Dear Brian,

I’ve held off on writing about something for a while now… but each time I see the story pop up on Facebook or in the news it triggers a reaction in me that I just feel the need to talk to you about.

The first time I saw the headline it read, “29-Year-Old Woman: Why I’m Taking My Own Life.”  I really didn’t know what to expect upon clicking on the story but it turned out she was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor and does not have long to live.  She chose to leave her home in California and relocate in Oregon where they support the “Die With Dignity” cause and it is legal to take your own life with medications in instances of terminal illnesses.

It was a little triggering for me to read the story but more so to read the comments from readers around the world. People had so many horribly judgmental and cruel things to say about this young woman’s choice. For as long as I can remember, and from as early an age as one can possibly understand what this choice means, I have supported it.  I know that if I were given a death-sentence such as this young woman that I too would want to choose how and when.  If I reach the point at which I can no longer move or care for myself and pain continues to grow and snuff out any quality of life I would want to be allowed the freedom to decide how much longer to prolong, or not prolong, the inevitable.

While it’s a completely different situation entirely, I have similar (and very controversial) feelings towards suicide.  The important difference being that I absolutely don’t advocate for suicide but yet I do understand why some people choose it.  I think that’s precisely the reason that I’m not angry at your choice, Brian; I truly understand it and while I would never have supported you in it or helped you with it… I understand.  The thing is, you were in so much pain.  Anyone that has been in the position of feeling like a “prisoner in your own body” due to a crippling depression that leaves you praying to the stars each night that you just don’t wake up in the morning will understand.  It’s not a matter of simply “having a bad day” or “losing your job” or “going through a breakup” anymore than it was just a “minor illness” for the woman who chose euthanasia for herself in the end.

In response to her story another woman posted, “My Mom has the same brain cancer diagnosis Brittany Maynard had.  She’s fighting to live as long as she can.” The thing is… she very well may have the same diagnosis but not everyone who has that same cancer will be the exactly same; some might respond better to treatments than others… some might be further along in their illness… some might have been diagnosed more quickly… some might have other factors contributing to their physiological deterioration; it’s not fair to judge another person for what they believe to be a “weakness” in giving up hope.  In my opinion the same applies to mental illness and suicides.  The are people out there who might believe someone is weak for taking their own life and would say, “I get depressed all the time and I don’t run out and kill myself… I keep trying.”  Or, “I’ve survived way worse than that guy has and look, I haven’t given up.”  There’s just no possible way to know absolutely what it is like to be in another person’s shoes so judgement in these situations… well, there just shouldn’t BE any judgement in these situations.

Brittany Maynard made her choice and on November 2, 2014 she left this world surrounded in peace and the love of her husband and family and I wouldn’t dream of judging her for making that choice.  I wish her family comfort and appreciate the difficult feelings that must have come up for them in supporting Brittany’s decision.

I’ve said it so many times before, Brian.  I understand why you couldn’t stay.  But I still wish you had.

Love Always,
Laura

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Dear Brian,

Today marks 4 years to the day that I got the call that would change my life forever.

I’d been hoping that it would be storming or raining or something today… anything that would fit how I’m feeling.  It never seems to fit when you see the sun shining yet feel like you’re dying inside, you know? It only makes the loneliness that much more pronounced.  However, when I walked outside today the weather was perfectly mirroring what was going on inside of me.  In one direction you could see dark, black clouds rolling in.  In the other direction the sun was shining and cast a beautiful, hopeful light on the trees beneath the storm clouds.  The wind was agitated and came in bursts.  And then came the rain.

All of that is so fitting for this 4 year anniversary.  On one hand I feel hopeful for how far I’ve come since the days following your death when I was in such excruciating pain that I had absolutely no hope that I’d actually survive.  On the other hand I still have days where my moods are like the winds and clouds today– dark and my deep moods come in bursts and sometimes seemingly out of nowhere.

Today, while I’m missing you and remembering you and wishing you were here I’m grateful for the weather that made me feel a little less alone today.

I love you.

Laura

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Dear Brian,

I’m not sure why I hadn’t made this connection before now, but you took your own life smack dab in the middle of “Mental Illness Awareness Week” in 2010.  The irony of that is not lost on me.  I’ve been seeing so many updates this week regarding 2014’s Mental Illness Awareness Week and it made me wonder what during which dates it fell back in 2010 and… sure enough… that’s when you chose to kill yourself.

This is unrelated but for some reason I’ve been thinking a lot about how I seem to have nothing but nice things to say about you and I fear some people may think that I’m “idolizing” you now that you’re gone.  I’ve thought about it a lot and really… I don’t have anything unpleasant to say about your or our time together.  I do have one regret that haunts me a little bit, though.

You and I were pretty close as children and continued to be as adults– I loved that we were roommates for a few years.  However, recently I’ve been thinking about how when we were looking to renew the lease on our apartment we’d had some kind of fight or argument… and honestly, I can’t even tell you what it was about.  But I do remember that we were both so angry that we decided we’d each look for our own places instead and we didn’t speak for an entire week.  Obviously, it blew over and we went on to renew our lease and live together another year.  But boy, were we ever pissed off.  And for some ridiculous reason that I can’t even recall today.  It makes me wonder when I see siblings or friends fighting or even splitting up over silly things… I wish they appreciated what they have.  I’m not so naïve to think that there aren’t situations or arguments from which people can’t seem to get their relationships on track and in some case, people hurt each other badly enough that it would do more harm than good to keep that person in their life.  Completely understandable  But I wish for them that they think long and hard about it before breaking ties… because once a person is gone for good you can never get back that time you lost.

I’m sorry for losing even that one week with you, Brian.  If I had known then that I’d only have you for another 10 years I’d have made that silly argument go away.

I miss you.

Love,
Laura

WINDOW FINAL

Dear Brian,

This window looks normal enough, doesn’t it?  Typical screen… typical glass… typical shutters on either side… guess most people walking by wouldn’t think twice about this window at all.  But it’s not just any window to me.  Inside this very window of this third floor apartment is where I fell to the floor on October 13, 2010 after Mom told me that you were “gone.”  And by “gone” I mean she had heard back from the police, for whom we’d been waiting on for 3 hours, and they’d found you dead in your home.

I was alone in the apartment that night… just me and the 3 cats.  The conversation Mom and I had was so very brief.  Not many more words were necessary; she said, “He’s gone, honey.  I’m sorry.”  That was pretty much it… I mean, what else is there to say?  I hung up the phone.  I screamed.  I fell to the floor.  I sobbed until I started choking.  The cats cautiously sat a safe distance away looking very curious and scared and, if it is possible, they looked a little worried.  They still do that. (Well, the 2 of them do… as you know, Sophie died shortly after you did.)  In fact, they are huddled close together (a rare occurrence) on the couch next to me as my sobbing grows louder as I type this.  Guess they figure there is safety in numbers.  The three of us make a good team… I cry myself into exhaustion as they stand vigil… no words expected from me, nor would they understand them, anyway.

I am well aware that I withdraw at these times– the times when I’m missing you so much I can’t think of much else.  The curtains are all closed… the lights are all off… I guess if I can pretend the outside world doesn’t exist for a little while then I can just focus on what my life, and the world, was like while you were still in it and my day dreaming goes relatively uninterrupted with the harsh reality that you are really gone and that you have been gone for….four….whole…years.

Each anniversary of a milestone or important date (i.e. your birthday, holidays, the last time we spoke, the last email I ever received from you, the day they found your body, etc.) is a reminder to me of what I’ve lost.  So far it has been 4 years I’ve been robbed of spending with you.  Next year it will be 5… next thing you know it’ll be 10… 20… 30 years.  All those years I should have had you in my life.  I’ve been reading a book called, “Life After Loss” by Raymond Moody, Jr.  Sometimes that book feels like my closest friend.  The words he offers are so comforting.  After 4 years you lose the sympathy and empathy of others; early on when someone would hear of your death and it was only 4 days out… 4 weeks out… well, there was an obvious look of shock and sadness and, well… pity at times.  Point being, it was totally acceptable to be a complete wreck only weeks after losing your only sibling to suicide.  But fast forward 4 years and… well… the empathy disappears for the most part.  The book has made me feel less alone when I’ve needed it most.  Reassuring me with quotes such as these:

Being deprived of a loved one and everything the relationship granted causes a sense of isolation.  As a normal aspect of grief, it signals, ‘You’re all alone now.’

Sudden death brings regret because relationships are incomplete.  The bereaved report that writing letters to their deceased loved ones or journaling helps them vent their feelings and tie up loose ends.

Feeling abandonment is to sense separation as desertion.  It sends an internal signal; someone you needed deserted you.

Ultimately, many survivors feel guilty just for surviving.

Every loss brings its own unique form of grief, but violent deaths create circumstances far removed from all other types of loss.  When loved ones die by murder or suicide, life turns upside down in ways unimaginable to those who have not survived such a tragedy.

I never imagined life without her.  I think of her every day and will grieve for her until the day I die.

And the book has reassured me that I’m not completely insane for still feeling such intense pain 4 years later.  Colin Caffell used to relay this story to the participants in his “Life, Death and Transition” workshops:

In a perfect world everyone would understand life’s timelines– that grieving, like aging, follows a natural rhythm.  Most cultures, however, stifle mourning.  Survivors are asked, ‘When will you stop grieving?  When will you start going out?  When will you start dating again?  When will you have another child’  The answer?  ‘When I’m finished mourning for what I’ve lost, of course.’

Yes, yes and yes.  I stopped going to the support group a few years ago because it seemed as though I’d “run out of words.”  That felt silly typing out as I’m writing yet another letter to you loaded with so many words.  But it felt different telling the same story each week… after a while it felt forced and it just made me feel worse.  I began writing these letters regularly around the same time I quit going to the meetings.  Guess it just feels better to write these letters to you… and though I know others out there are free to read them in this very public forum… it feels better to just talk to you directly and I think I’ve done a lot of healing through these letters.  And the book seems to have a way of putting my mind at ease about the fact that today, 4 years after your death, that the mere sight of a Chipotle restaurant (where we spent a number of wonderful lunches and dinners together) can reduce me to tears if the time is right and I’m alone to openly express that.  The book also reminds me that I’m not the only one going through this agony and that I’m not the only one to have regularly heard comments such as:

He isn’t suffering anymore.

Be happy you had him that long.

Be happy he is with ‘god’ now.

You’ll heal in time.

He wouldn’t want you to cry.

He wouldn’t want you to be sad.

Dr. Moody goes on to say, “All of those things, while motivated by good intentions, demean the loss and produce shame. No one’s pain should ever be discounted.  People grow from acknowledging and feeling the depth of their pain.” Again…. YES.

All that being said… I still feel embarrassed for being in as much despair as I find myself in today and many other days.  I know grief is so relative; many factors go into how long a person will grieve a loss– how close they were to the person, how long that person was in their life, how the person died, etc.  You can never be replaced, Brian.  You were my only sibling… you don’t just go out and find a new one of those.  I’m selfishly trying to tell myself it is OK for me to still be this affected by your absence after 4 years… I’ve always felt that the fact that you chose and orchestrated your own death made this grieving process all that much more difficult.  It wasn’t supposed to happen that way– you were supposed to live as long as I was and you weren’t supposed to ever be so irreversibly sad that you would end your own life just to escape it.

Another thing that has come up for me over the past few years is people asking me for advice regarding someone they know either feeling suicidal or going through the loss of someone close to them dying.  I don’t feel equipped to offer advice regarding either scenario and, while I’ve talked about it to you before in other letters,  (you know, how I don’t feel like I’m someone from whom they should be seeking advice with regards to the suicidality of their co-worker when I wasn’t able to stop my own brother from dying by suicide) this quote really seems to sum up why I feel that way:

“We cannot take someone farther than we have been ourselves.”

I don’t know what I can really offer someone in terms of either their grief or their need to save someone they are trying to keep alive… when I’m not over my own grief and I wasn’t able to save you.

Eh… I’m sure I’m going to have a lot more words for you in the coming weeks, Brian.  Brace yourself.

Love Always,
Laura

WINDOW FINAL

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