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

 

Happy 40th Birthday, Brian!

February 10, 2015

Today you’d be 40 years old, dude.  Thinking of you today and always!

I’m wearing your Del Rio jersey today and will be having pizza tonight and celebrating you.

Love Always,

Laura

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Dear Brian,

It breaks my heart to see so many posts and news stories these days about kids (and some painfully YOUNG kids) taking their own lives as a result of enduring incessant bullying.  I was bullied often and it made going to school far more difficult than it needed to be; in fact, I thoroughly dreaded going to school. I didn’t talk about it much because I was ashamed, so I really don’t know how much you know about what school was like for me though you were in the very same school at the time.

I get a bit hot under the collar when I hear people responding to these stories with anything less than empathy because they feel bullying just isn’t a big deal and that these kids are “just too sensitive” or they need to “buck up and grow a pair.”  The thing is… everyone is different.  What is hurtful to one child might not be hurtful to another; we’re all wired differently.  But I will say that even today, at age 41, that I vividly remember so many instances of ridicule and bullying as though they happened yesterday. Bullying is a far bigger deal than a lot of people seem to be willing to admit.

I was a painfully awkward kid and a far more awkward teenager and I did not make the transition from grade school into junior high school easily.  Nearly all of the girls whom I called friends up until the last day of summer following sixth grade somehow settled quite nicely into the “cool crowd” in junior high school.  I was brokenhearted as all at once I was alone in a very new and scary place.  I tried so embarrassingly hard to fit in; I remember that first Christmas in the seventh grade I handed out cards and candy canes to an obscene number of people… just as a nice gesture and to hopefully make some new friends.  I watched as a few of the “cool kids” threw the cards away in front of me… or just laughed and rolled their eyes.  Some accepted them graciously, but most looked annoyed that I had the audacity to come close enough to them to make the delivery.  The rejection was devastating and I was humiliated.

I just didn’t dress like everyone else; where the popular look of the day was Guess jeans, Esprit and Benetton… I was more at home shopping at garage sales and thrift stores and coming to school in my dad’s old suits and ties, suspenders and wing tips and grandma’s old broaches.  It didn’t go over in a small-town school and I was picked on no only for my appearance but because I was a timid, easy target who didn’t stand up for herself.  During most of junior and senior high school there was a group of boys, popular boys, who found it appropriate to spit on (or at least AT) me every day when I was forced to pass them to get to my locker.  Some days they wouldn’t even let me get to my locker so I’d just show up to class without my book and say that I’d forgotten it.

There was a specific girl that made all my bus rides to and from junior high particularly painful.  If I wasn’t seated near her, she’d make sure to find me.  The trip would consist of her pulling my hair, spitting on me and spouting off lengthy little speeches about what a horrible and unnecessary person I was. Far more hurtful was that the girl sitting next to her, doing nothing, was a person with whom I’d grown up; we’d been friends since about the age of 2.  And she sat back and watched the entire thing play out.  Every. Single. Time.  She’d pretend as though she didn’t know me all day at school and continued the charade until we got off the bus. Once the bus was out of sight she suddenly knew me again and she’d try and catch up with me shouting, “Hey, wait for me!  Let’s walk home together!”

Back in the 9th grade during the first day of science class with Mr. Wood we drew names to determine our seating chart; the person with whom we were to share a table would also be our science partner for the semester.  It’s still so clear to me today… standing up in the classroom as Tom drew my name from the hat and shouted in disgust to the class, “What!?  I have to sit next to that FREAK?”  The entire class laughed along with him.  I, the “freak,” stood there in front of them all and fought back the tears not wanting to let on that I was unbelievably embarrassed and hurt.

It’s not as though these were exactly life-threatening situations; but when you take a painfully shy and awkward kid who’s predisposed to depression and who lacks the self-esteem required to stand up for herself against the bullying, you get a recipe for disaster.  I was suicidal for years before entering junior high school but the social exile and the daily cruelty only made it harder for me to find reasons to continue to exist; when you’re a fragile and sensitive kid who is searching for her place in the world only to find out you seem to fit in anywhere at all… well, it makes you wonder why you’re even here. The daily taunting and alienation made it hard for me to concentrate in school so at times my grades suffered.  I found it difficult to make new friends because I was so self-conscious that people wouldn’t like me so I was less likely to even try and meet new people.

In fact, this self-loathing ran so deep that the summer after tenth grade when a boy seemed to be pursuing me I was hesitant, to say the least.  He asked me out again and again and again and I continued to answer with no after no after no because I honestly believed in my heart of hearts that there was no way that he was actually serious about taking me out on a date.  I was convinced that it was some cruel joke; I would say yes and he’d be a no-show or something… or any variety of scenarios that would leave me looking the fool and him saying, “You couldn’t possibly think I actually wanted to date you!!” as he and his friends laughed at my expense.  But after a few months of that I did finally say yes to a date and we were together for the better part of a year.  I’m glad I took that chance, he was a very sweet first boyfriend.

By my senior year I was getting better at letting the ridicule roll off a little bit, though it still hurt terribly and I still was painfully timid.  I recall there was to be a school-wide talent show the spring of my 12th grade year.  I hadn’t even considered entering; to intentionally put myself on a stage, in the vulnerable position of performing, where everyone in the entire school could possibly be humiliating me with boos and hisses at the very same time would have been devastating.  But the team running the show pursued me for a while and I finally broke down and agreed to participate; I signed up and would be playing piano and singing one of my own compositions.  The day arrived and I sat there in the front row watching the show unfold.  Each performance brought me closer and closer to the time I was to step on the stage and I was nearly suffocating with fear.  I can’t tell you the number of times I almost jumped from my chair to either run to the bathroom to throw up or to run home and avoid having to face the crowd.  But my time came… I sat up there at the piano and played and sang with my dysfunctional little heart splayed out on the stage for everyone to see.  I was terrified.  But, to my surprise, the once-rowdy audience became silent and just… listened.  Brian, you told me later that the group of boys in front of you were disruptive throughout the entire show but managed complete silence for the duration of my performance and actually applauded and shouted approvingly at the end.  (Ironically, these were some of the very same boys that spit on me in the hallway.)  I ended up winning the talent show and happily took home the $25 prize and a little bit more self-appreciation than I woke up with that morning.

I still have a very long way to go but over the years I’ve grown a lot, dude.  I have learned to set safer boundaries for myself and am getting better at sticking up for myself and worrying less about what others think of me.

All that said, I can’t even imagine how I’d have survived in today’s social media presence in schools when with a single tweet or text or Facebook post the entire school (and beyond) can be belittling someone within a split-second… and all at the very same time.  There’s no controlling it once it’s out there and it just needs to stop.

I hope people continue to become more sensitive about the subject of bullying and I desperately wish that parents will take it seriously and act appropriately when they learn from teachers and school administrators that their child is a bully; we need to be teaching children kindness and respect.  They certainly don’t have to be everyone’s friend… but they do need to learn that everyone does, at least, deserve to be respected, not humiliated.  And not all of the responsibility should fall on the teachers– this needs to start at home.

I’m sorry this letter is a little bit long today but this has been on my mind a lot lately and I just needed to get it out.  Thank you for always sticking up for me when others didn’t, dude.  It meant the world to me.

Much love,
Laura

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Dear Brian,

Well, I did it. I finished watching the entire “Six Feet Under Series” this weekend. I miss it already.  There is something so comforting, to me, about a show that so openly talks about death and the shit that happens to those left behind.

I watched as a sister, fresh in her grief, stared blankly up at the sky as though her brother’s death literally had taken her soul away from her and left her empty inside.  She said, “He was my only brother.  He’s gone. I’ll never have another brother.” I remember those days so clearly, Brian.  Moving about but feeling disconnected to the places and faces I came across.  Going to sleep crying.  Waking up crying.  Lying on my bed staring out the window in bone-weary silence when the tears simply ran out… staring into the sky but not really seeing anything.  Not connecting to anyone or anything.  Nothing mattered anymore… nothing at all.  I’ll never have another sibling; you were it for me and with one painful phone call that lifetime of being a sister to you was just… over.

The show showed the self-destruction that often occurs following a traumatic death. Nearly all of my days were all the same at the beginning: I’d wake up in a fog, believing it had just been a bad dream and then begin sobbing when I realized it wasn’t a dream at all. I’d leave the house in whatever clothes were closest to me, making no real effort to put myself together. I’d go to work and fight tears all day. I’d leave work for my lunch break spent crying in my car.  I’d cry all the way home when the work day was over. I’d drink at least 6-7 glasses of wine, smoke some pot, take a few sleeping pills and pass out before 8:00 and the next morning I’d wake up and do it all over again. It was so exhausting missing you and I really didn’t want to feel anything at all.  I had very little desire to answer the phone or reply to emails or texts and I was just so fucking depressed.  I was so angry, though not at you… just at what my life had become. I was just barely getting by; I’ve come a long, long way since then.

I felt so at home watching “Six Feet Under” because it so beautifully showed all the stages of grief that people go through… and reinforced that those stages very often don’t go in any particular order… and that you can relive any and all of those stages at different times in your life– grieving the loss of someone so close to you is a lifelong process.  I can say that after 4 years it does get easier… but it’s ALWAYS there.  You are still on my mind– every. single. day.  In the beginning I was bombarded with all of the sad memories and all the ways I hurt your feelings or upset you over the years and wished so badly that I could get a do-over.  But these days it is far easier to come up with happy memories… there sure are a lot of them.

Another thing that I found so comforting about the show was the continued “presence” of those  who had passed. They often “saw” and spoke to those who had died; whether it was real or imagined (though I believe that to be real) isn’t the point… it was that even after death we still want to incorporate our loved ones into our daily lives.  You’re on my mind so much that with each decision I make or when things happen to me that I want to share I imagine that your spirit is with me sharing in the news or comforting me when I need it.  Though your body is gone, you still very much inspire me.  I can’t let you go completely and I’m fine with that, actually; you’re always going to be a part of my life, though in a different form than before.

And the show was just so honest!  I wish our society didn’t tiptoe around the subject of death so much… and the topic of a suicide death is far more taboo and people just don’t want to talk about it.  I’ve eased up a lot over the past 4 years.  In the beginning I wanted to talk about it all the time– to anyone who would listen. It was always on my mind and was such a distraction that I often thought I shouldn’t have been allowed to drive a vehicle.  If someone honked and zipped around me while flashing their middle finger at me for failing to see that the light had turned green a part of me wanted to chase them down and jump out of the car and scream, “I’m sorry I made your life so difficult at that stoplight… my brother just killed himself!  If a few seconds longer at a stoplight is the worst thing to happen to you today then you’re in great fucking shape!!”  That anger was always just barely concealed beneath my expressionless surface.

I’m grateful that through talk therapy, art, setting appropriate boundaries with people whom I do not feel safe, medication and simply the passing of time that I have come to a place where I can remember you without breaking down.  Don’t get me wrong, I still fall apart a lot… but not all day every day like I used to.

And if I’m being completely honest, I can foresee myself watching the entire “Six Feet Under” series again in the future.  It’s good for my soul.

On a side note, I just turned 41 on Saturday… I did always love the birthday cards you used to get for me.  I really miss that and I really missed not talking to you on my birthday.  But you were still there with me, dude.  I miss you.

Love,
Laura

Dear Brian,

So I’m over 10 years late to the party, but I’ve become immersed in the series “Six Feet Under” on Amazon for the past several weeks.  I absolutely love it.  I’m pretty sure if I’d watched it within the first year after you died that I’d have sobbed through every single episode. I guess it’s another reminder of how far I’ve come in this whole grieving process.

It’s strange how many of the details in the series would, I assume, be alarming to a lot of people which are such a non-issue for me.  Mom has worked in a funeral home since we were very young so I was raised spending so much time around funeral homes and talk of death.  It’s really never bothered me too much.  While watching this show I’m often reminded that all of my years of being exposed to the “behind the scenes” goings on likely prepared me for your death in a lot of ways.  There really were no surprises for me.  The only thing that was hard for me to understand was being told that I shouldn’t be allowed to see you before you were cremated. I’ve never been angry about it because having known the funeral directors for the majority of my life I have always known that they only had my best interest at heart and felt that viewing you in such a way that you were positively unrecognizable would hurt me far more than it could ever help me.  But I’ll admit to you today that I still wish I had been given the chance to even hold your hand and see for myself that it was really you and keep that tortuous little voice of denial in my head at bay. Sadly, I still battle that part of myself that yearns for some proof.

In one of the episodes of “Six Feet Under” I watched today, a character was describing watching her father die over the course of 3 short months following his gastric cancer diagnosis.  She said this:

“Watching him die… it was like watching somebody get washed out to sea, only they’re sitting right there in bed.  A wave comes, takes them a little away… another wave comes, takes them a little away… every wave is a day and little by little, off they…. off they go.”

It reminded me of your last year.  Though I’d last seen you in person 3 months before you died, I could already tell then that you would be leaving us and that a large piece of you had already left.  As the months went on, I could hear in your voice on the phone and feel it in your words in texts and emails that more and more pieces of you were continuing to be washed away.  I felt absolutely powerless to do anything about it.

That reminds me of something that’s been on my mind lately.  I’ve had many people from whom I’ve been asked for advice about suicide.  The ones I have the best connection with are those who are suffering their own suicide loss.  I find it most difficult when I am sought out as a potential resource for them when they are struggling with their own suicidality or the potential suicide of someone close to them.  I tend to freeze up when this happens… if not visibly, I’m certainly panicking on the inside.  If I was of any help whatsoever in this department, wouldn’t you, my brother, still be here?  I really don’t intend for this to come off as insensitive… but more of a commentary on my own self-deprecation and self-blame for not being able to save you and feeling even less capable of helping anyone else, you know?  And truth be told, it’s still so triggering for me because it brings up all those feelings I was experiencing for months before your death.  But when it comes to talking and sharing with others who have lost someone to suicide, I’m an open book.  After all, I’ve managed to survive four years without you when I didn’t think I was capable so I feel that I do have something very valuable to offer others where dealing with grief is concerned; but when it comes to helping others prevent a suicide… well, I just go numb.  Most likely out of self-preservation because if I don’t protect myself, no one else will.

I continue to see you in all things, Brian.  Your death has given me an entirely new set of lenses through which I now see the world.  And it hasn’t been all bad… but I wish you were still here.

I love and miss you, dude.

Love,

Laura

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Dear Brian,

Well… I managed to get through my 5th Christmas without you.  Christmas Eve seems to be extra hard for me as that was always our family’s big celebration; we, of course, celebrated Christmas Day as well… but there was always something extra special about Christmas Eve for us.  It was just… magical.

This year I was in Maryland for the Holiday and it was the third one in a row where I didn’t celebrate back home in Minnesota with family.  It hasn’t been intentional, but I’ll admit that I do find it easier to be away from all the reminders of you during this time of year.  Somehow it’s easier on me to be in new or unfamiliar surroundings where the ghosts of our Christmases past aren’t circling around me like vultures waiting to prey on any bit of happiness I manage to muster up each Christmas now.  I suppose it’s that your absence is all the more obvious when I’m engaged in the “usual” traditions without you.  It’s just not the same and, quite frankly, it hurts. I know so many survivors who have changed the way they celebrate the holidays… even going so far as to take a trip far away during that time of year just to get away from all of the reminders.

This year I managed to get myself sick, too; so while in Maryland I managed to have myself a little meltdown a few times because, well, I was feeling sick, I had my “monthly lady-time” and a load of the exhausting cramps that typically go along with it and on top of the deep sadness I was feeling over missing you, I felt as though I was tossing a wrench into the holiday celebrations of people that I care very much about.  I had myself a few tear-stained pity parties when I found myself alone in a room for a bit.  I was also struck with the grief of guilt when I found myself having moments of joy without you; though I know you’d want me to find happiness a part of me punishes myself for allowing myself those instances where I realize I’m moving on without you. It feels like I’m betraying you and I don’t think that guilt will ever completely go away.

Christmas Eve I was alone for a good hour or two; my sweetie wasn’t feeling well, his parents had gone to Christmas Eve Mass and his sister had returned to her home.  I sat there alone on the couch in the deafening quiet and stared into the lights of the Christmas tree and my mind drifted back to holidays past.  Suddenly I could see your face and hear your laugh and my heart longed to go back and relive even just a few minutes of any one of those nights.  My eyes filled with tears upon the realization that the only way I’ll ever spend Christmas with you again is just as I did on the couch that evening– with your ashes in a pendant worn around my neck and with your signature tattooed on my left wrist and your essence forever burned in my memory.

There used to be a home video of you opening a present from me on Christmas Eve back in 1994.  I’d given you a hilarious gift and I told dad to keep the camera on you as you opened it because it was sure to be a monumental moment.  And it really was.  For about the next 15 minutes straight you laughed and laughed and laughed and I could hardly contain my joy seeing you enjoy the gift so much.  A few months after you died, I searched frantically through every single one of VHS tapes of home movies to try and find those few minutes of footage and, to my dismay, it no longer seems to exist; it was taped over by something far less meaningful and my heart broke all over again when I realized it was gone.  I’d give anything to see that video again… to see and hear your laughter again.  Particularly since the last few years of your life your sadness was palpable and I’d love to be able to relive those moments of your pure happiness and perfectly infectious laugh.

I truly hope that wherever you are now that you’re free of that deep sadness that burdened you at the end of your life.

Merry Christmas, dude.

Love,
Laura

CHRISTMAS

 

 

 

 

Dear Brian,

I used to really love this time of year.  I loved the snow… the anticipation of Christmas… and I absolutely LOVED shopping for Christmas presents for you. Having lived here in Texas since 2009 this will be my 6th Christmas without snow and now that you’re gone it’ll be my 5th Christmas without you, too.

Yesterday it sort of all caught up with me; I’ve been pushing it down and distracting myself pretty well but hearing the news of the suicide of a young man near my hometown just pulled it all back up right to the surface.  My heart was breaking for this family who is now dealing with the loss of their future with their son but also for me as I remembered exactly what it felt like upon getting the news of your death and the days, weeks and months that followed.  I lost you two months shy of Christmas in 2010 and your absence was all the more pronounced during the holidays and I mourn for the family facing their first Christmas without their loved one. This recent death makes two suicide deaths related to close friends of mine in a single month.  It’s just too many.

Every Christmas since you died I find myself looking back at holidays throughout the years and some of the fun we had exchanging gifts.  We were always good about getting each other some pretty great stuff.  But the joke gifts we’d exchange were often my favorites!! Do you remember the year you opened up a box from me and pulled out a teddy bear?  You looked horribly confused, and rightfully so; you were a young man in your late 20’s, after all.  But the reason for the bear was soon revealed as I secretly pulled a small remote from my pocket and pressed the red button in the center.  A split-second after pressing that button the bear sitting on your lap began to fart.  You laughed so hard!  (Almost as hard as I did.)  I almost wished I’d gotten one for myself; after all, who wouldn’t want a remote control-operated farting bear??  Simpsons items were always big with us, too; I still wear the Homer Simpson slippers you gave to me about a dozen years ago and the talking Homer Simpson clock I gave to you one year I now proudly display on my bookshelf at home.

This year I’ll be heading to Maryland to spend Christmas with my sweetie and his family and it’s the first Christmas I’ve looked forward to in six years.  (Having moved here in November of 2009 I wasn’t able to come home and spend that Christmas with you and then 10 short months later you were gone.)

I so vividly remember Christmas Eve of 1990; I was a junior in high school and you were a sophomore.  You and I basically spent the whole night together, just the two of us as Mom and Dad weren’t speaking to each other and hadn’t spoken much in weeks.  We were pretty certain that a divorce was imminent.  You and I sat alone at the base of the tree opening our gifts as well as those gifts from Mom and Dad to each other as they had no interest in joining us.  It was a tough evening, for sure… but we had each other and I was so grateful for that.  It makes me so sad that my partner in all of that is gone.

My grief just feels so very close to the surface this time of year… and I just can’t seem to get enough sleep.  I’m overwhelmed and absolutely exhausted each and every day and in the past week alone have started to cry three times in stores when I spotted families shopping together or see a family headed home to decorate the beautiful pine tree braced to the roof of their car.

I’m missing you more than ever, dude.

Much love always,

Laura

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

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