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!!!

April 26, 2013

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!

Dear Brian,

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

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

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

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

Laura

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

“To Where You Are”

Songwriter(s): Richard Marx, Linda  Thompson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Brian,

I’m not sure what reminded me of this recently, but for the past few days I have been reliving a conversation I had with a friend only 5 months after you took your life.

We had a mutual friend who, at the time, was fighting cancer with every ounce of strength he had. She said to me in an e-mail, “you know, I realize you’re missing Brian but I wish you were here to see Tom’s passion for life and see how hard he is fighting for it… it is truly inspiring. I’m sorry, I’m on a tangent but I want his fight to inspire others to carry on even in the worst of circumstances.” While I had some strong feelings about those words in particular, I just simply asked her to pass on my love to him and let him know I was thinking of him.

But it really did hurt me. I know how hard he was fighting to live and yes, it was so great to hear of his continued zest for life and how appreciative he was for each and every day he was given. However, you had just died 5 months ago! I was in so much pain, Brian. No amount of will to live on the part of someone else was going to bring you back to me and it only served to remind me how badly you DIDN’T want to live and that hurt so much. In a sense, it seemed as though she were trying to rush me through my grief. Or maybe just guilt me out of the pity party in which she thought I was stuck. In my mind, there should have been no link made between the two situations as they weren’t connected at all and a small part of me felt like she was robbing me of my right to still be sad because someone else was struggling so fiercely to survive.

I should include another key piece to this story. This person was someone with whom you had become acquainted over the years of our friendship. You had begun to confide in her now and then; she would periodically relay things to me that you had shared with her and I admit that resented the relationship you two had developed. She was someone with whom you had opened up to about things you had not even shared with me. What hurt more than that was I often picked up on feelings of what seemed to be superiority on her part when relaying your conversations to me. It was if she had a bloated sense of pride about being able to say, “Brian told me this in confidence, so please don’t tell him I told you…” blah, blah, blah. She’d always had a tendency to enjoy being the “fix-it” person, the one people went to for help or advice. It hurt so much having to learn those things from someone else but it was exacerbated by the fact it was coming to me from a person who I sensed was getting some pleasure out of you choosing to confide in her rather than me.

But I am grateful for one thing she passed on to me after you died. She told me how you’d said that I’d always meant everything to you. She also said that you were so terribly worried about my decision to move to Austin with Mark. You were so concerned about how I’d fare starting over somewhere new. With no job prospects lined up at that time you wanted to know I’d be OK finding a good job, getting health insurance, making new friends… and truthfully you were worried about my own depression and how that might affect my ability to succeed in a brand-new place so far away from home and all the stability I’d ever known. You didn’t want me to know you two had talked about it because you didn’t want me to know how worried you were or that you were questioning my decision to move. But it felt good to know that, so I’m glad she shared that with me. And, while it did hurt a great deal at times, deep down I was grateful you had someone to talk to when there were things you couldn’t quite bring yourself to share with me. The pain was coming more from my feelings about the messenger than from the message itself. Besides, our family (myself included) has always been more likely to share our feelings with others before sharing them with each other. For instance…. this blog.  🙂

I still miss you every single day.

I love you.

Laura

 

“Goodbye”

Music and Lyrics by Patty Griffin

Occured to me the other day
You’ve been gone now a couple years
well, I guess it takes while
For someone to really disappear
And I remember where I was When the word came about you
It was a day much like today the sky was bright, and wide, and blue
And I wonder where you are
And if the pain ends when you die
And I wonder if there was
Some better way to say goodbye
Today my heart is big and sore
it’s tryin’ to push right through my skin
I won’t see you anymore
I guess that’s finally sinkin’ in
‘Cause you can’t make somebody see
By the simple words you say
All their beauty from within
Sometimes they just look away
But I wonder where you are
And if the pain ends when you die
And I wonder if there was
Some better way to say goodbye

So I’ve been feeling the urge to start singing more again… and just put the feelers out for any groups looking for a backing vocalist for their projects. I’ve gotten a few good responses and am planning on meeting with some of the musicians to see if we might be a good fit. As a result, I was reminded of a great Brian story.

Back around 1999 or so, while Brian and I were living together, I was seeking out musical outlets and had responded to a few ads for artists or bands looking for a female harmony vocalist to add to their group. I did meet up with one man and while it turned out to be just fine, the experience did leave me with a feeling of…”Did I REEEEALLY just show up at a stranger’s garage apartment by myself? At night?? In the ‘hood???” So I decided my next audition would include my brother Brian, my very own bodyguard. He wasn’t super excited about going as he was pretty busy that evening, but he went with me anyway as I told him it shouldn’t take too long– we were just going to quickly run through a few songs.

We showed up and the guy greeted us and showed us around his home and studio and offered Brian a cold beer. His eyes lit up as he sipped his frothy beverage and spotted a pinball machine in the corner. The guy saw him oogling it and said, “You are free to play that while we rehearse over here if you’d like. And the fridge is in the next room… help yourself to another beer when you’re ready.”

Brian was grinning like a delirious fool the entire time and was actually pretty disappointed when it was time to leave. “Are you sure you guys gave it enough practice for tonight? One more song? I was totally owning that pinball machine and the beer was pretty tasty.” He said he would gladly make himself available to me for future rehearsals.

I miss my beer-drinking, pinball-playing bodyguard.

9 Years Ago Today…

April 2, 2013

family04012013_0000

flower girl

I love these pictures… my favorite family photo with all 4 of us and the picture of Brian acting all girly with my bouquet since he was lovingly dubbed my “flower girl.”

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