know Brandon personally, nor any of Brandon’s friends or family sitting around me. I was just some stranger standing awkwardly off to the side, mourning by myself. But… I did know Brandon. I was Brandon. I grew up two towns away and faced my own challenges with my sexuality and how others treated me in school. I even faced my own thoughts of suicide. I understand the reality of Brandon’s death all too saliently.

We all know Brandon. And we all must mourn Brandon, because we have all lost Brandon.

I was surprised to see the casket open. The gruesome thought of his death was immediately forgotten as I saw the peaceful way his body rested there. I wondered… if Brandon could see himself there, the peace that was about him, would he feel it was worth it? Was the torment such that this… this nothingness… was preferred?

But we can’t ask him that. If anything, we must give him the benefit of the doubt. We cannot blame this on disease, immaturity, or naivete. Nor can we pretentiously proclaim that Brandon made a mistake and that we all know better, so why didn’t he? No. We must own the fact that we must do better by all the other Brandons out there. As much as it hurts, we must learn from the pain that led Brandon to end his own life.

As I was waiting to view Brandon’s body and the remembrances his loved ones had showered him with, a woman standing next to me said something loudly as if to no one.

“I’m surprised to see so many kids here,” she glibly remarked. “I didn’t think many would come. They should be in school.”

She saw that I’d heard. I stared at her coldly, in awe of her nonchalant insensitivity.

“Priorities,” I said. It was the only word I spoke.

Brandon E. Bitner
(January 2, 1996 – November 5, 2010)

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There are 5 Comments to "In Memoriam Brandon Bitner"

  • Ahab says:

    Deeply moving. We must all strive to support and protect the Brandon Bitners of the world, and to end the homophobia that drives them to despair.

  • Buffy says:

    Nothing to see here. Just a kid being a kid. Magic Man in Sky forgives his childish mistake…poof! There’s nothing you could have done and certainly nothing you should worry your pretty heads about to prevent future occurrences. Carry on with the Status Quo.

    “I’m surprised to see so many kids here,” she glibly remarked. “I didn’t think many would come. They should be in school.”

    One of those “sanctity of life” types, no doubt.

    It’s sad to see how little people learn, even in the face of such a tragedy.

  • Steve says:

    Zack, Thank you for writing this memoriam. I just learned of this tragedy today and I can’t get it out of my mind. I think your observations were brutally honest. You’re right, we all know Brandon and we all must mourn Brandon. We also must all try to do whatever we can to keep this from happening again…….. Thanks for your observations. Rest In Peace Brandon

  • Robert says:

    Zack

    well said,, I too thought of driving out to PA to Remember him from southern mass. I too was bullied in middle and through most of HS. I was in his shoes, I didnt stand up for myself and neither did the school. If I knew then what I know now…

  • brandon eugene bitner:you will deff be missed a lot<3 and today at school was rough but it was for a good thing all against bullying.it needs to stop just keep playing your violin in heaven and budd i will see you in heaven one day dont ever think there isnt a day nobody thinks about you<33i will think of you everyday<33

    i love you so much bud.

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