Letter to Brian: June 21, 2015

Dear Brian,

This week is a little sad for me.  Today I should have arrived in Washington, DC to support the efforts of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention at the Annual Advocacy Forum… but I backed out of the trip a few months ago.  I’m really having mixed feelings about that.

This year’s attendees were selected on an invite-only basis and I was absolutely honored that they thought enough of me to send me back to our nation’s capital to help promote the cause of suicide prevention.  Last year’s experience was so amazing and meaningful; I was thrilled at the chance to do it again.

But when the time arrived to book my travel, I was going through another fiercely deep depression and was experiencing thoughts of suicidality and wasn’t sure I’d be up to the task.  I decided that I wasn’t.  A week before the deadline for scheduling my trip I emailed the local chapter’s director to let her know I was relinquishing my place to someone else.  I was honest about my decision and let her know exactly what was going on with me because, after all, if you can’t be honest about it with the very organization trying to improve the state of mental health care and suicide prevention, who can you be?  She was very kind and understanding and respectful and I appreciated her compassion a great deal.

I told her I again found myself in the middle of a deep depression and didn’t feel I would be successful at representing them to the fullest of my ability.  I was struggling so hard to keep myself interested in any kind of future and I just needed to focus on taking care of myself for the time being.  What I didn’t tell her, but maybe should have is that I also felt that attending would have made me a complete hypocrite.  I was in a place where such a darkness had again come over me that I thought, why bother?  If someone else was feeling what I was feeling at that time, and what you were feeling the last few months of your life, I wouldn’t blame them for making that choice, you know?  Anyone who hasn’t been in that place just…. well, they just don’t know.  I felt so terribly alone, Brian… I just wanted to be with you again and was envious that your struggle was over while I’m still stuck battling my own illness and the ever-returning flare ups.  And yes, I’m well aware that I have a lot of people who care for me so much.  I know their feelings are genuine and they mean it when they say, “Call me ANYTIME.  I mean it.”  But the thing is… I just rarely do call when I need to talk.  I know that at times like that I am endlessly inconsolable and just an all-around drag on people’s energy so I don’t blame them for not answering when I call.  I wouldn’t want to talk to me at those times, either.  It’s got to be really exhausting being my friend at those times… so I get it.

I’m doing so much better now so I guess that’s where my mixed feelings about the Advocacy Forum are coming from– while part of me is regretting having let my spot go to someone else because I let a great opportunity slip through my hands, a much larger part of me knows that I made the right choice.

I’ve already begun to see pictures and status updates in my Facebook feed about the forum as they’ve all arrived and will begin their work on Capitol Hill tomorrow.  I’m envious of what they will be experiencing over the next few days but I know the person who replaced me will be a far better advocate for the cause than I am capable of being right now. Please send some positive energy to those who made the trip to DC to speak to our nation’s lawmakers on my behalf and on behalf of anyone who has ever lost a loved one to suicide.  I’m so grateful that they are able to advocate for those of us who aren’t strong enough to do so.

Anyhoooo.  I found a penny again today… thank you.  I love the little reminders that you’re still looking out for me.

Love Always,
Laura

Central Texas AFSP with Pete Gallego
Central Texas AFSP Advocates with Pete Gallego

 

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: 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: August 25, 2014

hurtandhealer
Dear Brian,

I had a dream last night… and for the first time in a very long time you were in it.

I was at an event for suicide awareness and prevention and had been having a really nice, but emotional, time connecting with some of the lovely women I’ve met through the tragedy of your death. It was time for the guest speakers to present so the crowd shifted towards the stage. As a young woman stood at the podium and shared her story of losing her brother to suicide I began to cry. The last words she spoke were, “I wish you’d thought about how much you’d hurt me.”

Just as she said that, someone reached out and held onto my left hand and gave it a squeeze. As I turned to my left I saw that it was you. You continued to hold my hand and kissed me on the cheek and said, “Laura, I’m so sorry for what this has done to you.”

I like to think that was you checking in with me again… and I thank you for that.

Love always,
Laura

Letter to Brian: August 12, 2014

dead-poets-society-robin-williams-550x313

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