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: 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: March 18, 2013

Dear Brian,

While I realize that people don’t necessarily always know the right things to say to someone who is grieving a loss like mine I do have to say there has been nothing that stings quite like someone saying, “I know how you feel. I had to put my dog down recently and I think I know now where you are coming from now.”

Don’t get me wrong… you know how very deep my love for animals goes. It borders on the excessive at times! However, I can’t seem to find a piece of my brain that can understand where that comparison comes into play in this case. You and I both know what it was like to finally have to say goodbye to the loving critters we called our friends from our early childhood until we were nearly out of high school. It was so painful! And to lose another pair of dogs way too young when they accidently jumped off of a bridge near our home and did not survive the fall.

On October 2, 2010 I brought my sweet 7 year old cat, Sophie, to the vet knowing something was really wrong. I would find out that day that she was dying– her kidneys were beginning to fail. On October 6th 2010 I received the last e-mail I’d ever receive from you; it was quite short and said simply this: “Any word on Sophie?” She remained in the hospital until after your funeral. Treating her at home was going well and she was feeling better for a few months but I eventually had to do the loving thing and give her a peaceful exit on January 29, 2011 only 3 short months after I’d lost you.

I know what it is like to lose pets from illness, tragic injury and old age. I know what it is like to lose a Grandparent quite suddenly and to lose one because it was simply their time to go. I’ve experienced many kinds of loss in my life but none could begin to hold a candle to the infinite amount of pain left by your death. There isn’t a single part of me that feels I could ever understand someone making a comparison to the loss of their 16 year old dog to the suicide death of my only sibling.

I hope this isn’t interpreted as a lack of compassion for other losses– as I truly can empathize with the pain that goes along with losing a pet. But it is excruciating to have that comparison made because I know, having experienced both kinds of loss (and in such a short period of time), that there absolutely IS no comparison.

I just felt like sharing that with you… thanks for listening.

Love,
Laura

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

Happy Birthday, Brian!

brian face

Today Brian would have turned 38 years old. My tradition for his birthday is to watch his favorite movie, Gladiator, and eat pizza– his favorite food!

I remember the first time I saw Gladiator. Brian and I were living together in an apartment and were going to be hosting Thanksgiving at our place back in November of 2000. We watched it together as the turkey was cooking and of course I cried like a baby at the end. He loved that movie so much! He even was nuts about the soundtrack which I thought was just so fascinating; he typically was listening to Pantera, White Zombie, Metallica, etc. But he used to put the Gladiator Soundtrack on in his car (a black, Honda Civic hatchback he lovingly named “Blackula”), roll down the windows and just rock out to that stuff. Totally made me smile.

But looking back I can totally see why he really connected with the movie. Maximus was a man of great honor and strong, moral character and so was Brian. Maximus fought for things he felt were right and so did Brian. In fact one of the things that ended up pushing Brian over the edge was having so much trouble, in his own words, “watching the world continue to undo itself.” He was so deeply affected seeing all the hate and unrest in the world and felt powerless to do anything about it.

There is a scene in the movie where just prior to his final battle in the colosseum Commodus stabs him in the back, deeply wounding him. They bandage him up and put on his armor to cover the injury so the crowd would know nothing of this “imbalance” in the fairness of the battle. Maximus spoke of it to no one; he went into the battle and fought the best he could though gravely injured.

While not the same, it reminds me of something that happened to Brian at work. He was working so very hard and was given a great deal of extra work to do to help make up for another member of his team that rarely showed up to work but made a lot more money than Brian did. His manager continuously bombarded Brian with not only his own projects, but the projects of his absent, higher-paid co-worker.

When management caught wind of the work that Brian was doing, they approached him and asked him why he was doing those projects that were not his responsibility. Brian told them his manager asked him to do so. However, when his boss was approached about it, she completely threw him under the bus! She told the management team that she gave “no such instructions” and that Brian took it upon himself to involve himself in those projects all on his own. As a result, he was reprimanded and it was suggested that he “resign.”

While Brian had all the requests from his manager documented and could have presented that to management to defend himself, he chose not to do so. He told me the job didn’t make him very happy to begin with and his manager was a single mom– he didn’t want her to get fired when he knew she had a child to support. He chose to instead give his notice and bow out gracefully without having cleared his own name. That’s just the way Brian was. He often put others before himself even if they didn’t deserve it.

I have often thought that Maximus, like Brian, chose to keep the “back stabbing” to himself because he had nothing more to lose– he had already, in essence, given up. That incident at work was less than one year before he died.

Maximus once said to his comrades, “Brothers, what we do in life echoes in eternity.” I think Brian’s kindness continues to live on!

Tonight I will be joined by my amazing friend Leashya and we will watch Gladiator, enjoy some pizza and toast a glass of wine to the memory of a worthy soul.

In Dreams

I’m sharing this note I wrote to myself at 3:00 in the morning on December 1, 2010 just 6 short weeks after Brian died. I had the most amazing dream but to describe it as just a dream feels so inadequate as I am unequivocally certain it was a visit from Brian. While to this day it has been the most beautiful experience of my life, it has left me achingly sad nearly every morning since as I continue to wish for another visit each time my head hits the pillow at night. Here is what I wrote immediately upon waking up that night:

I just woke up from a dream I had about Brian.

Mom and I were somewhere… I believe it was supposed to be his place although everything looked different. I heard his voice– very groggy, as though he was just waking up– he was calling my name saying, “Laura…. Laura…. it’s Brian.” I was frantically looking around thinking there is no way I could have just heard what I thought I heard.

I ran down the stairs and as I approached the last few steps I saw him coming towards me– he had some tubes hooked up to him, like an breathing tube going to his nose. I sat on the bottom few steps with Mom sitting next to me a step above as he stood on the floor next to the staircase and took both of my hands in his– again, I thought there is no way this is happening– could he really be here with us now?

I glanced at Mom and cried as I asked her, “Mommy, what is happening?” I needed to see if she was hearing and seeing what I was– and she assured me that she was; however, I sensed from her that it didn’t mean he was alive. I looked at Brian again– he looked really good. He looked so peaceful and rested and happy; he had that pink glow in his cheeks and his eyes told me he was OK. I asked him how he was– he said, “I’m alright now. I was cured the moment I passed away. I love you very much and miss you.” I told him I loved him and missed him… and hugged him and cried. Again, I kept looking at Mom to see if she was hearing it– and she was. But she stayed there quietly next to me and watched and listened… like she knew this moment with Brian was meant just for me.

Mom and I were then saying our goodbyes downstairs to him as if we were leaving his place like any other time before; Mom asked, “Are you going to be OK? What are you going to do now?” He said, “I’m good. I’m going to just run out for a bit;” he had a cup of coffee and reached for his keys– as if he was truly only going to hop in in his red Saturn and go for a drive.

That’s the last I remember before waking up… and I woke up feeling so peaceful and grateful that I’d had this dream. I have been hoping to dream about him like this– and I hope it is a gift from Brian– I hope it was really him telling me he is OK now.

I’ve had other dreams about him since but none remotely like this– and anyone who has lost someone dear to them has had a dream such as this knows exactly what I’m talking about. There was something so profoundly peaceful and heavenly about that dream that no one could ever convince me that my brother did not come to me that night to bring me a little comfort.

Letter To Brian: November 17, 2012

Dear Brian,

Today I attended a conference for International Survivors of Suicide Awareness Day. It was the second one I’ve attended– the first being in November of 2010 only a few short weeks after your death. I thought that this one may be different for me being two full years since you orchestrated your untimely exit… but that really wasn’t the case. I was just as affected by the stories and tears of others today as I was two years ago.

It is always so rewarding and reassuring to hear the words and stories coming out of the other survivors’ mouths– for those few hours I don’t feel quite so crazy. In those meetings I can share things about your death that my friends would find all but impossible to endure and not feel ashamed or as though I’m imposing upon them an irrational need to talk about the gruesome details. They reminded me today, more than once, that not only am I OK, but I’m extremely normal in where I find myself these days.

The first year was in no way easy to get through but the second year proved to be far more difficult; it felt like had just run a painful marathon only to reach the “finish line” and find it wasn’t a stopping point at all but another starting line and I had to repeat the whole thing over again and again and again. Another survivor said they think the subsequent years are more difficult because the shock and numbness you experience that first year have begun to wear off and you’re left with the reality of what’s happened and have to deal with it and learn how to live in your “new normal.”

I continue to be surprised at when and where and just how often I’m struck with a crippling grief. Another sibling survivor mentioned today how even 4 years after the suicide of her brother she can be going about her day and she’ll hear a song, see a place she used to visit with him or see a face that resembled his and be immediately transported back to the day he died and find herself in the middle of a gut-wrenching pain complicated with feelings of guilt, and devastating sadness. We all acknowledge that the memories are always there just barely below the surface and some days it takes merely a split-second to bring them to life again.

One thing I’ve struggled with lately is the grief of alienation by what little family I have left. It is virtually only Mom and Dad now. I have begun to appreciate more and more each day the presence of the amazing friends I have in my life– aside from our parents they are my family now. They are the ones who are there to hug me, to listen to me and to check in with me from time to time to see how I am doing. Those moments mean more to me than they could ever imagine. There are days I mourn not just your death but my future with you; when our parents are gone I won’t have you there to lean on and share stories about our lives when we grew old. You took that future away from me.

Then there is the guilt… few suicide survivors are spared the feelings of guilt. I told the group today that I feel that because I saw it coming I had played a part in your death as I wasn’t able to prevent it from happening. I realize there would have been guilt even if it had come as a complete shock– I likely would have then blamed myself for missing the possible signs. But somehow the fact that I knew it was coming makes me feel as though I failed you in the worst way. I struggle so when going over our last several conversations in my mind. We spoke about my own history of depression and how I battled my own thoughts of suicide for the overwhelming majority of my life. I feel that because I knew what it was truly like to be in that deep darkness I didn’t have the right words for you… and I myself was having trouble coming up with reasons why life was worth it other than my own selfish reasons for wanting you to stay alive if only for me. And that reason turned out to be not quite enough for you to overcome your pain.

Not a day goes by that I don’t go to sleep at night and wake in the morning thinking of you. You’re on my mind nearly every moment of every single day; I’m learning to incorporate you into my new life knowing you are still with me. Watching over me, protecting me, loving me. I want those around me who never got to meet you to know you as you are still such a huge part of me. My true friends are those who allow room for you in my life and are not uncomfortable with me sharing stories about you to ensure that you live on inside of me.

I miss you so much, Brian.

Love,
Laura

Letter To Brian: December 8, 2011

Dear Brian,

I’m finding myself in a strange place these days. The grief over losing you seems to come and go in vicious waves. The part that hurts the most right now is that I’m in very awkward territory; it’s been over a year now so people seem to thing I should “be over with being sad” by now.

I’ve ventured out into the world of the living again and spend a lot of time with people—but there are so many days I deeply regret it. I miss the shelter of being home alone all the time where I could cry all day and all night without judgment. And if I did cry in front of others they understood—after all, it had only been a few weeks… then a few months… but as time continues to pass there has been a growing sense from the world around me that I should be over it by now. Somehow it feels more isolating now than at the beginning because I don’t feel as safe allowing my hurt to come out anymore—if not for the pressure of not bothering those around me with it then for the pressure I put on myself to move past it.

The best way I can describe what I’m feeling is this… Remember in the movie “Castaway” with Tom Hanks how, after several years on that island alone, he was finally prepared to get off the island and get home or die trying? He worked so very hard to get his raft over the waves that threatened to push him back towards the island; he knew once he was past rough waters he’d have conquered the hard part and just might make it home again. Well once he reached calmer waters he alternated glances between the vast space in front of him and the shores of the island where he’d spent the past several years. You could see the concern in his face– the torment of wanting to get home but being afraid of the unknown and longing for the comfort of the island where he had come to feel safe. I know my own “island” wasn’t the best place for me to be, but I’m afraid to be out in the open and I find myself missing the days when it was OK for me to wall myself off for days at a time and not feel guilty for doing so.  This first year was terrible but I fear the next few years will be even worse. I spent this year just talking myself through each holiday, anniversary and special occasion. Now the true reality of the situation has begun to set in—it wasn’t a one time thing getting through those days; it was just the first of many more to come and my heart aches overwhelmingly at the thought of it.

I miss you more than you could possibly imagine. I see and hear so many things that remind me of you and I wish I could pick up the phone to call you and share it with you. I think about that dream I had about 6 weeks after you left us—I think of it everyday and am still convinced it was a gift from you letting me know you were OK. Do you hear me before bed at night when I beg you to come visit me again? It’s been over a year since that dream and I just want to have the connection again that I felt upon waking up that night.

You know what else I think about a lot? After I moved to Texas I kept on pestering you to come for a visit and possibly even move here to be closer to me and get a fresh start. You always responded with something along the lines of, “yeah, I’ll have to plan that soon,” but it never happened. In hindsight I am grateful—because I think on some level you were sparing me from the pain of creating memories with you here in Austin and being reminded of them everyday. There are days I’m so grateful to have the distance from where we grew up because I don’t know how I would handle all the daily reminders of the people we knew and the places we’ve been. I don’t have any of those places here to haunt me and for that I am often grateful; and I think you knew what you were doing.

I guess I’m all out of words now… please just know I miss you so very much.

With Love,
Laura

The Penny

A year ago today we were cleaning out my brother’s home… it was only 3 days after we recieved the news of his death. I’d like to share a story about that day.

A few days before were given a copy of this poem by a dear friend:

I found a penny today just lying on the ground.
But it’s not just a penny, this coin I found.
Found pennies come from heaven,
That’s what my Grandpa told me.
He said Angels toss them down.
Oh how I loved that story.

He said when an angel misses you they toss a penny down.
Sometimes to cheer you up, to make a smile out of your frown.
So don’t pass by that penny when you’re feeling blue.
It may be a penny from heaven that an angel is tossing you.

I didn’t think too much of the poem upon first reading it… but as we were going through Brian’s things, it came to mean much, much more.

I had spent a lot of time in his room boxing up his books and clothes and periodically stopping to sit on the bed, hold something he used to wear up close to my cheek and cry for a bit. The last thing I emptied was his clothes hamper; after I’d removed the clothes and placed them in a bag, I carried all the bags I’d collected out into the living room– leaving the hamper where I had found it.

About a half hour later my Mom went back in there to get the hamper from his room and she came out with a such look on her face; one of awe, hope and pain all at the same time. She stretched out her hand and showed me something she found when she lifted the hamper from its place– it was a single penny. Thinking back to the poem about the pennies I felt myself beginning to choke up a bit. But it got better. I turned the penny over to see it was dated 1975– the year Brian was born. I immediately burst into tears… and it made my heart smile to think that Brian sent that penny to us to let us know he was there.

To this day, every single time I find a penny, my heart skips a beat as I pick it up because I think of each of those pennies as a reminder from Brian that he’s still with me. And, more often than not, I find the pennies at the most amazing times… when I truly needed to find them most. I think he knows exactly what he is doing.

I’m not religious but I am spiritual and I will state openly that I do not believe in God and haven’t since before Brian passed. But I believe with all my heart that we do not just “go away” when we die and each time I come across another penny I’ll continue to think Brian is smiling down on me!

Just wanted to share!

Letter To Brian: October 4, 2011

Dear Brian,

It’s so hard to believe that it’s been a whole year since you left this world for another… where hopefully you found the peace you weren’t able to find here.

There’s so much I could tell you about this past year—about how much I’ve cried until complete exhaustion, how much I’ve missed you and how often I’ve picked up the phone and started to dial your number to call you only to realize seconds later what I was doing. There are days it is so painful to be around people because I feel so different from them. And I think there is a part of me that is afraid to get close to people because I’m afraid that they too will leave.

I’ve started to come out of my shell a little bit and am beginning to return somewhat to the person I was before. While I’ll never be the same again—I’ve managed to find myself laughing more often and when I think of you there are almost as many smiles as there are tears… so I’m starting to move on a little bit.

After you died I was haunted by the fact that each day that passed was bringing you farther and farther away from me; the last time I saw you, the last time we spoke, the last e-mail I received from you… all of those were becoming farther away as well. Now that feeling seems to have shifted a tiny bit; I find myself beginning to see each day that passes as bringing me one day closer to the day I get to see you again.

Love Always,
Laura