Dear Brian,

Yesterday was your birthday.  You would have been 39 years old.

I took yesterday off because I knew full well that it was going to be a difficult day and I would need some time alone to reflect and not worry about having to put on a brave face for everyone around me.  For the most part, I stayed at home by myself– I slept in and stayed in my pajamas until after lunch time.  I stared at your picture… I napped some more… and I called your old number just because it felt good to dial it again and pretend for a single second that you might answer.

I did have to venture out to get more cat food from the vet clinic late yesterday afternoon, it was the first time I left the house all day.  As I was paying, I overheard the receptionist saying to a customer “There is nothing worse than the feeling you get when the police call you to tell you that your son was injured in a car accident.”  That’s all I needed to hear and the tears started rolling down my face as I stood there signing my credit card receipt.  All I could think was that there IS something worse than that feeling.  There is the feeling that my own mother experienced when she got a call from the Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s office saying that they transported her son’s deceased body to the hospital where he would need to be formally identified.  And the feeling I got when she called me, her only living child, to break the news that my only sibling had taken his own life.  I don’t mean to minimalize… I know any call a parent receives about their child being hurt, in danger or in trouble is difficult.  But to hear those words yesterday, of all days, just struck a chord.  My mind was immediately transported back to that day and I was imagining how difficult it must have been for that person to have made that call to my Mom to tell her that her son was dead… I already knew how devastating it was for my Mom to have received that call.  On my way back home from the clinic I found myself taking a back route for some reason.  I wound up at a red light and as I  looked at my surroundings I realized that I was stopped directly in front of the bus stop bench where I was sitting in February of 2011 as Mom relayed to me the details of your autopsy.  Yet another call that no one ever wants to receive.

I had my third CASA training last night and the subject was Trauma and Mental Health.  Truth be told, that is another reason I knew I wanted to take yesterday off… I wanted time alone to prepare myself for that class.  To sit through that class on your birthday of all days… well, it was overwhelming.  I did better than I thought I would… but I really did struggle with it.  There was talk about grief, PTSD, mental illness, depression and recognizing the signs of all of those things.  It was so hard, Brian.  But I did want to do something to celebrate you yesterday so I brought a few dozen cupcakes to share with the class.  They didn’t know what the occasion was… but I did and it meant a lot to me to share your day with them even if they didn’t know it.  I just needed to do something to recognize the day in way that was meaningful to me.  And as hard as that class was last night, I feel even more motivated to get through my training to start helping some children who really need it.  I know you would be really proud of me for doing this… and I honestly believe if you were still here that this cause is something that you undoubtedly would have pursued yourself.  And you would have been wonderful at it.

It’s hard to believe that yesterday was the 4th time your birthday has come and gone since you left… I always think the next one will be easier but it never is; I can pretend I’m doing OK but something always reminds me just how far I have to go yet.

It’s pretty hard going through each day knowing that a vital piece of me, of my life, of my history, is missing.  Not a day passes where I don’t realize just how much of a void you left.

Happy Birthday, Brian.

Love Always,

I asked my dear friend Leashya to contribute to my blog with an entry about her own grief over the loss of her precious nephew, Christian, just 8 months after I lost Brian.  While we were very close before Christian’s death I believe we are now able to relate to one another on a whole new level in our shared grief and she understands me better than anyone else I know.  I’m so grateful for her and for her friendship.  With that I give you her beautiful words…

Irrational Death; Irrational Grief

It was some time after 10pm when my mom called. There was no “hello”, just a strained voice on the other end. “I don’t know if you still pray, but if you do, now’s the time.” Everything that followed was chaos. My mother’s words, choking out details like, “Christian was hurt in an accident”… “his heart stopped for thirty minutes”… “he’s going into surgery”… were interrupted by the cacophony of voices inside my head screaming “No!” and “This can’t be happening!” I remember yelling at my mother that Christian couldn’t die; he just couldn’t.

But he did.

Christian’s death broke the rules. He was 5. He was healthy. He was loved. He was well cared for. He was protected. He shouldn’t have died.

Driving the 15 hours to Arizona, I listened to Radiohead’s “How to Disappear Completely” on repeat. My incessant thoughts spiraled. My nephew was gone. My older nephew had witnessed the death of his little brother. My sweet, loving brother and sister-in-law were living through every parent’s worst nightmare- losing their child- and there was NOTHING I could do about it.

Death reminds us of how little control we really have. Death slaps us in the face with the harshest of realities: that we don’t get to keep everyone we love. Death is a thief.

Then there’s the grief that follows. Grief is often portrayed as sadness, but it’s so much more than that. Grief also looks like guilt, anger, depression, and insanity.

Grief is irrational.

After I returned to Austin, I hated my house. Each room held a mental photograph of the night Christian died: the kitchen where I answered my phone; the hallway where I sunk to the floor, sobbing over the phone with my mother; the bedroom where I heard the words, “He’s gone.” I was consumed with worry; I obsessed over the pain I could only imagine my brother and sister-in-law were in. I worried about my older nephew. I wondered if the whole family would break apart.

So, here’s where I get really uncomfortable sharing my feelings. I lost my nephew, but his parents lost their son, so who am I to express pain over my loss when, by it’s very nature, it must pale against the darkness of their pain?

Nevertheless, Christian’s death changed me. I cut ties with people I didn’t trust with my grief. I devoted myself more to family and to friends who feel like family.  I became hypersensitive to negativity- mostly because I usually feel like I’m barely holding on to the hope that is required to keep functioning in my life.

I also learned something. Grief is irrational. It cannot be measured or predicted or nicely packaged. It cannot be rushed or conveniently timed. It has to be allowed to be… irrational as it is.


I was recently asked to write a guest blog entry for The Christi Center here in Austin, Texas.  Here it is!

My life changed forever on Wednesday, October 13, 2010. No one had heard from Brian in days. After a lot of discussion and many frantic, unreturned phone calls, texts and emails, we made the decision to send the police over to his place to do a welfare check. It wasn’t until about 3-1/2 hours later that we heard back from them. That wait was excruciating; but not nearly as excruciating as hearing my Mom say, “Honey, he’s gone.” I hung up the phone and fell to the floor, shaking and sobbing and gasping for breath.

I knew he was going to take his own life. I’ve struggled with that fact every single day in the 3 years since he died. In my mind, having been aware that he had attempted twice before in the previous decade and that he continued to struggle with a fierce depression and feelings of suicidality and still not be able to help him makes me an “accomplice” of sorts. Losing anyone close to you is painful but to lose someone you love at their own hand makes for a very complicated grief. There’s the sadness, the anger, the guilt…the fear you’ll succumb to the same fate out of pure exhaustion from trying to survive the loss. That’s why I was so grateful to have found The Christi Center. I began attending the Tuesday night meetings for suicide survivors only 2 weeks after Brian died; I found myself desperate to talk to others who understood, as I was having trouble talking to anyone else–I didn’t feel like I fit in anywhere anymore, I didn’t feel understood and I felt guilty for talking to my friends about it because it seemed to make everyone terribly uncomfortable. I’m also grateful that The Christi Center recognized the need for holding a separate meeting for survivors of suicide; I would have found it very difficult to have been truly open about sharing my grief over Brian’s choice to die while sitting next to someone whose loved one fought valiantly for years against cancer in a desperate struggle to live. And I feared that my grief would have been difficult for them to relate to as well.

Laura and Brian Habedank as children

Laura and Brian Habedank as children

I’m not the same person I once was. Some changes have been for the better, some have been for the worse. Some of the less-than-desirable side effects of Brian’s death include panic attacks, a constant feeling of being “different” from everyone else and a crippling and embarrassingly intense fear of abandonment. After 3 years those things still cause me pain nearly every day. On the flip side, I’ve learned a few helpful things having experienced a loss like this–I’ve learned to become far more assertive than I ever used to be. I am clearer about what I will and won’t tolerate in my life. I know what I want out of my relationships and discard the ones that are hurting me or are not serving me well. I have become more compassionate.

I've learned to not run away from my emotions...I've learned that the best way to get to the other side of the pain is to go through it, not around it.

There is a story that Glenn, the leader of the suicide group, told very early on in my attendance at The Christi Center. He told us a story about the buffalo. It was observed that when a storm was approaching, all the other animals would scatter in an attempt to outrun the storm. However, the buffalo instead would turn, face the storm head on and run straight through it. Turns out that, while the more difficult choice, it turned out to be the fastest way through the storm and they instinctively seemed to know that. I think that’s why the story meant so much to me — I felt just like those buffalo. It hurt so much to talk about Brian but in my heart I knew the best thing for me was just to start talking and face my pain head on and not attempt to outrun a grief that no doubt would catch up with me later. The Christi Center offered me a place where I could openly talk about the details I couldn’t share with anyone else and I could sob until my eyes swelled shut and not feel ashamed or out of place or as if I’d “worn out my welcome” for needing to work through my grief by telling the same story week after week. They gave me a safe place to do that and a wonderful group of people with whom to do that.

I still have a lot of grieving yet to do–and I will for the rest of my life–but having the group at The Christ Center really helped set me on the right path for healing my heart.

Follow Laura’s blog!
Letters to Brian: Surviving the Suicide Loss of My Only Sibling

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