This was a unique year for me out at Burning man. Earlier in the year (in April) my brother Tyler committed suicide at the age of 19 (too short of a life). I can’t say that this was unexpected because his life was not leading the “right” path, but still a shock to me. This also touched a personal chord with me, because I have many issues with depression, and also have had my own personal thoughts with suicide in regards to myself. I went back to Massachusetts for his funeral, and the next few months felt wasted – I was numb, felt like I hadn’t yet begun the road to grieving, and had a generally difficult time getting going again.
I looked forward to Burning Man – A nice break away from the everyday life of “out there.” I arrived on the playa, and the experience was definitely a boost for my spirits. I worked with the Rangers in the Fire Branch, and a bunch of us fire fighters were camped out, and we were next to Astral Head Wash and the Dancing Deities – behind us were the women from Brazil – the list goes on! What a bunch of great neighbors, and our group of eclectic fire people was plenty of entertainment itself.
I was on patrol with Ranger ZoShu (sorry I probably butchered your name) in the fire truck and he wanted to take a ride out to check out the Mausoleum. I had heard of it, knew it was going to burn Sunday night, and I was going to work that burn. We went out to the structure, and the wind was blowing the
playa dust on a nice sunny day – perfect weather. I remember seeing the intricate art work and curves and carvings that made up the Mausoleum. I was in awe of its massiveness.
There was a small group of people listening to a man talk about the structure. He was the artist (I can’t remember his name). He was a shorter man, gray hair, gray moustache, shirt unbuttoned. He started to speak about the structure, and this is when BM ’01 really connected me.
He told about what the structure was built for – it was a memorial for people who had committed suicide and also to small children who had died. One of his artists he worked with that year had taken his own life. He talked about how the children and those who had committed suicide would join up together and fly away from the structure as it burned – basically helping each other.
I felt this rush of emotion – I started to cry uncontrollably. I could not stop the tears, they were tears of joy, of sadness, of anger. The pent up emotions I had been storing in my being were coming out, and in full force. I remember the tears coming down my playa soaked face – it felt great, and the worst at the same time. This felt to me the first time I acknowledged my brother’s death. I remember hugging the artist, and he listened to me – it was comforting.
I told Zoshu that we were going to be tied up for a while. I turned off my radio, found some paper, and sat in the Mausoleum and wrote Tyler a letter- a good bye note. I told him how much I missed him, how he was missing out on life, BM, lots of stuff, but that I understood what he needed to do to stop the pain- I had been there myself, and I was more sorry I had not gotten a chance to know him better. The tears still continued to flow, and my sobbing got pretty vocal. People who were inside the Mausoleum came up and sat next to me, hugged, I hugged others, it was such a group experience.
Needless to say, I did not work that burn – I participated. I went out there that night, bottle in hand to toast Tyler. I sat by the perimeter, and then went inside the perimeter (Rangers have privileges!) to sit in the dust storm, in silence, mourning my brother. I joined the people I had gone with, and we watched the flames. They burned with red intensity, then the fire took on a bright white – the most intense burn I have seen, fueled by the energies of those souls being released. I felt an elation, the silence that was there was amazing. I remember the fire burning so hot that the fire people in their protective clothing had to run away!
The structure collapsed, and they allowed everyone into the circle. The drumming, the crying, the running around the circle. I wandered, still crying, around the fire for a while. My Ranger buddies in uniform wanted to know why I was crying, and I explained why. They understood. They listened, hugged, they were there for me!
I remember walking back to camp, relieved that finally, I was able to start to let go – Burning Man is definitely a celebration of life.
by Ranger Gilligan
Black Rock Ranger, Fire Branch