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 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

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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 12, 2014

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Dear Brian,

The world is full of confusion and sadness and anger today upon hearing the news of Robin Williams’ suicide yesterday. I’ve been in a weird place since I found out… on one hand I’m so sad for his family and friends to hear that he lost his battle with depression and addiction and on the other hand it is a grave reminder of what I went through in the days following your suicide.

I had 4 very generous souls message me personally to tell me they were thinking of me and that they realized the news must be causing me some emotional turmoil… and they were so right. I’m incredibly grateful to them for recognizing that and for thinking of me, I really needed those words of encouragement and they often come from surprising places… and often don’t come from the people you’d expected or hoped they would.

Today the radio, TV and internet are saturated with the words “suicide” and “depression” and each time I hear the word “suicide” it is like a knife in my heart. When someone so well-known and beloved dies by suicide there is all sorts of chatter going on about why he did it, how he did it, who found him, etc… and then all the opinions start flying. I should have known better than to read any comments because people can be very outspoken about how they feel suicide is the ultimate sin… the most selfish of acts… and the act of a total coward. I believe none of those things are true and each time I hear those things it feels like a piece of your memory is being tarnished and I feel compelled to defend it… and to defend you. I kind of think of myself as having the emotional equivalent to a “weakened immune system” now. Things affect me even more strongly than before and I need to be aware of what I can handle and what I can’t… and today, the internet might be one of those things I can’t handle for a few days.

Depression shouldn’t be an ugly secret and absolutely is not a character flaw… but we all feel the need to hide it because the world can be cruel and judgmental and can perceive a person suffering from a crippling depression as less of a person and a less capable person.

I keep thinking back to my own bouts of suicidality over the past 27 years and how I was feeling– the powerlessness, the hopelessness, the exhausting, deep sadness… and being terrified that it might never end. I can’t blame anyone for choosing to escape that because unless you’ve experienced a darkness of that depth you can’t possibly understand what it is like. I remember quite some time back that while I desperately wanted to die I was afraid of leaving our family with the pain and agony of a suicide… so I used to think of other ways in which I could die; I used to run a lot… so I often wondered, “what if I were to go for a run late at night in a neighborhood with a lot of gang activity and gunfire? I might get shot– it could work! I would die… but it would appear to be nothing more than a terrible accident.”

Interestingly enough, yesterday was the 18-year anniversary of my car accident in which I broke my spine as well as my jaw in a few places. That accident could have gone several ways but I survived and recovered really well and surprisingly quickly. Why did I survive that? After all those years of wishing for an untimely death I survived a car wreck? And in the years that followed the accident I can’t tell you the number of times that I wondered why I wasn’t granted my wish to leave this world in a way that wouldn’t hurt you or our parents. Somehow the universe decided that I was still supposed to be here to outlive you and experience the agony of living the rest of my life without you, my only sibling, and knowing there wasn’t a darn thing I could do to save you.

Robin Williams starred in one of my absolute favorite movies, “What Dreams May Come.” I won’t spoil the movie for anyone reading who hasn’t yet seen it but I completely recommend it as it puts a beautiful spin on life after loss as well as paints a stunningly beautiful picture of what I imagine the other side will be like when I get to see you again. I’ll leave you with a quote of his from the film:

“A whole human life is just a heartbeat here in heaven, then we’re all together forever.”

I hope that you, and Robin, both find some peace on the other side.

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: 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