Dear Brian,

There are some things happening in the world these days that… well, let’s just say that there is a part of me that is grateful that you aren’t here to witness.  The events happening in Ferguson right now, and all across the rest of the country in response to it, are heartbreaking.

I know how much you struggled with just day to day things trying to find reasons to continue living in spite of the depression which took so much of your happiness away from you.  But you also spoke to me many times about how hard it was to watch what was happening in the world and how it was breaking your spirit.  In your final letter you wrote these exact words to me:

It’s been a constant battle for me nearly every day, and I found myself struggling more and more as I got older. I don’t have a whole lot of faith in the future of the world, and that makes it so much harder to try to cope with people and the way they can be.  As the years have gone by, I’ve had more and more trouble trying to feel happiness.  At best, I can only see that I’ll grow old and more depressed, and at worst I can be unhappy while I watch the world undo itself.”

Those words broke my heart not just because I love you and it hurt to know that you were hurting… but also because I often felt the same way.  I never had the right words to offer to you when I didn’t feel so hopeful myself.  There is, it seems to me, a growing lack of empathy and concern for others in the world and a greedy attitude in our culture.  I’m trying really hard not to see it that way but every time I turn on the news my heart sinks a little bit.  Some may condemn my desire to not watch or read the news as a lack of concern for the world but it is quite the opposite– it’s too much concern that drives my desire to remove myself from it at times.  I certainly don’t bury my head altogether and I do try to make a bit of difference in people’s lives where I can– such as my involvement with the AFSP and CASA; but I have also learned that I alone have the responsibility of protecting my own spirit and sometimes that means avoiding things that hurt my heart and creating a safe distance for myself when it is necessary.

I have always felt things so very deeply and even as a young child was so easily distressed by the injustices I saw in the world.  I remember very vividly going to see the movie “Places in the Heart” starring Sally Field.  It was 1984 and I was just a few months shy of my 10th birthday.  It addressed the issue of slavery and it was so frightening to see the horrible things people were doing to another human being simply because of the color of their skin.  It absolutely broke my heart into pieces and I remember feeling so overwhelmed by all the emotions I was feeling: anger, sadness, grief and helplessness. It’s been that way my entire life and I know you were cut from the exact same cloth and you also felt things at such a deep level that it was so hard for you not to absorb the feelings and emotions going on around you.  In fact, of all the discussions I’ve had with other survivors, this characteristic seems to run rampant amongst those we have lost.  It can be said of nearly every loved one spoken about at our meetings– that they were gentle and caring souls who felt all things so very deeply.   Although I am unsure of the source of this quote, I am certain that it describes many who are lost to suicide:

“You,” he said, “are a terribly real thing in a terribly false world, and that, I believe, is why you’re in so much pain.”

Obviously you weren’t a perfect person… no one is. But you, Brian, had a heart that was just too big for your gentle spirit.  I think it was a bit of a curse to be given such a great capacity for caring but also a mind that was not equipped with the capacity to care so deeply yet not be overcome by it. A friend of mine posted the following quote today after I’d already begun this blog and I knew I had to include it because it fits so closely with what I’ve been feeling about what is happening today and how I think you’d be feeling today if you were still here to experience it:

“Compassion hurts. When you feel connected to everything, you also feel responsible for everything. And you cannot turn away. Your destiny is bound with the destinies of others. You must either learn to carry the Universe or be crushed by it. You must grow strong enough to love the world, yet empty enough to sit down at the same table with its worst horrors.”
~ Andrew Boyd

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving and it was your favorite holiday!  This will be my 4th one without you and, though I miss you ever single day, the holidays are just harder and they make your absence that much more obvious.  This year I’m thankful for the 35 years I had with you and thankful for the people I have in my life now. I’m especially grateful for the strength I’ve mysteriously managed to muster up to keep going; I really didn’t think I had it in me.

As I’m typing this it literally just occurred to me that you and I first watched “Gladiator” together on Thanksgiving in our apartment back in November of 2000.  You absolutely loved the soundtrack and I remember clearly riding around with you in your black Honda Civic hatchback (which you named “Blackula”) with the windows down and you were blaring that music for all the world to hear.  It always makes me smile to think about that day. Maybe I’ll watch it this weekend and remember that Thanksgiving with you.

I miss you so much, dude.

Love,
Laura

This past Saturday I attended my third International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day since Brian passed away.  I was about a second away from backing out of going because even now, after 4 years of grieving the loss of my brother (and openly, via this blog) there are still days when I want to bury my head in the sand and avoid the pain.  But I always feel better when I do let myself feel those things so when I checked my email Saturday morning I was grateful to read the email that the event leader had sent out the night before:

“We look forward to seeing you tomorrow on International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day.

 When you wake up tomorrow, you might not feel like joining us. However, we ask you to please remember that you will be in a safe place with others who understand the conflicting emotions and questions that so often accompany losing a loved one to suicide. No matter what you are feeling tomorrow, we encourage you to join us. You can talk with others or just listen: you can participate in the entire day, or just part of it. This is a day for you.”
That email served to remind me that I’m not alone and that the feeling of wanting to crawl away and forget is very real and very normal but that the support of others who understand is so important.  I’m so glad I went.  For those 4 hours I was surrounded by complete strangers who immediately felt like family because we all share a bond (our suicide losses) that allows us to feel normal when in each other’s presence.
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention put together this documentary for this year’s event and it was just so well done.  If any of you has 30 minutes to spare, this video is so worth the watch.  If you know anyone who has lost someone to suicide or if you yourself have lost someone, I guarantee there will be something in this film to which you can relate.

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

 

Dear Brian,

There’s a lot to be said for surrounding yourself with the support of other people who “get it.”  I find so much comfort in being with other women who have also lost their sibling to suicide; more specifically their ONLY sibling to suicide.  Unless you’ve experienced it firsthand you can’t begin to understand how it feels. There is something so freeing about being with another “sister survivor.”  We can openly share details that others would find unsettling, uncomfortable, gruesome and frightening. For example, in the safety of each others’ company we can admit dark secrets such as how during those first few months after the suicide we secretly wish for death as it is the one thing that might allow us to see our brothers just one more time, hopeful as it may be.  It’s so interesting to me how that one common thread, the loss of our brothers to suicide, can form an instant friendship and leave us both feeling, after only one visit, more understood than we do by people who have known us for years.  I came across this quote from author Brad Meltzer and it sums this sentiment up perfectly:

“There’s nothing more intimate in life than simply being understood. And understanding someone else.”

I’ve had other people try to relate to my situation by comparing their loss of a grandparent… or a spouse… or a parent… or even a sibling who actually died due to an accident or illness or even by suicide but when they still have other remaining siblings upon whom to rely. I would never discount any of those losses, but they are just not the same and to compare losses can be dangerous and hurtful. By far the most devaluing comparison I’ve heard to date was someone comparing having to euthanize their 16 year old dog to losing you, my only sibling, to suicide.

The thing is, even in similar circumstances, not everyone will respond in the same way.  Each of us is different and the time required to grieve will vary from person to person. It’s all about resiliency. Consider the set of twins who grow up in the same home experiencing the very same trauma and abuse; one is debilitated because of his past and the other thrives in spite of it.  It’s not only our genes and our environment but how we as individuals are wired.

It has been crucial to my survival these past 4 years to surround myself with others who, like me, have lost their one and only sibling.  There is something so sad about losing my whole identity as a sister to a brother who took himself away from me; it’s healing to share this with others who are facing the same fears about the future as I am.  It was supposed to be the two of us in our old age, Brian; you were supposed to be there to help me care for our parents and help me make important decisions regarding their care when that time comes… and clean out that house of theirs filled and filled with things.  The thought of it absolutely overwhelms me.

As I continue to mourn your death I’m grateful for my own resiliency and ever so thankful for the friendships I’ve made which have helped keep me afloat in a sea of people who just want the “old me” back.

Love Always,
Laura

 

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