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Letter to Brian: October 12, 2018

Dear Brian,

I haven’t written you in quite a while so this is gonna be a little long-winded, I’m afraid.  Certainly not due a lack of things to say but rather a lack of knowing just how to say them.  Tomorrow will make 8 long years since I found out you had taken your own life.  While that’s certainly been weighing on me, there’s been something else I’ve been struggling with a great deal.  I’ve been going back and forth and back and forth (and back and forth some more) in my mind about whether or not to publicly share this.  Doing so is going to put myself in my very most vulnerable position yet and I fear that the interweb trolls may dish out things that I’m not quite strong enough to withstand.  But… after a lot of sleepless nights and self-examination, I’ve decided that it’s important to my well-being (and possibly even some stranger’s well-being) to just speak my truth and get it all out in the open.  I’ve been so fearful about admitting to it out of embarrassment, shame and fear.  I’m not sharing my story in the hopes of receiving any pity, attention or outreach from anyone; in fact, I’d prefer that I not receive any of that at all. It’s only out of self-preservation that I’m sharing; I hope that this will release all the tension and discomfort I’ve been experiencing. The secrecy has been eating away at me and causing so much pain and has only served to create more loneliness and seclusion for me.

I’ve only told a very select few about this because I’m embarrassed and, moreso, I’m ashamed. On July 3rd of this year, just 3 months ago, I attempted suicide.  After decades of depression, self-harm and chronic suicidal ideation I’d never, ever actually followed through with a plan or attempt though I’ve been so dangerously close dozens of times.  Many things have stopped me over the years, mostly always concern for those I’d leave behind.   After you died, I wanted so badly to end my own life as well but just couldn’t do that to our Mom; to lose not one but two children to suicide would have been just too much for her to bear.  After she passed nearly 3 years ago now, the feelings have become so much more aggressive and I’ve felt even less grounded here in this life than ever before.  In fact, while cleaning out Mom’s home I came across her bottles of insulin in the fridge.  There were many moments throughout that week that I thought about how it would be so easy to just do it right then and there… I had the needles… I had the insulin… all I needed was the nerve to follow through.  But instead I dropped off all of her unused medications at the police station like any responsible citizen would do.  There was just still so much to do… my demise would have to wait until I’d settled Mom’s affairs.

Nearly a year after Mom died, I moved back to our hometown in Minnesota.  I thought maybe being back here with so many people to support me would surely help these feelings subside.  That just hasn’t been the case.  I’ve had many great moments over the past few years, of course… but it seems even after a night out with friends sharing many laughs I still find myself sobbing uncontrollably as soon as I’m back home alone.  It’s just always there… lurking underneath the surface.

About 5 months ago I posted something on Instagram joking about the dangers of online shopping and Amazon Prime after a few glasses of whiskey; I’d gone and purchased myself a $500 gas-powered generator in the middle of the night.  We all had a nice laugh about it… but the truth is, it wasn’t an accidental drunken purchase.  Though I have since returned that generator, I actually bought it with the intention of using it to die by carbon monoxide inhalation by running it in a small, enclosed space.

I guess I’ve stalled here a bit… I suppose I should tell you about THE night.  After work, my boyfriend and I were cooking a nice dinner on the grill and enjoying a few drinks and talking.  Things were really going well between us and we made each other laugh endlessly.  We truly loved just being around each other; I was really happy with him. At some point in a conversation about the future, I’d told him that someday, (not anytime in the near future, but someday) I could see myself marrying again… or at least  be committed long-term to one person and share a life and a home with one another. That possibility gave me some comfort and hope. It became pretty clear that he was uncomfortable about that as he became very quiet and withdrawn. As I was getting our food dished up to eat, he got up and walked to the back door and said, “I gotta go.”  I said, “Um…. I’m sorry?  You’re leaving?  You’re not going to eat?”  He replied again, “No.  I have to go.  I gotta go…. I’m sorry I wasted your time.”  I began to sob like a crazy person, begging him to stay and talk to me.  There was no explanation, no conversation, just an “I gotta go.”

I wish that I were exaggerating when I say that I made a complete fool of myself crying and pleading with him.  I begged him to please, please, PLEASE stay, admitting to him that I really didn’t want to be left alone that night.  His response was to turn and walk away without looking back.  If he had, he’d have seen me in the fetal position on the floor of my breezeway crying and saying to myself under my breath, “I can’t be alone.  I can’t be alone.”  After a year and a half together, I felt that I at least deserved a conversation about ending our relationship… certainly more than, “I have to go.  I’m sorry I wasted your time.”  (I mean… I assumed that what he was doing was breaking up with me; I wasn’t totally certain until the next night when I received a text asking me if he could drop off my belongings I had left at his house.) That’s not how you end a relationship with someone whom you love and respect. In his defense, he had admitted to being a complete stranger to the dynamics of a truly healthy relationship never having experienced one before.  What he didn’t know, and what I certainly wasn’t going to tell him, (because I didn’t want anyone to try and interfere with my plan) was that in the next room I had a folder ready to go that contained a suicide note, a copy of my will, a list of my emergency contacts, my driver’s license, passport, credit cards, social security card, passwords to all of my online accounts as well as my wishes regarding any funeral arrangements. I’d already spent the previous months purging my belongings, donating items, giving things away to friends and tossing a great deal of it in the garbage so there would be less to deal with after my demise. Having the person who said that they loved me treat me that way made me feel as though I must be worthless; I figured, if I really mattered, he’d have stayed when I said I didn’t want to be alone. I’d already disrespected myself by continuing the relationship after he’d been unfaithful to me early in our time together.  He’d apologized and cried and begged me for another chance.  (I clearly made the wrong choice; I foolishly thought someone that was trying so hard to keep me must have actually saw themselves having a future with me.) I can’t stress this enough: I wasn’t about to kill myself simply because I got dumped; it just happened that getting dumped was the very last piece pulled from my wobbly, Jenga Tower of a mind to make it crumble to the point of desperation. If it hadn’t been the breakup, it would have been something else, I’m absolutely certain of it.

I put the folder on the counter and made sure that everything was order.  I put the cats in their room, made sure they had plenty of food and fresh water and said my tearful goodbyes to them and asked them to forgive me for leaving them behind.  I tossed the beautifully grilled Ribeyes and potatoes in the garbage.  I took all of the dishes and cookware and tossed them in my dumpster.  Why leave them out for someone else to clean up?  And why on earth would I have spent any time washing them when I knew I’d have no use for them in the future?

I placed this note on the counter where it wouldn’t be missed:

Having lost my own brother to suicide, I’m certainly no stranger to the immense grief that is left in the wake of someone taking their own life. This is my only regret; I leave knowing what this will do to those who care for me and for that I am so deeply, deeply sorry.
It’s certainly not one single event or trauma that brings me to this choice but rather nearly 40 years of wrestling against an overwhelming will to die that has been present in my mind since early childhood.  I’m so incredibly tired.  I’ve done the therapy.  The medications. The switching of medications. And more switching of medications. The calling of friends to talk. Support groups.  Hypnosis.  EMDR Therapy.  Talk therapy. DBT Therapy. Yoga therapy. Biofeedback therapy.  QNRT Therapy. Biofeedback. Natural remedies. Reiki. Healing Touch. All the self-books you could imagine.  I’ve gone so far as to try psychics and past life regressions. Even when any of these provided me a little relief for any amount of time, it always came back.  I’m so tired of it always coming back.  Because it always will; and as always, it will come back worse than the episode before it.
Much like my brother, I’ve never in my life felt truly grounded in this world… even at my best, I’ve always felt like an outsider and painfully uncomfortable in my own skin.  There’s a disconnect that all these years of therapy and soul-searching couldn’t seem to repair.
This emptiness in me has always been present… and with each trauma, loss, failure or failed relationship in my life it seemed as if larger and larger pieces of my soul were being carried off and that persistent emptiness grew larger still.
The only responsibility in this is mine… and mine alone.  Those closest to me have done everything possible to make me feel heard, supported and loved. No additional amount of love or attention could have created a different ending to my story.
This quote sums it up:  “The time came when the pain it took to stay was greater than the pain it took to go.”
My cats are in the spare room. Please, please… someone take wonderful care of them and continue to love them for me.

I washed down a heaping handful of sleeping pills with an entire bottle of rum.  I hung blankets up over the windows in my garage (to prevent anyone from seeing me in the car from outside) and pulled my car inside.  I sat in the driver’s seat, with the car running, until I passed out. The last thing I remember was lying back in the seat and looking up at the ceiling of my garage and saying “Momma and Brian, I’m coming.  I’m coming to be with you,” then drifting off to sleep.

I know that on any given night that 2 sleeping pills will ensure that I sleep soundly throughout the entire night; so I figured it was safe to assume that a handful of the same pills in tandem with a shit-ton of booze surely would keep me asleep long enough for the carbon monoxide to do it’s thing. But for whatever reason, I could just Not. Stay. Asleep.  I drifted in and out of consciousness in there for over 4 hours.  I had such a terrible headache and I was absolutely soaked and dripping in sweat and just couldn’t take it any longer.  I was so damn uncomfortable.  And also very angry that I could not stay asleep. I was so certain that I’d planned it out to work.  I was so angry at myself; not that I’d attempted to end my life, but that I couldn’t even do that right and I’d failed at yet another thing. I finally decided that maybe it wasn’t meant to happen that night and that I’d just have to try my back up method the next night.  So I stumbled back in the house and laid on the couch and slept a little bit on and off through the night as Golden Girls played on the TV.  To this day, the sound of that theme song brings back the smell of sweat and exhaust.  I don’t care for it.

I had the next day off of work being the Fourth of July.  Late in the afternoon, I decided to put my plan B into action. I went to Menards to pick up a few “supplies” for my next attempt.  As I wandered through the aisles, I was still overwhelmingly shaky and dizzy so I gripped the handle of my shopping cart for support.  I wondered if those walking past me could smell the stench of exhaust coming out of my pores; I could sure smell it… but then again, I didn’t really care. It felt so surreal making small talk with the cashier, watching him ring up all of my items wondering if he had any clue that a few hours later I intended to collectively use those same items to end my own life.  As the day progressed, I had decided, “Maybe I can just hold on for a few more days.  I’ll finish out the week– button up some things at work and then just kill myself on Friday.” But Friday arrived and after having a nice evening with my friend (who did not know about my attempt) I thought to myself again, “OK, tonight turned out to be sort of decent.  Maybe I’ll give it a few more days.” Some dear friends came to visit me on Saturday against my will and I’m so grateful that they did; it did me a world of good… but I didn’t tell them about what I’d done. They didn’t take no for an answer and just showed up at my house.  It felt good to be reminded that some very wonderful people care so much about me.  Then Sunday rolled around… my best friend came to pick me up and get me out of the house for the day; no small feat given that I still couldn’t stop crying, barely spoke and was still feeling pretty ill from the carbon monoxide inhalation; of course, she only thought I was just inordinately down about my recent heartbreak.  We spent the day driving around in the country and stopping at the occasional antique store and I even ate a little bit, which was a vast improvement over the previous 5 days.  But I couldn’t wait any longer… I hated that there was this horrible “secret” that I was holding inside and as we sat there in her car, I told her about what I had done.  It felt really good to release that to another human being so the weight didn’t feel quite so overwhelming.  Over the next few weeks, this friend absolutely saved my life.  She kept me completely occupied and distracted and allowed me to just hang out with her family when I didn’t feel I could be alone at home.  She let me cry and just stare into space when I wasn’t capable of engaging. (I lovingly referred to her as my “babysitter.”)  It’s not lost on me that if she hadn’t done all that I may not be here today.

Something always seems to get in the way and I find some reason to wait “just one more day.”   I recall one day on my way home from work I was contemplating attempting again soon; however, when I got home and collected my mail, I found that I’d received a beautiful necklace from a friend I haven’t seen in quite a while and it was accompanied by this note:   “Sweet Laura, you and your life are a gift and a blessing to this world. Please never stop trying, we need you. You are loved and treasured and beautiful.” I just burst into tears and asked the universe why it kept sending me signals like that telling me I’m supposed to keep trying??  It’s getting harder and harder but I still keep receiving little signs like this that tell me to wait a little bit longer.  And now… it’s been over 100 days of “just one more day.”

Unfortunately I’ve been engaging in self-harm (cutting) again; I’m sure I should feel ashamed about that, but the truth is that release is helping me to keep moving forward right now.  I realize it isn’t the healthiest outlet, but it works so I’m ok with it for now.  And having my sweet kitties, Bart and Fiona, to come home to is also very helpful… it would be really difficult for me to come home to a completely quiet house.  Those furry little souls are always happy to see me and are content to just be there with me, no matter my mood.

It’s just that I feel everything so, so deeply that it’s unadulterated agony.  Even the smallest things cause this deep, pulsing ache in me that just hurts so much.  For example, I recently came upon a teeny tiny mouse on a cold morning, it was lying on it’s back at the curb of a gas station parking lot.  I quickly realized it was still alive but obviously suffering.  I can’t explain it, but I just couldn’t leave a little being there to suffer and die alone. The thought of that physically hurt me inside.  So I picked it up, placed it inside a tissue box and took it home with me; I hand-fed it formula every 2 hours for the next 24 hours and it continued to improve; it had a safe little habitat warmed with a heating pad and ate out of my hand and completely melted my heart.  That little guy had such a strong will to survive.  A very kind acquaintance of mine took the next step and drove the little mouse up to the wildlife rehabilitation center an hour away when my work schedule didn’t allow me to do so.  I was made fun of a little bit for rescuing “just a mouse” though most people were extremely kind to me and applauded me for the love in my heart for what most considered to be an insignificant little creature.  I just didn’t see it that way; what I saw was something in pain and that I had an opportunity to do something about it.  So I did.  That’s just one example of how things are so hard for me sometimes… this time I was able to do something to help that sweet mouse and affect some change; but most of the time I see things happening around me (and the current state of our country is a big one) that make me so weak inside knowing someone or something is hurting and knowing that I can’t do a single thing about it.  It reminds me of a terrible sunburn; when your skin is so badly burned that it hurts to wear clothes, to shower, to be outside in the heat… even to touch it. Your skin on a normal day is unaffected by these benign acts… but when it’s inflamed like that, everything hurts. My soul and my heart are like that sunburned skin– things that seem so small to the outside world are burning me up inside. It’s almost surreal, sometimes; I’ve become so adept at hiding what’s really going on inside me that I am constantly hearing from people I meet, “Gosh, you’re so cheery and upbeat and friendly, I love it!”  I’ll smile and please everyone by exercising my “appropriate social behavior” but as soon as the door closes behind me and I’m alone… it all comes tumbling down.

I’m not terribly interested in seeking any therapy.  I’ve done decades of therapy, I know what to expect and I suspect I’ve gotten about all I can get out of it.  Besides… my insurance only covers two providers in town and neither are accepting new patients.  I’ve reached out to a few other providers up to an hour drive away and again… not accepting new patients.  I even reached out to the amazing therapist I saw in Texas for 4 years; she does remote sessions but unfortunately she can’t do out of state sessions due to licensing laws. The demand for therapy is far too high for the supply of therapists these days so help is really hard to find.  Finding affordable therapy is a great frustration.  And I’ll be honest… I’ve run into more than my share of providers who were not very warm it’s so difficult to open up and bare your soul to someone who doesn’t even seem to want to be there.

I saw a quote by author Matt Haig this morning that gave me a bit of encouragement to follow through with publicly sharing my story like this; it read:

Mental illness isn’t weakness.  And silence isn’t strength.  I was never stronger than when I was ill.  And never braver than when I first told people.

I hope that someone out there can relate to some of this; it will have made this painful and humiliating confession worth it.  I’m going to keep taking this life thing one day at a time.  After all, it’s gotten me  this far… I suppose I can keep trying.

Please, Brian… if you or Momma have any pull of the celestial kind, give me a hand down here, would ya?

I miss you and Moomie so, so deeply.

Love Always,
Laura

 

 

 

 

Letter to Brian: June 12th, 2018

Dear Brian,

For the better part of the last year, I took a hiatus from the nauseating world of Facebook.  For some unknown, regrettable reason, I popped back on there a few weeks ago.  Then, just last week, following the suicides of two prominent celebrities, the internet experienced a deluge of activity surrounding the topic of suicide, depression and mental health.

Needless to say, I’ve deactivated my Facebook account again.  Imagine the very worst moment of your entire existence.  Now, imagine that every time you went online, turned on the news, picked up a paper or even left the house that you were bombarded with very specific reminders of your trauma.  It was so hard to be in the world this past week.  Seeing the word “suicide” in my feed from literally every direction was just too much.  It pushed me back into an abyss of sorts and as a result I’ve begun to retreat back into the same complete and total isolation within my own mind in which I found myself following your own suicide nearly 8 years ago.  It’s as though my mind and my body don’t seem to realize that it’s been that long and I’m reacting the same way all over again.  Panic attacks, nausea, fits of crying and alternating bouts of sleeplessness and the inability to wake up.  But now that 8 years have passed and I’m still this affected by it, I fear receiving an entirely different kind of pity; more of a “Oh, wow… poor girl is messed up, she’s still talking about it” kind of pity. Or the ever-popular “You know, your brother and your mom wouldn’t want you to be this sad.”  I feel even more alienated now as the support of the phone calls, texts, cards and visits from friends are no longer present– I feel as though I just need to sit through the darkness alone this time. Remember the movie Shrek?  Princess Fiona would hide in her cave alone each night afraid to show the world what she really looked like when the sun went down; I’m not entirely unlike that.  I retreat to my proverbial cave to try and fix myself alone because I am afraid people won’t love me anymore if they see that darkness inside of me.

Each year, 44,965 Americans die by suicide.  But when a celebrity takes their own life, people absolutely lose their shit.  On the one hand, I’m grateful that this issue is gaining some much-needed attention.  There’s such a stigma surrounding depression and suicide so I truly hope that this generates enough activity to affect some real change in the world of mental health care.  But think of all the school shootings so far this year!  People get all hyped up for a few weeks with all of their “Oh, my thoughts and prayers are with the people affected by this awful tragedy.” Prayers are nice and all but they don’t FIX anything.  I’ve been seeing people post things like, “To the depressed person at home who thinks they are all alone– I see  you.  You matter.  You’re important.”  Again… all lovely things to say; but even with the best of intentions these words just don’t help.  I obviously can’t speak for anyone else, but when I’m in that state of mind (in the throes of unmitigated mental anguish) nothing else seems to matter and the words just don’t get through.  It does matter to me when people tell me how much they love me but it doesn’t take away the pain.  If love was all it took to save a life, Brian, you’d still be here.

Posting all the numbers to call when you’re in crisis– again, a lovely thought… but THEN WHAT?  It’s not uncommon to have a 12-week wait for an appointment to see a psychiatrist.  And it’s rarely affordable.  How about we start trying to figure out how to help all these people AFTER they make that call for help?  Resources… affordable and accessible resources need to be there for real change to happen in their lives. People say, “If you’re feeling this way, talk to someone.  Call a friend, call a crisis line… just keep holding on.”  If I had a nickel for every time someone handed me lines like, “cheer up” or “stop wallowing” or “just choose to be happy” or”everybody has problems, you know” or “hey, look at the bright side– you have a job, you have shelter and food on the table, things could always be worse” I’d have enough money to be able to afford those bi-weekly therapy sessions.  Now that these two celebrities who seem to have had it all (fame, fortune, adoration) still couldn’t seem to shake their own mental illnesses perhaps people will start to realize that this kind of depression isn’t situational and it’s not a choice— it’s a legitimate disease.  And it’s an epidemic.

All the articles I saw last week encouraging those of us who are clinically depressed to just talk about our feelings just agitated me to no end.  Think about it– when someone dies by suicide there is a barrage of uneducated comments such as “what a coward” or “he took the easy way out” or “what a waste.”  Why on earth would someone who is having those kinds of thoughts want to share them with anyone when this is how the topic is received?  There’s such a need for education about mental illnesses and we need to start creating a more compassionate space in our communities to make people feel safe enough to share these kinds of feelings.

I’m sorry that I haven’t written you a letter in a long time, dude.  I think about it every single day but usually can’t bring myself to start typing because I’ve been afraid to let myself feel.  Guess I just had too much to say this time to let the feeling pass.

I miss you like crazy.

Love,
Laura

 

 

Letter to Brian: May 17, 2017

Dear Brian,

I’ve done it again.  I’ve waited much too long to write you and now I have so much to say that I don’t even know where to begin!

I need to tell you that had to say goodbye to both Bear and Bubba, my beloved cats, a few weeks ago… and only 3 days apart.  Bear was 18-1/2 and Bubba was 17-1/12.  I was with them so, so long… and would often joke that my relationship with them was the longest relationship I’ve ever had with a dude.  It’s funny because it’s true.

I so clearly remember the very day I brought Bear home at 8 weeks old.  I had actually intended to adopt his sister, a little grey tabby who I had picked out a few weeks earlier.  On January 14, 1999 (the day she was to be ready for adoption) I arrived at the Minneapolis Animal Control adoption just minutes after they opened and she had just been claimed by another family.  However, her brother, a black and white little guy with the cutest nose on any feline ever, was still available… so I took him home.  I think it was fate that brought us together—since I had only a 20 minute lunch break, I had taken that day off to not only adopt my new cat, but also to renew my vehicle registration tabs which had expired 4 days earlier.  While en route to the shelter, I was pulled over for expired tabs and given a costly ticket… resulting in me getting there just a few minutes too late.  Had I arrived as expected, I’d have adopted an entirely different cat.  I’m thankful for that delay from that Minneapolis cop, albeit not so thankful for the extra cost of the ticket.

I’ll never forget your face when you came home from work later that day and spotted this tiny little kitten sitting up on the couch next to me… staring at you with his huge eyes and “bat ears” that he had yet to grow into.  You guys were best buds from the beginning and you taught him all the ins and outs of the ways of the world and of football.  I remember watching you pick him up and hold him close to you as you told him all about the man on the poster above your TV, Randy Moss.  “This,” you said, “is #84, Randy Moss.  We love Randy Moss.  We love Randy Moss because he’s going to help Chris Carter get us to the next Superbowl, OK?”  Bear looked up at you adoringly, and at the poster, as if he understood every word you were saying.  His favorite toy was a little purple and white foam football with the number 84 on it… it was as big as he was!  He’d roll around on the floor with it, hugging it and kicking at it with his back legs as you cheered on the Vikings from the couch.

It did always seem you and Bear had an extra special bond… he followed you around a lot as a kitten.  So many nights Bear would “tuck you in” at night by kneading the covers along both sides of you as you lay in bed.  As adorable as that was, I admittedly was a little jealous of how much he seemed to prefer you to me.  Remember the time he got stuck in your bed’s box spring?  There was a hole in the fabric on the underside of it and he’d crawled in there.  We kept hearing these little mews but couldn’t find him anywhere.  Then we realized the sound was coming from inside the boxspring but he couldn’t figure out how to get back out the way he went in.  You and I ended up punching holes in various places around it to make room for him to jump out.  It took a while, but we finally got him out.  He always was adventurous and had a mischievous streak in him.

I also recall one day when I was about to leave the house for the day when Bear was only about 3 months old.  I’d just closed the door to my large bedroom in our apartment where he was contained during the day with his litter box, food, water, beds, scratching post and a plethora of toys.  As I walked away, I could hear him jumping against the door and crying his little heart out as if to say, “Please don’t go, Momma! Stay here!  Stay!!”  It ripped my heart out to hear those mournful little sounds so I changed my plans and decided to stay home with him.  He had my heart from the beginning.

At our apartment, there was an “island” between the kitchen and our living room.  Bear and I spent so much time playing “hide and seek” around it and he was shockingly good at it; he was so smart and I still insist to this day that he seemed to even demonstrate a sense of humor, if that’s even possible for a cat.  But he wasn’t just any cat.  He was super sassy and feisty and he absolutely LOVED the bathroom.  He used to nap in the sink, play with his toys in the sink and he was particularly enamored with the workings of the toilet and loved to watch it flush; his little head would circle around and around as his eyes followed the downward spiral of the water.  However, your ever present shadow, he also tended to follow you into the bathroom to “help” you do your business.  I’ll never forget the time you came out of the bathroom laughing uncontrollably as Bear trailed behind you, shaking his head.  Turns out Bear suddenly stood up on his hind legs and placed his paws on the rim (as you stood there peeing into the toilet) to get in on the action and watch the bubbles form in the water.  But he did it pretty suddenly and it startled you and you ended up accidentally peeing on his head.  Pretty gross… but also hysterically funny. His love of bathrooms continued into his old age because even up until 2 weeks ago, he’d still follow me in there and sit by my feet when I was on the toilet or he’d sit on the bathmat and wait for me to finish with my shower.

Bear was only 2 years old the day I brought 1 year old Bubba home.  I hadn’t intended on getting another cat; a co-worker had told me about an acquaintance who was looking to re-home her cat and we drove up to Monticello “just to meet him.”  I knew better… I should have known I’d have left with him.  The very first time I saw him, he was hiding in the basement.  They opened the basement door and called to him.  I walked to the doorway and at the bottom of the stairs sat this amazingly handsome, white cat tentatively staring up the staircase at me.  The father of the house went down to carry him up to me; he placed Bubba in my arms and Bubba just melted into my lap and fell asleep.  How could I say no to that?  The first few weeks were pretty rough; neither of them seemed too keen on the idea of sharing their space with another critter.  There were a number of battles I had to break up over those weeks and there were even moments I was considering contacting the family to take him back as I wasn’t sure they’d ever adjust to one another.  But we all stuck it out and I’m so glad we did because, though they still had their bad moments up until the end, they became very good friends.

A few weeks after I’d brought Bubba home, I awoke suddenly because I could feel my bed shaking a bit;  I looked towards the foot of my bed to see Bubba having a seizure.  I brought him in for a check-up and overall he was in perfect health, aside from a slight heart murmur.  They didn’t medicate him for the seizures until a few years later when they became more frequent.  I’ve often wondered if that’s why the family gave him up but just never disclosed that… but I don’t really care.  He was a fabulous cat and giving him a pill twice a day to keep his seizures under control was hardly a deterrent for me.  He was a bit of a “gentle giant.”  Big boned and strong but with a very soft demeanor about him.  I used to call him “sloth” because he never was in much of a hurry to get anywhere… except after a dose of catnip when he’d turn into the incredible hulk, beating the crap out of his toys like a boss.

During the years I had Sophie, whom I had to euthanize at age 7  just 4 months after you died, Bubba was the best big brother to her.  I’ve got stacks of pictures of the two of them snuggling and he’s visibly hugging her.  He adored her and looked after to her like all big brothers would.  The vet came to the house to put her to sleep and after it was done, Bubba went over to the pillow where she was lying… he snuggled up next to her, licked her face and then rested his chin upon her.  It was his gentle way of saying goodbye to his baby sister. He had the most gentle soul.

Together, Bear and Bubba were my tribe and I experienced so many life-changing things and experienced so much loss during our time together.  They were with me all of those times my depression won out and I didn’t leave my bed for days on end or I was harming myself on the bathroom floor. The 3 of us were together years before I met my ex-husband.  They were with me when my Grandma died in September of 2009. They were with me in my car for the 2-day drive from Minneapolis to Austin, Texas when we moved there in the fall of 2009.  I didn’t want to move there but having them along during that huge transition was such a great comfort to me.  They were with me those 3 months after I’d found out about your depression and worried about you every single day.  And they were still with me when I got the call from Mom on October 13, 2010 telling me that you had taken your own life.  The 2 of them snuggled up next to me after I collapsed to the floor that night, choking and gasping for air.  They knew something was wrong with me and they didn’t leave my side for some time after you died.

They were still with me a year later when my marriage of 7 years ended.  They were with me when I moved in with my significant other of a few years and when it unfortunately fell apart shortly thereafter.  They were always such troopers when I moved… but that time was more difficult.  I had just moved into his house after vacating my apartment.  That breakup was the worst one of my life and not only was I emotionally devastated, but I was incredibly stressed about finding a new place to live.  After staying with some very generous friends for a week after the split, the 3 of us moved into a room I had rented in a stranger’s home.  It was just me and my 2 cats contained in that tiny room filled with the only belongings I could fit in there; the rest of my things were in storage until I could find myself a permanent living situation.  I felt so lost and humiliated… it was incredibly humbling to have felt as though my life was crumbling around me, at my own doing. I lived in that room for an entire month and they were such sweet companions!  When I wasn’t at work, I was in that room sleeping, crying or drinking whiskey and they were always snuggled up next to me. I found myself a new apartment and we moved yet again!  That new apartment made the 5th place these little guys had lived in just 7 weeks and they settled in at each new place as if they had no worries in the world.  The fact that they weren’t stressed made that horrible time just a little less awful for me. **I like to think it’s because they loved me and knew that I would always take good care of them and they didn’t worry about all those new places to live. They just always took to new places surprisingly quickly for cats so maybe I was doing something right after all.

They were still with me 5 months later when our Momma died… and another 9 months later when I finally made the move back home to Minnesota where I belong.  Who would have thought a couple cats could be such amazing traveling partners?? They took to the car surprising well again and settled in each night at the hotels I found for us to get some rest.  Upon getting back to Minnesota, we again were contained to one room in a friend’s house while I looked for a place to live… and again, they seemed unaffected by it all.  I found the most perfect house for us and we moved in just 6 weeks after moving back home.  I was not at all surprised when they took to their new house as if they were meant to live there all along.

 Unfortunately just 6 weeks later I had that whole “breaking both of my ankles” incident and was homebound for a while.  They were such good caretakers and wouldn’t leave my side yet again.  But I’m now all healed up—I can drive again, I can walk again and I can take care of most things around the house again.  And I’m also now in the most relaxed and happiest relationship of my life.  My depression feels more under control now than at any other time I can recall.  I had adopted a 3rd cat named Bart, a 3 year old I found at the Humane Society, in February so I’m still not alone. I almost wonder if they didn’t sense that their job here was done… that I was finally in a truly healthy and content place after all the trauma and that they could finally let go.

I’m sure there are those who would believe that is giving way too much credit to a couple of animals… but I don’t care.  They stuck by me through 15 moves over those years, countless depressive episodes, job changes, many breakups and the death of my brother and my Mom…. by far the worst losses I’ll ever experience. They were far more than “just animals” to me… they were my best friends, my support system and they were my family.

I’m going to bury them together beneath the memorial tree I have for you and Moomie in my back yard soon.  I hope that Bear and Bubba found their way to you and Momma up there in your part of the universe… please tell them I love them so dearly and I’m beyond grateful for all the love and loyalty they showed me in return.  I’ll never forget them.

Love Always,
Laura

Photo credit: http://heartoflifephotography.com/
Photo credit: http://heartoflifephotography.com/
Photo credit: http://heartoflifephotography.com/
Photo credit: http://heartoflifephotography.com/
Best friends.
Best friends.

Letter to Brian: December 24, 2016

Dear Brian,

It’s been 2 months since my last letter to you.  I think about writing every day but haven’t been able to find the right words lately. There’s a lot to catch you up on!

For starters, I had an accident a while back.  On November 5th, in the middle of a beautiful fall day, I took a hard spill off a single step in my breezeway… and fractured both of my ankles.  Yes, BOTH of them.  I went down so fast I didn’t even have time to react or to brace myself; in hindsight that’s probably a good thing as a broken wrist would only served to have complicated my recovery and (lack of independence) much further.

Upon crashing to the ground after tripping on my step, I took a moment to mentally survey my body for pain to see if I was OK.  Being in shock, I didn’t immediately feel anything.  However, a glance down at my feet told me I was in for some trouble when I saw that my right foot was pointed at a 90 degree angle away from where it SHOULD have been pointing… and my left ankle was quite visibly swollen as well.

Once I realized how badly my foot was injured I screamed for help and my amazing friends and neighbors came rushing to my side.  One look at my mangled foot prompted their call for an ambulance.  They stayed with me, elevated my leg and held my hand until help arrived.  I’m ashamed to admit that less than 2 weeks earlier I had another emotional slip up and I had cut… and, as a result, had a bandage on my arm covering the disgusting wound.  As much pain as my ankle was in, the thing that made me cry was the multiple questions about my scars.  From the EMT on my right it was, “I see you have a bandage on your left arm… was that from today?  What’s going on under there… anything we need to be concerned about?”  I assured him that no, it was not anything to be concerned about… but did explain that the bandage was covering a self-inflicted injury in the early stages of healing yet.  Then from the EMT at my feet came another inquiry, “I see some scars here down by your ankle… have you had surgery on this ankle before?”  Again, I admitted to having cut myself there years earlier.  And, as they scanned my body and observed more and more scars, the questions continued to come… and  each and every time I replied with, “self-inflicted injury…. yup, that was me… yeah, same thing there, too.”  I distinctly remember starting to cry out of sheer humiliation as I squeezed my friend’s hand I said to her, “God, this is humiliating, I’m so embarrassed.” That’s what finally made me cry… having my emotional flaw put right out there front and center like that. And it continued for the next few days; each time a new nurse or doctor spotted my bandage I had to reveal that horrible thing about myself yet again and see that look of disappointment in their eyes… and then endure the inevitable visit from the social worker as a result.

But I did a real number on my ankles and my right one required surgery– they implanted a plate and 10 screws when putting it back together.  After a few days in the hospital I was released home and I have to say that the silver lining to this ordeal has been being reminded how much I’m loved and supported.  I can’t even begin to tell you how grateful I am for the support system I have here; dozens and dozens of people rallied for me by setting me up with all the equipment and tools I’d need at home to get by, providing me with meals and household supplies, cleaned my home, cared for my cats, brought me to appointments and provided care around the clock for weeks.  Being someone who hates asking for any kind of help, it was astoundingly humbling to find myself in a position to require help for literally every single activity of self-care… but I found myself so supported that I knew I didn’t need to worry about a single thing.  I like to think that maybe you and Mooooomie had a hand in sending me that flood of help since you couldn’t be here to help me yourselves.

The strange thing is, literally the day before my accident I’d been having a particularly sad day and was feeling painfully lonely and wrote these words in my journal:

I’m the person you invite out because you feel you HAVE to… you know, just to be nice.  I’m awkward and I don’t know that I really fit in anywhere.  I’m like one of those plants that up top looks healthy but underneath it isn’t really rooted well; it’s just a matter of time before it dies.

It might sound silly but I believe that maybe that’s why this happened… maybe I needed a reminder, albeit a bit of an aggressive one, that I’m absolutely not alone and that I have so many people in my life who love and care for me.  During this ordeal I’ve managed to keep my spirits up thanks to the amazing network of loving souls I’m lucky enough to call my family and friends.  It’s not lost on me that I’m truly blessed.

Last weekend my good friends came over with the most delicious hot cocoa you’ve ever tasted, put on some Christmas music and decorated my Christmas tree with all of Moooomie’s ornaments for me as I wasn’t able to do it myself.  After they left, I put the presents I’d already wrapped under the tree and just stared at it for a while.  I began to cry as I felt this overwhelming warmth in my heart… I have people in my life who care enough for me to do that!  I have people in my life for whom I can buy gifts.  I have a life full of love.  Not everyone has that… and I think this is going to be a good Christmas for me, Brian.  Of course I miss you and Moooomie something terrible but I also know how lucky I am to have such an amazing support system.

My soul is feeling oddly at ease lately… a confusing, new feeling for me, for sure.  But know that while I miss you and Momma, I have little reminders of you everywhere… not just the pictures or mementos or the memories; I am literally surrounded by people who knew and loved you both who continue to love and support me today.

I just wanted to let you know that I really think I’m going to be OK… there’s been a very real shift in my mind and in my heart lately and I’m going to do my very best to keep this feeling of love and gratitude going for as long as I can.

Merry Christmas, dude.  Please hug Mooooomie for me and tell her I miss her so deeply.

All my love,
Laura

 

 

 

Letter to Brian: October 13, 2016

Dear Brian,

Today makes exactly 6 years since you took your own life.  Last year I spent this day with Moomie and some close friends eating pizza and remembering you. When no one else could understand the depth of my pain, she was the one I could call and know that she was going through the very same thing. This one hurts.  A lot.

I hardly know where to begin as it’s been 3 months since my last letter.  You’re on my mind every moment of every day but I keep putting off writing because I know that as soon as I type the words “Dear Brian” the tears start to flow.  And it seems today is no different.  But here goes…

Since my last letter, I packed up everything I own and the kitties and I left Texas and moved back to our hometown of Red Wing, Minnesota.  I’m just as surprised as anyone that I ended up back here but there was something pulling me back.  As much as I appreciate the upbringing we were afforded by being raised in a small, close-knit community, I am so deeply grateful for the 20 years I spent between Minneapolis and Austin, Texas.  My time in those cities brought me to places I’d have never been, people I’d never have met and the kind of scenery, food, music and culture I’d have never been able to experience in a town this size.  I made amazing friends in my time away… people I now proudly call “family.” It opened up my eyes to the world beyond what we saw growing up and it helped me to learn so much more about myself than I could have learned by staying here.  I’m a better person for having been away but something in my soul told me this is the place I needed to be.

Leaving Austin was bittersweet.  I was so excited for the fresh start but it was hard to uproot myself and move forward and away from the people I’d come to love over the past 7 years.  Just before my last day at work, my coworkers presented me with a notebook in which they’d all left a note for me.  I still read it often because it warms my heart to know that I was so deeply cared about. I desperately want to be able to see myself the way that they all described me.  I sounded like a pretty fantastic person in their words… I’m still working on seeing myself the same way.  But, I digress…

I’ve now been back here for 2 months.  I’m settled in at my new job and enjoy what I do and I absolutely adore the people I’m working with; they’ve really made me feel very welcome there and we laugh a lot.  And I bought a house!  It’s adorable and it’s the perfect size for just me and the kitties and they’ve adapted alarmingly well.  I’ve managed to settle back into a very comfortable and relaxed routine here and there isn’t a single part of me that questions the decision I made to come back.  As much as I loved my life in Austin, there is something so comforting about driving around town and seeing not only places that remind me of you and Mom… but also spending time with people who love me, loved you and loved her.  It warms my heart to be sitting at a local pub and hear someone say, “Hey, I knew your brother, he graduated with me.  Really sweet guy.”  It doesn’t bring you back, but it does make you feel a little bit closer.  And just hearing someone mention your name always makes my heart leap a bit.  It’s so comforting to know that others still remember you… and remember you so fondly.

I recently stopped in at Buchanan Grocery.  So many memories at that little neighborhood store!  As I was paying for my groceries, I glanced behind the cashier to see that they still  have the old, wooden counter that was there when we were kids.  I felt tears start to well up in my eyes as the flood of images took over in my head.  We’d pass by every morning and afternoon as we walked to and from our elementary school on the corner next to the store and sometimes stop for a snack on the way home.  In the summer you and I would ride our bikes there almost every day; Miss Kathy was always so patient when we’d toss our heaping pile of pennies on the counter and ask her, “Do we have enough money for these wax lips and candy cigarettes?”  She’d quietly count them out and help us pick out our candy.  When Mom would run out of eggs or milk, she’d send the two of us there to pick it up and she’d always send a “little extra” for us to pick out a special treat.  And, as a thank you, we’d often return with a bouquet of dandelions for her that she’d lovingly display in a vase on the counter.  And, from what I’ve been told, you are still remembered there so fondly by the people who worked with you when you bagged groceries there.  They say you were one of the best workers they’ve ever had.  And I don’t doubt that.

I still struggle a lot though, dude.  I miss you and Moomie so, so much.  As much as I know this is the right place for me, I still feel pretty alone most of the time. I have great friends but they all have husbands, wives, children of their own and their extended families. But I’m doing a better job getting myself out there and socializing… certainly much more than I’d been doing my last year in Austin. I’ve self-injured 3 times since moving back which might seem like a lot… but knowing myself, and how much change can trigger those urges, I’m pretty OK with that number.  Like I’ve said… I’m still a work in progress and I’m learning to be gentler with myself when I have setbacks.  On that same topic, I’ve been asked to participate in a book about self-harm and I’m so hopeful that the words I’m sharing will help someone out there going through the same thing… or even help the people that love them to understand it a little bit better.

Being back here has been so good for me… but I’m still finding myself having to try so hard to keep my head above water.  Emotionally, that is.  I keep recalling one particular night not long before I moved back when I was feeling so overwhelmed by it all… the packing, the moving, the job hunt, finding a place to live… and doing it all without you and Momma to share it with me.  There was one terrifying moment when I looked in the mirror and I heard myself say, “I’m going back home to die.”

I realize that sounds awful… well, it IS awful.  And  I’m still fighting through that horrible feeling most days.  I just have to keep making it a priority to choose hope over and over again. It’s not something that comes naturally to me but this change, this new house, this new life… well, they are making happiness seem a little less out of reach than in years past.

Some very dear friends remembered what this week means for me and gave me a beautiful card.  In the card was a note that they’d paid to have a memorial tree planted for you and Moomie now that I’m finally in my own place… all I had to do was go pick one out.  It was planted yesterday and I already spread some of your ashes there.  I woke up this morning to see that beautiful tree in my yard today, the 6th anniversary of your suicide.  That tree is a symbol not just of you and Moomie but also a symbol of the hope that I’m doing my very best to cling to each day.  Please continue to watch over me and maybe give me a nudge in the direction of that hope if you see me slipping away from it.

I miss you more than I could ever possibly articulate in words. Your death has left a hole so deep in my heart.  You were my brother and you were my friend.

Remembering you today and always.

Love,
Laura

20161012_171453

Letter to Brian: July 8, 2016

Dear Brian,

It’s a strange feeling having so many millions of thoughts running about in your head but feeling absolutely incapable of finding any of the words needed to adequately articulate those thoughts.  It’s like those horrible dreams when you find yourself completely immobilized and unable to move in the face of danger… all you can do is watch yourself stand there, frozen, as some unnamed attacker closes in on you.

The events of the past few days, with more civilians being gunned down at routine traffic stops and with snipers intentionally gunning down police officers in response, have only weakened my already fragile heart.  There’s so much unnecessary violence and hatred.  I just don’t understand it.  And I’m finding it so difficult to find any shred of hope that our world will be able to undo all the damage we’ve done; not only to one another but to our physical environment and to the animals that require it for their survival.

Each and every time I hear yet another story about people acting out against one another in hatred and violence I recall these words you sent to me shortly before you took your life:

“It’s been a constant battle for me nearly every day, and I found myself struggling more and more as I got older. I don’t have a whole lot of faith in the future of the world, and that makes it so much harder to try to cope with people and the way they can be. As the years have gone by, I’ve had more and more trouble trying to feel happiness. At best, I can only see that I’ll grow old and more depressed, and at worst I can be unhappy while I watch the world undo itself.”

Your words still haunt me every single day.  Admittedly, I still read that letter now and again and it never gets any easier, dude. Your pain was so palpable and I can’t deny that I still feel each word so deeply, as if I had written them myself.  With each and every single announcement of another mass shooting, of increasing government corruption, of the exploitation of children, of people using religion as a basis for their hate of people who are different, of gang violence, of civilians and cops shooting one another, of hatred towards other races and far too many others to list… I hear your voice in my head repeating, “the world is undoing itself… the world is undoing itself.”  It has been doing so for years but there is just something in my soul that is causing me to fear things have gone too far to turn around.  I want to be hopeful, I really do… and maybe it’s my own depression talking, but it’s becoming so hard to remain hopeful.

And I can’t ignore the shocking similarities between your words and the words of the tenderhearted giant John Coffey in the movie “The Green Mile” when it came time for his own execution:

“I want it to be over and done with.  I do. I’m tired, boss. Tired of bein’ on the road, lonely as a sparrow in the rain. Tired of not ever having me a buddy to be with, or tell me where we’s going to or coming from, or why. Mostly I’m tired of people being ugly to each other. I’m tired of all the pain I feel and hear in the world everyday. There’s too much of it. It’s like pieces of glass in my head all the time. Can you understand?”

I can’t believe I hadn’t identified that connection before but now it’s so glaringly obvious to me.  In the film,  John is about to be executed for a crime he didn’t commit and his soon-to-be executioner is trying to grapple with how he’ll ever manage to live with himself after killing an innocent and deeply loving man with a beautiful heart.  But he is assured by Mr. Coffey that death will, indeed, be a kindness brought upon him as he is just so tired of the suffering he endures every single day. As I’m typing this, it occurs to me that while watching that scene in the movie my heart was so heavy as I watched this man suffering so much that he just wanted someone to humanely end the pain for him.  I understood then.  I understood when you needed your own pain to end.  I still understand today.

I have some news for you, too.  I’ve decided to move back to Minnesota, dude.  The kitties and I are leaving Texas in a few weeks!  It brings me comfort to know that people that knew and loved you and Mooooomie will be near to me again.  I’ve made some incredible friends here in Texas but there is something to be said about the extra-special nature of friendships and relationships that go back many, many years.  I think I’m finally at the point where being closer to the people and places you both loved are no longer painful but bring more of a wistful longing of sorts; being near those people and places seem to make you guys feel a little less far away.

It gives me hope that I have some positive changes to look forward to now.  I recently reconnected with a dear family member whom I hadn’t seen in 20 years and I’m grateful that I’ll be able to spend more time with her now that I’ll be much closer.  I’ve missed the four seasons so much that this fall I have a feeling I’ll be spending nearly all of my spare time outside just sitting somewhere near the river and staring at the landscapes splashed in streaks of red, orange and gold.  I think I’ll probably even find myself walking alone some night after a snowfall when the world is asleep and is so quiet I’ll actually be able hear the snowflakes hitting the ground if I stop to listen closely.  I can imagine myself sitting in a comfortable chair, reading a book and listening to a spring thunderstorm moving through town.  And I know there will be a lot of good times with my old friends and the new ones I’ll make.

And I found a job, dude!  I was so nervous because, as much as I hate to admit it, these words that ‘you-know-who’ said to me a few months back were still buzzing around in my head: “Don’t quit your job though because with all the things you say about yourself to the whole world will find its way to prospective employers. They check on that now. I suggest you no longer write a blog like the one today because do you think an employer would hire you after reading that stuff??”  Those are not words you say to someone you care about.  Those are not words you say to someone you want to uplift.  Encourage.  Support.  And that’s OK.  I have unending support from so many people.  It was their words that I took with me to my interviews– the ones that said, You are kind.  You are capable.  You are deserving. You can do this.”

Am I flawed?  Absolutely.  Who isn’t? But I am also honest, smart, hard-working, reliable and independent.  And I’m also stronger than those words that tried to tell me otherwise.

I’m sorry I haven’t written more lately, things have been pretty busy and pretty complicated.  But I’m looking forward to being home.  I miss you and Momma every minute, dude.

All my love,
Laura

 

Letter to Brian: May 9, 2016

Dear Brian,

Well yesterday was Mother’s Day.  And it was my first Mother’s Day without Moooooomie.  I don’t think I’ve ever felt as deeply alone as I did yesterday, dude.  The one person I knew I could absolutely count on to remember what holidays and anniversaries mean after a loss like this is gone; Mooomie was the only one I could always look to on those days and know that she knew what I was going through because she was going through it, too.  But yesterday there were moments I just sat there feeling sorry for myself and figuring everyone had forgotten me.  I was drowning.  I did have a couple of dear souls reach out to me yesterday because they knew it was going to be a difficult day for me.  I’m so deeply grateful they remembered. But one thing in particular really got me good in the feels… my friend got me a Mother’s Day card from Bear and Bubba, my cats.  There are no words to describe what that meant to me because that is something that Moooomie did for me every single year; I always got a card from “my kids” with a little gift. I don’t know if this friend happened to know that already or if she just wanted to do something nice for me… or if maybe Mooomie gave her a little nudge from the “other side.”  However it came to be, it was amazing and it meant the world to me because it gave me back a little reminder of what Mother’s Day was like when Moooomie was still here.

The night before, I had gone to bed at 7:45pm… for the second night in a row.  I still managed to sleep in until about 11:00am and waddled from the bed out to the couch to snack on cold, leftover pizza and watch one of Mom’s favorite TV series.  The episode I’d had cued up next just so happened to be one that highlighted the strong love between a Mother and her child and at the end of the emotional 45-minute episode I found myself sobbing uncontrollably.  I decided that was a good time to go back to bed for a while; after all, I’d already been up for over an hour.  I needed my rest.  Honestly, I just didn’t want to be awake for any of it.  And I knew I certainly didn’t want to go out in public where I’d undoubtedly be surrounded by families everywhere and I just plain didn’t want to see them celebrating what I couldn’t.

I assume at some point this aching in my soul will dissipate; I’ve spent the last 5 years learning how to navigate my life without you in it, now I just have to learn how to do that all over again with our Moooomie.  The difference is now, I don’t have you to rely on in my grief like I had her to rely on when I was grieving for you.  I recall being so deeply envious when I’d see my friends with their siblings and it was really hard to be around them because it reminded me of what I had lost.  I wanted what they had. That feeling slowly improved and it doesn’t hurt as much as it used to when I see siblings together.  I mean, it still hurts… but it doesn’t debilitate me as often as it did a few years ago.  But shit… yesterday just did a really awful number on me.  And get this, dude… as horrible as I was feeling yesterday, I managed to not harm myself at all yesterday.  Go figure!  And I even found the energy to get some cleaning done at the apartment!  I can’t take too much credit for that, however.  Had there not been an internet outage in my neighborhood, I assure you that I’d have continued to plant myself in front of the TV for an all-day Netflix marathon until it was time to move back to the bed again.  But instead I used those few hours without WiFi to give my little abode some much needed TLC.  Another surprise.

After I figured I’d done enough “work” for the day I decided to order some Chinese food for dinner.  Again.  Since the WiFi was still not working I decided to watch your favorite movie, “Gladiator.”  I’ve watched that movie at least once a year since you died because it makes me feel closer to you.  I was about an inch away from putting in Moooomie’s Memorial DVD but the thought of seeing a steady stream of pictures of her just seemed to be far more than I was capable of handling yesterday.  So Gladiator won out, instead.  I’ve always seen so many similarities between you and the moral character of Maximus and I can readily see why you loved the movie so much.  But yesterday was my first time watching it since Mooomie died and that last scene ripped my heart out and stomped it to pieces; it might as well have been just another hunk of meat on the dusty floor of the Colosseum.  There was Maximus, in his very last seconds of life and you can see the very moment when his eyes begin to fixate on something not seen by those around him and you just know, at that very moment, that he’s leaving this world to reunite with his wife and son, who have been waiting on the other side for him.  A relaxed smile comes across his face as he takes his last breath.  And you know he was with them again.  And I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want that for myself.

I still haven’t really figured out what it is that’s keeping me here, to be honest.  But I’m still here and I’m still trying.  And that’s the best I can do for now!

I hope that our sweet Moooomie was able to spend this Mother’s Day with you.  Her heart was so badly wounded when you left us, dude.  Please take good care of her over there.

Love,

Laura

Mooooomie as a little girl. I was obsessed with this photo growing up, she looked just like a doll!
Mooooomie when she was a little girl. I was obsessed with this photo growing up… she looked just like a doll!

 

Letter to Brian: May 6, 2016

Dear Brian,

This past weekend, success for me meant I put away the dishes in the dishwasher so I could load the ones that had been sitting in the sink for over a week.  It meant that I brushed my teeth and I showered and I left the house for a whole hour to buy groceries.  I realize that doesn’t sound like much of an accomplishment, but the way I’ve been feeling the past few months, I have had to find pride in winning even the tiniest of battles.  It’s really difficult to describe to people who don’t experience depressive episodes what it really feels like in your body and in your mind.  You know how when you’re sick with the flu and your entire body aches all over?  You feel sick to your stomach?  You can’t ever seem to get enough sleep?  Absolutely anything and everything feels like a daunting and exhausting task?  When you’re feeling that sick, sometimes just getting out of bed and standing long enough to take a shower is enough to wipe out what remaining energy you have left?  That’s what chronic depression feels like physically.  And lately, I’ve been able to add a constant and nagging feeling of anxiety and hypervigilance that won’t seem to leave my side; I just feel so agitated.  All. The. Time.  I guess it might be time to look at switching medications.  Again.

While it doesn’t occur nearly as much as it used to, I’ve still been struggling with the self-injury.  I had an incident a few weeks ago… before that one had really even begun to heal I ended up doing it again this past Monday.  I was feeling terribly sad and anxious and nervous; when I’m feeling that much intensity inside already it really doesn’t take much to push me completely over that edge.  I made time in my lunch break to rush home and within a 15 minute timeframe I had gotten home to my apartment, gathered my tools, harmed myself significantly, bandaged it up and left again to head back to work already feeling the relief of that release.  On my way back to work I stopped for a Diet Coke and the cashier at my local convenience store said to me in his endearing accent: “Always with the smiling face you have, I love to see it! Such a long time since you were here to show me the smile. Smiling is the best medicine!!” He obviously had no idea that I had literally just sliced my leg open to the point that a vein was actually visibly showing not even 10 minutes earlier and that underneath my dress was a huge bundle of bandages covering up that gaping wound in my upper thigh. What can I say? I’m a master of disguise.

I distinctly remember one evening in junior high school when I had a friend over for dinner and to help each other get ready for the school dance that night.  I was doing her hair and makeup and she looked at me and said, “You’re always so happy and you always cheer me up. I wish I could be happy like that all the time… like you are.” I remember being so confused and thinking to myself, “Boy if she only knew that earlier today I was thinking up ways to kill myself.”  You just never know what is going on inside of someone or what battles they are fighting every day.  It shouldn’t hurt to hear someone say, “You’re so happy and cheery all the time, I love it;” but it does hurt.  A lot.  Because most days I’m faking it so my disposition is more palatable for those around me.  If I showed them how I was really feeling inside, I fear that no one would ever want to speak to me.  Some days I do experience joy, though… genuine joy.  Maybe that’s what keeps me going… those moments where there is proof of life in there somewhere!

I literally still see myself as that seriously awkward and profoundly bizarre kid that didn’t quite fit in anywhere. The one whose grade school friends easily transitioned into the “cool crowd” in junior and senior high school and pretended I didn’t exist when their new friends were around.  And most of the time I still feel as though the people who invite me out to dinners and happy hours and concerts are only doing so out of pity or obligation or because they simply don’t want to hurt my feelings.  It doesn’t ever occur to me that they really might enjoy my company.  If anyone out there has any advice as to how to develop a healthy self-esteem, I’ll be first in line.  Seriously, sign me up for that shit.  How many years of therapy should it take until that catches on?  I guess you first have to have hope, wouldn’t you?  I mean, it’s like not wanting to fix a part on your car because you’re going to be selling it soon anyway…. is it really worth it?  But, I digress…  I remember back in school even feeling that “vibe” from other parents and teachers who could see how awkward I was; I didn’t have that “magnetism” that the class clowns and the prom queens had… you know the type– the one that can walk into a room and everyone turns to notice them and they say something ridiculously charming and the whole room laughs with them.  Even teachers gravitated more naturally to those students, presumably because they were more engaging and fun to be around.  I was far too shy to get involved in the class participation and in terms of the social order of my peers I was the one most likely to get a snowball shoved in my face by one of the bullies for wearing a men’s suit and wing tips to school that day and who often spent her lunch hour crying alone in a corner of a secluded hallway.

I had myself a nasty fall in the shower last weekend… I totally lost my balance and fell backwards out of the shower and planted hard on the bathroom floor after hitting my head on the wall.  Super classy.  But boy, was I sore!!  A few days later the pain was really getting to me so I decided to book massage.  I’ve always been deeply surprised that I allow myself to be vulnerable enough to do that; considering my long history with an unhealthy fear of physical touch, I’m baffled that I find the courage to do that, honestly.  And even more so because I’m absolutely covered in scars that run all up and down my arms, legs and my breasts.  I never know how a new massage therapist (or doctor, for that matter) is going to respond to that.  Some people are absolutely silent about it. There’s absolutely no way that they don’t see them, but they simply choose to not bring it up.  I find that to be a great relief to me.  But most practitioners bring it up immediately.  That was the case this week.

I was already on edge because it was going to be a male therapist and given my early-rooted fear of men, that’s typically a deal breaker for me; but I was in so much pain, I took the first available appointment I could get.  He asked me what brought me there and if I had any specific areas on which I needed work.  I told him about the fall and that I wanted the focus strictly on my upper body– from the waist up.  He tried to steer me away from that and say that it would be beneficial to me to at least do some work on the lower body as well, particularly since I had booked a whole 90 minutes.  After a few timid attempts to get me to agree to that I decided to just be upfront and said, “Well, I have an injury on my left thigh.  It’s bandaged up, and it’s extremely painful; if you work on my legs, please just work from the knee down.”  That didn’t seem to phase him so he said, “If you’re comfortable with it, we can just try and work around that area… and you can let me know if you feel any pain.”  So I reluctantly agreed.

The first extremity he worked on was my right arm.  Immediately he said, “Wow, you have sooooo many scars!”  Again, I was upfront and I told him that yes, I’m covered in scars and that they are the result of years and years of self-inflicted injuries.  That I’m on medication and I see a therapist regularly but sometimes it still happens.  That the bandages on my legs were because I had done it again recently.  I was feeling pretty anxious inside thinking what he might possibly say to me next. His response made me relax immediately.  He just calmly said, “Hey, we’ve all got to deal with the chaos in the world in a way that works for each of us, you know?” Yes!!  Soooooooo much yes.  When it came time to work on my left leg, I felt an initial twinge of panic as the blanket was moved to expose my leg and the bulky bandage I’d been hiding for the past few days.  It was a surreal feeling to allow this stranger to see that and somehow I managed to let my fear of judgment just fall away and allowed myself to really relax.  I confuse the hell out of myself some days.

I had a ticket to a concert last night and I just couldn’t seem to force myself to go. I really wanted to go… but the energy just wasn’t there and the thought of driving there, parking, being in a crowded room all seemed just incredibly unappealing to me.  Somehow, it seemed like a better idea to sit on my couch and binge-watch Netflix while sipping whiskey in my underwear and have food delivered from the Chinese restaurant ACROSS THE STREET from me. (For the record, I did not answer the door in my underwear.  I do have standards.)  But it is what it is… I missed the show and don’t feel all that bad about it.  Maybe I’ll try again another time.  And maybe I won’t.

Well, my well of words has temporarily run dry… not too much more for me to say today.  But thanks for letting me get all of this off my chest, dude.  Please tell Mooooomie how much I miss her.

Much love,
Laura

 

 

 

Letter to Brian: April 28, 2016

Dear Brian,

Well I’ve been having a pretty rough streak here lately.  I know grief, and depression, are known to come and go in cycles and there’s no telling when an episode will hit or hard it will hit me.  This one hasn’t been the worst I’ve had… but I’ve certainly had better.  Though I am getting a little better at forgiving myself for my setbacks than I used to be… and for cutting myself some slack (pardon the pun) when I slip up and self-injure like I did again this past weekend.  My therapist, and my dear friends, have helped me to get to a place where I am better about saying to myself, “OK, so that happened.  Now let’s move on!  Give yourself a break, you’re dealing with a lot.”  I appreciate their understanding so, so much.  It’s a far less-lonely place dealing with it when you are open about it with those closest to you; dealing with all of that alone for so many years was more painful yet.

We also just passed the 5 month mark since losing Mooooomie and her death is becoming more and more difficult for me now.  I think it’s because until now I’ve still had so many details to deal with that have been distracting me from the pain: paying the rest of her bills, closing accounts, canceling magazines, moving her belongings out of her place and storing it, handling the estate (which wasn’t finalized until just a few weeks ago), doing her taxes, getting her car fixed and I’m still working on the thank you notes from the funeral yet! I have no excuse for that– it’s just each time I sit down and read through the cards I have a complete meltdown and I’ve been trying to avoid that as often as possible.

But now, I’m arranging to have the rest of her belongings (and her vehicle) shipped down here to Texas.  I guess the fact that the final details are now about to be finished makes the reality of the situation harder to ignore.  I’m so glad I’ll have her Subaru with me, though.  I have so many memories of time spent with her in that car… and it was the last place I saw her; she dropped me off at the airport in it back in October.  She hugged me so tight and cried more than usual, Brian.  It absolutely broke my heart to turn away from her to leave.  Really… I was crushed.  So my plan is to sell my own vehicle and keep hers.  I remember how sad I was letting your car go… I so wished that we had hung on to that; I’m not going to make the same mistake again.  And I know each time that I drive her car and I accelerate quickly I’ll hear Mooooomie’s silly voice saying, “Yes… my car likes to go buh-bye.”  I wish every single day that she didn’t have to go “buh-bye” too. We weren’t finished  yet.

I think another reason this past week hit me extra, extra hard is because of Prince’s death a week ago today.  Obviously, I didn’t know him personally, but having a death so widely publicized, particularly of an artist that meant so much to Minnesota and to my childhood, has been pretty triggering.  And, like always, there are so many comments surfacing that have upset me a great deal– very similar to after the suicide of Robin Williams.  Because they were a public figure, so many people seem to feel entitled to know all the details about his death– who found him, what he was wearing, who last spoke to him, the results of the autopsy, who he left his fortune to and so much more.  The thing is, the only people who truly deserve to know the answers to all of those questions are his closest of friends and family.  Not only because he was such a private individual, but because that kind of information just isn’t necessary for the rest of us, you know?  I can’t imagine the pain of having the details of your loved one’s death hashed over and over again in the media with people speculating about all kinds of terrible things about him before he was even laid to rest.  If that had happened when you died, I can’t imagine how that would have hurt.

I’m also painfully aware that Mother’s Day is coming up and I’m SO tired of seeing ads and receiving emails saying, “Hey!  Show your Mom how much you love her this Mother’s Day with a huge bouquet of spring flowers!”  If only I could do that.  I know her birthday, a few months later, will bring up much of the same pain.

I read a story recently that really made me think.  It was about a man who had passed away in his apartment in New York City and no one noticed for a week… until the stench of is rotting flesh alerted his neighbors, prompting a call to the police.  I can’t help but think that someday that will be me.  It’s not that far-fetched, really.  Considering how much I hide away from people and how infrequently I speak with most of my friends, it wouldn’t be a stretch to think that a week could go by before anyone would have a clue.  Though I do have a job… so I guess that may be the one thing that would alert someone sooner; if I were to not show up at work for a few days, or even a single day, without notifying anyone, that would be uncharacteristic of me and would raise a red flag.  I realize as I’m typing this how morbid that sounds… but it’s absolutely true.  After all, it happened with you– you were dead nearly 7 days before we found out.  That will haunt me the rest of my days… I’m so ashamed.

I really don’t know what brought this to my mind recently, but it’s been creeping up on me often the past few weeks so I guess it’s worth mentioning to you.  I was reminded of one of our annual fishing trips up to Snyder Lake… we went nearly every year.  The particular year I have in mind was the summer before I started the 8th grade.  I vividly remember choosing to stay back at the cabin and read my book while you, Mom and Dad took the boat out to do some early evening crappie fishing.  I had been experiencing a crushing bout of depression and was… well, just so deeply sad.  I remember walking out the cabin door and picking up the rifle  we had left leaning against the wall after shooting at some beer cans earlier in the day.  I held it with the barrel pointed toward the sky and then slowly lowered it and I placed the barrel in my mouth.  I don’t remember very much after that aside from crying and thinking to myself, “I can’t let my family find me like this.”  So at some point I put it down and went back inside and picked my “Sweet Valley High” book back up and when y’all came back from fishing none of you had absolutely no clue as to what had transpired while you were away.  Looking back, I can’t help but think what a disaster that would have been.  The thing is, the rifle wouldn’t have killed me; at age 13, I didn’t know nearly enough about guns to have realized that the weapon I’d held in my mouth would only have injured me very severely and who knows what my face would have looked like after that or what kind of reduced mental faculties I may have suffered… but I do know the odds of it successfully taking my life are very, very slim.  I honestly don’t know if I’ve ever told anyone that story ever before… and I can’t say why that image has been running through my head so much lately! But I guess it’s safe to tell you, and Mom, about it now. I’m so sorry.

I’m doing my very best to power through this recent surge in my depression… I come to work, I get through the day (with the help of frequent trips to the bathroom where I can cry alone in the stall), I go home and am in bed most nights before 9:00 not only because I’m so exhausted all the time but also because I just find it easier to bear when I sleep through it.  I’ve been trying to motivate myself to exercise because I despise the condition my body is currently in but I can’t seem to find the energy to do it.  I don’t care for the “snap out of it” advice when it comes my way.  I mean… how do you “just power through it” when the very organ needed to motivate yourself, your brain, is the part that’s so badly broken?

You’d be proud of me, though… I just booked a vacation for myself for January of 2017.  It’s so oddly optimistic of me… planning something that far ahead and looking forward to it, even.  Look at me, I must be growing.  Baby steps…

That’s all for now, dude.

Love,
Laura

 

 

 

 

 

 

Letter to Brian: April 12, 2016

Dear Brian,

One week ago tonight I was able to fulfill a lifelong dream of being able to see the incredible Jane Goodall speak here in Austin. I was completely mesmerized from the very moment she stepped on the stage and started telling us the stories of where her love of animals began. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been completely head over heels in love with animals of all kinds.  As a young girl, I often carried around a styrofoam cup filled with dirt and earthworms as little pets; Mom would occasionally receive a call from a disgruntled mother telling her that I had, yet again, forgotten my “cup o’ worms” at their house and I’d be sent back over there to collect them immediately.  Turns out, that was one of Jane’s first experience with critters as well; when she was very, very young her mother had found that Jane had taken a handful of earthworms to bed with her.  She gently reminded Jane that without dirt they would die so the two of them went to the garden together to return the worms to their home.  That began her journey with animals and Jane’s mother is the person she credits the most for supporting her in carving out a path for herself in her lifelong career of studying, caring for, writing about and sharing her knowledge of animals with the world.

That part really struck a chord within me having just lost our Momma, Brian.  I recall Mom telling me stories not only about my worm friends but of injured birds, bunnies, toads and mice as well as crickets, grasshoppers and snakes.  And when I would find a dead bird in the yard, I somehow thought, at such a tender, young age that the bird deserved better than to lie there in the grass alone– that it needed a proper and respectful burial.  I’d collect the bird and gently place it in a little box (usually the boxes that Mom’s checks from the bank were shipped in) lined with Kleenex I had constructed into a little bed, blanket and pillow so the little winged creature could spend eternity resting comfortably.  Nice thought and all, but sometimes I would forget to bury them and Mom would be alerted to their presence in my room by a persistent odor… only to find that I’d placed the box under my bed and had proceeded to forget about it.  I know it must have frustrated her, but she was always so loving and never got angry at me when she’d find a decomposing bird in my room, when she’d wake in the morning to find that my giant grasshopper had somehow escaped from the jar I’d placed it in and was lurking somewhere in her kitchen or even when I set up a little “morgue” on the back patio and was performing an autopsy on a dead mouse to determine the cause of death. (She gave me the freedom to be curious instead of ruining my experiment by pointing out the obvious– that a mouse found floating in the dog’s water bowl likely died by drowning.)  So to hear Jane speak so highly of her own Mom who encouraged her love of animals really touched me deeply. And of course, we had a father who was a veterinarian; that only furthered my interest in creatures of all kinds.  You and I both loved going for rides to the farms and visiting the clinic to watch him work.

She then went on to speak about a stuffed animal, a cow, given to her by a friend.  She named it “Cow.”  Again, that rattled something deep in my insides as I recalled a stuffed cow I had purchased for myself in college (yes, in college) and I too named him “Cow.”  From my lofty seats in the upper stratosphere of the Paramount Theater, it looked shockingly identical to my own Cow and I felt an increasingly deep connection to this famous, gentle stranger standing behind the podium below.

So many things she spoke about resonated with me but I’ll share just a few with you.  One thing in particular that hit home is about “stuff” and America’s obsession with collecting “stuff” we don’t need.  I was reminded to shop more thoughtfully in the future– if not only by shopping more frequently at thrift stores to purchase used items then by really thinking hard about what I’m about to purchase and considering if it is truly something I need.  She offered this quote from Mahatma Gandhi:

The Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need but not for every man’s greed.

We are destroying our planet with greed.  I want to be more aware of how my actions affect not only those humans around me, but also the humans, animals and environment all around the world.  Every action we take has a reaction elsewhere.  It’s easy to turn a blind eye to the effects of your actions when you aren’t immediately effected by them– but I want to try and do better by the world.  And I was reminded during every single second of her talk that I still feel this ache so deep in my heart and my soul for not having a career working with animals.  It’s where my desire has always been.  I need to really figure out what I’m so afraid of in terms of trying to make that a reality for myself someday.  I know both you and Moooomie would want that for me, too.

I was also reminded of how shockingly similar animals, particularly chimpanzees, are to us humans.  They too display bouts of anger and rage, of sadness and grief, of joy and love, and they can show among each other acts of greed and acts of altruism.  I’ll forever possess a desire learn as much as I possibly can about them and all animals, really.  I’m constantly reading books about them– canine massage, Tellington Touch, stories about animal intelligence, dog breeds, cat breeds, rescue stories… I can’t ever learn enough.

Jane also spoke of what we call promoting”tolerance” in our society.  She proclaimed how she prefers the idea of respect over tolerance;  because, as she said, “You tolerate roaches in your kitchen.  You should not tolerate a human being for their differences, you should respect them.”

After I’d already been waiting in the autograph line for nearly an hour, the man behind me began to grumble to me about feeling slighted because those who were waiting in line with young children were allowed to go straight to the front of the line (being a school night and all.)  I couldn’t have cared less that I may have waited in line an extra 20 minutes if it meant making room for her to spend some time with those kids that are showing a passion for the future of their world.  I told him I thought it was very kind of her to do that for the kids and I didn’t mind the extra wait; then I turned my back and continued to dig deeper into the book that I knew by end of the evening would contain her hand-written signature.

The line twisted around and around and at times it didn’t seem to move at all.  There were a few moments when I thought about how tired I was, how much my back hurt, how I shouldn’t have skipped dinner and how badly I had to pee and almost left the line to go home.  But a little voice inside kept reminding me to wait it out.  As I approached the end of the line and she was only 10 feet away from me, I spotted a little arrangement of purple and gold flowers and instinctively knew that was a reminder that the little voice inside me was you and Mooomie all along. And then, after a nearly 2-hour wait in line, I found myself standing just inches away from her as she signed my copy of “In the Shadow of Man.”  I was utterly humbled and awestruck.  I only managed to barely choke out the words “thank you” as she handed my book back to me and our eyes locked for just one brief second.  For her, I realize that moment was no different from any other interaction she’d had with the hundreds and hundreds of people in line before me; but for me, that moment was life-changing.

Seconds later, I stepped out of the theater into the night air I burst into tears and cried all the way back to my car… and continued to cry the entire drive home.  Like ugly cry.That was just the kind of moment I would have called excitedly to share with you and Moooomie and it made me ache so badly for both of you. I know you were with me, I could feel it the whole time… but it’s just not the same.  It’ll never be the same.

Love Always,

Laura

Oh. My. Stars. She's signing my book... She's signing my boooook!!!!!
Oh. My. Stars. She’s signing my book… She’s signing my boooook!!!!!