Letter to Brian: January 27, 2015

Dear Brian,

Well, I did it. I finished watching the entire “Six Feet Under Series” this weekend. I miss it already.  There is something so comforting, to me, about a show that so openly talks about death and the shit that happens to those left behind.

I watched as a sister, fresh in her grief, stared blankly up at the sky as though her brother’s death literally had taken her soul away from her and left her empty inside.  She said, “He was my only brother.  He’s gone. I’ll never have another brother.” I remember those days so clearly, Brian.  Moving about but feeling disconnected to the places and faces I came across.  Going to sleep crying.  Waking up crying.  Lying on my bed staring out the window in bone-weary silence when the tears simply ran out… staring into the sky but not really seeing anything.  Not connecting to anyone or anything.  Nothing mattered anymore… nothing at all.  I’ll never have another sibling; you were it for me and with one painful phone call that lifetime of being a sister to you was just… over.

The show showed the self-destruction that often occurs following a traumatic death. Nearly all of my days were all the same at the beginning: I’d wake up in a fog, believing it had just been a bad dream and then begin sobbing when I realized it wasn’t a dream at all. I’d leave the house in whatever clothes were closest to me, making no real effort to put myself together. I’d go to work and fight tears all day. I’d leave work for my lunch break spent crying in my car.  I’d cry all the way home when the work day was over. I’d drink at least 6-7 glasses of wine, smoke some pot, take a few sleeping pills and pass out before 8:00 and the next morning I’d wake up and do it all over again. It was so exhausting missing you and I really didn’t want to feel anything at all.  I had very little desire to answer the phone or reply to emails or texts and I was just so fucking depressed.  I was so angry, though not at you… just at what my life had become. I was just barely getting by; I’ve come a long, long way since then.

I felt so at home watching “Six Feet Under” because it so beautifully showed all the stages of grief that people go through… and reinforced that those stages very often don’t go in any particular order… and that you can relive any and all of those stages at different times in your life– grieving the loss of someone so close to you is a lifelong process.  I can say that after 4 years it does get easier… but it’s ALWAYS there.  You are still on my mind– every. single. day.  In the beginning I was bombarded with all of the sad memories and all the ways I hurt your feelings or upset you over the years and wished so badly that I could get a do-over.  But these days it is far easier to come up with happy memories… there sure are a lot of them.

Another thing that I found so comforting about the show was the continued “presence” of those  who had passed. They often “saw” and spoke to those who had died; whether it was real or imagined (though I believe that to be real) isn’t the point… it was that even after death we still want to incorporate our loved ones into our daily lives.  You’re on my mind so much that with each decision I make or when things happen to me that I want to share I imagine that your spirit is with me sharing in the news or comforting me when I need it.  Though your body is gone, you still very much inspire me.  I can’t let you go completely and I’m fine with that, actually; you’re always going to be a part of my life, though in a different form than before.

And the show was just so honest!  I wish our society didn’t tiptoe around the subject of death so much… and the topic of a suicide death is far more taboo and people just don’t want to talk about it.  I’ve eased up a lot over the past 4 years.  In the beginning I wanted to talk about it all the time– to anyone who would listen. It was always on my mind and was such a distraction that I often thought I shouldn’t have been allowed to drive a vehicle.  If someone honked and zipped around me while flashing their middle finger at me for failing to see that the light had turned green a part of me wanted to chase them down and jump out of the car and scream, “I’m sorry I made your life so difficult at that stoplight… my brother just killed himself!  If a few seconds longer at a stoplight is the worst thing to happen to you today then you’re in great fucking shape!!”  That anger was always just barely concealed beneath my expressionless surface.

I’m grateful that through talk therapy, art, setting appropriate boundaries with people whom I do not feel safe, medication and simply the passing of time that I have come to a place where I can remember you without breaking down.  Don’t get me wrong, I still fall apart a lot… but not all day every day like I used to.

And if I’m being completely honest, I can foresee myself watching the entire “Six Feet Under” series again in the future.  It’s good for my soul.

On a side note, I just turned 41 on Saturday… I did always love the birthday cards you used to get for me.  I really miss that and I really missed not talking to you on my birthday.  But you were still there with me, dude.  I miss you.

Love,
Laura

Letter to Brian: January 9, 2015

Dear Brian,

So I’m over 10 years late to the party, but I’ve become immersed in the series “Six Feet Under” on Amazon for the past several weeks.  I absolutely love it.  I’m pretty sure if I’d watched it within the first year after you died that I’d have sobbed through every single episode. I guess it’s another reminder of how far I’ve come in this whole grieving process.

It’s strange how many of the details in the series would, I assume, be alarming to a lot of people which are such a non-issue for me.  Mom has worked in a funeral home since we were very young so I was raised spending so much time around funeral homes and talk of death.  It’s really never bothered me too much.  While watching this show I’m often reminded that all of my years of being exposed to the “behind the scenes” goings on likely prepared me for your death in a lot of ways.  There really were no surprises for me.  The only thing that was hard for me to understand was being told that I shouldn’t be allowed to see you before you were cremated. I’ve never been angry about it because having known the funeral directors for the majority of my life I have always known that they only had my best interest at heart and felt that viewing you in such a way that you were positively unrecognizable would hurt me far more than it could ever help me.  But I’ll admit to you today that I still wish I had been given the chance to even hold your hand and see for myself that it was really you and keep that tortuous little voice of denial in my head at bay. Sadly, I still battle that part of myself that yearns for some proof.

In one of the episodes of “Six Feet Under” I watched today, a character was describing watching her father die over the course of 3 short months following his gastric cancer diagnosis.  She said this:

“Watching him die… it was like watching somebody get washed out to sea, only they’re sitting right there in bed.  A wave comes, takes them a little away… another wave comes, takes them a little away… every wave is a day and little by little, off they…. off they go.”

It reminded me of your last year.  Though I’d last seen you in person 3 months before you died, I could already tell then that you would be leaving us and that a large piece of you had already left.  As the months went on, I could hear in your voice on the phone and feel it in your words in texts and emails that more and more pieces of you were continuing to be washed away.  I felt absolutely powerless to do anything about it.

That reminds me of something that’s been on my mind lately.  I’ve had many people from whom I’ve been asked for advice about suicide.  The ones I have the best connection with are those who are suffering their own suicide loss.  I find it most difficult when I am sought out as a potential resource for them when they are struggling with their own suicidality or the potential suicide of someone close to them.  I tend to freeze up when this happens… if not visibly, I’m certainly panicking on the inside.  If I was of any help whatsoever in this department, wouldn’t you, my brother, still be here?  I really don’t intend for this to come off as insensitive… but more of a commentary on my own self-deprecation and self-blame for not being able to save you and feeling even less capable of helping anyone else, you know?  And truth be told, it’s still so triggering for me because it brings up all those feelings I was experiencing for months before your death.  But when it comes to talking and sharing with others who have lost someone to suicide, I’m an open book.  After all, I’ve managed to survive four years without you when I didn’t think I was capable so I feel that I do have something very valuable to offer others where dealing with grief is concerned; but when it comes to helping others prevent a suicide… well, I just go numb.  Most likely out of self-preservation because if I don’t protect myself, no one else will.

I continue to see you in all things, Brian.  Your death has given me an entirely new set of lenses through which I now see the world.  And it hasn’t been all bad… but I wish you were still here.

I love and miss you, dude.

Love,

Laura

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Letter to Brian: December 17, 2014

Dear Brian,

I used to really love this time of year.  I loved the snow… the anticipation of Christmas… and I absolutely LOVED shopping for Christmas presents for you. Having lived here in Texas since 2009 this will be my 6th Christmas without snow and now that you’re gone it’ll be my 5th Christmas without you, too.

Yesterday it sort of all caught up with me; I’ve been pushing it down and distracting myself pretty well but hearing the news of the suicide of a young man near my hometown just pulled it all back up right to the surface.  My heart was breaking for this family who is now dealing with the loss of their future with their son but also for me as I remembered exactly what it felt like upon getting the news of your death and the days, weeks and months that followed.  I lost you two months shy of Christmas in 2010 and your absence was all the more pronounced during the holidays and I mourn for the family facing their first Christmas without their loved one. This recent death makes two suicide deaths related to close friends of mine in a single month.  It’s just too many.

Every Christmas since you died I find myself looking back at holidays throughout the years and some of the fun we had exchanging gifts.  We were always good about getting each other some pretty great stuff.  But the joke gifts we’d exchange were often my favorites!! Do you remember the year you opened up a box from me and pulled out a teddy bear?  You looked horribly confused, and rightfully so; you were a young man in your late 20’s, after all.  But the reason for the bear was soon revealed as I secretly pulled a small remote from my pocket and pressed the red button in the center.  A split-second after pressing that button the bear sitting on your lap began to fart.  You laughed so hard!  (Almost as hard as I did.)  I almost wished I’d gotten one for myself; after all, who wouldn’t want a remote control-operated farting bear??  Simpsons items were always big with us, too; I still wear the Homer Simpson slippers you gave to me about a dozen years ago and the talking Homer Simpson clock I gave to you one year I now proudly display on my bookshelf at home.

This year I’ll be heading to Maryland to spend Christmas with my sweetie and his family and it’s the first Christmas I’ve looked forward to in six years.  (Having moved here in November of 2009 I wasn’t able to come home and spend that Christmas with you and then 10 short months later you were gone.)

I so vividly remember Christmas Eve of 1990; I was a junior in high school and you were a sophomore.  You and I basically spent the whole night together, just the two of us as Mom and Dad weren’t speaking to each other and hadn’t spoken much in weeks.  We were pretty certain that a divorce was imminent.  You and I sat alone at the base of the tree opening our gifts as well as those gifts from Mom and Dad to each other as they had no interest in joining us.  It was a tough evening, for sure… but we had each other and I was so grateful for that.  It makes me so sad that my partner in all of that is gone.

My grief just feels so very close to the surface this time of year… and I just can’t seem to get enough sleep.  I’m overwhelmed and absolutely exhausted each and every day and in the past week alone have started to cry three times in stores when I spotted families shopping together or see a family headed home to decorate the beautiful pine tree braced to the roof of their car.

I’m missing you more than ever, dude.

Much love always,

Laura

Letter to Brian: November 20, 2014

Dear Brian,

I attended a funeral yesterday.  As I sat there crying alone in nearly the last row in the dark auditorium it occurred to me that it was the very first funeral I’ve attended since yours 4 years ago.  And this wasn’t just any funeral… I was there to support a friend who just lost her brother to suicide.

I knew going would bring up a lot of terrible things for me and I was pretty worried about how much it might set me back in terms of my own healing.  But the thing is, as hard as it was for me to do, I would do it again in a heartbeat.  So many people don’t “deal with death well” or “don’t know what to say” or are “uncomfortable at funerals” or simply don’t go because they didn’t know the person who passed. But I’m not one of those people. I remember exactly what it felt like to be sitting in that room as we mourned your death and I was so grateful for each and every single face I saw, whether I recognized it or not.  It meant the world to me to see so many people there that might not have even met you but they cared enough about us to come and offer support by just being there.

I didn’t know this man who passed but yet I mourned so deeply.  I mourned for the sadness that drove him to take his own life. I mourned for my friend grieving the loss of her brother.  I mourned for the wife and young daughters he’s leaving behind.  And, I mourned for you all over again because it reminded me of the things you never had the chance to experience but that I wish you had.  I have often been sad that I never got to see you get married to the love of your life or have children or find a career about which you were truly passionate.  As I watched the slide show, I saw photo after photo of a man madly in love with his wife and his daughters and who had found true joy in his career; I wished that you had found those same things for yourself while you were here.  Though I’m not naive enough to believe that the outcome would have been any different; after all, this man had all of those things I desired for you and it still wasn’t enough for him to overcome his own darkness.

During the service a number of his friends got up to speak about him and it got me thinking that I wished we had done that at your service.  Through the stories they told they painted a picture of a caring, loving and absolutely hilarious man who made a room immediately better just by walking into it.  Looking back I honestly don’t remember if we didn’t have people speak because we didn’t ask or if there just wasn’t anyone who wanted to do it; I do wish now that I’d have spoken but at the time it really wouldn’t have been possible.  I was far too devastated to gather my thoughts let alone get up to present them to a crowd.  But as I sat there last night and listened to the stories and learned about the man my friend called her brother for 44 years I smiled, laughed and cried with everyone as though I had known him for years.

It’s funny how your perspective on death changes as you age and experience different kinds of loss.  I vividly remember being so angry at Grandpa Don’s funeral in 1992; I was a senior in high school and you were a junior.  That was my first taste of true loss– the death of someone to whom I was close and it hurt so much.  I was in so much pain yet I looked around at the adults who were laughing and carrying on and I thought, “how can they be so cruel to laugh at a time like this?”  But now I look at the ability to share stories that make us laugh and remember the wonderful times as healing and that was one of the most beautiful parts of last night’s service– all the laughter.

After the service was over I stayed in the back waiting for a break in the flow of the crowd to approach my friend for a hug before I left.  As I stood there alone, puffy-eyed, still choking back vigorous waves of tears a couple who had been sitting nearby were glancing in my direction a number of times and, just before they left, the gentleman made his way to me.  He placed his hand on my shoulder and asked if I was going to be alright.  He said, “you’re all alone up here and you look pretty sad, we just want to make sure you’ll be OK.”  Seems like a simple gesture but having just experienced the emotional upheaval of the previous 90 minutes, all alone, I was so grateful for having been acknowledged in that room full of strangers.  Random acts of kindness are pretty wonderful.

As soon as I mapped out a relatively open path to my friend I made my way down to her and we just hugged and cried for a long minute.  No words were needed, really.  She knew I shared in her grief and I recognized that she shared in mine as well.  I wished so very deeply that she didn’t have to experience the agony that I’ve just spent the past 4 years trying to escape.  Because you really can’t escape it, Brian.  The best thing I’ve done for myself has been to just allow the feelings to be there and accept them and let them run their course.  You just have to go through it to get through it, you know?

I left the auditorium and continued to sob and struggled to catch my breath on the long walk back to my car… I was so overwhelmed and just physically exhausted. Grief is a funny thing… for something that is so emotional, it can also make your body absolutely hurt all over.

I can’t say if my being there was helpful to my friend or not… but I do know that I couldn’t imagine not going.  It’s just so important to have people that care about you at a time like that– even if no words are shared, there is so much to be said for the healing energy you feel from just the presence of others whose intentions are to help you share the pain for a while.  I felt that at your funeral and still vividly remember a moment during which I felt so loved and supported– I can’t quite put it into words but as  I looked around the room at your service it literally felt as though my spirit was being lifted up and cradled in the arms of everyone there.  I am certain I’ll never find the words to describe how wonderful that moment felt.

On my way to work this morning the events of last night still weighed heavily on my mind and I was doing my best to convince myself that I would make it through the day in one piece.  Then I got another little sign from you, Brian.  Of the two pennies I received back in change at the McDonald’s drive-thru (you know, for my daily dose of Diet Coke) one of them was a 1975 penny– again, the year you were born.  I hardly ever see them… so I’m taking this one as a sign that you knew how hard last night was on me and that I was in desperate need of a little bit of a reminder that you were there with me.  I was needing that reminder… and I’m grateful.

Love Always,
Laura

 

Letter to Brian: November 8, 2014

Dear Brian,

I’ve held off on writing about something for a while now… but each time I see the story pop up on Facebook or in the news it triggers a reaction in me that I just feel the need to talk to you about.

The first time I saw the headline it read, “29-Year-Old Woman: Why I’m Taking My Own Life.”  I really didn’t know what to expect upon clicking on the story but it turned out she was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor and does not have long to live.  She chose to leave her home in California and relocate in Oregon where they support the “Die With Dignity” cause and it is legal to take your own life with medications in instances of terminal illnesses.

It was a little triggering for me to read the story but more so to read the comments from readers around the world. People had so many horribly judgmental and cruel things to say about this young woman’s choice. For as long as I can remember, and from as early an age as one can possibly understand what this choice means, I have supported it.  I know that if I were given a death-sentence such as this young woman that I too would want to choose how and when.  If I reach the point at which I can no longer move or care for myself and pain continues to grow and snuff out any quality of life I would want to be allowed the freedom to decide how much longer to prolong, or not prolong, the inevitable.

While it’s a completely different situation entirely, I have similar (and very controversial) feelings towards suicide.  The important difference being that I absolutely don’t advocate for suicide but yet I do understand why some people choose it.  I think that’s precisely the reason that I’m not angry at your choice, Brian; I truly understand it and while I would never have supported you in it or helped you with it… I understand.  The thing is, you were in so much pain.  Anyone that has been in the position of feeling like a “prisoner in your own body” due to a crippling depression that leaves you praying to the stars each night that you just don’t wake up in the morning will understand.  It’s not a matter of simply “having a bad day” or “losing your job” or “going through a breakup” anymore than it was just a “minor illness” for the woman who chose euthanasia for herself in the end.

In response to her story another woman posted, “My Mom has the same brain cancer diagnosis Brittany Maynard had.  She’s fighting to live as long as she can.” The thing is… she very well may have the same diagnosis but not everyone who has that same cancer will be the exactly same; some might respond better to treatments than others… some might be further along in their illness… some might have been diagnosed more quickly… some might have other factors contributing to their physiological deterioration; it’s not fair to judge another person for what they believe to be a “weakness” in giving up hope.  In my opinion the same applies to mental illness and suicides.  The are people out there who might believe someone is weak for taking their own life and would say, “I get depressed all the time and I don’t run out and kill myself… I keep trying.”  Or, “I’ve survived way worse than that guy has and look, I haven’t given up.”  There’s just no possible way to know absolutely what it is like to be in another person’s shoes so judgement in these situations… well, there just shouldn’t BE any judgement in these situations.

Brittany Maynard made her choice and on November 2, 2014 she left this world surrounded in peace and the love of her husband and family and I wouldn’t dream of judging her for making that choice.  I wish her family comfort and appreciate the difficult feelings that must have come up for them in supporting Brittany’s decision.

I’ve said it so many times before, Brian.  I understand why you couldn’t stay.  But I still wish you had.

Love Always,
Laura

Letter to Brian: August 25, 2014

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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: 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: November 5, 2013

Dear Brian,

In writing these letters to you over the past few years I have primarily focused on your act of suicide and the way it has changed the course of my life.  You and I only briefly spoke about my own long-running history with suicidality, depression and self-injury… and it was only in the last few months you were alive that I began to really share those details with you.  I’d like to share more about that with you now.

When you first admitted back in May of 2010 that you were suffering from a deep depression, you also told us of two previous suicide attempts of which we were not aware; one of those attempts was actually while you and I were living together as roommates in our 20’s.  Those years were particularly hard for me too; I was extremely suicidal myself at that time… seems neither of us had any idea just how hopeless the other was feeling and we were living under the very same roof.  Turns out you and I were quite good at protecting one another… even if the other wasn’t fully aware there was anything from which they were being protected.  I know for me, the reasons for keeping my desire to die to myself were plenty.  For starters, I was embarrassed.  I told myself that “normal” people didn’t wake up every morning wishing they had died in their sleep. I couldn’t share that thought with anyone. I felt so strongly about wanting to die but recognized that if I were to reveal that wish and/or intent they would try to stop me and I wasn’t looking for attention or help…I was looking for a way out.  I also wanted to protect you and our family from the feelings that would undoubtedly be stirred up by such a revelation from someone they loved: feelings of shame, embarrassment, guilt, sadness and the crippling fear that they would not be able to prevent the inevitable– the last of which I experienced in excess the last 5 months of your life.

I remember the summer before you died, shortly after you accidentally emailed me your suicide note.  After receiving it, I desperately tried to help you.  I began to open up to you about just how deep and dark my own depression went and told you about a file folder I had which contained about a dozen or so methods of suicide I had deemed feasible for myself after much research on the internet.  For several years that folder, ironically, was a lifeline for me.  Somehow, getting up in the morning was a little bit easier knowing I had those plans in place if that day ended up being the one that finally broke me once and for all.  I cried myself to sleep nearly every single night and while I’m not religious, my last thoughts each night were prayers to “whomever or whatever is out there”… begging with every ounce of my being that they grant me some mercy and let me not wake up in the morning.

I am jealous of all you were able to accomplish despite your depression– mine has significantly held me back my entire life.  From a young age (and even now) it was partly because of my sadness and crippling shyness that I failed to engage in a lot of activities that other kids enjoyed and I longed to do but of which I didn’t feel capable or deserving.  Depression contributed to my constant inability to focus and I was repeatedly told by teachers over the years that “I didn’t participate enough” and that “I wasn’t working up to my known potential.”  I knew that. Aside from the fact that I did not possess the ability to kick those depressive episodes out of the way long enough to do what everyone thought I was capable of doing, I also had sunk deep enough to not see the point of it all, anyway.  I figured if I didn’t think I’d be here long enough for any of that stuff to matter, why bother?

You were so very smart, Brian.  And so motivated and dedicated and focused!  You always did so much better in school.  In more recent years you managed to hold down a few jobs at a time while going back to school full-time and training for a bodybuilding competition… and you did so well at all of those thing all at once.  I really envied that– especially now that I know you were suffering just as much as I was but yet you excelled at everything in spite of it.  Grandpa Ralph used to compare me to you.  He made me feel like a failure for having dropped out of college after only a few years… he said, “You’re just like your Aunt, she never finished anything, either.”  It hurt my feelings a great deal; my depression and my increasing bouts of self-injury were the primary contributors to me prematurely leaving school.  I feel pretty certain that he wouldn’t have understood that had I tried to explain it.

I still have not felt a shred of anger at you for choosing to end your own life.  I have felt that inescapable despair and truthfully I still have moments where I envy your choice.  I know that won’t sit well with a lot of people, but it’s the truth.  I’m here in this new way of life without you and  3 years later there are still moments the pain literally takes my breath away and I can’t imagine feeling this kind of pain for another 40 years.  I promised myself when I decided to share my letters to you on this blog that I wouldn’t “sugar coat” things to make them easier for others to read.  I don’t want there to be so much shame and stigma surrounding this stuff– depression, self-injury, suicide.  Keeping that stuff hidden only serves to give the illness more power than it deserves.  I find that with each word I share about my struggles I’m taking a little of that power back.

Thanks for listening, dude.

Love,
Laura

Letter to Brian: October 30, 2013

Dear Brian,

There are still so many days I reach for the phone wishing I could talk to you and hear your voice again.  I no longer have that direct connection to you and it makes me so jealous of those who can just hit “speed dial #1” and their brother is instantly on the other end of the line.  I admittedly took that for granted while you were here.

I know there are many people out there who think it is slightly less-than-sensible to believe that there is something out “there” after we die.  Regardless, I believe there is and have always believed that there is.  I don’t believe in God, but I do believe that something happens to our energy and our spirit after we die.  I believed it long before you were gone but am even more protective of that belief now because it is the only thing that allows me to also believe that there is a chance you can still communicate with me from time to time and that I will, indeed, see you again someday.  Insensible or not… it gives me hope.

I’ve just had to adapt to this new and distant way of communicating with you and I’ve learned to watch for the signs.  While others might get a card in the mail from their brother, I might spot a 2-door Red Saturn with a guy in a purple baseball hat at the stoplight next to me and be reminded of you.  Someone might get a phone call from their brother to say, “Hey, how’s it going?” For me, it is you leaving me a 1975 penny in a place where there was not a penny just moments earlier.  Others have the joy of sitting and looking at a photo album with their brother and reminiscing about happier times… but I have the experience of a photo of you I never knew existed suddenly popping up or a favorite song or movie of ours will immediately come on the radio or TV as you cross my mind.

I know many people can easily dismiss these things as mere coincidences and feel I am naïve and foolish for believing there is any sort of cosmic meaning to them and I can completely understand why.  But for me, these little things are the only ways I have left to relate to you for the rest of my existence– they are all I have. I guess I think of it as I think about any religion, really; as long as it brings me some comfort and I’m not hurting anyone, what’s the harm in believing that you’re still out there somewhere and that you reach out to me, letting me know you miss me and that you are now healing from your painful life on earth?

You are still in my contact list in my phone and I don’t plan on ever taking you out of that list.  The number was long ago disconnected but I still dial it from time to time because for a mere second, after dialing but before the message from the operator comes on, I can hope that this time will be different and that this will all have been a bad dream and you’ll answer the phone.

Missing you more than ever,
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