Letter to Brian: December 30, 2014

Dear Brian,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Merry Christmas, dude.

Love,
Laura

CHRISTMAS

 

 

 

 

Letter to Brian: 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: August 5, 2013

Dear Brian,

Just this morning I was thinking I was overdue in writing you another letter… but I was having trouble deciding what to write about.  My answer came tonight.

There I was at home in my apartment, working out and watching a mini-marathon of “Sex & the City” and along came the episode where Miranda’s Mom passed away and I just lost it completely. Immediately all sorts of feelings and emotions and memories came flooding back as I watched the events of the funeral unfold.  Miranda was trying to be so tough and push her friends away… some of her friends were supporting her but were concerned they weren’t doing a good enough job of it… and some friends didn’t know what to say to her at all… so they just didn’t.  And then there were the long-lost friends who she never expected to see that showed up to support her in her time of need.

I was reminded of so many similarities in the days, months and now, even years, after your death.  Like Miranda, I’m not always good about asking for help and have been known to push people away and I know I certainly did a great deal of that after you died.  There were those friends who were there to support me but were so worried that they weren’t doing enough for me… there were those friends who avoided me altogether because they didn’t know what to do or say… and there was the beautiful surprise of seeing faces I’d not seen in many, many years that came to the funeral to show support to our family.  And truthfully there were a few instances where I never exchanged more than a glance with someone at the funeral, and yet I could feel all the love and support I needed from them from all the way across the room.  People can be so concerned with what the right things to do and say are at a time like that… when simply their presence is gift enough.

You remember our wonderful childhood friend, Sherilyn?  Well, she was one of the beautiful surprises I spoke of earlier.  I don’t think I had seen or talked to her in at least 12 years and she called me from New Mexico as soon as she heard the news of your suicide.  I told her everything and she listened and cried right along with me for an hour.  That alone was a wonderful gift.  However, in the months that followed she would call me every single week and leave me a message (because I rarely answered the phone for a long time after you died) that said, “Laura, this is Sherilyn.  I just want you to know that I love you and I think of you every single day.  I know you’re having a really hard time right now so I don’t expect you to call me back, please just know that I’m here for you if you want to talk.  Call me anytime you need it.”  Those calls meant the world to me.  I know there were others who were upset with me when I wouldn’t answer the phone… or respond to voicemails or emails or texts… but I honestly didn’t have the strength in me to reach back out at all and I am forever grateful that Sherilyn understood that.  She is a true gift!

It was also such a blessing to have so many people share their stories and memories about you with me.  It was so important to me to know that your memory would be alive not just in me, but in the hearts and minds of all the other people who were lucky enough to know you.  To anyone who reads my letters to you, I would hope they would take away one thing from this particular letter– that if someone they love should lose someone close to them that the best thing they can do for that person is to just be there and listen and share their own memories.

It’s sad that you don’t really appreciate how many wonderful, amazing people are in your life until a time like that.  But I experienced one of the most beautiful moments of my life at your funeral.  We all sat there in silence as the song “If I Die Young” played overhead.  I turned to look around at the sea of faces surrounding our family and I just felt this incredible, all-encompassing warmth come over me.  It literally felt as if each and every person was energetically sending me a big hug with their eyes as they locked with mine.  I just imagined them all in a circle around us sending us love and healing energy and honor for your memory.  I really can think of no other way to describe it and I’m so grateful for each and every person that was there that day.

I hope from wherever you are now that you were able to see the incredible showing of love at your wake and your funeral.  I don’t think you could have ever possibly imagined how very much you were loved, respected and admired, Brian.  If you had even an ounce of the love that existed in that room that day for yourself, perhaps you’d still be with us today.

You are so loved and so very missed.

Love Always,

Laura

Letter to Brian: April 22, 2013

Dear Brian,

I’ve had some things happening in my life recently that have reminded me how very similar you and I always were.  I got to thinking how we’ve both found ourselves in positions where we chose to do what we thought was right only to be made out to be “the bad guy.”  Remember back when you worked at that insurance company?  You worked in what was called the “retention department.”  Basically your job was to take calls from people calling in to try and cancel their existing insurance policies– it was up to you to make sure that didn’t happen.  One day you got a call from an elderly woman seeking help in cancelling her policy.  Upon reviewing her information, it became crystal clear that the policy the agent had sold to this poor woman was a complete disgrace.  It was a policy which only served to allow a hefty commission to the agent; the policy was one into which she’d continue to pay but virtually never be able to collect upon.  It was a shameful waste of what little expendable income she had and you knew it– and knew the agent surely knew it as well.  You helped explain to her exactly what she’d purchased and why it was a detriment to her.  She was extremely grateful for that.  You later told me how you had thought of our Grandma– you said, “If this happened to Grandma Mary, I’d want to know that there would be someone out there willing to stand up for her and help her out, you know? What this guy did to this lady is so unfair and cruel.”  So you helped her cancel the policy.  You told me how awful the next few weeks were at work for you; the ridicule from other employees, the reprimanding talks from your superiors, the threats of you losing your job.  Meanwhile, the employees willing to look the other way and just ignore that kind of activity (and even just hang up on callers to get them off the phone) were promoted and heavily rewarded for it.  You ended up quitting the job because it didn’t fit with who you were– you had such a strong work ethic but also cared deeply for people and that company made you choose between keeping your job or your integrity on a daily basis.  I’m glad you chose your integrity.

Another example that I think of so often dates back a few years further.  A friend of yours from high school was seeing a girl, also a friend of yours, on a fairly regular basis.  What basically was happening was he was using her for sex and was very open about that with the guys and was not shy about saying horrible and terribly cruel things about her.  Meanwhile, you knew that she really cared for him and was thinking there was far more to their relationship then there actually was… and you felt she deserved to know and that she deserved better.  So you shared your concern with her– you told her that his intentions were “less than honorable” and that she should be careful because he wasn’t being truthful with her.  Long story short… she got mad at you, he got mad at you and all your friends got mad at you for “breaking the guy code.”  You were shunned from nearly everyone for a long time for that. Apparently looking out for the emotional well-being of a friend is unacceptable– but knowingly turning away while a friend hurts another friend is completely acceptable.  That doesn’t make sense to me at all… never has, never will.

I’ve learned the hard way that speaking up for what you think is right doesn’t make you popular… people don’t often want to hear the truth and certainly don’t want to be reminded when they are doing something hurtful.  In the 2-1/2 years since you died I’ve found myself becoming less and less tolerant of things (and of people) that do not serve me well.  The only person who can keep me safe and happy is myself– no one is going to set those boundaries for me and I’ve found that I’ve had to push those boundaries out further  and further with certain people.  Again, that does NOT make me more popular.  But if I find myself in relationships that are toxic and hurtful to me… I owe it to myself to end those relationships or, at the very least, keep them at what I feel is a safe distance.  I’ve completely lost my patience for shenanigans and useless, meaningless interactions.  I want far more substance from my relationships these days and I really only want people close to me whom I know truly care for me and will have my back the same way they know that I’ll have theirs.  If that also makes me the bad guy, I’m totally ready to accept that label.  I know who I am and what I’m about and I know I act with integrity so I have no regrets.

Each time I’m faced with a situation where I need to choose between my own principle and making others happy (or simply not “rocking the boat”) I am reminded of you.  You were a good example to me and you continue to be from the other side!  Thank you for your continued guidance, Brian.

I love you!

Laura

Song: “To Where You Are” sung by Josh Groban

There are many days when words fail me… songs like this help me along.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tTdqdOC2DtI]

“To Where You Are”

Songwriter(s): Richard Marx, Linda  Thompson

Who can say for certain
Maybe you’re still here
I feel you all around me
Your memories so clear

Deep in the stillness
I can hear you speak
You’re still an inspiration
Can it be
That you are mine
Forever love
And you are watching over me from up above

Fly me up to where you are
Beyond the distant star
I wish upon tonight
To see you smile
If only for awhile to know you’re there
A breath away’s not far
To where you are

Are you gently sleeping
Here inside my dream
And isn’t faith believing
All power can’t be seen

As my heart holds you
Just one beat away
I cherish all you gave me everyday
‘Cause you are mine
Forever love
Watching me from up above

And I believe
That angels breathe
And that love will live on and never leave

Fly me up
To where you are
Beyond the distant star
I wish upon tonight
To see you smile
If only for awhile
To know you’re there
A breath away’s not far
To where you are

I know you’re there
A breath away’s not far to where you are

Letter To Brian: March 18, 2013

Dear Brian,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love,
Laura

Letter To Brian: February 24, 2013

vikings blanket

Dear Brian,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love Always,
Laura

Letter To Brian: February 19, 2013

Dear Brian,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please continue to watch over me– I need it.

Love Always,
Laura

Happy Birthday, Brian!

brian face

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Random Acts of Kindness

acts of kindness01222013_0000

My very good friend Leashya suffered a great pain when she lost her beautiful nephew, Christian, at the age of 5 about 9 months after Brian died. We decided we would like to do small things here and there to help others as a way to honor the memory of Christian and Brian. Together we designed these cards which we will hand out as we complete our “random acts of kindness.” So whether it be paying for the car behind us at the drive-thru or paying for someone’s dry cleaning– so many possibilities– we will hand off the card so they will know why we’ve chosen to spread a little joy and hopefully they will be moved to keep paying it forward!