Dear Brian,

Well I’m almost completely moved out of the apartment and turn in my keys tomorrow.  Last night as I was collecting all the miscellaneous items around the apartment to place in boxes I did one last run-through of the bedroom to make sure I hadn’t left anything.  As I looked towards the closet I saw there was still an over-the-door hook up top.  I walked over to the closet and opened the door to take down the hook and as I rounded the corner of the door I saw that hanging from the hook was your favorite flannel shirt.  My heart stopped for a moment because I realized how devastated I’d have been if I’d left that shirt there.

While I kept a few things of yours that didn’t really have much significance, I mostly kept items that meant something to me or to us.  And the pieces of clothing I kept were primarily things which you wore often or which I have pictures of you wearing.  If I can’t have you here, the feeling of your favorite sweatshirt keeping me warm is a calming replacement.  A number of people have told me, “it’s not the things, it’s the memories” that make that person and to some degree I would agree with them.  But for me it is still very important to be able to see, hold, feel and touch things that you once held.  It only enhances those memories and my connection to you.

Something else happened this week that I’ve been wanting to tell you about because, though it won’t be obvious to anyone else but me, it dug up so many feelings for me about the sadness of your last few days and your eventual death.  On Wednesday I spent my lunch hour at the apartment doing some final cleaning and just moments after I’d left to return to work I saw something horrible.  I saw a man hunched over looking down at a cat lying in the street as cars swerved around him, uninterested in whatever was happening.  I knew something was obviously wrong so I immediately pulled over and parked my car.  As I walked closer, the man’s girlfriend told me the cat had just been hit by a car and the driver did not stop and the cat appeared to not be able to walk.  The young man picked up the cat and brought it to the opposite side of the road and set it in the grass and began to walk away.  The cat was still alive and there was no way I could live with myself if I didn’t try and help so I picked her up and carried her to my car.

She was struggling to breathe but relaxed into my lap and occasionally looked up at me as I cradled her head in my right hand.  I drove all the way to the vet that way– with her on my lap and her head resting in my hand.  Occasionally she’d shudder and I feared she wasn’t going to make it.  For a full minute or better I thought perhaps she’d passed but then she’d gasp for air and I’d let out a sigh of a relief as I kept talking to her and saying, “Stay with me, sweetie, stay with me.  We’re almost there, please just hold on… I’m getting you help.”

As soon as I parked in front, I carried her inside to the vet and immediately began to sob as I told the young man at the front desk, “Someone hit her.  They drove away.  It’s not my cat.” After the vet tech took her to the back, I stood there crying, smelling of cat urine as they offered me water and an entire box of tissues. It was only about 2 minutes later when the vet came out to inform me that she didn’t make it.  It likely seemed odd to them that I would be that emotional over a creature who was not known to me, so I was a little it embarrassed at the amount of tears I was shedding in the presence of a room full of strangers.  But they were quite kind.  They took down my contact information and assured me they would do their best to locate the cat’s family, if one existed.  I got back into my car feeling defeated and brokenhearted and I let go in my car and wept for this little creature whom I had only known for about 10 minutes.

That little life I held in my lap brought up so many painful thoughts about you, your death and how I was unable to help you.  I guess there was a little part of my mixed-up brain that thought by helping this helpless creature that maybe I’d be able to free myself of some of that guilt I’ve carried for not being able to save your life.  But the part that really got me the most, was being with that little life as she was leaving this world.  I’ve been so tormented over your life not only ending in suicide but that you took your last breath alone.  I don’t know why I’ve been so hung up on that part, but I really have been… and it hurts to think that you may have been feeling unloved in your last thoughts.  As I looked into the face of that dying creature, a piece of my heart truly felt as it she were saying to me, “Perhaps you can do for me what you couldn’t do for him.”  I realize how terribly strange that sounds… but it’s true.  And yet… she died, too. It truly felt like another failure on my part and I felt your loss so intensely as if it had just happened all over again.

It was a few days ago now, and that cat has been on my mind so much ever since.  I just can’t get her face and the sounds of her painful, labored breathing out of my mind.  I’m devastated that she didn’t survive as I had imagined a future where she pulled through and that perhaps, if no family had claimed her, that I would care for her and give her a loving home.  The only piece of comfort I’ve been able to collect from that experience was that I gave her all the love in my heart in her last moments here.

If you see her around wherever you are, please give her a special hug for me and tell her I’ll never forget her.

I love you.

Laura

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Dear Brian,

I’ve seen two stories in the news recently about how families have chosen not to eliminate the term “suicide” from their loved ones’ obituaries.  They called it out for what it was by saying something like, “Edward lost his long and brave battle with mental illness and addiction and took his own life.”  There is so much bravery in that… and I also feel there is compassion for the person who died by not “covering it up” or giving a more ambiguous description like, “Edward died unexpectedly.”  Obviously it is a personal choice each family has to make for themselves but I don’t think there is anything to be ashamed of and by sharing with others how they died we are spreading awareness about depression, addiction and suicide.

I wasn’t involved in writing your obituary and it started like this: “Brian A. Habedank, 35, Brooklyn Park, formerly of Red Wing, died at his residence.”  Basically what I was just talking about.  However, it was indicated in the wording in the last line: “Memorials preferred to SAVE or NAMI.”  SAVE is the non-profit organization “Suicide Awareness Voices of Education” and NAMI is the “Alliance on Mental Illness.” So if one didn’t know you, or our family, they would likely still be able to piece it together for themselves.

We chose those two organizations for an obvious reason– because what happened to you was not something we wanted to see happen to other people and we were hopeful that any money raised would possibly help even just one person get the care they needed.  While cleaning and unpacking at my new home the other day I found a card from my former in-law that I really wished I hadn’t saved because it made me so angry.  Well, I guess “angry” isn’t so much the right word as “invalidated.”  The card read like this:

“Dear Ones,

Instead of donating to one of the organizations in Brian’s name, we are sending money to apply to Sophie’s vet bill.  I am sure Brian would think this appropriate.”

You’ll remember that at the time of your death, my dear kitty, Sophie, had been at the vet for a few weeks as her kidneys were failing.  And I guess I should clarify that I absolutely recognize that sending money at all was an extremely kind gesture.  But what wasn’t kind was to choose to specifically say, “we’ve chosen not to donate to either of those organizations” and “I think this is what Brian would have wanted.”  I was hurt, angered and frustrated.  There was a very meaningful reason behind our choices of groups to receive funds collected in your memory and she knew that.  The person who wrote the card, while well-meaning, was known to shy-away from difficult topics and situations and frequently adopted the “head in the sand” position when things became uncomfortable.  If she had simply sent the money and said, “please choose where you would like this money to go” versus openly telling me that she made the choice to ignore our wishes I wouldn’t have been hurt.  I realize that when this card came only weeks after you died, things were still pretty raw and fresh and all of my emotions were right on the surface.  But when I came across the card again on Sunday I had exactly the same response even 4-1/2 years later… so I don’t think it was simply me reacting out of the heat of the moment.

Anyhow… so I had told you I was unpacking in my new home– I just recently moved in with my sweetie of over 2 years.  While we were hiking on Saturday I was thinking about you and how much I miss you and so wished that the two of you could have met.  I know you’d have gotten along so well; you really would have liked him and I wish he could have had the chance to know you, too.  It’s a huge deal, this living together thing.  I’d been asked by others in the past but didn’t feel it was the right thing to do.  It’s a really meaningful decision and a huge responsibility which I don’t take lightly… it needed to be right.  I didn’t hesitate for a moment this time. I wish you were here to share this with me.  Oh, and I also had your whoopee cushion saved in the same box… so that brought a smile to my face.  You and I always did share an affinity for fart culture. 🙂

I’ve been having a really rough few days and while sitting at a stoplight on my way to work this morning, I was startled out of my fog by a voice saying, “Hey pretty lady!  Have a great day!!”  I turned to see a man sitting at the bus stop and grinning at me from ear to ear.  It absolutely made my day… people have no idea how much a smile like that might mean to someone who is feeling a lot of sadness.  I need to try and pass that smile on to others today, I think.

Well I’m out of words for now, I suppose.  I miss you, dude.

Love,
Laura

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Dear Brian,

I’m often baffled at the sights and sounds that can jar me into a moment of paralyzing grief as I’m reminded of your death.

While sitting at a stoplight after work yesterday, I was reminded of a time 4 years ago, just months after you died, when I was sitting at that very same stoplight on my lunch break from work.  It was grey and cloudy and cool.  As I sat there waiting for the light to change I noticed an injured bird struggling in the road about 10 feet from my car; it was hopping about and squawking in distress and appeared to not be able to fly.  The animal-lover in me felt compelled to do something because I hated to see it in pain and seemingly calling for help.  But I was absolutely frozen.  I watched it flop about for a few moments and suddenly I could barely breathe.  I was in the midst of a panic attack.  For whatever reason, I thought of you.  Actually, I DO know the reason.  It was only months after your death… EVERYTHING reminded me of you. There wasn’t a moment I was awake that you weren’t on my mind.  But this little bird, in obvious distress, was hopping about in the road as all of us sitting in the adjacent cars moved about as nothing was wrong.  I didn’t do anything to help… I just drove away.

I hated myself for quite a while for leaving and not even attempting to help that fragile, little bird.  And, most irrationally, there was a part of my mind that thought, “What if this is a test? Maybe this is my brother; he’s back and I’m being tested yet again to see if maybe I can save him this time.”  You don’t need to say it… I know what you’re thinking… that’s positively fucked up.  I know it is.  But there is very little about any of my thought processes for the first few years after your death that was rational.  As I was driving away, I just cried so hard.  I felt as though I was abandoning another creature that needed my help in the same way I wasn’t able to help you, either.

It sounds silly, but I think about that bird so often and wonder what ever became of it.  And since that day I’ve also imagined that the bird wasn’t just like you… it was also very much like me.  As it appeared to struggle to get the attention of someone, or something, that could help, the world just kept right on moving by as if nothing was wrong.  That’s exactly what I was feeling like for so long and often still struggle with today.  Inside my heart and head there is so much turmoil and sadness over losing you and yet the world just keeps moving.  I was wounded and injured but no one stopped.  People wanted to look away from me in the same way that I looked away from that bird– because its obvious pain was too much for me to handle and I felt that I was in no position to help.

I think today it is still a bit of an issue in that I have friends that I just don’t hear from much anymore and in a few instances I feel it is simply because I remind them of their own pain and they’d rather avoid it.  I understand that, but it still hurts.  I didn’t ask for this sadness but it is mine and I still have a lot of processing to do to get rid of that empty feeling I get.  And there are still those friends who are fine with me on my good days but on the really bad days they avoid me altogether.  It’s not that I’m acting out or anything, I just think people naturally don’t want to be around pain if they don’t have to… but it would be nice instead of staying away from me that they might choose instead to just offer up a hug to let me know they recognize my sorrow and that they also accept that part of me.

I really wish I hadn’t driven away from that little bird but, more importantly, I wish I’d been able to do more to help you.

Love Always,

Laura

 

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