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Dear Brian,

The world is full of confusion and sadness and anger today upon hearing the news of Robin Williams’ suicide yesterday. I’ve been in a weird place since I found out… on one hand I’m so sad for his family and friends to hear that he lost his battle with depression and addiction and on the other hand it is a grave reminder of what I went through in the days following your suicide.

I had 4 very generous souls message me personally to tell me they were thinking of me and that they realized the news must be causing me some emotional turmoil… and they were so right. I’m incredibly grateful to them for recognizing that and for thinking of me, I really needed those words of encouragement and they often come from surprising places… and often don’t come from the people you’d expected or hoped they would.

Today the radio, TV and internet are saturated with the words “suicide” and “depression” and each time I hear the word “suicide” it is like a knife in my heart. When someone so well-known and beloved dies by suicide there is all sorts of chatter going on about why he did it, how he did it, who found him, etc… and then all the opinions start flying. I should have known better than to read any comments because people can be very outspoken about how they feel suicide is the ultimate sin… the most selfish of acts… and the act of a total coward. I believe none of those things are true and each time I hear those things it feels like a piece of your memory is being tarnished and I feel compelled to defend it… and to defend you. I kind of think of myself as having the emotional equivalent to a “weakened immune system” now. Things affect me even more strongly than before and I need to be aware of what I can handle and what I can’t… and today, the internet might be one of those things I can’t handle for a few days.

Depression shouldn’t be an ugly secret and absolutely is not a character flaw… but we all feel the need to hide it because the world can be cruel and judgmental and can perceive a person suffering from a crippling depression as less of a person and a less capable a person.

I keep thinking back to my own bouts of suicidality over the past 27 years and how I was feeling– the powerlessness, the hopelessness, the exhausting, deep sadness… and being terrified that it might never end. I can’t blame anyone for choosing to escape that because unless you’ve experienced a darkness of that depth you can’t possibly understand what it is like. I remember quite some time back that while I desperately wanted to die I was afraid of leaving our family with the pain and agony of a suicide… so I used to think of other ways in which I could die; I used to run a lot… so I often wondered, “what if I were to go for a run late at night in a neighborhood with a lot of gang activity and gunfire? I might get shot– it could work! I would die… but it would appear to be nothing more than a terrible accident.”

Interestingly enough, yesterday was the 18-year anniversary of my car accident in which I broke my spine as well as my jaw in a few places. That accident could have gone several ways but I survived and recovered really well and surprisingly quickly. Why did I survive that? After all those years of wishing for an untimely death I survived a car wreck? And in the years that followed the accident I can’t tell you the number of times that I wondered why I wasn’t granted my wish to leave this world in a way that wouldn’t hurt you or our parents. Somehow the universe decided that I was still supposed to be here to outlive you and experience the agony of living the rest of my life without you, my only sibling, and knowing there wasn’t a darn thing I could do to save you.

Robin Williams starred in one of my absolute favorite movies, “What Dreams May Come.” I won’t spoil the movie for anyone reading who hasn’t yet seen it but I completely recommend it as it puts a beautiful spin on life after loss as well as paints a stunningly beautiful picture of what I imagine the other side will be like when I get to see you again. I’ll leave you with a quote of his from the film:

“A whole human life is just a heartbeat here in heaven, then we’re all together forever.”

I hope that you, and Robin, both find some peace on the other side.

Love Always,
Laura

Dear Brian,

My friend Christine, a fellow AFSP Volunteer with whom I advocated in Washington, D.C. a few months back, is a suicide attempt survivor.  She was recently asked to write an article for CNN.com about her attempt and survival.  It was such a great article and I am so very proud of her and of what she is doing for suicide awareness. However, I made the mistake of scrolling down to read the comments that followed.  There was a lot of encouragement, which was so great to see.  But sadly, there were many disturbing comments made that reminded me just how far we have to go in educating people about suicide.  Comments such as these:

“Only wimps try to commit suicide, no sympathy from me.”

“Your 15 minutes of fame is over, come join the rest of humanity in our struggles while you are trying to profit from your own choices of death.”

“I disagree that anyone benefits from any of the sentiments you have expressed – you really are flat wrong in everything you have said. Fine, so go kill yourself. Even better, kill yourself to prove me wrong. You need one, maybe two more excuses, right? There are two more, easily. Off you go. When you come back desperate for more sympathy and attention and threatening to kill yourself if you don’t get it? Just call this # for all the attention that you need: 1-800-GIVAFUK”

“I can’t help you with this excuse-mongering. Everyone goes through periods of depression, overwork, anxiety, feelings of failure. You either work through it or you quit and try to kill yourself. It’s really that simple.”

“Mental illness is a frightening thing. Sadly there is no cure for crazy and your best bet is to avoid involving yourself in relationships with people with mental illness if possible.”

“Studies show that whenever the media does an article about suicide, in the months that follow, there is an increase in the number of suicides.”

“Enough with coin-phrasing yourself with ‘I am a blah blah blah’ , no you’re NOT. You’re just like everyone else who’s had to endure this neurotic self absorbed and heartless society.”

“”Hi! I was a miserable twat, and I decided to kill myself, now I’m making money off of it.”

“Suicidal people are also homicidal people. Very dangerous indeed.”

“This article is disrespectful. I’ve had many friends that went all the way. Shut up. I don’t care about your cry for help. How much were you paid for this crap? You are weak, just do it already.”

By surviving her attempt and going on to open up and share her story with others she’s letting it be known that she doesn’t have anything to be ashamed of and she is doing her part to create a society in which people are not afraid of seeking help when they need it most.  All of those hurtful comments do nothing but perpetuate the stigma surrounding depression and suicide! If that kind of response is what they can expect, why would someone seek help when they are hurting?  They are in genuine pain and to have it met with comments like, “you’re weak” or “if you can’t deal with the pressures of life that the rest of us have to deal with then just do the world a favor and just finish yourself off” would only serve to hurt them further.

But then I saw the TED Talk video above and was again more hopeful.  He was an officer that patrolled the Golden Gate Bridge for 20 years and prevented more than one suicide there. If only more people were as kind, understanding and respectful as he is!  I was struck by a few things he said, in particular.  When he talked about what to do if someone you know is suicidal:  “It’s not just the talking that you do but the listening. Listen to understand. Don’t argue, blame or tell the person you know how they feel because you probably don’t– by just being there you may just be the turning point that they need.” He also added: “For most suicidal folk (or those contemplating suicide) they wouldn’t think of hurting another person, they just want their own pain to end.  Typically this is accomplished in just 3 ways: sleep, drugs or alcohol or death.”

I don’t need to remind you that I’ve never been angry at you for your choice to end your life.  I know there are many in my position who are angry at their loved one for leaving that way… but as I’ve told you I know exactly how it feels to be in that mindset and to know that when you are in that dark place that there truly seems to be no way out.  To those who would say, “You simply need to change your thoughts– just think positive thoughts,” I would say this– exactly how do you change your way of thinking when the very organ in your body required to do that is what is failing you in the first place? Unless someone has experienced a depression like no other that leaves you feeling as though the only way to escape it is to die, they couldn’t possibly understand.  I’m not talking about just a bad day, or bad week, bad month or even bad year… but a soul-crushing darkness that weighs so heavily that you can’t possibly imagine it ever NOT being there.  I started having suicidal thoughts around the time I started self-injuring– at about age 5.  Would you tell a 5 year old, “Hey, buck up” or “pull yourself up by the boot straps” or “life’s hard, deal with it?”  There obviously was so much more at work there than just a “bad attitude” to cause someone so young to want to end their life.  There’s also the heredity factor, I’m well aware.  We have a robust family history of major depressive disorder and substance abuse on both sides of our family.  Suicidality is also very present in our family history as you well remember our father’s attempt in 1995 along with several attempts made by his mother, our grandmother, in earlier years.  I wasn’t aware until just yesterday that our aunt attempted twice to take her own life, as well.  Even among family, suicidal thoughts and attempts are kept a dark secret… so how can we expect people to seek help outside their family?

I look forward to the day when depression (or any mental illness, for that matter) is considered by the greater population to be a legitimate, treatable illness rather than a character flaw.  I am grateful that people like Christine who have lived through that horror are willing to step up and talk about it because people like her, who managed to survive an attempt on their own life, can provide invaluable an insight to suicide, mental illness and the hope that it can be treated.  And, hopefully, can keep spreading the word that it is OK to ask for help and create a world in which that help is readily and lovingly provided.

I really wish you had survived your attempt, Brian.  But sadly until a short 5 months before you succeeded in taking your life I was made aware that you’d already survived two previous attempts.  It isn’t lost on me that I was lucky to have had you around for another 10 years but selfishly I’d ask for another 60.  I miss you, dude.

Love,

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

Dear Brian,

In the checkout line of the grocery store the other day a cover of a magazine jumped out at me… a picture of a beautiful, young woman, a former contestant on “The Bachelor,” who recently took her own life.  I did actually watch that season of the show and remember her well– she was stunningly beautiful and had one of the most engaging smiles I’d ever seen.  The people close to her seemed to be so shocked that this happened.  It’s not that uncommon, really.  Though I knew how badly you were suffering and expected your death to come, I heard so many people say to me, “I had no idea he was depressed… was it a total shock to you?  I never would have seen this coming.”  I felt ashamed to say, “Yes, I did see this coming.”

It’s so strange how suicides attract so much attention in the media.  People want to know all the “gory details.”  How did they do it?  Who found them?  What did they look like?  Was there a note?  What did it say?  Did they blame anyone?  Did anyone see it coming?  But for a death that creates so much interest and curiosity, it sure is lonely and alienating as a family member; people are afraid of us, it would seem.  They are uncomfortable with our presence because they don’t know what to say to us or because our pain is hard for them to be around or possibly because we remind them of the pain that exists in their own life.  I had a long-lost friend recently resurface to tell me, “I’m sorry I haven’t been there for you– I didn’t know how to help you so I just stayed away.”  While I can understand her feelings, it does still hurt because the alienation adds another layer of pain to your death.

There were details about your death that I needed to talk about and process but absolutely could not share with those around me– they were too intense and too difficult for others to hear.  That’s where the support group at The Christi Center was so helpful– there I could talk about those “gory details” that no one wanted (or was equipped) to hear and not be judged or ashamed for needing to talk about and work through.  I remember discussing one event that was really hard for me after your death.  It was August of 2011– 10 months after you died.  I was in my office at work and noticed an awful, awful smell.  The smell was coming from an animal that had died in the rafters above my office and was decomposing in the Texas heat.  I had a full-blown panic attack and had to leave for a bit because that smell was not unfamiliar to me– it was not unlike the faint smell which still remained at your home when we went to collect your belongings.  You had been dead for a week when you were found and I was told had decomposed at an unusually rapid rate for having been indoors in a moderate temperature– being October in Minnesota and all.  Once you smell that scent, you never forget it.  It’s strange to me how those kinds of details would make for a juicy story in a tabloid but when it comes down to relating to a real person, no one wants to hear that stuff!  I wish they wouldn’t print those kinds of details because it feels like an exploitation of the grief the family is experiencing– and it must feel like such a violation.  While it was so helpful to me to be able to talk about it with other suicide survivors who understood the need to share those kinds of details, I can’t imagine the pain of having had your picture plastered on the front cover of a magazine along with a headline speculating how/why you did it.  And to have millions of strangers reading about your life and your pain and your ultimate death… would just be so painful because so many people are afraid to talk directly TO me about it.

My heart goes out to this young woman’s family as they begin the process of restructuring their life without her in it.  It is a process I continue to work on every single day and wouldn’t wish it upon anyone.

Love,
Laura

Dear Brian,

While I realize that people don’t necessarily always know the right things to say to someone who is grieving a loss like mine I do have to say there has been nothing that stings quite like someone saying, “I know how you feel. I had to put my dog down recently and I think I know now where you are coming from now.”

Don’t get me wrong… you know how very deep my love for animals goes. It borders on the excessive at times! However, I can’t seem to find a piece of my brain that can understand where that comparison comes into play in this case. You and I both know what it was like to finally have to say goodbye to the loving critters we called our friends from our early childhood until we were nearly out of high school. It was so painful! And to lose another pair of dogs way too young when they accidently jumped off of a bridge near our home and did not survive the fall.

On October 2, 2010 I brought my sweet 7 year old cat, Sophie, to the vet knowing something was really wrong. I would find out that day that she was dying– her kidneys were beginning to fail. On October 6th 2010 I received the last e-mail I’d ever receive from you; it was quite short and said simply this: “Any word on Sophie?” She remained in the hospital until after your funeral. Treating her at home was going well and she was feeling better for a few months but I eventually had to do the loving thing and give her a peaceful exit on January 29, 2011 only 3 short months after I’d lost you.

I know what it is like to lose pets from illness, tragic injury and old age. I know what it is like to lose a Grandparent quite suddenly and to lose one because it was simply their time to go. I’ve experienced many kinds of loss in my life but none could begin to hold a candle to the infinite amount of pain left by your death. There isn’t a single part of me that feels I could ever understand someone making a comparison to the loss of their 16 year old dog to the suicide death of my only sibling.

I hope this isn’t interpreted as a lack of compassion for other losses– as I truly can empathize with the pain that goes along with losing a pet. But it is excruciating to have that comparison made because I know, having experienced both kinds of loss (and in such a short period of time), that there absolutely IS no comparison.

I just felt like sharing that with you… thanks for listening.

Love,
Laura

vikings blanket

Dear Brian,

For your birthday 3 years ago I gave you this blanket I crocheted for you– in purple and gold for the Vikings, your favorite team! I had no idea that would be your last birthday and I’m so grateful that I chose to make you something myself. I spent so many hours working on it and I can’t tell you how excited I was for you to open it. It made me feel so good when I saw you had posted a picture of it and bragged it up a bit on Facebook. It meant so much to me to know you appreciated it and that you were proud of it because though I wasn’t always great with words it was a way for me to show you how much you really meant to me.

I had no idea at the time how important that blanket was to you or how important it would become to me.

When you were found in your home on October 13, 2010 the police reported that you had passed away in your recliner with the blanket I made for you draped over your lap and your legs.

I’ve tormented myself over and over and over with thoughts of how lonely you must have felt as you took your last few breaths. But I’ve chosen to believe that you choosing that blanket to keep you warm as you drifted away from the world that brought you so much pain was your way of having me close to you and that perhaps I was in your thoughts.

I got the blanket back. I made that blanket for you, Brian! I had no idea that only a year after I’d made it that I’d have it back and the importance it would hold for me. While I still have been unable to convince myself that I did enough to try and save you, it does bring me hope to think that perhaps you had that blanket with you in your last moments because you DID know just how much I loved you and that it brought you some comfort.

I’ll go to sleep tonight, like I do every night, with that blanket by my side. While I can never be certain that it brought you the comfort I wished for you, I can tell you it brings me so much comfort to have that piece of you with me still.

Love Always,
Laura

Dear Brian,

I’ve spent a lot of time lately thinking about the last 5 months of your life. Specifically about how much we talked about how hard it is to get accessible and affordable help when you are struggling with depression and suicidality. I’ve run into this issue the majority of my life. By the time I’d reach a point low enough to realize I had no option but to reach out for help it would be a 12-16 week wait to see someone. I recall one occasion where I was feeling low enough to nearly beg the person on the phone, “Are you SURE there isn’t anything sooner?” Her response was, “Well, are you going to kill yourself TODAY? If so, just take yourself to the emergency room. If not, then you need to wait 12 weeks to see Dr. So-and-So.” Great bedside manner. It made me feel so embarrassed and ashamed of myself and I didn’t try calling anyone else for help for another few months as a result.

Getting the appointment wasn’t always the most difficult part– it was PAYING for it. For a year in the early 2000’s I was seeing a fabulous therapist. I had insurance, but they only: (1) allowed 30 visits per calendar year and (2) only had about four therapists from which I could choose that were in my network. I’d been to two of them already and had a bad experience with them both. When I found a therapist that really treated me with respect and said she could help me she turned out to be out of my network. Since she did not accept my insurance her typical policy was to request payment in full ($160 per visit) the day of the appointment and the patient in turn would submit the visits to their insurance company for the allowed reimbursement amount. However, she was very accommodating of my financial situation and allowed me to pay her $114 up front ($45 out of network copay plus 60% of the remaining balance of $115) and she would submit the remaining $46 to the insurance company to pay. This worked fine for the first few months until she had to have the uncomfortable conversation with me that my insurance company was not responding to her claims– at all. She would fax them 3, 4, even 5 times with no response. Each time she’d call they’d inform her they hadn’t received them and they’d require her to resubmit them. This went on for the rest of the year until I finally had to quit seeing her altogether– she couldn’t afford to keep seeing me and not get paid the full amount upfront. When speaking with my HR representative I was advised that they were aware that the insurance company was regularly not holding up their part of the deal where mental health visits (whether in or out of network) were concerned. I was so exasperated– the financial struggle involved with getting the help I so badly needed only accelerated my feelings of hopelessness.

For a number of recent years, once on successful dosages of a cocktail of anti-depressants I had been able to simply obtain refills of my prescriptions at my annual physical from my general practitioner. However, after you died she became concerned that she did not possess the expertise which she felt was required to play around with the meds to get me to a better place. So, she referred me to a psychiatrist for my future visits. I found one I liked, that was in network, and would require a $75 copay per visit and insurance would cover the rest. I could deal with that! However, after a few months I got a bill for $900 stating my insurance company would not cover a diagnosis of “Recurring Major Depressive Disorder” as it was classified as a “major mental illness” which, of course, they do not cover. My only option was to switch to their self-pay option of $130 per visit– and of course, she would need to see me every 4 weeks in order to continue to refill my prescription. With the cost of my prescriptions I was paying about $190 per month– just for medication maintenance– not including any of the sessions with my psychotherapist.

I also need to tell you that I have important letter to write to someone in your defense. You didn’t want me to write this letter while you were alive and, quite frankly, it has been in the intended recipient’s favor that I have chosen to wait a few years to cool off after your death before writing it. A few short months before you took your life you confided in me that the one and only time you had ever sought help for your depression (despite several previous suicide attempts) was about 1-1/2 years before your suicide. You contacted the Employee Assistance Help Line offered by your employer.  I used the help line at my company years ago which put me in touch with that amazing therapist I saw for a year. It’s a wonderful program and completely free of charge. They refer you to someone who can help, and pay for the first six visits. These therapists are enrolled in the program knowing that the first six visits are free to the patient– they are paid directly by the referral service. I was apalled to find out that the man to whom you were referred was completely unethical in how he handled your situation. After opening up to him and sharing things with him which had never been shared before, his response was, “well, your troubles are pretty complex and will take a lot of time and effort to work them out. The referral service you used only pays me $60 an hour to see you for these sessions but my office rates are actually $170 per visit so I’d recommend that you contact my office directly for any future sessions.” Nice. Way to tell someone who is suicidal that they aren’t worth helping out for a measly 60 bucks an hour. Clearly he did not enter the profession for its altruism! You never did go back to see him and I can’t say that I blame you for it. I’d have done the same. All of these issues I mentioned above were contributing factors in me making all those calls on your behalf to try and find you a good therapist. It’s hard enough to get the runaround and hear the tone of condescension in the voice on the other end of the line when you’re in a good place let alone when you’re mustering up shreds of strength every morning just to get out of bed and attempt to live through one more excruciating day.

Each time I go through these same issues with getting help for myself I feel the pain so much more deeply now as it only reminds me of how trapped you must have felt those last few months before you finally gave up altogether.

If there is anything good to come out of losing you in such a horrific way it will be that I will do my part to see that mental health is given the same consideration as physical health! And there needs to be less “hey, suck-it-up-and-pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps” going around out there. Unless someone has been in the deep depths of true despair, they know not of what they speak.

Wish me luck writing the letter to that small, small man. I’ll let you know how it goes…

Love Always,
Laura

Happy Birthday, Brian!

February 10, 2013

brian face

Today Brian would have turned 38 years old. My tradition for his birthday is to watch his favorite movie, Gladiator, and eat pizza– his favorite food!

I remember the first time I saw Gladiator. Brian and I were living together in an apartment and were going to be hosting Thanksgiving at our place back in November of 2000. We watched it together as the turkey was cooking and of course I cried like a baby at the end. He loved that movie so much! He even was nuts about the soundtrack which I thought was just so fascinating; he typically was listening to Pantera, White Zombie, Metallica, etc. But he used to put the Gladiator Soundtrack on in his car (a black, Honda Civic hatchback he lovingly named “Blackula”), roll down the windows and just rock out to that stuff. Totally made me smile.

But looking back I can totally see why he really connected with the movie. Maximus was a man of great honor and strong, moral character and so was Brian. Maximus fought for things he felt were right and so did Brian. In fact one of the things that ended up pushing Brian over the edge was having so much trouble, in his own words, “watching the world continue to undo itself.” He was so deeply affected seeing all the hate and unrest in the world and felt powerless to do anything about it.

There is a scene in the movie where just prior to his final battle in the colosseum Commodus stabs him in the back, deeply wounding him. They bandage him up and put on his armor to cover the injury so the crowd would know nothing of this “imbalance” in the fairness of the battle. Maximus spoke of it to no one; he went into the battle and fought the best he could though gravely injured.

While not the same, it reminds me of something that happened to Brian at work. He was working so very hard and was given a great deal of extra work to do to help make up for another member of his team that rarely showed up to work but made a lot more money than Brian did. His manager continuously bombarded Brian with not only his own projects, but the projects of his absent, higher-paid co-worker.

When management caught wind of the work that Brian was doing, they approached him and asked him why he was doing those projects that were not his responsibility. Brian told them his manager asked him to do so. However, when his boss was approached about it, she completely threw him under the bus! She told the management team that she gave “no such instructions” and that Brian took it upon himself to involve himself in those projects all on his own. As a result, he was reprimanded and it was suggested that he “resign.”

While Brian had all the requests from his manager documented and could have presented that to management to defend himself, he chose not to do so. He told me the job didn’t make him very happy to begin with and his manager was a single mom– he didn’t want her to get fired when he knew she had a child to support. He chose to instead give his notice and bow out gracefully without having cleared his own name. That’s just the way Brian was. He often put others before himself even if they didn’t deserve it.

I have often thought that Maximus, like Brian, chose to keep the “back stabbing” to himself because he had nothing more to lose– he had already, in essence, given up. That incident at work was less than one year before he died.

Maximus once said to his comrades, “Brothers, what we do in life echoes in eternity.” I think Brian’s kindness continues to live on!

Tonight I will be joined by my amazing friend Leashya and we will watch Gladiator, enjoy some pizza and toast a glass of wine to the memory of a worthy soul.

In Dreams

February 9, 2013

I’m sharing this note I wrote to myself at 3:00 in the morning on December 1, 2010 just 6 short weeks after Brian died. I had the most amazing dream but to describe it as just a dream feels so inadequate as I am unequivocally certain it was a visit from Brian. While to this day it has been the most beautiful experience of my life, it has left me achingly sad nearly every morning since as I continue to wish for another visit each time my head hits the pillow at night. Here is what I wrote immediately upon waking up that night:

I just woke up from a dream I had about Brian.

Mom and I were somewhere… I believe it was supposed to be his place although everything looked different. I heard his voice– very groggy, as though he was just waking up– he was calling my name saying, “Laura…. Laura…. it’s Brian.” I was frantically looking around thinking there is no way I could have just heard what I thought I heard.

I ran down the stairs and as I approached the last few steps I saw him coming towards me– he had some tubes hooked up to him, like an breathing tube going to his nose. I sat on the bottom few steps with Mom sitting next to me a step above as he stood on the floor next to the staircase and took both of my hands in his– again, I thought there is no way this is happening– could he really be here with us now?

I glanced at Mom and cried as I asked her, “Mommy, what is happening?” I needed to see if she was hearing and seeing what I was– and she assured me that she was; however, I sensed from her that it didn’t mean he was alive. I looked at Brian again– he looked really good. He looked so peaceful and rested and happy; he had that pink glow in his cheeks and his eyes told me he was OK. I asked him how he was– he said, “I’m alright now. I was cured the moment I passed away. I love you very much and miss you.” I told him I loved him and missed him… and hugged him and cried. Again, I kept looking at Mom to see if she was hearing it– and she was. But she stayed there quietly next to me and watched and listened… like she knew this moment with Brian was meant just for me.

Mom and I were then saying our goodbyes downstairs to him as if we were leaving his place like any other time before; Mom asked, “Are you going to be OK? What are you going to do now?” He said, “I’m good. I’m going to just run out for a bit;” he had a cup of coffee and reached for his keys– as if he was truly only going to hop in in his red Saturn and go for a drive.

That’s the last I remember before waking up… and I woke up feeling so peaceful and grateful that I’d had this dream. I have been hoping to dream about him like this– and I hope it is a gift from Brian– I hope it was really him telling me he is OK now.

I’ve had other dreams about him since but none remotely like this– and anyone who has lost someone dear to them has had a dream such as this knows exactly what I’m talking about. There was something so profoundly peaceful and heavenly about that dream that no one could ever convince me that my brother did not come to me that night to bring me a little comfort.

Plastic Babies!!

February 7, 2013

bag of babiesbaby

After we’d moved our Grandma into an assisted living facility Brian, Mom and I were going through the contents of the house preparing to sell it. We had a lot of fun finding pictures we’d never seen, knick knacks we used to play with as kids and the occasional butterscotch hard candy.

For some reason he giggled so hard when we found a few small bags full of little plastic babies amongst her craft supplies. He didn’t know it at the time, but I took the bags of babies with me to have a little fun. I started out by hiding the first one in his jacket… and laughed until I nearly cried when he texted me to say he’d found a creepy little plastic baby in his jacket pocket.

When I’d stay over at his place to take care of his cats, Maximus and Marcus, I’d bring a bag of babies with me and hide them everywhere. He’d find them all over the place! In a box of cereal! In a stack of towels in the hall closet! Under the driver’s seat in his car! In the silverware drawer! Inside a tub of sour cream! He’d step into a shoe only to find a creepy, plastic baby stuffed into it. Damn, I’d laugh so hard every single time I’d hear from him after finding yet another one of those little things.

In fact, when we cleaned out his townhome after he died we all laughed when we continued to find the little babies everywhere! I kept them all and even have one sitting on my desk at work where I can see it every single day. Each time I look at it I swear I can still hear Brian’s amazing, infectious laugh!!

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