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

sfu_tree_02

 

 

 

 

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,

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

hurtandhealer
Dear Brian,

I had a dream last night… and for the first time in a very long time you were in it.

I was at an event for suicide awareness and prevention and had been having a really nice, but emotional, time connecting with some of the lovely women I’ve met through the tragedy of your death. It was time for the guest speakers to present so the crowd shifted towards the stage. As a young woman stood at the podium and shared her story of losing her brother to suicide I began to cry. The last words she spoke were, “I wish you’d thought about how much you’d hurt me.”

Just as she said that, someone reached out and held onto my left hand and gave it a squeeze. As I turned to my left I saw that it was you. You continued to hold my hand and kissed me on the cheek and said, “Laura, I’m so sorry for what this has done to you.”

I like to think that was you checking in with me again… and I thank you for that.

Love always,
Laura

Dear Brian,

It’s funny how I can be moving right along thinking I’m doing really, really OK… then out of nowhere I find myself sluggish and exhausted and just sort of…well…. an overall feeling of malaise.  Then I remember what day it is… and it all makes sense.  Even when my mind is not consciously aware, my body remains entirely aware of what was happening on this very day 4 years ago.

It was Saturday, July 24, 2010 and I was in Dallas visiting my friend Rachel for the weekend.  She and I were strolling around Target that morning when I heard my phone beep.  I looked down and saw that I had a text message from you that read, “Hey dude– I’m having trouble with my email.  If you get anything from me, just go ahead and delete it.”  I truly didn’t think much of it… I just assumed perhaps your email account had been hacked.  Rachel and I proceeded to shop and pick up snacks for our day at the pool that afternoon… your text immediately was forgotten and we went about our girls’ weekend.  I had no idea what that seemingly benign text would come to mean to me.

The next afternoon I drove the 3 hours home from Dallas.  I unpacked, took a shower and made myself a snack.  I sat down at the computer to check my email to see what I’d missed during the past few days.  Then I saw it… an email from you.  It was sent on the 24th and the subject line simply read: “Important.”  There was a word document attached and the body of the message said:

Hey Laura, this is very important and you will want to open it right away. –Brian

My first thought was, maybe I should just delete it as you’d asked me to do… but something in my gut told me to open the attachment anyway.  So I did.  These are the next few words I read:

Dear Laura,

I’m very very sorry to need to let you know this way, but if you’re reading this then that means that I’ve made the decision to end it all and it should be over and too late right now.  I scheduled this email to be sent with a time-delay that can be canceled, and I left plenty of time.  I’m sorry that you had to find out like this, but I didn’t know what else to do.

Brooklyn Park Police Department phone 763-493-8222

My front door will be unlocked. 

I can’t possibly describe the horror I was experiencing at that very moment.  Everything was an absolute blur as I read through 3 pages of your last thoughts and preparations– where you kept the title to your car, your life insurance policy, what to do with your cats, when the water heater had been replaced a host of all kinds things that someone who truly intended to tie up absolutely all their loose ends would include in such a final correspondence.  I raced to my phone to try calling you… no answer.  I called again… no answer.  I then immediately called Mom and asked if she’d gotten that email from you and she hadn’t– you’d only sent it to me.  I told her what it said and told her we needed to call the police and send them over to your house immediately.  Upon hanging up I instantly began calling your phone again and again and again… each time hoping for a different outcome– one where you’d answer your phone and be OK.

After about 10 minutes of fevered dialing my phone rang and I stared at the caller ID display. It was you.  It was YOU!  But after the letter I’d just read I was a little afraid to pick up… would it be you?  Would it be the police telling me they were standing over your dead body in your living room?  I answered the phone and I heard your voice say, “Hey, dude.”

Shit.  I don’t think a word exists that could possibly convey the amount of relief surging through my body upon hearing you speak.  You apologized for worrying me and said that’s why you sent that text– to stop me from reading the email you intended to simply SAVE, not SEND.  You told me how once you realized your mistake that you tried unplugging all of the cords to your computer in hopes of stopping it from being sent.  None of that mattered to me… I told you that obviously I was meant to get that message so I could get you the help you so badly needed.  In hindsight, I don’t know which would have been worse for me… having never received that email and having no warning about your imminent death or getting the email and proceeding to not do enough to keep you safe from yourself.

I began to wonder this week… thinking about what else might have been going on in the world that very same day you wrote that letter. So I decided to Google “July 24, 2010” to see what came up… to see what else was happening in the world that day as you sat alone in your home and typed up your suicide letter to me.  That very same day your horoscope in the Lawrence Journal-World read, “Take some much-needed personal time.  You have been groping with an issue and probably need time to process it.”  Boy, did you ever.  Selfishly, I wish you’d taken much, much longer.  You know, like about another 50 years or so.  But, I digress.

Just a few miles from where you sat typing, Natalie Merchant was performing at the O’Shaughnessy Theater in Saint Paul, MN.  In Baltimore, our very own Minnesota Twins were defeating the Baltimore Oriole’s 7-2.  Theo Albrecht, the 2005’s “20th Richest Man in the World” passed away. A number of celebrities (including, but not limited to, Rose Byrne, Bindi Irwin, Barry Bonds, Jennifer Lopez and Kristin Chenowith) were celebrating their birthdays.  And then… I found something breathtaking.  Turns out that the very same man who directed your favorite movie, “Gladiator,” had been working on producing a film project entitled, “Life in a Day” in which he was gathering video submissions from people all over the entire world from one single day: July 24, 2010.  Absolutely amazing.  After sorting through over 80,000 submissions containing a combined total of over 4,500 hours the end-result is a 95 minute documentary, shot by film-makers from all over the planet.  It was released in 2011 and will, to quote IMDB, serve as a digital “time capsule” to show future generations what it was like to be alive on Earth on the twenty-fourth of July, 2010.  While these people were presenting what it was like to be alive on that day, you were planning your own death.

I watched the documentary today and would you believe there was actually a part of me that I allowed to hope for a glimpse of you in there somewhere?  I thought to myself, “Wow, wouldn’t it be great if by some miracle by brother showed up in there in his own video submission that might reveal to me a shred of what he was feeling that day?”  I know… it was a long shot.  But you have to understand… I won’t get any new pictures of you.  I won’t get any new videos of you.  All I have is what I’ve already seen and I continue to long for more because it still doesn’t make sense to me.

Instead of you, I saw what the moon looked like that night.  I saw a couple getting married.  I saw a woman joyfully holding a pregnancy test stick in her hand showing the camera she was going to be a mother.  I saw a girl crying herself to sleep.  So many personal and emotional moments in that 95 minutes… none of which included you.  But then… I guess I already know what you were doing that day, don’t I?

I’ll continue to hopelessly search for you everywhere I look.

I miss you.

Laura

 

Dear Brian,

I heard someone say the other day that all of the cells in the human body are replaced within 7 to 10 years and, as a result, that I may actually be an entirely different person than I was 7 to 10 years ago.  That was amazing to me.  Looking that fact up brought me to this quote by computer scientist Steve Grand:

 

“Think of an experience from your childhood. Something you remember clearly, something you can see, feel, maybe even smell, as if you were really there. After all, you really were there at the time, weren’t you? How else would you remember it?

But here is the bombshell: you weren’t there.

Not a single atom that is in your body today was there when that event took place … Matter flows from place to place and momentarily comes

together to be you.

Whatever you are, therefore, you are not the stuff of which you are made.”

Now, I don’t know if that is true or not but it got me thinking.  If it is true, then within another 3-5 years I’ll be an entirely different person than I was when you were still alive.  Crazy!  Physical makeup aside, I can say with perfect certainty that I’m already a completely different person on the inside than I was when you were alive.

Losing you has changed me in so many ways, Brian.  I will say that one of the things that I’ve come away from this experience with is a new, almost animalistic need to speak up for myself.  I feel it is sort of out of necessity, really. I’ve struggled with my own depression my entire life and recall that my self-injurious behavior began at a frighteningly young age– about age 5.  I vividly remember what I believe may have been the very first time:  I was sitting cross-legged on the floor of my bedroom in front of my mirror and I was crying so hard.  I was so small!  I just sat there sobbing, looking at myself in the mirror and hating what I saw and being angry at and disappointed in the pitiful person looking back at me and I began to punch myself in the face over and over and over until it hurt too much and I cried myself to sleep in a wrung-out little heap on the floor.  It happened often– not always on my face so people wouldn’t see and ask questions.  If they did happen to see, I made up excuses for why there was a bruise– I fell out of bed, I tripped running up the stairs, something fell off the top shelf of my bookcase, etc.  I don’t think it was until I was about 17 when I finally fessed up to Mom and Dad (and you) in terms of admitting to how I got all those bruises and scars; when the urges were no longer satisfied by hitting I moved on to cutting with a straight edge razor blade.  As a result my arms, chest and legs are blanketed with scars of various lengths and severity.  The cuts actually became more severe over the years because it was not unlike the drug addict or alcoholic who, after years of an addiction, required more and more of their chosen substance to get the same effect as they did early on.  The cutting was never a suicidal gesture.  I feel the need to clarify this as I know so many people out there think of cutting as a pitiful attempt at suicide or simply an attention-getting scheme.  It is neither of the above.  As you are well aware, we didn’t live in environment in which we could safely express our emotions and feelings so they remained bottled up inside… cutting was a way for me to release that pent-up energy because it needed to go somewhere.  Imagine the emotions like a balloon being blown up… it continues to become fuller and fuller  and fuller until it is in danger of exploding; to self-harm was the equivalent of letting go of the balloon allowing all the energy to escape and I was immediately relieved and relaxed… until the next time.

In my last letter to you I spoke about our childhood or, rather, my own experience of our childhood.  While you were present for all the things I spoke about in reference to our father, we didn’t talk about it much other than we agreed that we both felt the same way with regard the lack of any emotional connection from him at all.  We seemed to be around solely to give him an audience to whom to preach rather than as little human beings to love and cherish and nurture into healthy, grown up human beings.

I don’t entirely know if there was ever any “hands-on” sexual abuse in my childhood though I have a few vivid memories that would lead me to believe so; regardless, the verbal and visual sexualization to which I was exposed at home certainly wasn’t appropriate.  I think I learned at a very young age that men were interested in women for one thing: their sexuality.  I clearly remember getting myself all dressed up to go hang out in the basement and do my best to flirt with the contractor working on our house– I was only 3 years old.   A few years later, using my little, plastic sewing machine, I made myself a halter top and wore it to the neighborhood grocery store and pranced around in that tiny shirt in hopes of catching the attention of a man who worked there.  And yet there was always the underlying feeling of b absolutely terrified of men.  As children you and I nearly always had a female babysitter but I recall one instance in which Mom found a male babysitter for us.  You were so excited, you finally had a guy to hang out with and who would play Atari and wrestle with you.  While you guys played in the other room, I stood at the front window and cried and cried and cried just praying Mom and Dad would hurry back; I wouldn’t let him anywhere near me because I was afraid he might try and touch me or make me do things I didn’t want to do. When I received a letter the summer of 1984 announcing who my 5th grade teacher would be that upcoming fall and I read that my teacher would be a man I cried myself to sleep for weeks because I’d never had a male teacher and I was deathly afraid of what would happen if I was ever forced to be left alone with him.  If I were to describe all the memories I have like those I just mentioned this letter would go on for miles so I’ll leave it there for now.  And the thought I keep coming back to year after year is that those feelings of horror are not innate– we are all born with a natural inclination to trust; I wholeheartedly believe that we LEARN those feelings of fear and distrust somewhere.

I really wish we had talked about this stuff more when you were alive, Brian.  As much as these letters help me process my feelings they are no replacement for having you here and it would be so much easier if I still had here you on my side.  You were my first best friend and are the only one who can really understand what I’m talking about.  There is something at work in my soul that is making it possible for me to finally get this stuff out in the open; it’s a poison that has been keeping me “sick” for a long, long time and it needs to make its way to the surface.  I realize the things that I have said, and will continue to say, will not be popular with everyone.  But a few wonderful friends have been reminding me that it is absolutely OK for me to say what I’ve been saying because it is MY life and MY story and if it will bring me some healing then I have every right to put it out there.

Stay tuned, dude.  More to come…  🙂

Love Always,
Laura

fog

Dear Brian,

We went to see a comedy show last night. It was a comedian that I have known about and loved for years… but there was a good 5-10 minute section in the middle of the act about suicide.  The thing is, I know this comedian is very open about her own struggles with mental illness so I guess if anyone can joke about it like that it would be someone who “gets it.”  But man, it just hurt so badly.  There is something so surreal about sitting in a room hearing the word “suicide” over and over amidst a few thousand people laughing at it when all I could think about was you and the insurmountable amount of pain that led to you taking your life… and the last thing I felt like doing is laughing.

It never ceases to surprise me as to how often suicide is joked about.  I don’t know if it’s being joked about more often these days or if I just notice it more now that I’ve lost someone so close to me at their own hand; I’d venture to say it’s the latter.  I totally understand that part of the whole deal with comedy is laughing about things that happen to us in life and our ability to share our stories and relate to one another in a lighthearted way; but this is just something that I am not, nor do I think I’ll ever be, ready to laugh at… ever.

It was so strange– I was in a room full of so many people but as soon as that bit came into play I instantly felt all alone in there.  Things became so distorted and foggy. I could barely hear her anymore and the sounds of laughter faded into white noise in the background of my daydream.  I was transported to the last few minutes I ever spent with you– those minutes as we pulled up to the Minneapolis airport on July 5, 2010.  I will never forget the look of… well, there was an immense sadness in your eyes but also a look of complete emptiness; it makes sense to me now as I think your spirit had long departed and the brother I’d known just didn’t exist anymore.  I was suddenly trapped between that dream world existing in my head and the tangible world around me that consisted of strangers effortlessly laughing at something that brought me so much pain.  I desperately wanted to squeeze Frank’s hand hard enough as if to say to him, without words, “Please help me, please hold me, this is just too much for me to take right now.”  But that, again, is admitting to a weakness which I’m not always open to showing; particularly when I know it would take away from someone else’s enjoyment of a moment.  So I sat there, frozen, feeling alone in a crowded room, taking long, deep breaths and fighting the urge to burst out of my seat and run for the door in search of fresh air and the absence of laughter; I forced back the tears– painfully waiting for it all to go away.

I don’t know if this hypersensitivity will ever completely go away but I’m looking forward to a time when it doesn’t paralyze me like it does yet these days.

As always, thanks for listening dude.

Missing you,
Laura

 

 

 

Dear Brian,

It’s about to become the year 2014.  This is my 3rd New Year’s Eve without you and each time the world continues to move on to the next calendar year I have an immense pain in my heart.

I know many people who read this won’t understand… but also know that anyone who has lost someone as close as you were to me will know exactly what I’m talking about.  I remember so vividly clinging to the year 2010 because you were here with us for the majority of that year and I desperately did not want to move into 2011 without you.  I think of that each New Year’s Eve– that I have endured yet another (and am about to endure one more) year without you.  And each time I find a penny you leave for me I immediately look at what year it is; as silly as it seems, I find myself feeling heartbroken if it’s a penny from 2011 or later– I only want pennies from the years you were with me.

So many things have happened since you gave up, Brian.  So many things I wish I could have shared with you– both good and bad.  My marriage had been struggling long, long before we moved away to Texas and deep down I always knew you never truly connected with Mark and knew that he wasn’t the man for me.  We decided to separate only 8 months after you died and were officially divorced shortly after the one-year anniversary of your death.  To some a divorce might be a traumatic event but for me it was such a wonderful blessing as I was unhappy for so long and finally felt some relief; I knew I was free to find the person with whom I was really meant to be with forever.  I then went through a confusing and tumultuous year-long relationship… again, the end of a relationship that turned out to be a beautiful blessing to me as it brought me to the place where I met Frank.  He has graciously let me into his life with all my quirks and complexity and has allowed you to remain a part of my life with him.  He’s there to provide hugs and a shoulder to cry on… and he’s been so willing to participate in the little “ceremonial” things I do to remember you– watching your favorite movies with me, listening to my stories about you and asking to know more about you.  I know without a doubt that you would think he is a wonderful partner for me.

Then there is my amazing friend, Leashya.  I’m so grateful to have met her, Brian.  She has been the most constant and consistently supportive and trustworthy person in my life here in Austin.  We understand each other in a way that only convinces me further that we are kindred spirits and I was undoubtedly supposed to meet her– she has become my family, my sister.  Though she feels that she knows you already (from how much I speak about you) she really wishes she could have met you and I wish you’d have had the opportunity to know her, too.

There are so many others whom I’ve met as a direct result of your suicide. Through seeking help and having others reach out to me for help, I’ve met some beautiful people.  It’s so bittersweet; while I’m heartbroken for the reason we came together, I’m also grateful that we did.  I met people early on who were further along in their grief process who were able to offer up a truly understanding ear and heartfelt advice.  And now, 3 years later, I’m finding I’ve been given the opportunity to turn around and offer that same kind of guidance to others.  It’s a devastating but loving community I’ve found and I’m grateful for both the opportunity to learn from others and to also be able to teach some of what I’ve learned about life and myself in this process.

I began this blog in 2013– it has been nearly a year since my very first public post.  While I’ve received so much wonderful feedback from others who are grieving, I’ve found that it has been immeasurably helpful to me, personally.  First, for the opportunity to get out so many thoughts and feelings I have inside… but also to be able to go back and read previous posts.  I am amazed at how raw some of them are! I’m proud of the resilience I never knew I had and also of my own willingness to be so open with the world… it has brought many wonderful people into my life as a result.

This coming February I will be traveling to Washington, D.C. as I was selected by the Central Texas Chapter of The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention to receive a scholarship to attend their Annual Advocacy Forum on Capital Hill.  I’ll be able to meet with lawmakers about issues surrounding mental health and suicide awareness and prevention.  I know you’ll be there beside me giving me the strength to share your story and mine.  I’m determined to make changes where I can this coming year, Brian, and I know you’ll be supporting me all the way.

Love Always,
Laura

Dear Brian,

In writing these letters to you over the past few years I have primarily focused on your act of suicide and the way it has changed the course of my life.  You and I only briefly spoke about my own long-running history with suicidality, depression and self-injury… and it was only in the last few months you were alive that I began to really share those details with you.  I’d like to share more about that with you now.

When you first admitted back in May of 2010 that you were suffering from a deep depression, you also told us of two previous suicide attempts of which we were not aware; one of those attempts was actually while you and I were living together as roommates in our 20’s.  Those years were particularly hard for me too; I was extremely suicidal myself at that time… seems neither of us had any idea just how hopeless the other was feeling and we were living under the very same roof.  Turns out you and I were quite good at protecting one another… even if the other wasn’t fully aware there was anything from which they were being protected.  I know for me, the reasons for keeping my desire to die to myself were plenty.  For starters, I was embarrassed.  I told myself that “normal” people didn’t wake up every morning wishing they had died in their sleep. I couldn’t share that thought with anyone. I felt so strongly about wanting to die but recognized that if I were to reveal that wish and/or intent they would try to stop me and I wasn’t looking for attention or help…I was looking for a way out.  I also wanted to protect you and our family from the feelings that would undoubtedly be stirred up by such a revelation from someone they loved: feelings of shame, embarrassment, guilt, sadness and the crippling fear that they would not be able to prevent the inevitable– the last of which I experienced in excess the last 5 months of your life.

I remember the summer before you died, shortly after you accidentally emailed me your suicide note.  After receiving it, I desperately tried to help you.  I began to open up to you about just how deep and dark my own depression went and told you about a file folder I had which contained about a dozen or so methods of suicide I had deemed feasible for myself after much research on the internet.  For several years that folder, ironically, was a lifeline for me.  Somehow, getting up in the morning was a little bit easier knowing I had those plans in place if that day ended up being the one that finally broke me once and for all.  I cried myself to sleep nearly every single night and while I’m not religious, my last thoughts each night were prayers to “whomever or whatever is out there”… begging with every ounce of my being that they grant me some mercy and let me not wake up in the morning.

I am jealous of all you were able to accomplish despite your depression– mine has significantly held me back my entire life.  From a young age (and even now) it was partly because of my sadness and crippling shyness that I failed to engage in a lot of activities that other kids enjoyed and I longed to do but of which I didn’t feel capable or deserving.  Depression contributed to my constant inability to focus and I was repeatedly told by teachers over the years that “I didn’t participate enough” and that “I wasn’t working up to my known potential.”  I knew that. Aside from the fact that I did not possess the ability to kick those depressive episodes out of the way long enough to do what everyone thought I was capable of doing, I also had sunk deep enough to not see the point of it all, anyway.  I figured if I didn’t think I’d be here long enough for any of that stuff to matter, why bother?

You were so very smart, Brian.  And so motivated and dedicated and focused!  You always did so much better in school.  In more recent years you managed to hold down a few jobs at a time while going back to school full-time and training for a bodybuilding competition… and you did so well at all of those thing all at once.  I really envied that– especially now that I know you were suffering just as much as I was but yet you excelled at everything in spite of it.  Grandpa Ralph used to compare me to you.  He made me feel like a failure for having dropped out of college after only a few years… he said, “You’re just like your Aunt, she never finished anything, either.”  It hurt my feelings a great deal; my depression and my increasing bouts of self-injury were the primary contributors to me prematurely leaving school.  I feel pretty certain that he wouldn’t have understood that had I tried to explain it.

I still have not felt a shred of anger at you for choosing to end your own life.  I have felt that inescapable despair and truthfully I still have moments where I envy your choice.  I know that won’t sit well with a lot of people, but it’s the truth.  I’m here in this new way of life without you and  3 years later there are still moments the pain literally takes my breath away and I can’t imagine feeling this kind of pain for another 40 years.  I promised myself when I decided to share my letters to you on this blog that I wouldn’t “sugar coat” things to make them easier for others to read.  I don’t want there to be so much shame and stigma surrounding this stuff– depression, self-injury, suicide.  Keeping that stuff hidden only serves to give the illness more power than it deserves.  I find that with each word I share about my struggles I’m taking a little of that power back.

Thanks for listening, dude.

Love,
Laura

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