Letter to Mom: December 24, 2015

Dear Mooooooooomie,

I don’t think Brian will mind me taking this chance to write a letter to you instead; after all, you’ve been the biggest supporter of these letters and it was because of you that I began them in the first place.

You died last month, Momma.  You left me.  You and I spent the last 5 years grieving for Brian together and now I have to find some way to grieve both of you… alone. It feels unbearable.  I’m still in shock and most days I just feel numb.  It’s only me now.  I’m aware that I have friends who care and I appreciate that so, so much; however, I can’t shake this sense of feeling like an island and I’m experiencing an incredible urge to distance myself from people… from things… from life.  In a sense it’s as though I am a helium balloon that was tethered to the earth by your love for me and your desire for me to desire life… and your death severed that tie and now I’m floating about aimlessly, watching life pass by below me.  I’m watching it all happen, but it all just feels so far, far away.  I know my honesty about this is painful for you, and for my friends.  But I truly feel as though I’m just “existing.”  It’s like being at your job on a Friday after a particularly long, exhausting week and seeing others able to leave early while you’re itching in your seat and counting the seconds until 5:30 when you are free to leave, too.  Just like a job, some people up and quit life like Brian did… some people are “let go” like you were, and others, like me, watch the minutes pass by like years just getting through each day because it’s just what you’re supposed to do.

So many people came to pay their respects to you, Moomie.  I hope you had even a hint of an idea of how much you were truly loved, respected and appreciated by so many people.  They all spoke of your generous heart, the way you cared for others and the way you lit up a room with your smile and your incredible wit! I spoke briefly at your funeral.  I stared down at the words I’d written, intentionally avoiding looking out at the faces of all who were there to mourn alongside me for fear of a complete meltdown.  Here’s what I said about you that day:

I couldn’t have asked for a more giving, nurturing or loving Mom.  She tirelessly put others first and as her children we never went a single day wondering how much we were loved and cherished.  I feel undeserving of it and can only hope that I was half as good a daughter to her as she was a Mother to Brian and me.

When my only sibling, my brother Brian, took his own life 5 years ago, her heart was absolutely broken and a huge piece of her was missing.  I wanted so badly to take away some of that pain for her but it was so hard because I was just as broken.  So we just did the only thing we could do– lean on each other.

I came back home last month for a visit and at the time I didn’t yet know just how special those last few days would become to me.  We laughed so, so much.  I wonder if part of her knew that would be the last time we’d be together because when we parted ways at the airport she hugged me harder and longer than ever before.

She was all I have left so the support from her sister, my Auntie Barb, has been life-saving for me.  Barb, I’m so sorry that this time she’s making your mascara run from tears of sadness and pain rather than tears of joy and uninhibited laughter.

One thing that brings me comfort is knowing that the past few months in her very own new home brought her so much peace and happiness. She was finally starting to get back to the old self she’d lost over the years and I was so happy for her and so proud that she had the courage to do that for herself.  I am grateful that she found some happiness again in the last few months.

Thank you to all of you for the outpouring of love and hugs and words of comfort you’ve provided to me.  It means the world to me and it would mean the world to her that you are all taking such good care of me on her behalf.

Today is Christmas Eve.  I was supposed to be with you today… but I cancelled the trip after you died. Instead, I walked alone to my tree and I spread some of your ashes.  Now a part of you is there alongside Brian.  On October 26th I surprised you by booking myself a ticket to come spend the holiday with you and you were so excited.  You told me that this was the first Christmas you had looked forward to since Brian died and my heart nearly burst with joy for hearing that.  You were going to buy us a tree, Momma.  You hadn’t wanted a tree in years.  But you and I still had each other and you were just beginning a fresh start away from the toxicity of the marriage you stayed in far too long.  Now instead of a joyful holiday, for me it will be the most painful one yet.

I can’t shake one feeling.  I positively despise myself for having spent the last Christmas you were alive away from you.  Furthermore, I spent it with the family of a boyfriend who admitted he wouldn’t have done the same for me. As we were planning our Christmas trip I said to him, “Maybe we can alternate and next year we can go to Minnesota to spend Christmas with my Mom?” He simply said, “I don’t think so. I just always spend that holiday with my family.” The fact that I let the very last Christmas I ever could have spent with you pass by to be with someone who wouldn’t have done the same for me absolutely breaks my heart.  I’m so angry at myself. I’m so sorry for that, Momma.  I should have been with you, and I wasn’t.

I didn’t deserve you.  Your heart was so big and so wide-open to me and I could be so closed-off.  I’m so much better at typing things out like this than I am at communicating feelings face to face.  You loved reading these letters I’ve been writing to Brian and so often told me that you related to so much of it and that I somehow had verbalized all the same things you had been feeling.  I could be wrong, but it always felt like some of those letters were helping you heal, too.  I hope so.

You had your own way with words and always seemed to know what to say to someone when they were hurting.  In a sympathy card you gave to someone else who had lost their mother just days before you died, you shared these very words:

You’ll never forget your mother’s face, the sound of her voice, the gentleness of her touch… they let you know you were loved.

You’ll never forget the stories she told, the traditions she handed down… they let you know who you are.

You’ll never forget the lessons she taught, the things she stood for… they are her gift and her legacy.

You’ll never forget and you’ll always know that you honor her everyday in how you live and who you are.

-Author Unknown

That was the last card you ever sent and they gave me a copy of it to keep.  Your words meant so much to them and, as it turns out, those words you intended for them as comfort have now been passed on back to me to comfort me in my own grief over losing you.

When going through your things I found a copy of an email you had saved from Mother’s Day in May of 2000.  It was from your father-in-law and said this:

I was thinking today that I had no one to whom I could say “Happy Mother’s Day.”  Then I realized that was not true.  I had you!  You fit all the criteria and then some.

I felt how lucky I was to have my Mom.  But, then I knew how fortunate I was to have you as Mom to the kids.

I know how hard you have worked to make things come out right.  You’re a real fighter and the results of your efforts are in the kids as well as that older kid, Bill.  You are the catalyst.

Happy Mother’s Day, Judy.

Love, Dad

All of that is so true!  Everything good that came from Brian and me began with you, Momma.  You showed us true, unconditional love and what it means to be kind and loving and giving. You spent most of your life giving to others and from a very young age Brian and I went with you to the nursing home where you spent a few days a week and learned about compassion by watching you with others. It makes me so proud that I heard over and over how much I reminded people of you.  They said, “You really are your mother’s daughter.”  I can’t think of a better compliment than that… it’s comforting to know that I absorbed your best qualities and that others see that.

Brian and I knew that if we ever needed some comfort, someone to listen and really be present with us that you were the one.  You supported us in everything we did, always made us feel special and that our feelings and opinions mattered.  Thank you for loving us so much.

I spent tonight with a wonderful friend watching a silly movie, inhaling Chinese food and wine and laughing.  It was just really nice to pretend it wasn’t Christmas.  I had plenty of invites to spend the holiday with friends’ families and while it was so kind of them to offer… I just knew it would hurt too much to try and shake off the self-pity I’d have felt as an outsider watching someone else’s family celebrate together. I needed to pretend tonight was just like any other night… and not the first Christmas Eve without my Mom.

I love you so very much, my Moooooomie and I miss you terribly.  I believe you are with Brian now.  Please watch over me, Momma… I’ll never stop needing you.

Love,

Laura

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Letter to Brian: November 6, 2015

Dear Brian,

I’ve become pretty good at grieving for you in the past 5 years.  I didn’t waste any time in getting myself to a support group a few weeks after you died and I was already doing individual therapy; I just increased the frequency of my appointments to talk and just get it all out in a supportive and therapeutic environment.  I’ve never denied myself the freedom to feel whatever it is that comes up and just let it be exactly what it is for as long as it needs to be because I don’t believe there is any “wrong” way to grieve or any kind of timeframe in which anyone should be “over it” when you lose someone that means as much as you mean to me.

While I still feel there is a part of me which is still in denial from time to time, for the most part I’ve accepted that you’re just not coming back.  You died.  We emptied out your house and sold your car. We had you cremated.  We had your funeral and friends and family from all around came to say goodbye to you.  There really wasn’t any choice but to just keep moving forward.

Sometimes the grief still grabs a hold of me around the throat when I least expect it and I lose my ability to get any air in my lungs as I choke on my memories of you; sometimes it’s triggered by a song… or a smell… or a car that looks like yours… or sometimes nothing at all when my mind betrays me by obsessing over a random memory that I suddenly can’t seem to shake. So I just allow it to overcome me for a while.  I let it all the way in, absorb it completely and feel absolutely everything it forces me to feel.  Those feelings are there for a reason.  I’m aware that for me, reliving those memories is the only way I’ll get through the pain– I take it in, process it and then let it go.  And repeat it all again the next time.

I’ve found that grieving the loss my relationship of nearly 3 years has been similar in so many ways.  It’s been 67 days since it ended and there hasn’t been a day since that I haven’t thought about him… missed him… wondered what he was doing… wondered if he ever thinks about me anymore.  I’m so eager for all of these feelings to stop haunting me.  At least when I lost you, I didn’t have the option of reaching out to you with a text, an email or a phone call.  The temptation of reaching out to someone I loved so deeply who is only a few miles away is just so great.  We brought out so many wonderful qualities in each other but also seemed to trigger each other’s worst qualities at times… and in the end it just didn’t feel healthy to be together anymore.  It was the hardest decision I’ve ever made in my whole life.

But last night, for the first time in months, I was in that old neighborhood to deliver something to a friend who lived in my old apartment complex.  As I walked along side the building and looked up at the apartment I used to call home, a flood of memories crashed into me like a wall, all at once.  I saw the window that led to the room where we were when he asked me if I would be his girlfriend.  I saw the window to my old bedroom where I was laying as we spoke on the phone and he told me he loved me for the very first time.  I saw the patch of grass on which I stood so many times waiting and watching for his car to appear around the corner when he was coming to pick me up for a hike or brunch or an evening date.  I pictured myself standing there again, getting butterflies like I did every time he picked me up and feeling happy and complete as I stepped into his car and took hold of his hand.

It’s pretty embarrassing how hard it hit me last night.  It all happened so terribly fast and I couldn’t seem to catch my breath. I was completely overtaken with grief and a sense of deep loss for everything that had been so wonderful about us.  Because there was a lot of it.  But we also both brought out some tendencies in each other that made it hard to ultimately be healthy when we were together.  I’m grieving for something that I gave up willingly because I knew it is what was best for me at the time and yet I still long to see him as I lay down to sleep each night.  I know… it doesn’t make sense to me, either.  I guess we all sometimes want things that we know aren’t good for us.

But like I’ve done while grieving for you, I let these feelings creep in, have their way with me and hope that they pass soon.  Admittedly, I sometimes attempt to drown them in wine like I did the first few months after you died; it was just easier to numb myself to the point where it didn’t hurt… because after enough glasses of wine, I couldn’t feel anything anymore.

I’m a bit surprised at how many people have told me I just need to “get back out there” or “just go have myself a fling.”  That’s never been my style and I’m certainly not in a place emotionally where that would be a good idea for anyone involved, particularly me.  I’ve accepted that I need to just be alone for a long time and allow myself this time to mourn and to heal… there is no room in my heart for someone new because so much of it is still occupied by him.  But there is a joy in that, too… the fact that I’m still suffering so much means that I had something pretty wonderful for a while.  The greater the love, the greater the loss, it would seem.  And of all my romantic relationships, this has been by far the biggest loss I’ve ever felt.

I know that someday I’ll be over all of this because I never imagined myself being able to function again after your suicide and if I can overcome that kind of tremendous loss I know that I’ll come through this OK at some point, too.  I just hope that happens sooner than later.

Thanks for listening, dude.

Laura

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Letter to Brian: October 20, 2015

Dear Brian,

I went to visit Maximus and Marcus when I was home. You’d be so glad to see how well my “nephews” are doing.  They’re happy, healthy and positively adored by their new Mom and Dad!  They love spending time outside exploring their big back yard and still have a bit of a mischievous streak as they sometimes stand up on their hind legs and pull the lever to open the door and let themselves outside on their own.

Each time I’ve been able to visit them I’ve wondered if they remember me, you know?  I think about the day we went to the adoption event at Petsmart to pick out A cat for you but saw those two munchkins together in one cage and you asked me which one you should get.  Brothers, and only 12 weeks old, I convinced you that there was absolutely no way you were taking just one of them home… they had to stay together!  So we left the store with both of them that day and I became an Auntie… turns out it was my only chance at being an Aunt but I’m OK with that.  I remember the first night you were scheduled to work your overnight shift at the group home and you were worried about them spending their first night all alone… so you asked if I would come stay at your place and keep them company.  I loved that so much.  They were still babies and kept me up half the night stalking my feet under the cover and wrestling with each other on top of, and underneath the bed… and occasionally on top of my head.  They were adorable and loving and playful and I didn’t regret the loss of sleep one bit.

Do you remember when you’d be standing in the kitchen cooking and they’d try and crawl up your leg to come up and see you?  Even when you were wearing shorts??  I helped you trim their little razor-sharp claws to make it less painful for you because really– who could resist letting those two little monkeys trying to climb up for a hug??

I know how much it hurt you to leave the boys.  In your “goodbye letter” you included this section about the boys:

Maximus and Marcus–

They are great cats and don’t deserve to be put through this. I considered the idea of finding a new home for them beforehand, but I just couldn’t actually do that because I loved them too much. I’m sure Laura would never allow for anything to happen to them anyway, but my biggest wish is that they find a new home with someone who will care for them (please not to be farm cats). They are very well-behaved with their only real issue being that they like to chew on small cords. I’ve always used a self-feeder for them and they seem to do a good job of handling that, never had any major issues with overeating or them vomiting. Outside of that time that Marcus had that strange incident where his leg got hugely swollen all of a sudden but went away within a few days, they haven’t had any kind of medical issues at all or using the carpet as a litter box.

They both really like that cat stand, and they both would come to me usually when I’d call them. They both always would come greet me at the door too whenever I’d been gone for a while and usually jump up and paw at my legs a few times.

Please tell them that I said goodbye—I wasn’t really able to do that myself.

Their birthday is 9/25/06, so they are almost 4 years old now.

Maximus–

If you look at them closely, Maximus is the larger of the two. He’s very cuddly and affectionate, a classic lap cat. When he jumps up on my lap, he tends to stay put for the long-term and maybe take a nap. He pretty much always slept with me from morning to night. No real behavior issues with him at all…..for some reason he likes to close the bathroom door though. I think he does that because he likes to sleep on the mat in there sometimes and might close it to make the room dark. Sometimes though he’ll close it all the way and it will latch, so I needed to try to remember to block the door open if I was going to be gone for a while.

Marcus–

Marcus is quite a bit different than his brother. He’s more of an adventurer, no major issues with him, but he’s the one who tries to look for trouble a little more. He’s also very affectionate, but in a different way. Like when I’d be sitting at my chair, he comes up and just puts his paws on my arm and hugs my arm and rubs his head on my shoulder. He loves attention in spurts, you can usually pet him for 5 seconds or so and he gets very into it and soaking it in, then he’ll jump down and pace a bit, might be back in a couple minutes. He loves attention, just is a bit more restless. He sometimes sleeps with me too, but not always. He tends to come and go.

Please know that I took the responsibility of finding them a safe and loving home terribly seriously because I know how much they meant to you and how much they had been through, particularly since you weren’t found in your home until a week after your death.  I have never stopped wondering what they were thinking and feeling for all those days when you were lying there, unresponsive.  Then to be taken away by the police and brought to a shelter for the night… and then collected again by strangers and brought to Red Wing to again… only to be placed in a house with someone else they didn’t know.  The very day I got home, I rushed over to see the boys and it just broke my heart into a billion pieces to see them so timid and afraid; I felt such a connection with them as if we could share our mutual loss of you without any words.  I rearranged your old room and cat-proofed it so we could bring them home to be with us.  I spent single every night I was home that week in your room with them and loved on them as much as they would possibly allow.  I’m sure it sounds crazy, but I could feel their sadness and their fear; it was palpable and I understood it so well because I was feeling the very same things.

They just turned 9 years old and have spent the past 5 years together, in a loving home, just as you’d hoped they would.  I did what I could to see that they landed somewhere wonderful not only because I love them so much, but also because if something were to happen to me, I know that I’d want someone to ensure that my critters were looked after with the same kind of love that I’d always provided.

Please know that I continue to check in on them and visit as often as I can and that I whisper in their little ears that you loved them so much and felt so sad that you couldn’t stay with them and that you’re sorry for leaving.  I really think they understand and have adjusted well.  It means a lot to me to spend time with them because they are little living, breathing extensions of you; I’m so grateful to his new Mom and Dad for allowing me to continue to be a part of their lives.

Love,
Laura

the boys

Letter to Brian: October 16, 2015

houseDear Brian,

Three days ago marked 5 years since you lost your battle with depression.  I went home to Minnesota for the anniversary so I could spend it with Mom.

Monday, the day before, I drove up to Minneapolis to have lunch with a group of old friends.  I left early enough to make room for a special errand I wanted to take care of before I met up with them– I wanted to stop by your old condo, the very same home you died in.  I can’t explain it and I’m sure it sounds pretty pitiful, but I just feel close to you there, you know?  As I approached your neighborhood, so many memories came flooding back– trips to see you to watch football games together, to eat pizza and go bowling with you, to go take care of Maximus and Marcus while you were away, to watch the football draft or just to hang out and watch movies together.  I wished so badly with each passing block that the last five years had just been a terrible dream and I’d turn the corner and see your red, two-door Saturn parked in the driveway.

As I pulled up, it was easy to spot the changes that told me you no longer lived there– the wind chimes hanging there surely did not belong to you and there were many new plants and flowers along the length of the house that I’m certain weren’t there before.  I parked in front but left the car running as I grabbed the small pot of purple flowers I picked up for you (Go Vikings!) and began walking towards the front door.  As I approached the front door, it appeared there was a light on inside and I saw movement in there. It completely startled me because I specifically chose to go late in the morning in the hopes that whoever lives there now would likely be away at work.  I made the decision to quickly set the flowers down and leave… but not before snapping a picture of the door I’d seen you walk through so many times before I got in the car to drive away.  I desperately wanted to sit there for a while and relive some of those memories but it occurred to me that loitering about staring at your old house and crying like a crazy woman might draw unwanted attention and possibly a call to the police.

Driving away along Brookdale Drive I noticed all the little shops in the area and I wondered about them.  That little convenience store… did you once pull your Saturn up to those very pumps and fill up with gas?  Did you ever stop in that little grocery to pick up milk?  Is that liquor store I passed the one where you bought all of that vodka you consumed in your last few months?  I imagined going inside to buy some much-needed booze of my own and that maybe the very same cashier looking into my eyes had once looked into your sad, empty eyes as well.  But I didn’t.  I just kept driving and imagined all kinds of things about your last days in that very neighborhood… and I wished things were different.

At Mom’s new home (which is adorable, by the way) I spent some time going through old photos and mementos and thought of you.  I came across some papers that Mom had printed off with some memorial messages we received after you died.  I thought you might like to know how fondly you were remembered by others so I’m going to share a few of them with you now.

 

Brian, my friend, you will be missed.  You touched many people in your life and it will leave a hole in many of our hearts.  Your sly smile and that chuckle you let out like a sneaky laugh always made me crack up.  I will miss that and wish I could hear it one more time while sitting around watching the game with our group of friends enjoying each other’s company.  You were always a good friend and I will never forget the fun we had growing up; making rubber fingers and Freddy Krueger costumes, laughing about the antics of classmates, floating the Camaro down University Avenue after the Metallica concert and your Bart costume with the wig and cheese stuck to your shirt that Halloween and SO many more good times.  I wish I could say goodbye to you in person but I’m stuck 3,000 miles away without a way to be there to send you off like the great friend you were.  I’ll miss you Brian.  Save me a seat at the bar.  Love ya, big guy.

 

I worked with Brian at Otto Bock, we were shocked and very saddened to hear he is gone.  Our thoughts and prayers are with his family.  I really enjoyed all the heated discussions I had with Brian of politics and his wealth of football knowledge was incredible.  On more than one occasion I told him he needs to be a football announcer or analyst; he had a true gift of knowledge and recollection with that sport!  It is just very sad he is gone but I’ am so grateful he was here when he was, it was a true blessing to have known him.  I pray for peace and strength for his family and peace for Brian.

 

I first met Brian at Target Corporation when he was servicing the printer by my office.  We got to chit chatting and realized we belonged to the same health club.  After that we became friends.  It was always so nice that he took the time to stop and talk.  I know he was very serious about his weightlifting.  I also ran into him at the gym pool during the summers… we would spend a couple hours together.  He was so interesting to talk to about books and movies.  We shared a lot about career and office politics.  One memory I have that makes me smile is one day out of the blue he decided to join me in a yoga class.  It was so cute!  Here was this body builder guy with all these delicate girls doing these yoga poses.  The instructor just loved him, he did really well!  I really liked being casual gym friends with him and he really brightened my life a lot.  I thought about him today when the Vikes finally won.  This ones for you, Brian!  I wanted to offer my best to all of you and let you know how much I enjoyed knowing him.

I hope you know how very much you were respected, loved and appreciated.  What I wouldn’t give to hear that laugh of yours one more time, dude.  There was nothing in this world quite like it.

Love Always,
Laura

 

 

 

 

Letter to Brian: October 6, 2015

Dear Brian,

One of my most favoritest (I know that isn’t a word but bear with me here, I’m excited) authors came to Austin a few weeks ago and I attended her appearance at a local bookstore; she read a few chapters from her new book, took time for some Q&A and then signed books for HOURS like a boss.

Her name is Jenny Lawson and she just released her second book titled, “Furiously Happy.”  She’s a popular blogger who has been fearlessly open in sharing her struggles with anxiety, depression, mental illness and self-harm.  She’s pretty much my new hero.

I had known about her upcoming appearance for a few months and it was originally scheduled for a date when I wasn’t going to be able to attend.  However, on the 23rd of September I happened to notice that the date had been moved up to that very evening and when I logged on to the bookstore’s website it said they would be taking online orders for copies of the book to be signed for only another 40 minutes. I was convinced it was a sign that I was supposed to go and  quickly ordered a copy.  I hoped to get there early and traffic was somehow delightfully forgiving and I arrived an hour early only to find myself circling the lot several times in search of somewhere to park.  Just as I was about to give up and leave the lot to find a spot elsewhere, a car was leaving directly in front of the entrance and I again thought… this is meant to be!  And when I got inside?  No line to pick up the book… so within a minute of walking in I was headed to find a place to sit and I literally grabbed the very last available chair and anyone who came in after me was left to stand or sit on the floor. All signs seemed to point to me needing to be there to hear her speak.  I guess I found all of that interestingly coincidental as I’ve been in the process of reading “The Celestine Prophecy” at the recommendation of a friend.  Perhaps there’s something to all of that after all…?

Anyway… I had an hour to kill before she was scheduled to appear so I relaxed into my seat and cracked open her book and allowed it to take me on a lovely little journey as I became blissfully unaware of all the goings on in the room.  I felt another moment of deep connection that I was exactly where I was supposed to be at that time when I turned to a page in the introduction to see “October 2010” jump out at me from the middle of a page.  My heart stopped and I lost my breath for a moment… October 2010 was the worst month of my life.  You were only alive for a few days that month and my life hasn’t been the same since.  Turns out that during that same time, the author of this book, Jenny, had been experiencing a particularly desperate bout of her depression and anxiety coupled with a number of deaths of good friends contributing to her sadness; it was out of that deep despair that her newest book came to be.  Her theory was that maybe those of us who experience such intense pain and agony (the lowest of the lows) might also possibly be capable of experiencing an intense happiness not easily understood by “normal people” (the highest of the highs.)  So was born the “furiously happy” movement.  To take those moments when thing are fine and make them amazing and maybe teach ourselves, after some time, how to take those moments of joy we find in our everyday lives from time to time and save them for when we need them most in the middle of the next depressive episode… and to go from just “surviving life” to “living life.”  It’s worth a shot, I suppose.

It may sound silly but as Jenny stood up front and read aloud two chapters of her book and spoke so intimately about her lifelong struggle with anxiety, depression and self-harm in a deliriously funny way, I found myself voraciously fighting back tears.  It’s hard to describe, really… but I think at the heart of it I was just feeling really lucky to be in a room surrounded by other people who understand that struggle and I couldn’t stop thinking about you and how much I was dreading the month of October… a time of year I used to love so much.  A week from today will be five years since you took your life.  Honestly, I just can’t believe it has been that long.  And yet, after 5 years I still have moments (like I did just last night) where I look at your picture and think to myself that I should give you a call; after all this time there is still a part of me that continues to struggle to believe it is real.  Having been denied the opportunity to see your body for myself has allowed for that tiny piece of my heart to go on hoping in the absence of physical proof of your death.

I got another tattoo last week and again had some of your ashes put in it.  It’s a branch of Japanese Cherry Blossoms.  I’ve always been drawn to them but after researching the meaning and symbolism of them I knew that’s what I wanted; they are a symbolic flower of the spring, a time of renewal, and the fleeting nature of life.  Their life is very, very short.  You were beautiful to me and you, like the cherry blossoms, weren’t here nearly long enough.  I like how the branches and blossoms don’t fully cover the scars on that arm but do sort of engulf them; I didn’t want to completely cover them.  They are still part of my story, even if it wasn’t one of the best chapters.

Missing you so much these days, dude.

Love,
Laura

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Letter to Brian: September 23, 2015

Dear Brian,

It’s been a good month since I wrote you… not for lack of things to tell you, I assure you.  I just haven’t had the gumption to sit down and get it all out, I guess.  Been going through a lot.  After a second go at our relationship and some counseling, it didn’t work out with me and my sweetie.  I was so hopeful that we’d successfully work through things so I’m still struggling a lot and I still think about him every single day.  But by the end, it felt as if he didn’t see any of my good qualities anymore and instead saw only the areas where I openly admitted I needed some improvement.  I started to not like myself anymore and that really made me sad so I chose to end things.  It hurt like a mother fucker, but I was becoming someone I didn’t recognize anymore and it felt like the right thing to do.  I look forward to the day when I can really move on and when I won’t get weepy thinking about all the amazing times we had together because there were so, so many of them and I’m really grateful for that.  I’ll always remember those times very fondly and I wish him much happiness.

Also on the relationship front…Mom and dad’s divorce is final; has been for a few months now.  But as of the first week of September, Mom has finally been in her own place!  She’s now renting a duplex in Red Wing and is doing really well!  You should know that she’s been keeping very busy seeing all her friends and getting visitors nearly every single day and she has such an amazing support system.  And the best news?  Her friends have been regularly telling her how nice it is to see that “old spark” back in her eyes.  How’s that for good news??

I talk to her most every single day and it’s good to hear the “perk” in her voice.  I haven’t talk to dad in a long time, though.  That shouldn’t surprise you much, I’d assume.  He virtually never called me but would get on the phone sometimes when I was talking to Mom.  If he were to ever call, it would be because he wanted something.  You and I spoke about that all the time; the only time you’d hear from him was when he wanted you to come fix the computer for him or he wanted your help carving pumpkins and it bothered you.  A lot.  I’ve tried explaining it to him but he just doesn’t understand.  I remember years ago Mark and I had driven from Minneapolis down to Red Wing to have dinner with you all one evening.  We had literally just walked in the door and before so much as a “hello” or “how are you doing?” or “how was the drive?” or “good to see you” I was greeted by him pushing a 3-ring binder at me with a stern look on his face and saying, “Laura, you need to read this.  It’s a collection of my editorials to the newspaper and letters I’m writing to government officials about the war.”  I pushed it back to him and said, “No.  I’m not reading this.  You didn’t even say hello or ask us how we were doing before you told us what WE could do for YOU. I’m not interested.”

That might sound harsh… but I’m done thinking of it in that way.  And I’m done sugar-coating things– after all, it’s my story to tell.  He was upset at me for doing that and said, “You don’t care about this stuff, it’s important, Laura!  You need to care about it!”  The thing is… how do you expect other people to care about your cause and your writings when you don’t seem to care about them as a person?  If I told him I wasn’t interested in hearing it, he completely martyred himself to the cause.  When I suggested him possibly helping out around the house more often or get a part-time job so Mom wasn’t so stressed with still working full-time, teaching piano lessons in the evenings and still trying to take care of much of the housework, yard work and shopping he said he felt “god” has kept him alive for the mission of spreading peace to the world and that his activism WAS his job and that he was totally prepared to lose friends,family and even his life for god’s purpose for him.  To get an actual job would mean taking time away from the activism; and that to not do that work would be an “act of defiance” against god. I still don’t understand that at all… because being more present (emotionally and physically) for your family and friends and the activism do not need to be mutually exclusive.

I wrote a semi-ambiguous post about dads and daughters some time back.  I chose to leave it “somewhat” ambiguous out of fear of being hurtful… but the thing is, nothing I said there was untrue… and, as I said before, anything that happens to me leaves a story that is mine alone to tell from my perspective and will continue to try and honor that.  If you recall, one thing I brought up in that letter was how you and I were exposed to sexual displays and conversations what were inappropriate for anyone to see or have with their parents… at any age, let alone as a child who is learning how to develop healthy boundaries, a healthy sense of self and a healthy sexuality.  For instance, dad would stand behind Mom as she sat at the kitchen table across from you and I at dinner and put his hand down the front of her shirt and down the inside of her bra to grope at her breasts.  As he did that, he would attempt to hold my gaze with a childish, devilish grin and say to me as I looked away, “What, Laura?  What’s wrong?  What am I doing to Mommy?  She likes this, see?  She likes it.”  Or when we were watching a movie and a sex scene would come on, he didn’t change the channel (even though I was too young to be seeing it) but I do remember on multiple occasions him noticing my discomfort and saying, “Geez, Laura.  What’s happening there?  What’s he doing to that lady?  What’s he doing to her?”  (As if sex wasn’t something mutual shared between two loving adults but rather something being “inflicted” upon the woman?) I could go on and on with examples of those kinds of things in addition to him confiding in you and I as young kids when he and Mom were fighting or not having sex… using us as a sounding board as if we were equipped to handle that kind of discussion at that age.  And with a parent, to boot.

I finally, a few years ago, had the courage to mention these things to him and tell him how they affected me and it made no difference.  In fact, some of what was said to me was, “I don’t know why you’re going on about your childhood like this.” And “I’m sorry if you think I was a bad father.”  And when I asked him not to reach out to me any longer regarding intimacy issues in their marriage and said it wasn’t appropriate his response to me was, “Quite frankly I am just a little more than offended that affection always equates sex.  Maybe you have not learned that and if you haven’t I feel sad for you. There I had to say that, sorry.”

Really?  Where do you suppose that I learned those blurred lines about boundaries?  Was it as Mom was standing at the stove cooking dinner and he went over to her, stuck his hand inside the front of her pants and said to me, “What am I doing to Mommy, Laura?”  Perhaps it was.  Perhaps it was when he would tell me dirty jokes.  Or when he’d see a woman in a skimpy outfit and say to me, “Gee, she sure is pretty.  See that?  She must really want people to look at her wearing something like that, right?  But she’s pretty, isn’t she?  Geez, look at how big her boobs are…Do you want to grow up to look like her someday?”  I wasn’t one of his locker room buddies, I was an impressionable girl trying to learn how to feel about myself, about my body and about what I could expect out of a relationship with a man.

A few other responses I’ve received from him include: “It may all be true but there is nothing I can do about it.”  And, “Move on.  Stop living in the past.” And, my personal favorite: “This world is so full of hate because people cannot move on with their lives and leave the past in the past.  We would have peace in the world if that were true.  We need to reconcile and do it often.  Nelson Mandela who just died was the epitome of being able to reconcile and that is his greatest achievement.  After being persecuted and tortured for 27 years in prison he found peace in his heart and then healed his country.  That is what reconciliation can do.”  See what he did there?  Turned it around into a lecture supporting his cause.  He also once said, “You may be right, I did all those things.  I didn’t like that person very much, that’s why I tried to kill him. I’m not the same person.” (Referring to his failed suicide attempt.)  That was an odd way to phrase it, if you ask me.  It brings up a few things:  first, speaking in the “third person” distances him from the actions as though it were “someone else” and he can’t be held responsible.  And second, saying he “tried to kill that person” is yet another way to dodge guilt by looking for sympathy.  Neither of which is an actual apology.  And the thing is… a truly different person would have admitted to the mistakes and wrongdoings and apologize for them… not turn it on the person who they hurt to begin with.

I Googled “apologies from narcissists” recently and wasn’t terribly shocked that what came up was so similar to previous “apologies.” Some examples:

  • I’m sorry you feel that way.
  • I’m sorry that happened.
  • I apologize for trying.
  • I apologize for being human.
  • I’m sorry you see things that way.

These aren’t real apologies.  They don’t show that the person takes any ownership of their behavior… as if they are blameless for their actions. To me, a genuine apology should include a confession of guilt and a sense that the person actually feels regret or remorse for having been hurtful.  I’ve heard, “You already said that, why are you saying this again?”  To which I should have responded, “Perhaps I’m saying it again because I want to feel as though you are genuinely sorry for doing or saying something that hurt me.”  But a narcissist is not capable of providing empathy to those they have hurt because to do so would be an admission of guilt and they cannot do that; it will always be someone else’s fault. When I spoke to dad about how you and I often felt “ignored” by him growing up his response could have been, “I’m so sorry I hurt you.  I love you kids and I never wanted you to feel neglected or disregarded or unimportant.”  But instead his response was, “Well you and Brian never wanted to talk to me so why should I have even tried??”  Again, see what he did there?  The blame was turned back around on us.  The thing is… there was a lot happening to lead up to that– the reason you and I didn’t talk to him much was because he didn’t pay attention to us when we DID talk and didn’t respect our boundaries.  A TV show was too important for us to interrupt long enough to show him a good grade on a school project.  He rarely came to any of our football games, cross country meets, choir or band concerts… but Mom came to nearly everything.  He’d manage to get out of it by saying, “You don’t really need daddy to go to this thing tonight, do you?  Daddy’s really tired and there’s a football game on tonight.”  That put us in a position of feeling bad asking him to go because we knew he didn’t really want to be there.  Or we could have begged him to come… which would have just been humiliating.  So he usually just didn’t come.  But by getting us to give him “permission” not to go, I guess he found a loophole.  Mom admitted to me that she tended to spoil us with money and material things we wanted in an effort to compensate for the lack of connection and attention we received from dad… I still struggle with that a lot yet today.  I often find myself attempting to self-soothe with shopping to this day.  I’m working on that.

Regarding the lack of boundaries, it wasn’t just the sexual or suggestive things.  I can’t even recall the number of times this scenario happened to one or both of us: I remember studying and trying to work on my homework and dad would come up and do something to bother or tease me, such as tugging on my ponytail or poking at my back or arm or book or something.  I’d say, “Please don’t… I’m trying to study.”  He’d continue.  I’d say it again, “Please… I’m busy.”  Yet he’d continue.  I’d say it yet again, “Please, dad.  Knock it off… I really need to get this done.”  But no matter how many times I’d ask him to stop he’d keep going until I finally got upset and shouted, “DAD, PLEASE! I’M TRYING TO WORK!” That infuriated him and resulted in him screaming, “GODDAMNIT!!  I can’t even talk to you damn kids, is that how it’s going to be?  Is it??  Fine, you don’t ever have to talk to me again.  I get it!!!”  So…. see what happened there?  He didn’t respect our boundaries when we’d politely ask him to stop… and when we got angry at him for repeatedly not respecting those boundaries it was somehow our fault and he was the victim.

So Brian, have you gained any knowledge about life and relationships on the other side?  I’d ask you, how do you forgive someone who won’t ever think they’ve done anything wrong?

I’m certain there are people who would believe that talking about this might seem negative and repetitive.  It’s not lost on me that as childhoods go it could have been far, far worse. I was lucky to have had a roof over my head, food in my stomach and clothes on my body and a good education; I had all the basics which were required for survival. But for me talking about this is like pulling out a sliver… if I leave it in there, it will only fester and cause more pain and I just want it out so I can let it heal.  So there it is.

I so wish you were still here so we could sit and talk about all of these things over pizza and beer and support one another… you’re the only person who truly understands what all of this felt like and now you’re gone.  In your absence, writing these letters and pretending that I’m talking to you has helped me heal in ways you couldn’t possibly imagine.

Thanks for listening, dude.
Love,
Laura

Letter to Brian: September 8, 2015

Dear Brian,

Back home in Red Wing today was the first day back at school for all the kids. I’ve been seeing so many great pictures in my feed of all my friends’ kiddos in their back-to-school garb… all smiles and full of hope for the coming school year. It’s bringing back so many memories of you and me.

I have pictures of the two of us from every single year all the way up through high school graduation. I recall some years more than others but you should know that I was always so glad you were in the same school; it felt good knowing that you were close by. I vividly remember you driving us to high school in that old, red ’84 Camaro and blasting Metallica, Pantera, White Zombie and a plethora of others that got you pumped up for your day and I loved hearing you attempt to “sing” along. Occasionally, you’d let me put in a CD of my choosing and you’d begrudgingly listen to me sing along with Harry Connick, Jr. I took away from those trips a love of metal and I think my varied musical tastes rubbed off on you, too, though you might not have admitted it often.

I’ve also been sitting here at my desk snacking on string cheese… and again am flooded with more memories of you.  I recall every time Grandma and Grandpa would come visit us on a Sunday he would volunteer to go pick up the chicken from Hager Heights Drive-In; he’d take the two of us with him, stop in at Harbor Bar for drinks and to play pull-tabs while you and I snacked on string cheese, Kit-Kats and sipped on Shirley Temples.  (And lie, of course, when asked if we had spoiled our dinner by snacking.)  Every single time I eat string cheese I think about those Sunday afternoons with Grandpa… we always looked forward to riding along with him.  I miss that.

I was just telling a friend the other day how Mom told me about a day shortly after I first started preschool and began making new friends.  Up until that point, you and I did absolutely everything together… we were best friends.  She said the first time I had some other girls to the house over you came running downstairs and sobbed to her, “I’m a boy, I’m a boy.”  We had apparently slammed the door in your face and wouldn’t let you into my room because you were “a boy” and now there were no boys allowed.  I was obviously too young to have any memory of that day on my own but I have thought about it often after hearing about it from Mom.  It makes me sad that I made you cry and that you felt neglected.  It’s not as though I think you harbored any deep-seated angst over that day… but I still hate to think of any moments when you were in pain; particularly caused by me.

I’ve been feeling extra nostalgic about those kinds of things lately. I’ve had a really rough week and am dealing with a lot of sadness right now; thinking about you and our happier times can be helpful.  And it is not lost on me that the 5 year anniversary of your suicide is only a month away.  It breaks my heart again and again to know that I can’t make any new memories with you, Brian.  But I am grateful for all the years of friendship that we shared… because I realize not all siblings really care for one another as much as we did.

Anyhow, I didn’t have much to say today but wanted you to know I was thinking about you.

Love,
Laura

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Letter to Brian: August 26, 2015

Dear Brian,

I woke up from the most bizarrely intense dream last night.  I dreamed that I was standing alone in a bathroom, looking at myself in the mirror and holding what appeared to be a broom with the top end sharpened much like a pencil would be.  The bottom of the broom was firmly planted on the floor and I bent over the sharpened end until it had pierced through my left pectoral muscle and I continued pressing down as hard as I could until the point had poked its way to the other side and appeared through my back just below my left shoulder; I was left with a bleeding hole that went completely through my body.

It hurt so, so much and I immediately regretted that my self-injurous tendencies had escalated to such a violent level.  I began to not feel well and worried that internally I may have done some really significant damage and decided that I needed to seek medical treatment.  I didn’t want to die.  I went to Mom and sheepishly admitted what I had done to myself and asked if she would take me to the emergency room to be treated.  I also asked that she not tell anyone that I had done it to myself out of fear for what would happen to me at the hospital… such as being locked up in a facility.  I wanted her to back up my story that it was a “terrible accident.”  She didn’t seem the least bit alarmed but agreed to drive me to the doctor.  It was already dark as we headed out and as she drove I saw that we were about to pass the turn for the hospital.  I said, “Mom, we just passed the turn– that is the closest hospital.  Where are you going??”  She didn’t acknowledge the question and continued to drive and drive and drive… passing hospital after hospital until we finally came to a stop in front of an unfamiliar building.  She said, “Let’s go inside, we have to stop here first.”  I followed her into a room with outdated plaid couches and chairs and a folding table in the back with a large coffee pot and a selection of cookies and donuts and an array of 12-step pamphlets.  It dawned on me as I scanned the room that she had instead taken me to an AA meeting.  She said, “You need this more than you need the emergency room.”

Needless to say, I was reeling from that dream for a while and had difficulty getting back to sleep after that.  I decided to look up what that dream could have possibly meant and was blown away by what I was able to find… and suddenly the dream didn’t seem so random or mysterious after all.

Some of the things that came up in my dream interpretation search suggested:

  • Feeling wounded through someone else’s comments or complaints
  • A vulnerable character, a victim… prepared to be injured at all times
  • Feelings of intense inadequacy, betrayal and/or shock

At first I thought the dream was nothing more than my subconscious reflecting upon my years of cutting and self-injury.  But the more I thought about it, the more sense it made to me in other, more powerful ways.  Yesterday’s couple’s therapy session was pretty intense for me; it’s never comfortable to hear things replayed to you in such a way that you realize how your own personality and character flaws are seen and experienced by others close to you.  It’s been the most humbling experience of my life.  I guess my brain wasn’t done processing everything we talked about yesterday and continued to do some work as I slept and I woke up with more of an understanding of myself and how I am responsible for so much more in my environment and relationships than I’ve been willing to admit before.  Not to say that everything that goes wrong within our relationship is my fault… but instead to say that I’ve been looking at things through a painfully distorted lens.  It feels like I’m experiencing a huge shift in reality.

Therapy is such hard work… peeling back all of the layers and layers of disfunction, mislearned coping mechanisms and self-fulfilling prophecy behaviors.  Ha!!  I guess it’s kind of like opening up a really great piece tupperware you didn’t realize was still in the fridge after a whole year; something has been stinking the whole place up but until you clear other things out of the way to see what the real problem is, it isn’t ever going to go away.  And sometimes opening up that tupperware is a horrifying experience that you don’t want to deal with; but if you want to keep it (you know, instead of taking the easy way out and throwing it away,) you’re going to need to do some work to get it cleaned up, you know?  I’m sure I could have come up with a less-disgusting analogy but that’s truly the first thing that came to mind.  Most likely because I’m totally and unabashedly in love with food.

So my relationship is like that great tupperware– I don’t want to throw it out, it is totally worth keeping.  However, I need to take out all that stuff that has been stinking it up; we both do, really.  The key is to recognize the problem in the first place.  I could either choose to remain the same and keep expecting different results or I can begin the change from inside myself and bring about the change I desire.  I am choosing change.  Stay tuned…

Anyhoooo… missing you, dude.  Thanks for listening.

Love,

Laura

Letter to Brian: August 10, 2015

11863300_10205403941872050_3647528785635350571_nDear Brian,

I went to your tree again this weekend.  My dear friend Whitney came to visit me and one of the first things she asked me about her trip was, “Will you take me to see Brian’s tree?”

I can’t quite express how loved that made me feel.  Whitney is one of the most caring and expressive people I’ve ever known in my life; she has been following my letters to you since the very beginning and it meant so much to me to be able to share you with her.  It was peaceful and reverent and heart-breaking.  While I’m still learning to truly share my grief openly (outside of these letters) it is hard for me to really let the emotions flow in front of others; that’s why writing to you has been so therapeutic– it’s more comfortable for me to express myself that way.  I voraciously fought back tears as I stared up at the tree and remembered slowly circling it as I scattered your ashes around it’s circumference.

This time there was a mailbox at the edge of the trail leading up to the tree and I was instantly moved by the thought that now I can bring you “real” letters.  I have been writing these public letters for over 4 years now and the idea of bringing a handwritten letter to a mailbox just might fool my heart into believing that you will get it wherever you are.

I am always amazed at how I feel sitting in that tree’s presence.  Part of me feels hollow and empty because for me it is your “grave” that I visit and it is a tangible reminder of your absence.  Another part of me feels so small and insignificant when I think of how long that magnificent tree has been growing there– it’s roots must run so very deep and it’s branches seem to stretch out so high and so far that it’s hard to see where it ends… or if it ever does.  And another part of me feels more connected to you there than anywhere else.

Whitney created a tower of balancing rocks next to where your ashes were placed and inside the stack of rocks she placed a heart-shaped leaf she found on the ground as we stared up at the tree.  I love that she gets the symbolism in things like that and that small act of love for you, my brother whom she never got to meet, made my heart jump in my chest… though I wasn’t quite capable of expressing it to her at that moment.  I’m working on that.

We sat there for a good half hour or so and I always feel so emotional walking away from it because, though I know you aren’t actually “there” it feels as though I’m actually turning my back on you as I turn to make my way back to the car; it actually triggers the exact same feeling I had at the airport 5 years ago as I turned to head inside after we hugged goodbye and I tried so hard to swallow the feeling that I would never see you again.

I can’t believe that in just over 2 months it will be 5 years since you ended your life.  I’m proud of the progress I’ve made but I know I’ll continue to grow and learn from you for the rest of my life and it’s helping me become a better person.

I love you, dude.

-Laura

 

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Letter to Brian: July 22, 2015

Dear Brian,

Five years ago tomorrow you were composing an email to me that began like this:

Dear Laura,

I’m very, very sorry to need to let you know this way, but if you’re reading this then that means that I’ve made the decision to end it all and it should be over and too late right now.  I scheduled this email to be sent with a time-delay and I left plenty of time.  I’m sorry that you had to find out like this, but I didn’t know what else to do.

The next paragraph included your address and the phone number for your local police department followed by this:

“My front door will be unlocked.”

It’s really difficult for me to grasp that it’s been five years and I remember it all as clearly as though it is happening today.

So much has happened, and is happening now, that I wish you were here to share with me.  This year was a bit stressful for me going through the most painful breakup of my life, moving 3 times, struggling so much with my depression and now, after 43 years, Mom and Dad are finally divorcing.  You know they’ve been talking about it for as long as either one of us can remember.  I have a very clear memory of dad asking us for “advice” about what to do about their relationship when we were pretty young and then proceeding to ask us, “If Mommy and Daddy divorce, who would you want to live with? Would you want to live with me?”  Or telling us as young children, “Your mother won’t even let me touch her, kids.  What should I do?”  As if a 7 year old was in a position to offer advice on the matter… or should even be put in a position to be asked that question regarding her own parents.

I’m not struggling a great deal with the divorce because it honestly should have happened so very long ago.  If it had, perhaps both of them could have gone on to live happier lives and things may have been different for all of us.  I guess the only thing I’m struggling with is that it just feels like one more “loss” to pile on, you know?

Today is the funeral for a good friend of mine, as well.  You remember Auntie Anne, Grandma Mary’s sister?  She passed away a week ago.  We saw her so rarely growing up that we never really knew her well.  However, I started spending my Saturday mornings with her after she broke her hip and while it began as me going to help her out with things around the house, it transpired into a friendship and we’d just sit and chat, bake cookies or I’d take her shopping.  She was such a tough personality– very assertive and incredibly sassy and you always knew where you stood with her as she never let an opportunity to tell you pass by… even if it was hurtful.  But for whatever reason, we really clicked and enjoyed spending time together.

I remember when I had to tell her that I was moving away to Texas in 2009.  She was so sad, Brian.  And each time I’d come home to visit I’d go and see her and she would ask me, “When are you moving back home, kiddo?  I miss you.”  It broke my heart that up until 6 months ago she was still asking me when I was going to move back.  Her memory had really started to go so during our last conversation on the phone she told me how sad she was that she hadn’t seen me in six years… I feel awful that she had forgotten all of those times I came back to visit her and that she was feeling neglected by me.  I hope deep down some part of her did remember that I came to see her and that I did love her very much.

I will say that during times of loss, like after you passed away and after the breakup, I found out just how many wonderful people I have in my life and how truly valued I am by my friends.  I had so many of them reach out to me and remind me, when I had forgotten myself, that I’m a good person, that I’m beautiful and caring and that they truly respect and love me and want genuine happiness for me.  That felt pretty dang good.  The outpouring of support has been so appreciated.

Well… I have an awful lot more on my mind but for whatever reason the words just aren’t coming easily today.  I think I’ll write more later when things are clearer.

I will say that I’m feeling a little abandoned by you… and that is really, really hard for me to say to you.  But this stuff with Mom and dad… well, it just makes it harder not having you here to shoulder some of that alongside me.

I miss you.

Love,
Laura