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: 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: 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: April 25, 2014

fog

Dear Brian,

We went to see a comedy show last night. It was a comedian that I have known about and loved for years… but there was a good 5-10 minute section in the middle of the act about suicide.  The thing is, I know this comedian is very open about her own struggles with mental illness so I guess if anyone can joke about it like that it would be someone who “gets it.”  But man, it just hurt so badly.  There is something so surreal about sitting in a room hearing the word “suicide” over and over amidst a few thousand people laughing at it when all I could think about was you and the insurmountable amount of pain that led to you taking your life… and the last thing I felt like doing is laughing.

It never ceases to surprise me as to how often suicide is joked about.  I don’t know if it’s being joked about more often these days or if I just notice it more now that I’ve lost someone so close to me at their own hand; I’d venture to say it’s the latter.  I totally understand that part of the whole deal with comedy is laughing about things that happen to us in life and our ability to share our stories and relate to one another in a lighthearted way; but this is just something that I am not, nor do I think I’ll ever be, ready to laugh at… ever.

It was so strange– I was in a room full of so many people but as soon as that bit came into play I instantly felt all alone in there.  Things became so distorted and foggy. I could barely hear her anymore and the sounds of laughter faded into white noise in the background of my daydream.  I was transported to the last few minutes I ever spent with you– those minutes as we pulled up to the Minneapolis airport on July 5, 2010.  I will never forget the look of… well, there was an immense sadness in your eyes but also a look of complete emptiness; it makes sense to me now as I think your spirit had long departed and the brother I’d known just didn’t exist anymore.  I was suddenly trapped between that dream world existing in my head and the tangible world around me that consisted of strangers effortlessly laughing at something that brought me so much pain.  I desperately wanted to squeeze my sweetie’s hand hard enough as if to say to him, without words, “Please help me, please hold me, this is just too much for me to take right now.”  But that, again, is admitting to a weakness which I’m not always open to showing; particularly when I know it would take away from someone else’s enjoyment of a moment.  So I sat there, frozen, feeling alone in a crowded room, taking long, deep breaths and fighting the urge to burst out of my seat and run for the door in search of fresh air and the absence of laughter; I forced back the tears– painfully waiting for it all to go away.

I don’t know if this hypersensitivity will ever completely go away but I’m looking forward to a time when it doesn’t paralyze me like it does yet these days.

As always, thanks for listening dude.

Missing you,
Laura

 

 

 

Letter to Brian: August 27, 2013

Dear Brian,

In the checkout line of the grocery store the other day a cover of a magazine jumped out at me… a picture of a beautiful, young woman, a former contestant on “The Bachelor,” who recently took her own life.  I did actually watch that season of the show and remember her well– she was stunningly beautiful and had one of the most engaging smiles I’d ever seen.  The people close to her seemed to be so shocked that this happened.  It’s not that uncommon, really.  Though I knew how badly you were suffering and expected your death to come, I heard so many people say to me, “I had no idea he was depressed… was it a total shock to you?  I never would have seen this coming.”  I felt ashamed to say, “Yes, I did see this coming.”

It’s so strange how suicides attract so much attention in the media.  People want to know all the “gory details.”  How did they do it?  Who found them?  What did they look like?  Was there a note?  What did it say?  Did they blame anyone?  Did anyone see it coming?  But for a death that creates so much interest and curiosity, it sure is lonely and alienating as a family member; people are afraid of us, it would seem.  They are uncomfortable with our presence because they don’t know what to say to us or because our pain is hard for them to be around or possibly because we remind them of the pain that exists in their own life.  I had a long-lost friend recently resurface to tell me, “I’m sorry I haven’t been there for you– I didn’t know how to help you so I just stayed away.”  While I can understand her feelings, it does still hurt because the alienation adds another layer of pain to your death.

There were details about your death that I needed to talk about and process but absolutely could not share with those around me– they were too intense and too difficult for others to hear.  That’s where the support group at The Christi Center was so helpful– there I could talk about those “gory details” that no one wanted (or was equipped) to hear and not be judged or ashamed for needing to talk about and work through.  I remember discussing one event that was really hard for me after your death.  It was August of 2011– 10 months after you died.  I was in my office at work and noticed an awful, awful smell.  The smell was coming from an animal that had died in the rafters above my office and was decomposing in the Texas heat.  I had a full-blown panic attack and had to leave for a bit because that smell was not unfamiliar to me– it was not unlike the faint smell which still remained at your home when we went to collect your belongings.  You had been dead for a week when you were found and I was told had decomposed at an unusually rapid rate for having been indoors in a moderate temperature– being October in Minnesota and all.  Once you smell that scent, you never forget it.  It’s strange to me how those kinds of details would make for a juicy story in a tabloid but when it comes down to relating to a real person, no one wants to hear that stuff!  I wish they wouldn’t print those kinds of details because it feels like an exploitation of the grief the family is experiencing– and it must feel like such a violation.  While it was so helpful to me to be able to talk about it with other suicide survivors who understood the need to share those kinds of details, I can’t imagine the pain of having had your picture plastered on the front cover of a magazine along with a headline speculating how/why you did it.  And to have millions of strangers reading about your life and your pain and your ultimate death… would just be so painful because so many people are afraid to talk directly TO me about it.

My heart goes out to this young woman’s family as they begin the process of restructuring their life without her in it.  It is a process I continue to work on every single day and wouldn’t wish it upon anyone.

Love,
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: 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!

NFL Draft Time!!!

This time of year makes me miss a special tradition Brian and I used to share.  Despite my minimal interest in the NFL draft, let alone the game of football itself, Brian and I spent the weekend of the draft hanging out and eating pizza, talking and laughing and intermittenly napping.  He even let me have his prized recliner for the festivities.  I had very little interest in what was happening but I enjoyed that weekend so much and always looked forward to all the great chatter and trash talk leading up to it.  He used to email back and forth with me for weeks before the draft asking me silly questions like this one dated April 9, 2008:

“So do you think that Vernon Gholston should be climbing the charts into the top 3 picks or is he better to fall down to a 6 or 7 when either the Jets or Patriots who can us him as OLB in the 3-4??”

Now what that translated to in my head was not unlike the unformed sounds of the Charlie Brown teacher.  I’ve looked everywhere for my response but couldn’t find it in all my saved emails; but I know I wrote something a little sarcastic… something along the lines of, “I do appreciate your desire to get my input but I can’t be rushed into these decisions. I’m really feeling the pressure here, Brian.  The draft comes but once a year and I need some additional time to think this over.”  Or something like that… because here was his exact reply:

“You know, so far you have handled this question perfectly.  The draft is an emotional time for a lot of people… but you didn’t make a rash decision just to answer the question.  Time is of the essence, but it’s still somewhat on your side– you have 16 days until the draft.  You don’t need to decide on Gholston today– you didn’t answer the question right away and realized that you aren’t going to take anyone’s word of mouth or get caught up in Combine numbers, but rather that you need to watch some game tape.  You just need to be damn sure that you know which name should be on the cards in what order when they go up to the podium on draft day.”‘

He knew that I didn’t understand a darn thing we were talking about… we’d exchange witty banter for weeks leading up to draft day and I always looked forward to it.

My favorite draft year was 2007– he asked who I thought should be the Vikes’ first draft pick and I immediately said “Amobi Okoye.”  He thought it a curious choice and was facetiously disturbed at the obvious lack of substance behind my reasoning–because he had a bitchin’ name!!  “What about his strengths on the field?  His weaknesses?  What can he bring to the team?  How would the Vikes benefit long-term from this pick?  Can they afford to drop other picks to be sure they secure him and SHOULD they?” Blah, blah, blah.  I said, “His name stands alone!  Say it with me…AMOBI OKOYE!!!”  I teased him about that for the next few years and it never got old.  I’d blurt that name out to him when it didn’t even make sense.  I’d say, “Hey, Boy!  I learned how to say ‘please pass the gravy’ in Swahili– it’s Amobi Okoye!” Or he’d ask me, “So Dude!  Which team do you see going up against the Patriots in the Super Bowl?”  My answer?  “Amobi Okoye.” Or he’d say,  “Hey, Dude.  Should I grab us a Papa Murphy’s for tonight or should we get something delivered?  My answer?  “Amobi Okoye!”  “Dude, what time do you get off work on Friday?”  Again, I answered, “Amobi Okoye.”   He’d say, “that doesn’t even make sense.”   To which I’d reply, “Dude.  The question matters not.  The answer is ALWAYS Amobi Okoye.”

I miss him so damn much.  So much I may even go watch the draft somewhere and imagine him yapping in my ear!