Letter to Brian: December 30, 2014

Dear Brian,

Well… I managed to get through my 5th Christmas without you.  Christmas Eve seems to be extra hard for me as that was always our family’s big celebration; we, of course, celebrated Christmas Day as well… but there was always something extra special about Christmas Eve for us.  It was just… magical.

This year I was in Maryland for the Holiday and it was the third one in a row where I didn’t celebrate back home in Minnesota with family.  It hasn’t been intentional, but I’ll admit that I do find it easier to be away from all the reminders of you during this time of year.  Somehow it’s easier on me to be in new or unfamiliar surroundings where the ghosts of our Christmases past aren’t circling around me like vultures waiting to prey on any bit of happiness I manage to muster up each Christmas now.  I suppose it’s that your absence is all the more obvious when I’m engaged in the “usual” traditions without you.  It’s just not the same and, quite frankly, it hurts. I know so many survivors who have changed the way they celebrate the holidays… even going so far as to take a trip far away during that time of year just to get away from all of the reminders.

This year I managed to get myself sick, too; so while in Maryland I managed to have myself a little meltdown a few times because, well, I was feeling sick, I had my “monthly lady-time” and a load of the exhausting cramps that typically go along with it and on top of the deep sadness I was feeling over missing you, I felt as though I was tossing a wrench into the holiday celebrations of people that I care very much about.  I had myself a few tear-stained pity parties when I found myself alone in a room for a bit.  I was also struck with the grief of guilt when I found myself having moments of joy without you; though I know you’d want me to find happiness a part of me punishes myself for allowing myself those instances where I realize I’m moving on without you. It feels like I’m betraying you and I don’t think that guilt will ever completely go away.

Christmas Eve I was alone for a good hour or two; my sweetie wasn’t feeling well, his parents had gone to Christmas Eve Mass and his sister had returned to her home.  I sat there alone on the couch in the deafening quiet and stared into the lights of the Christmas tree and my mind drifted back to holidays past.  Suddenly I could see your face and hear your laugh and my heart longed to go back and relive even just a few minutes of any one of those nights.  My eyes filled with tears upon the realization that the only way I’ll ever spend Christmas with you again is just as I did on the couch that evening– with your ashes in a pendant worn around my neck and with your signature tattooed on my left wrist and your essence forever burned in my memory.

There used to be a home video of you opening a present from me on Christmas Eve back in 1994.  I’d given you a hilarious gift and I told dad to keep the camera on you as you opened it because it was sure to be a monumental moment.  And it really was.  For about the next 15 minutes straight you laughed and laughed and laughed and I could hardly contain my joy seeing you enjoy the gift so much.  A few months after you died, I searched frantically through every single one of VHS tapes of home movies to try and find those few minutes of footage and, to my dismay, it no longer seems to exist; it was taped over by something far less meaningful and my heart broke all over again when I realized it was gone.  I’d give anything to see that video again… to see and hear your laughter again.  Particularly since the last few years of your life your sadness was palpable and I’d love to be able to relive those moments of your pure happiness and perfectly infectious laugh.

I truly hope that wherever you are now that you’re free of that deep sadness that burdened you at the end of your life.

Merry Christmas, dude.

Love,
Laura

CHRISTMAS

 

 

 

 

Letter to Brian: August 25, 2014

hurtandhealer
Dear Brian,

I had a dream last night… and for the first time in a very long time you were in it.

I was at an event for suicide awareness and prevention and had been having a really nice, but emotional, time connecting with some of the lovely women I’ve met through the tragedy of your death. It was time for the guest speakers to present so the crowd shifted towards the stage. As a young woman stood at the podium and shared her story of losing her brother to suicide I began to cry. The last words she spoke were, “I wish you’d thought about how much you’d hurt me.”

Just as she said that, someone reached out and held onto my left hand and gave it a squeeze. As I turned to my left I saw that it was you. You continued to hold my hand and kissed me on the cheek and said, “Laura, I’m so sorry for what this has done to you.”

I like to think that was you checking in with me again… and I thank you for that.

Love always,
Laura

Letter to Brian: July 24, 2014

Dear Brian,

It’s funny how I can be moving right along thinking I’m doing really, really OK… then out of nowhere I find myself sluggish and exhausted and just sort of…well…. an overall feeling of malaise.  Then I remember what day it is… and it all makes sense.  Even when my mind is not consciously aware, my body remains entirely aware of what was happening on this very day 4 years ago.

It was Saturday, July 24, 2010 and I was in Dallas visiting my friend Rachel for the weekend.  She and I were strolling around Target that morning when I heard my phone beep.  I looked down and saw that I had a text message from you that read, “Hey dude– I’m having trouble with my email.  If you get anything from me, just go ahead and delete it.”  I truly didn’t think much of it… I just assumed perhaps your email account had been hacked.  Rachel and I proceeded to shop and pick up snacks for our day at the pool that afternoon… your text immediately was forgotten and we went about our girls’ weekend.  I had no idea what that seemingly benign text would come to mean to me.

The next afternoon I drove the 3 hours home from Dallas.  I unpacked, took a shower and made myself a snack.  I sat down at the computer to check my email to see what I’d missed during the past few days.  Then I saw it… an email from you.  It was sent on the 24th and the subject line simply read: “Important.”  There was a word document attached and the body of the message said:

Hey Laura, this is very important and you will want to open it right away. –Brian

My first thought was, maybe I should just delete it as you’d asked me to do… but something in my gut told me to open the attachment anyway.  So I did.  These are the next few words I read:

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 that can be canceled, 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.

Brooklyn Park Police Department phone 763-493-8222

My front door will be unlocked. 

I can’t possibly describe the horror I was experiencing at that very moment.  Everything was an absolute blur as I read through 3 pages of your last thoughts and preparations– where you kept the title to your car, your life insurance policy, what to do with your cats, when the water heater had been replaced a host of all kinds things that someone who truly intended to tie up absolutely all their loose ends would include in such a final correspondence.  I raced to my phone to try calling you… no answer.  I called again… no answer.  I then immediately called Mom and asked if she’d gotten that email from you and she hadn’t– you’d only sent it to me.  I told her what it said and told her we needed to call the police and send them over to your house immediately.  Upon hanging up I instantly began calling your phone again and again and again… each time hoping for a different outcome– one where you’d answer your phone and be OK.

After about 10 minutes of fevered dialing my phone rang and I stared at the caller ID display. It was you.  It was YOU!  But after the letter I’d just read I was a little afraid to pick up… would it be you?  Would it be the police telling me they were standing over your dead body in your living room?  I answered the phone and I heard your voice say, “Hey, dude.”

Shit.  I don’t think a word exists that could possibly convey the amount of relief surging through my body upon hearing you speak.  You apologized for worrying me and said that’s why you sent that text– to stop me from reading the email you intended to simply SAVE, not SEND.  You told me how once you realized your mistake that you tried unplugging all of the cords to your computer in hopes of stopping it from being sent.  None of that mattered to me… I told you that obviously I was meant to get that message so I could get you the help you so badly needed.  In hindsight, I don’t know which would have been worse for me… having never received that email and having no warning about your imminent death or getting the email and proceeding to not do enough to keep you safe from yourself.

I began to wonder this week… thinking about what else might have been going on in the world that very same day you wrote that letter. So I decided to Google “July 24, 2010” to see what came up… to see what else was happening in the world that day as you sat alone in your home and typed up your suicide letter to me.  That very same day your horoscope in the Lawrence Journal-World read, “Take some much-needed personal time.  You have been groping with an issue and probably need time to process it.”  Boy, did you ever.  Selfishly, I wish you’d taken much, much longer.  You know, like about another 50 years or so.  But, I digress.

Just a few miles from where you sat typing, Natalie Merchant was performing at the O’Shaughnessy Theater in Saint Paul, MN.  In Baltimore, our very own Minnesota Twins were defeating the Baltimore Oriole’s 7-2.  Theo Albrecht, the 2005’s “20th Richest Man in the World” passed away. A number of celebrities (including, but not limited to, Rose Byrne, Bindi Irwin, Barry Bonds, Jennifer Lopez and Kristin Chenowith) were celebrating their birthdays.  And then… I found something breathtaking.  Turns out that the very same man who directed your favorite movie, “Gladiator,” had been working on producing a film project directed by Kevin MacDonald entitled, “Life in a Day” in which he was gathering video submissions from people all over the entire world from one single day: July 24, 2010.  Absolutely amazing.  After sorting through over 80,000 submissions containing a combined total of over 4,500 hours the end-result is a 95 minute documentary, shot by film-makers from all over the planet.  It was released in 2011 and will, to quote IMDB, serve as a digital “time capsule” to show future generations what it was like to be alive on Earth on the twenty-fourth of July, 2010.  While these people were presenting what it was like to be alive on that day, you were planning your own death.

I watched the documentary today and would you believe there was actually a part of me that I allowed to hope for a glimpse of you in there somewhere?  I thought to myself, “Wow, wouldn’t it be great if by some miracle by brother showed up in there in his own video submission that might reveal to me a shred of what he was feeling that day?”  I know… it was a long shot.  But you have to understand… I won’t get any new pictures of you.  I won’t get any new videos of you.  All I have is what I’ve already seen and I continue to long for more because it still doesn’t make sense to me.

Instead of you, I saw what the moon looked like that night.  I saw a couple getting married.  I saw a woman joyfully holding a pregnancy test stick in her hand showing the camera she was going to be a mother.  I saw a girl crying herself to sleep.  So many personal and emotional moments in that 95 minutes… none of which included you.  But then… I guess I already know what you were doing that day, don’t I?

I’ll continue to hopelessly search for you everywhere I look.

I miss you.

Laura

Letter to Brian: December 31, 2013

Dear Brian,

It’s about to become the year 2014.  This is my 3rd New Year’s Eve without you and each time the world continues to move on to the next calendar year I have an immense pain in my heart.

I know many people who read this won’t understand… but also know that anyone who has lost someone as close as you were to me will know exactly what I’m talking about.  I remember so vividly clinging to the year 2010 because you were here with us for the majority of that year and I desperately did not want to move into 2011 without you.  I think of that each New Year’s Eve– that I have endured yet another (and am about to endure one more) year without you.  And each time I find a penny you leave for me I immediately look at what year it is; as silly as it seems, I find myself feeling heartbroken if it’s a penny from 2011 or later– I only want pennies from the years you were with me.

So many things have happened since you gave up, Brian.  So many things I wish I could have shared with you– both good and bad.  My marriage had been struggling long, long before we moved away to Texas and deep down I always knew you never truly connected with Mark and knew that he wasn’t the man for me.  We decided to separate only 8 months after you died and were officially divorced shortly after the one-year anniversary of your death.  To some a divorce might be a traumatic event but for me it was such a wonderful blessing as I was unhappy for so long and finally felt some relief; I knew I was free to find the person with whom I was really meant to be with forever.  I then went through a confusing and tumultuous year-long relationship… again, the end of a relationship that turned out to be a beautiful blessing to me as it brought me to the place where I met my sweetie.  He has graciously let me into his life with all my quirks and complexity and has allowed you to remain a part of my life with him.  He’s there to provide hugs and a shoulder to cry on… and he’s been so willing to participate in the little “ceremonial” things I do to remember you– watching your favorite movies with me, listening to my stories about you and asking to know more about you.  I know without a doubt that you would think he is a wonderful partner for me.

Then there is my amazing friend, Leashya.  I’m so grateful to have met her, Brian.  She has been the most constant and consistently supportive and trustworthy person in my life here in Austin.  We understand each other in a way that only convinces me further that we are kindred spirits and I was undoubtedly supposed to meet her– she has become my family, my sister.  Though she feels that she knows you already (from how much I speak about you) she really wishes she could have met you and I wish you’d have had the opportunity to know her, too.

There are so many others whom I’ve met as a direct result of your suicide. Through seeking help and having others reach out to me for help, I’ve met some beautiful people.  It’s so bittersweet; while I’m heartbroken for the reason we came together, I’m also grateful that we did.  I met people early on who were further along in their grief process who were able to offer up a truly understanding ear and heartfelt advice.  And now, 3 years later, I’m finding I’ve been given the opportunity to turn around and offer that same kind of guidance to others.  It’s a devastating but loving community I’ve found and I’m grateful for both the opportunity to learn from others and to also be able to teach some of what I’ve learned about life and myself in this process.

I began this blog in 2013– it has been nearly a year since my very first public post.  While I’ve received so much wonderful feedback from others who are grieving, I’ve found that it has been immeasurably helpful to me, personally.  First, for the opportunity to get out so many thoughts and feelings I have inside… but also to be able to go back and read previous posts.  I am amazed at how raw some of them are! I’m proud of the resilience I never knew I had and also of my own willingness to be so open with the world… it has brought many wonderful people into my life as a result.

This coming February I will be traveling to Washington, D.C. as I was selected by the Central Texas Chapter of The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention to receive a scholarship to attend their Annual Advocacy Forum on Capital Hill.  I’ll be able to meet with lawmakers about issues surrounding mental health and suicide awareness and prevention.  I know you’ll be there beside me giving me the strength to share your story and mine.  I’m determined to make changes where I can this coming year, Brian, and I know you’ll be supporting me all the way.

Love Always,
Laura

Letter to Brian: October 13, 2013

brian vikings  image-14-for-chile-miners-rescue-gallery-126389526

Dear Brian,

Today marks 3 years since I got the call that changed my life– I was told you were found dead in your home after taking your own life.

There was something else happening that very same day. On October 13, 2010, the entire world watched with bated breath as 33 Chilean miners were being rescued and brought to the surface after spending nearly 70 days trapped 700 meters below the earth in a collapsed mine.  The symbolic parallel of that event was absolutely not lost on me.

Upon being freed, one of the miners was quoted as saying, “From the first moment, I thought they would rescue us.  I never lost hope… I never lost faith.”  I couldn’t help but recognize that while those 33 men were desperately clinging to hope and to life itself you were purposefully letting go of those very same things.  As they were reaching for the light at the surface, you were allowing yourself to slip into the darkness.  As their families were rejoicing in being reunited with their loved ones their horror came to an end… mine was just beginning.  For those 70 days, they knew their loved ones were in serious danger and prayed for their safe return.  During that same time, I also knew you were in danger– you were trapped in a very dangerous place of your own.  They made it out alive, but you did not.

That same miner also was also quoted as having said, “I’ve been married for 32 years and rarely told my wife I loved her.  I just wanted to tell her how much I loved her.”  While I’m so glad that he has been given a second chance to change that, I’m also quite envious of him. You and I were never very good about saying “I love you” to one another… that’s just not how our family was.  I so wish I had done things differently.  I’d have been more open with my feelings with you while you were still here.  I’d have done more to try and keep you safe from the world and from yourself.

There are days it feels as if these past 3 years have flown by because it still feels as fresh as though it just happened yesterday. But most days drag on because you still are on my mind literally ever moment of every single day.   I’m saddened by the fact that I’ll quite likely have to live more years without you than I was allowed to live with you.

I’m going to be honest, Brian.  Today is the first day in a very long time that I’d had the urge to cut again.  I haven’t… and I won’t because I’ve done a lot of hard work on myself over the past few years to get past those urges.  But I really want to.  There is so much pain inside me today as I remember every single, awful detail of the events of October 13, 2010.  It’s like a horror movie that keeps playing over and over and over in my head and I keep foolishly wishing for a different ending.  I’m spending the day alone today. Not by choice, really… just sort of worked out that way.  But truth be told… I can’t say I’d blame anyone for not wanting to spend a hard-earned Sunday off around a moping, sulking, sobbing, listless ragdoll of a human being.  Besides, I’m so good at not wanting to “put anyone out” by sharing my agony with them that I rarely have the gumption to just say, “Hey, I really don’t want to be alone today.  I want to talk about my brother and remember him and I don’t want to suffer through this by myself.”  I sometimes feel as though I’m just not worth the effort that others would need to put forth to spend a day like today with me… so I just don’t ask.  Besides, the compassion that was extended towards me when it was only 3 days… 3 weeks…. 3 months…. well, it just isn’t there anymore 3 years later.  I completely realize that the world feels my grieving time should have come and gone by now… I should be in a better, stronger place.  Well, I’m not.  I’m certainly better than I was 3 years ago… but have a very long, long way to go.

It rained here last night, dude.  Really, really hard.  I don’t think it has rained that hard since I moved here to Austin 4 years ago.  But I’m so grateful for it.  Not just because we needed the rain so badly… but because I was so desperately craving for the world around me to mirror what I’ve been feeling inside these past few days leading up to this heartbreaking anniversary.  (Yet another symbolic parallel of which I am achingly aware.)  I sat alone out on the porch in the dark, drinking way too much wine and I watched as the skies lit up with frequent bursts of lightning and leashed a torrent of water that was too much for the ground to handle so it overflowed into rivers spilling all over the yard.  It was so freeing and comforting; it was as though Mother Nature was showing me that it was OK to let out all the pain and tears I’ve been suppressing for a while now… even if it gets a little messy.  I’m grateful that she raged and cried right alongside me… made me feel a little less alone.

I love you and miss you more than ever, Brian.

Laura

Letter to Brian: August 27, 2013

Dear Brian,

In the checkout line of the grocery store the other day a cover of a magazine jumped out at me… a picture of a beautiful, young woman, a former contestant on “The Bachelor,” who recently took her own life.  I did actually watch that season of the show and remember her well– she was stunningly beautiful and had one of the most engaging smiles I’d ever seen.  The people close to her seemed to be so shocked that this happened.  It’s not that uncommon, really.  Though I knew how badly you were suffering and expected your death to come, I heard so many people say to me, “I had no idea he was depressed… was it a total shock to you?  I never would have seen this coming.”  I felt ashamed to say, “Yes, I did see this coming.”

It’s so strange how suicides attract so much attention in the media.  People want to know all the “gory details.”  How did they do it?  Who found them?  What did they look like?  Was there a note?  What did it say?  Did they blame anyone?  Did anyone see it coming?  But for a death that creates so much interest and curiosity, it sure is lonely and alienating as a family member; people are afraid of us, it would seem.  They are uncomfortable with our presence because they don’t know what to say to us or because our pain is hard for them to be around or possibly because we remind them of the pain that exists in their own life.  I had a long-lost friend recently resurface to tell me, “I’m sorry I haven’t been there for you– I didn’t know how to help you so I just stayed away.”  While I can understand her feelings, it does still hurt because the alienation adds another layer of pain to your death.

There were details about your death that I needed to talk about and process but absolutely could not share with those around me– they were too intense and too difficult for others to hear.  That’s where the support group at The Christi Center was so helpful– there I could talk about those “gory details” that no one wanted (or was equipped) to hear and not be judged or ashamed for needing to talk about and work through.  I remember discussing one event that was really hard for me after your death.  It was August of 2011– 10 months after you died.  I was in my office at work and noticed an awful, awful smell.  The smell was coming from an animal that had died in the rafters above my office and was decomposing in the Texas heat.  I had a full-blown panic attack and had to leave for a bit because that smell was not unfamiliar to me– it was not unlike the faint smell which still remained at your home when we went to collect your belongings.  You had been dead for a week when you were found and I was told had decomposed at an unusually rapid rate for having been indoors in a moderate temperature– being October in Minnesota and all.  Once you smell that scent, you never forget it.  It’s strange to me how those kinds of details would make for a juicy story in a tabloid but when it comes down to relating to a real person, no one wants to hear that stuff!  I wish they wouldn’t print those kinds of details because it feels like an exploitation of the grief the family is experiencing– and it must feel like such a violation.  While it was so helpful to me to be able to talk about it with other suicide survivors who understood the need to share those kinds of details, I can’t imagine the pain of having had your picture plastered on the front cover of a magazine along with a headline speculating how/why you did it.  And to have millions of strangers reading about your life and your pain and your ultimate death… would just be so painful because so many people are afraid to talk directly TO me about it.

My heart goes out to this young woman’s family as they begin the process of restructuring their life without her in it.  It is a process I continue to work on every single day and wouldn’t wish it upon anyone.

Love,
Laura

Letter to Brian: April 30, 2013

Dear Brian,

Back in November of 2011,  shortly after the one year anniversary of your death, I was put in touch with a filmmaker who also lost a brother to suicide.  She was about to begin making a documentary about sibling survivors of suicide and she interviewd me to see if I might be a good fit for the project… she ended up coming to Austin in January of 2012 to film me.

You know how camera shy I’ve always been– getting me to sit still for a nice picture was never easy, but getting me on video camera was far more challenging.  It was definitely a stretch for me as sitting in front of a camera being interviewed was so far out of my comfort zone.  But a few things helped me through the process:  first of all, Caley also had lost her brother to suicide so the feelings we were talking about I knew she could understand first hand so it felt more like we were having a conversation rather than me being on “display.”   Secondly, she has such a calm, warm  and encouraging demeanor about her that I found myself thinking about the camera less and less.

She spent about 3 hours filming at my home one evening and we covered a lot of territory!  We spoke so much about you, what it was like growing up together and what my life has been like since your suicide.  While being on camera was hard, it meant so much to me to have someone sitting there asking me about you and genuinely wanting to hear what I had to say, no matter how difficult some of it was.  A year had already passed since you died so the caring thoughts and sympathies had long dwindled away… the rest of the world had moved on but I still had so much to work through yet.  Furthermore, the topic of suicide is so taboo that when people learn how you died the conversation stops.  People are afraid of it and don’t know what to say, so… they just stop talking.  Can’t say I blame them… it’s an uncomfortable place to be– and they have a choice of whether or not to be around the subject; I however, do not.  She also walked with me to my special tree to film me placing some of your ashes beneath it.  Since you were cremated, I don’t have a gravesite to visit.  And home is so far away that I can’t go visit places or people that remind me of you when I need it.  That tree has become very special to me.  Though I’ve loved it since I first saw it (a year before you died) I somehow feel your presence more intensely there now.  I remember so clearly the first time I went to see the tree after you died.  It’s strange… before your death I didn’t make any connection between you and that tree.  But on the one year anniversary of losing you I decided to go visit the tree.  As I got closer and closer to it I found myself walking faster and faster… by the time it nearly came into view I was almost running.  I could feel my heart rising up into my throat and the moment I saw it, I buckled.  I fell at the foot of the tree and just started sobbing.  The last time I’d seen that tree you were still alive… and I wanted to go back to that time so badly.  But there was something so powerful about that day– it felt like you were right there with me; and as if maybe, in some way, you were part of that tree now and were there again in physical form sheltering me as I sat there and sobbed at your feet.

Caley emailed me a few days ago to let me know the project is coming along and that the trailer should be released within the next few weeks.  She has set up a website and a Facebook page for the documentary and wanted the subjects of the film to be the first to view it.  It hit me really hard, for some reason.  One obvious trigger is the pressure of seeing myself on film… it makes me very uncomfortable.  But I think the larger part of my apprehension is watching it and being transported right back to where I was a year and a half ago.  While I’m still a bit of a walking disaster, I’ve managed to work through a lot of feelings and am far more put together than I was back then.  But I’m afraid to be triggered by the intensity of the emotions and the depth of the despair I was feeling… and now it will be out there for the world to see.  Don’t get me wrong… I’m so glad I participated because I think her work will help a lot of people.  Siblings tend to be so overlooked in the wake of a suicide; Caley and I spoke of how few resources there are out there for siblings and she’s going to help change that.  It still baffles me to this day how someone could look me in the eye and say, “Oh, I heard about your brother.  Please tell your Mom and Dad how sorry I am.”  Part of me wanted to jump up and down and scream, “I’m here too!  He was my brother and I’m hurting, too!!” And it happened many times.  I’m so glad she’s given a few of us the opportunity to share our stories and let the world know about our brothers and how their deaths have affected us and changed our lives… I feel very lucky that she chose me!

I hope you’re proud of what I’m doing… It is so mportant to me to continue to find ways to keep your memory alive!

Love Always,

Laura

p.s. for those reading… the documentary’s websites are here:  http://foursistersdoc.com/  and  https://www.facebook.com/foursistersdoc  please spread the word if you can!

Letter To Brian: February 24, 2013

vikings blanket

Dear Brian,

For your birthday 3 years ago I gave you this blanket I crocheted for you– in purple and gold for the Vikings, your favorite team! I had no idea that would be your last birthday and I’m so grateful that I chose to make you something myself. I spent so many hours working on it and I can’t tell you how excited I was for you to open it. It made me feel so good when I saw you had posted a picture of it and bragged it up a bit on Facebook. It meant so much to me to know you appreciated it and that you were proud of it because though I wasn’t always great with words it was a way for me to show you how much you really meant to me.

I had no idea at the time how important that blanket was to you or how important it would become to me.

When you were found in your home on October 13, 2010 the police reported that you had passed away in your recliner with the blanket I made for you draped over your lap and your legs.

I’ve tormented myself over and over and over with thoughts of how lonely you must have felt as you took your last few breaths. But I’ve chosen to believe that you choosing that blanket to keep you warm as you drifted away from the world that brought you so much pain was your way of having me close to you and that perhaps I was in your thoughts.

I got the blanket back. I made that blanket for you, Brian! I had no idea that only a year after I’d made it that I’d have it back and the importance it would hold for me. While I still have been unable to convince myself that I did enough to try and save you, it does bring me hope to think that perhaps you had that blanket with you in your last moments because you DID know just how much I loved you and that it brought you some comfort.

I’ll go to sleep tonight, like I do every night, with that blanket by my side. While I can never be certain that it brought you the comfort I wished for you, I can tell you it brings me so much comfort to have that piece of you with me still.

Love Always,
Laura

Letter To Brian: February 19, 2013

Dear Brian,

I’m feeling extra lonely and your absence is hurting far more than usual these days. I have attempted to be out in the “dating world” again for a brief period here recently and quickly determined that it is not the easiest place for me to be right now.

While your death was not the reason for my divorce, it was definitely a contributing factor. We’d been having trouble for several years which was why I had such a difficult time with our plan to move from Minnesota to Texas– I was feeling as though we had been on such shaky ground for a long time. My fear was if we didn’t work out, I’d be in a place 22 hours away from all of my family and friends and all I’d ever known yet he’d be in a place where he already had a support system of friends and family in place. But after you died I just was in such a bad place and was virtually inconsolable. While I had no feelings of anger towards you whatsoever, he was quite angry at you. And I don’t blame him for that– it’s quite a natural emotion given the circumstances and everyone is entitled to their own emotions. But it did create another wedge between us to some degree– if I expressed my grief it only heightened his anger towards you and your final act and I didn’t want him to be angry with you. So I retreated within myself to protect you from his anger and to protect him from his feelings of helplessness when I could not be comforted. The more I retreated the further apart we grew and it couldn’t be ignored. And I honestly think I became a different person altogether. Really what your death did for our marriage was to bring all the issues to the forefront where they could no longer be brushed over– they had to be dealt with at last. And quite honestly I was quickly learning that life was too short to spend it where neither of us was feeling happy nor the slightest bit fulfilled. We owed it to each other to part ways and let each other find the happiness we both deserve.

After my divorce I was in one relationship for a year and it started out beautifully. He was aware of what happened to you right from the start– in fact, we began dating very close to the one year anniversary of your death. He was so supportive and caring and wanted to know all he could about you and encouraged me to work through my grief through the support group meetings, my writing and my art. I was so grateful for that because I was so extremely fragile and it would take a very special person to open their heart to not just me, but to you as well.

But what began to happen is what has happened in many of my other relationships whether it be with friends, family or close acquaintances with whom I have daily contact. There comes a point when the support seems to wear off and the caring seems to turn to more of a “discomfort” at the sound of your name. What started out as encouragement turned to frustration that I was still “hung up” on my grief and you were too much of a part of my life yet. That was so unbelievably painful to hear– I’d only lost you a year and a half ago. Of course you are a big part of my life! You always will be. The person with whom I eventually spend my life will need to make room in their heart for you too.

It is hard to know whom to trust– there are people who once were very close friends (or even family members) who seem to now pretend as though we don’t exist. Emails, calls and letters go unanswered. While I do understand that people are uncomfortable with our grief, or possibly their own, but losing people very close to us simply because we lost you is an additional pain that is so hard to accept at times. So how do I find the strength to reach out and try to begin new relationships? It’s always been hard enough for me to truly open up to someone new but the added pressure of being rejected for where I am at in my grief journey makes it so frightening to try.

I’m hopeful that there is someone, somewhere who will accept me with all my quirks and faults and will realize that while you are no longer part of the physical world, you are a massive part of my spiritual world and are still my brother. The question I’ll ultimately need to ask them is, “Do you have room in your heart for both of us?”

Please continue to watch over me– I need it.

Love Always,
Laura

Letter To Brian: February 13, 2013

Dear Brian,

I’ve spent a lot of time lately thinking about the last 5 months of your life. Specifically about how much we talked about how hard it is to get accessible and affordable help when you are struggling with depression and suicidality. I’ve run into this issue the majority of my life. By the time I’d reach a point low enough to realize I had no option but to reach out for help it would be a 12-16 week wait to see someone. I recall one occasion where I was feeling low enough to nearly beg the person on the phone, “Are you SURE there isn’t anything sooner?” Her response was, “Well, are you going to kill yourself TODAY? If so, just take yourself to the emergency room. If not, then you need to wait 12 weeks to see Dr. So-and-So.” Great bedside manner. It made me feel so embarrassed and ashamed of myself and I didn’t try calling anyone else for help for another few months as a result.

Getting the appointment wasn’t always the most difficult part– it was PAYING for it. For a year in the early 2000’s I was seeing a fabulous therapist. I had insurance, but they only: (1) allowed 30 visits per calendar year and (2) only had about four therapists from which I could choose that were in my network. I’d been to two of them already and had a bad experience with them both. When I found a therapist that really treated me with respect and said she could help me she turned out to be out of my network. Since she did not accept my insurance her typical policy was to request payment in full ($160 per visit) the day of the appointment and the patient in turn would submit the visits to their insurance company for the allowed reimbursement amount. However, she was very accommodating of my financial situation and allowed me to pay her $114 up front ($45 out of network copay plus 60% of the remaining balance of $115) and she would submit the remaining $46 to the insurance company to pay. This worked fine for the first few months until she had to have the uncomfortable conversation with me that my insurance company was not responding to her claims– at all. She would fax them 3, 4, even 5 times with no response. Each time she’d call they’d inform her they hadn’t received them and they’d require her to resubmit them. This went on for the rest of the year until I finally had to quit seeing her altogether– she couldn’t afford to keep seeing me and not get paid the full amount upfront. When speaking with my HR representative I was advised that they were aware that the insurance company was regularly not holding up their part of the deal where mental health visits (whether in or out of network) were concerned. I was so exasperated– the financial struggle involved with getting the help I so badly needed only accelerated my feelings of hopelessness.

For a number of recent years, once on successful dosages of a cocktail of anti-depressants I had been able to simply obtain refills of my prescriptions at my annual physical from my general practitioner. However, after you died she became concerned that she did not possess the expertise which she felt was required to play around with the meds to get me to a better place. So, she referred me to a psychiatrist for my future visits. I found one I liked, that was in network, and would require a $75 copay per visit and insurance would cover the rest. I could deal with that! However, after a few months I got a bill for $900 stating my insurance company would not cover a diagnosis of “Recurring Major Depressive Disorder” as it was classified as a “major mental illness” which, of course, they do not cover. My only option was to switch to their self-pay option of $130 per visit– and of course, she would need to see me every 4 weeks in order to continue to refill my prescription. With the cost of my prescriptions I was paying about $190 per month– just for medication maintenance– not including any of the sessions with my psychotherapist.

I also need to tell you that I have an important letter to write to someone in your defense. You didn’t want me to write this letter while you were alive and, quite frankly, it has been in the intended recipient’s favor that I have chosen to wait a few years to cool off after your death before writing it. A few short months before you took your life you confided in me that the one and only time you had ever sought help for your depression (despite several previous suicide attempts) was about 1-1/2 years before your suicide. You contacted the Employee Assistance Help Line offered by your employer.  I used the help line at my company years ago which put me in touch with that amazing therapist I saw for a year. It’s a wonderful program and completely free of charge. They refer you to someone who can help, and pay for the first six visits. These therapists are enrolled in the program knowing that the first six visits are free to the patient– they are paid directly by the referral service. I was apalled to find out that the man to whom you were referred was completely unethical in how he handled your situation. After opening up to him and sharing things with him which had never been shared before, his response was, “well, your troubles are pretty complex and will take a lot of time and effort to work them out. The referral service you used only pays me $60 an hour to see you for these sessions but my office rates are actually $170 per visit so I’d recommend that you contact my office directly for any future sessions.” Nice. Way to tell someone who is suicidal that they aren’t worth helping out for a measly 60 bucks an hour. Clearly he did not enter the profession for its altruism! You never did go back to see him and I can’t say that I blame you for it. I’d have done the same. All of these issues I mentioned above were contributing factors in me making all those calls on your behalf to try and find you a good therapist. It’s hard enough to get the runaround and hear the tone of condescension in the voice on the other end of the line when you’re in a good place let alone when you’re mustering up shreds of strength every morning just to get out of bed and attempt to live through one more excruciating day.

Each time I go through these same issues with getting help for myself I feel the pain so much more deeply now as it only reminds me of how trapped you must have felt those last few months before you finally gave up altogether.

If there is anything good to come out of losing you in such a horrific way it will be that I will do my part to see that mental health is given the same consideration as physical health! And there needs to be less “hey, suck-it-up-and-pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps” going around out there. Unless someone has been in the deep depths of true despair, they know not of what they speak.

Wish me luck writing the letter to that small, small man. I’ll let you know how it goes…

Love Always,
Laura