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: 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: October 13, 2013

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

Dear Brian,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Laura

Letter to Brian: June 3, 2013

Dear Brian,

Something has been on my brain lately after seeing a post on Facebook offering condolences to someone who had recently experienced a death in their family.  The reason it has continued to hang around in my thoughts is that the very same comment was said to me at one point after you died and it felt like one of the most hurtful things I could imagine at the time.  That comment was, “It was god’s will.”

Seriously?  It hurt me so very badly to hear someone say in response to your death that it was supposed to happen; that god had a “plan” for you and that plan somehow included you killing yourself at age 35.  I wish people would be more careful with those kinds of words because they may not know what kind of belief system the other person holds and comments like that can be far more hurtful than helpful.  I personally am not a christian and I do not believe in god; but I was not ever offended when someone would say, “I am praying for you and your family.”  Whether they are praying to god, Allah, Jehovah, Yahweh, Buddha, Jim Jones or The Great Pumpkin… I don’t really care.  The intentions behind the prayers are kind and loving.  However, I received absolutely no comfort whatsoever from hearing someone tell me that god planned for you to suffer for so long and die so young.  I guess I wish more people understood that it would be far more appreciated to keep the sympathetic sentiments simple like, “I’m really sorry your brother passed away.  I’m here to listen if you need it… please know you are in my thoughts.”

I am not a fan of anyone pushing their religious beliefs on anyone else at any time… but following the death of a loved one is an especially unsettling time for that to occur.  It baffles me that there are people that would find nothing wrong with telling me that you are spending an eternity in hell for your act of suicide.  Nothing about that is OK.  If someone out there believes that in their heart, fine… they are entitled to it just as I am equally as entitled to NOT believe that.  But keep it to yourself, people!  What good can possibly come from telling someone whose brother has died that not only are they experiencing a crippling grief at the loss but that their departed loved one is now going to be suffering at the hands of “Beelzebub” for the next 100,000 years?  It would never occur to me to say to a devout christian who lost a loved one, “Hey, that whole ‘heaven thing’ you’ve been talking about for years doesn’t exist so don’t get your hopes up that they ended up there.  Just trying to be honest with you because I care, buddy.”

I don’t know if I ever told you this but I was referred to a therapist by a friend a number of years ago when you and I were still living together, actually.  Turned out she was a christian therapist.  I don’t know that words exist to describe the level of crazy I experienced during that 2 hour session.  The primary focus was asking Jesus to “speak to me” and take me back to the first time I self-injured as a child… and asking Jesus to command the departure of the “evil spirits” which had obviously inhabited my body.  She all but performed an exorcism that day.  Again… seriously??  About a dozen times she asked Jesus to relay a message to me and she’d watch me as I blankly stared back at her and report that no, Jesus had not just whispered something in my ear.  And no, I did not feel any different now that she’d ordered those pesky “demons” to hit the road.  And to think I walked in that day thinking I was seeking help for my depression; I left having been told that my problem was far more severe… not only was I clinically depressed, but it was because I was possessed by a handful of evil spirits which apparently refused to leave and that Jesus wasn’t talking to me.  Way to kick a gal when she’s down.  Needless to say, that was intentionally the ONLY session I endured with her.

Guess I got off on a tangent here… it’s just been bothering me and I felt like talking to you about it.  I have never believed that “god planned for this to happen.”  I also don’t believe, nor have I ever believed, that you are burning in hell right now.  In fact, I believe quite the opposite.  Every single day I feel you around me, watching over me and I distinctly sense the freedom I believe you feel now that you are no longer bound to the earth that brought you so much pain.

As always, thanks for the talk dude.

Love you!

Laura

Letter to Brian: April 30, 2013

Dear Brian,

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

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

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

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

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

Love Always,

Laura

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

Letter To Brian: March 28, 2013

Dear Brian,

I think you’d be surprised at how many people have approached me for help and/or advice regarding a friend or loved one’s suicidal feelings because they know I lost you to suicide and must be an “expert” of sorts. I feel like saying… seriously?

Let me explain… while I obviously can empathize with the situation they find themselves in I find it perplexing that I would seemingly be someone who they think could help? I knew you were struggling and we talked about it so often those last 5 months… and regardless of what I did or said to try and help, the end result was the same– I was unable to save you and you killed yourself. I’m pretty sure that isn’t anything to throw on my “human experience resume” as a bragging right. If I wanted advice on… let’s say passing the bar exam– would I approach someone who had failed the exam or someone who had actually passed?

You and I were both cursed with an affliction of extremely intense emotions; we both feel things so strongly and so passionately and are so easily affected by the pain of others and desperately want to help. However, I find myself immobilized. I’m caught in a place where my heart so badly wants to help but my mind is telling me that I am in no position to do so. By the time I realize this, not only do I feel unable to help but I’ve become involved to a degree where I have emotions invested but yet I feel powerless to do anything about them. Hearing their stories often triggers me and I find I am transported right back to where I was in 2010 when I worried about you every single day– I could talk to you, I could listen to you, I could tell you I loved you and how badly I wanted you to stay; but each time we hung up the phone I’d worry about you every moment until I heard your voice again.

What complicates things for me with regards to being asked for advice is my own history with feelings of suicidality. I will be brutally honest and say that when I was at my absolute lowest there was NOTHING anyone could have done or said to have helped me; the desire to get better had to come from within. Everything was so distorted for me. If someone had said to me, “I love you and want you to be happy and I don’t want you to leave” what I heard was, “It would be better for me if you would just continue to live your miserable existence– it would inconvenience me greatly if you were to end your life.” I kept thinking if they truly knew how much agony I was in every single day they wouldn’t ask me to promise them that I would stay. And yet I asked you to promise me that very same thing. And truthfully… I absolutely regret having said that to you. I don’t regret letting you know how I felt about you but I wish I hadn’t imparted any additional feelings of guilt upon you.

Now here’s where I get really confusing! Remember how I said there wasn’t anything anyone could have done or said to have made a difference when I wanted out? And how I knew that the change had to come from within me? Well, apparently I refuse to listen to my own words when I think of how horribly I let you down. Someday perhaps I will not feel the guilt that I do today… but for now there is still a huge part of me that blames myself for not being able to save you. For that reason alone I feel completely unqualified for providing anything to anyone beyond a whole lot of empathy and maybe a few hugs.

Love Always,
Laura

Letter To Brian: February 13, 2013

Dear Brian,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love Always,
Laura

Plastic Babies!!

bag of babiesbaby

After we’d moved our Grandma into an assisted living facility Brian, Mom and I were going through the contents of the house preparing to sell it. We had a lot of fun finding pictures we’d never seen, knick knacks we used to play with as kids and the occasional butterscotch hard candy.

For some reason he giggled so hard when we found a few small bags full of little plastic babies amongst her craft supplies. He didn’t know it at the time, but I took the bags of babies with me to have a little fun. I started out by hiding the first one in his jacket… and laughed until I nearly cried when he texted me to say he’d found a creepy little plastic baby in his jacket pocket.

When I’d stay over at his place to take care of his cats, Maximus and Marcus, I’d bring a bag of babies with me and hide them everywhere. He’d find them all over the place! In a box of cereal! In a stack of towels in the hall closet! Under the driver’s seat in his car! In the silverware drawer! Inside a tub of sour cream! He’d step into a shoe only to find a creepy, plastic baby stuffed into it. Damn, I’d laugh so hard every single time I’d hear from him after finding yet another one of those little things.

In fact, when we cleaned out his townhome after he died we all laughed when we continued to find the little babies everywhere! I kept them all and even have one sitting on my desk at work where I can see it every single day. Each time I look at it I swear I can still hear Brian’s amazing, infectious laugh!!

Letter To Brian: January 28, 2013

Dear Brian,

I haven’t written you in a while. Certainly not for a lack of things to say, I assure you. I know need to write more often; these letters seem to help me put together my thoughts more easily than just talking out loud to you when I’m alone.

My birthday was last week and I experienced so many mixed emotions about it. The most prominent thought being I should feel guilty for ‘celebrating’ another birthday without you. You won’t have any more birthdays so I just can’t shake the lack of desire to acknowledge my own.

I also find myself, at age 39, comparing myself to others and where they are at in life and am seeing my own accomplishments—or lack thereof—as supremely inferior. I didn’t finish college. I’m divorced. No children to brag about. Barely make enough money to sustain myself let alone provide any excitement. I’m merely in a survival mode—fighting each and every day to not succumb to the same fate as you. We were so similar that I feel even if I were to achieve the same academic success you had… where would it land me? All that knowledge and experience didn’t bring you any more hope for your future so would it be any different for me?

My biggest hurdle is finding my way out of the depression. I had it before I lost you, as you knew very well. However it has only grown in the past 2 years. It makes seeking out new relationships so very hard! On one hand I very much would like to find a special person with whom I can share my life, but on the other hand I feel as though I don’t deserve that happiness until I “fix” myself first. I explained it to my therapist this way. If you’ve ever been to an animal shelter you know there are pets of all shapes, sizes and ages. The dog whose description reads: “still not housebroken, some behavioral issues, health issues, history of biting, etc.” will likely have less luck finding a home than the perfect-looking pet in the next cage who has already learned to pee outside and has yet to bite anyone. Don’t get me wrong—I don’t believe they won’t find a home; in fact, they would be the kind of dog I would be most likely to take home myself. But I do recognize that it takes an extremely special kind of person to open their home and their heart to a special needs animal. I feel like the 3-legged, diabetic 12-year old black lab who requires insulin and much patience while he learns to trust people enough to not bite. I’m sure my “person” is out there somewhere… but I am questioning whether or not I deserve them yet? Do I need to wait until I have fewer days where I can’t stop thinking about losing you and cry myself to sleep? Do I need to first get to a place where I’m less of an emotional burden? Every time I meet someone new, whether a new friend or potential date, I immediately begin to dread the time when some important things will be revealed: the smattering of scars on my arms, legs and chest are from decades of a crippling depression that resulted in (and sometimes continues to result in) self-inflicted wounds, I see a therapist every week and am on a cocktail of antidepressants oh, and by the way—I’m still mourning the loss of my brother who killed himself 2 years ago. Not a ringing endorsement of me I fear some would say.

If there is one thing I’ve learned since your death it is that people are not comfortable with grief, sadness or depression. All of which I have experienced in spades since you left us. That leaves me with a few options: I can hide away by myself where I am free to express my feelings as openly (and as often) as I want. Or I can try and force myself into the company of others where I am painfully aware of myself and filter what I do or say so as to not make anyone uncomfortable. I talk about you often—about YOU, not your death. I very much need you to continue to be a part of my daily life in this new form you have taken but I can see the look of discomfort appear in others’ eyes when I mention your name. It’s a look that seems to say, “Wow, still talking about this, huh? Isn’t it about time you moved on to something new?” Those looks are the reason it is far easier to stay home some days.

I will continue to go to my weekly therapy sessions and I always diligently take my medications and I am becoming better about expressing myself and about setting healthy social boundaries for myself as well. So while reading this might give the impression I am about to fall apart, I would like to clarify that it is a testament to my continued efforts to hold myself together.

I miss you, Brian.

Love,
Laura

p.s. this song from the TV show “smash’ keeps sticking with me.  most days, i feel just like the piano in this story– i might be “missing a few keys” and often be a little “out of tune” but i am looking for that one special person who sees past that and will take the time to find out that i still have something beautiful to give.

🙂

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R0VNL_VpdDo]

Letter To Brian: February 23, 2012

Dear Brian,

I have been thinking about you so much lately. I find myself again obsessing over all the details I wasn’t able to get out of my head right after you died. Things like our last phone conversation, the last e-mail you sent me, the last time I was with you; I keep imagining what you were thinking as you were dying—were you in pain? Were you relieved? Were you thinking of me at all? What is the last thing you saw or thought before you passed? What did you take and how did you get it? What day did you die? I felt cheated that I couldn’t even have a “day” to mourn your death—all I know is it was sometime between October 7th and October 13th. However, based on the medical examiner’s report, it easily could have been a week. I still feel nauseous when I think about that part. You were dead for a week and I had no idea; I feel like I should have known or felt something wasn’t right.

Just before Christmas an acquaintance passed away following a 4 year battle with cancer. As I read her family’s last post on her Caring Bridge website to share the news, I absolutely fell apart. There was so much going through my head, Brian. They spoke of how she gently passed to the other side while surrounded by all those she held dear as they sang to her, prayed with her and held her hands and helped her to let go. It was the most beautiful thing I could ever imagine. It only made it that much more difficult to think of your passing—at your own hand, possibly painful and…absolutely all alone. I hope you had at least some idea of how much you were loved and appreciated and that your last thoughts were not questioning your worth. You were so important to me and your death has left an irreversible void.

It is so strange to think of how for all these years that you and I were so much the same— we both spent nearly all of our lives in and out of deep depressive episodes with recurring thoughts of suicide. I tried to hide it from everyone not only because I didn’t want to worry anyone but because I felt unsafe expressing any feelings or emotions and I know you felt the same way. Not only was there a robust family history of depression in our family, but we weren’t brought up in an environment where the healthy sharing of emotions and feelings was happening and that pattern seems to have run generations deep as well. There were a specific few years of my 20’s that were particularly bad when I thought of suicide every single day. I had a folder full of all sorts of methods I had researched which could implement to bring about my demise should one single day prove to be the one that put me over the edge. Having that folder kept me going—it brought me so much peace to know that I had a plan and I wouldn’t have to endure the pain forever. I tried so hard to talk with you about that towards the end; I shared all of that with you but, in hindsight, I can’t imagine things would have played out any other way.

Truth be told, when I felt like you did, there isn’t a single thing anyone could do or say to make any difference at all. In fact, I’m spending more and more time in that state since you died. I’m actually jealous of you most days! I’m exhausted with life and going through the motions of day to day life. I truly feel as though I’m just getting by when deep in my heart I see no point. Honestly, if Mom and Dad weren’t around I would quite possibly join you tomorrow; but I just can’t bring myself to do that to them as I’m the only family they have left and vice versa. I’m really struggling to get myself to a point where I don’t feel so listless and hopeless and where there is more keeping me alive than just an obligation to others.

I truly hope you are healing on the other side and have found some comfort where you are.

Love,
Laura