vikings blanket

Dear Brian,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love Always,
Laura

 

Address in the the Stars

Music and Lyrics by  Caitlin Lynn, Aimee Mayo, Chris Lindsey and Hillary Lindsey

 

I stumbled across your picture today
I could barely breath
The moment stopped me cold,
Grabbed me like a thief.
I dialed your number, but you wouldn’t be there
I knew the whole time, but it’s still not fair
I just wanted to hear your voice,
I just needed to hear your voice.

Chorus:
What do I do with all I need to say
So much I wanna tell you everyday
Oh it breaks my heart,
I cry these tears in the dark
I write these letters to you,
But they get lost in the blue,
‘Cause there’s no address in the stars.

Now I’m drivin’
Through the pitch black dark
I’m screaming at the sky
Oh cause it hurts so bad
Everybody tells me
Oh all I need is time
Then the mornin’ rolls in
And it hits me again
And that ain’t nothin’ but a lie.

Chorus:
What do I do with all I need to say
So much I wanna tell you everday
Oh it breaks my heart,
I cry these tears in the dark
I write these letters to you,
But they get lost in the blue,
‘Cause there’s no address in the stars.

Without you here with me,
I don’t know what to do.
I’d give anything
Just to talk to you
Oh it breaks my heart,
Oh it breaks my heart,
All I can do
Is write these letters to you,
But there’s no address in the stars.

Dear Brian,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please continue to watch over me– I need it.

Love Always,
Laura

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 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

Happy Birthday, Brian!

February 10, 2013

brian face

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Dreams

February 9, 2013

I’m sharing this note I wrote to myself at 3:00 in the morning on December 1, 2010 just 6 short weeks after Brian died. I had the most amazing dream but to describe it as just a dream feels so inadequate as I am unequivocally certain it was a visit from Brian. While to this day it has been the most beautiful experience of my life, it has left me achingly sad nearly every morning since as I continue to wish for another visit each time my head hits the pillow at night. Here is what I wrote immediately upon waking up that night:

I just woke up from a dream I had about Brian.

Mom and I were somewhere… I believe it was supposed to be his place although everything looked different. I heard his voice– very groggy, as though he was just waking up– he was calling my name saying, “Laura…. Laura…. it’s Brian.” I was frantically looking around thinking there is no way I could have just heard what I thought I heard.

I ran down the stairs and as I approached the last few steps I saw him coming towards me– he had some tubes hooked up to him, like an breathing tube going to his nose. I sat on the bottom few steps with Mom sitting next to me a step above as he stood on the floor next to the staircase and took both of my hands in his– again, I thought there is no way this is happening– could he really be here with us now?

I glanced at Mom and cried as I asked her, “Mommy, what is happening?” I needed to see if she was hearing and seeing what I was– and she assured me that she was; however, I sensed from her that it didn’t mean he was alive. I looked at Brian again– he looked really good. He looked so peaceful and rested and happy; he had that pink glow in his cheeks and his eyes told me he was OK. I asked him how he was– he said, “I’m alright now. I was cured the moment I passed away. I love you very much and miss you.” I told him I loved him and missed him… and hugged him and cried. Again, I kept looking at Mom to see if she was hearing it– and she was. But she stayed there quietly next to me and watched and listened… like she knew this moment with Brian was meant just for me.

Mom and I were then saying our goodbyes downstairs to him as if we were leaving his place like any other time before; Mom asked, “Are you going to be OK? What are you going to do now?” He said, “I’m good. I’m going to just run out for a bit;” he had a cup of coffee and reached for his keys– as if he was truly only going to hop in in his red Saturn and go for a drive.

That’s the last I remember before waking up… and I woke up feeling so peaceful and grateful that I’d had this dream. I have been hoping to dream about him like this– and I hope it is a gift from Brian– I hope it was really him telling me he is OK now.

I’ve had other dreams about him since but none remotely like this– and anyone who has lost someone dear to them has had a dream such as this knows exactly what I’m talking about. There was something so profoundly peaceful and heavenly about that dream that no one could ever convince me that my brother did not come to me that night to bring me a little comfort.

Plastic Babies!!

February 7, 2013

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!!

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