April 8th. 6 Years Later.

Six years ago at this time, I sat on my couch watching “Shameless.” It was the last normal night I would have in years. An hour from now, my life would change forever with a single phone call.

It was cloudy for days after you died. It was cloudy again today. That doesn’t happen very often here in Denver. I used to love cloudy days, but you get so used to the sun here, an overcast day directly impacts your mood. But I welcomed the cloudy days after you passed. They just fit. A beautiful sunny day would have been far too opposite of how I was feeling. The irony of it would have made me angry.

Today I also welcomed the clouds. But not because I couldn’t stand to see the sun. It was because I spent the day at my barn with my horse. A horse I know you found for me to spend time with on days like today. The clouds offered respite from the heat.

I am with DJ every one of your birthdays and angelversaries. Little Jenn would have been thrilled to know she’d have a horse as an adult. Adult Jenn knows it was because of you I have him.

I haven’t cried today. Not yet. I’ve been busy on purpose. It used to be, I’d spend all day on the couch, unable to find the will to do anything. But today, I haven’t stopped moving. I’ve gone from one end of the spectrum to the other. Busyness keeps my mind active…it’s not until I stop that I start thinking fully about what today means. So horse show, dirt bike gear shopping, dog walk, Freya’s doggy birthday party (yes, we celebrated her third today – I know you also brought me her….my sweet Bernese who was born April 8. You knew I needed something else to focus on today). She had a banner, balloons (which ended up terrifying her and Finley), a cake, even a party hat and bandana. Freya appreciated the cake only.

You would have given me so much shit for throwing a dog birthday party.

We also did Mexican tonight. It was the meal you had on your 25th, and last, birthday. I showed Dan the photos of you with you friends at the restaurant, a giant sombrero on your head, actively getting a cake smashed into your face. Those four photos make me so happy, knowing that, for a moment at least, you were happy.

But I couldn’t keep looking at your pics. Seeing your face, even now, can take me down a path that I have difficulty returning from. I do fine most of the time. You’re always there in the back of my mind, often moving to the front of my thoughts when I least expect you to. But it’s difficult for me to let the full emotions wash over, because I easily find myself back in that dark space, where the pain is so unimaginable I can’t breathe. For example, I volunteered at a grief clinic at my horse barn a few months back. I thought I would be there to only support, but the leaders asked everyone to share. I spoke openly of you…and while tears were shed they were minimal. But the second I got home to Dan, I lost it. I crumbled. When I go to that place, I can’t think of, or see, anything but your loss. It overwhelms every single fiber of my being. And it takes so long to claw myself back to the surface to breathe again. So if I can help it, I avoid it.

This time of year though…I’m not going to lie, it fucking sucks. Everyone who knows me will say how positive of a person I am, but it’s hard to be that way from March 1 – mid April. Your birthday and then…today. It’s a double whammy in such a short period of time. I guess it’s nice that it’s compartmentalized into a few-week span.

Letting us get the hard days over with semi-quickly. Thanks for that, I guess?

But the other day, driving home from the barn I decided to listen to my “Chris” Spotify playlist. The one I made right after you died. And I just lost it. I started screaming at you…asking why didn’t you call me tonight six years ago? Or text me? Why didn’t you let me fight for you? Because I would have. I would have done anything, said everything, to make you stay. If anything, I would have been able to hear your voice one last time. Before I could only hear it on old videos and voicemails. You didn’t give me that chance, and for that I can’t forgive you. Not for leaving as much (though I’m still angry at that), but that you didn’t tell me what you were feeling. You told me everything. I was your person. And you let me fail you by not opening up.

That’s one of the hardest things about losing a loved one to suicide. You think of all the ways you failed them. It’s all I still focus on. How I forgot to tell you happy birthday. How I chastised you for the decisions you had made lately. How I didn’t make it home the last time you were there. You didn’t let me make that up to you. You never gave me the chance.

But I have to focus on the positives. Sue, Hannah and Sayre reached out today. They obviously also know what it’s like to lose someone you love. And Sayre said, “I like to think that Dad, Grandpa and Chris are somewhere together today and at peace and in no pain and they are the lucky ones waiting on us to join them.” And that’s all I needed to hear. I know you are all together, watching over us, most likely laughing at us bumbling through this crazy thing called life, waiting patiently to see us again.

It’s so very comforting.

Mom, Nikea and I talked tonight. We Facetime on your birthday and today every single year. Bethany is home, and she and Mom were watching a movie. Nikea just got off work and was hanging out at home with Mark, who was on the phone with Dan, Dad, and Dan’s dad planning a fishing trip. No one cried….we’ve come a long way in six years that way. Thoug Mom did text us the other day, randomly, and in all caps:


Remember that term I came up with? After you died, we would keep asking each other how the other was doing. Which we would laugh at, because obviously everyone was doing quite shittily. So Mom said we need a code word, something that meant, “I’m not okay right now, but I will be.” I was eating potatoes at that moment, and said jokingly, “How about ‘potatoes?'” And it stuck. Just like that. So a few times a year, we will text each other “POTATOES.” The difference now is, the potato texts are fewer and farther between, and the potato moments don’t last as long.

Anyway, so much has happened since I last wrote. I adopted DJ. We got another Bernese, Freya’s half-brother, Finley. We’ve traveled. Dan and I married.

I know you brought him into my life. I told you about Dan before. He’s everything that is good, everything that is beautiful. He makes me a better person. He gives me so much strength. He makes me laugh so much. And…he loves you. During our wedding, he read a letter he wrote to you for your 30th. I don’t think there was a dry eye in the room:

Dear Chris,

Happy effing 30th birthday, my brother!  

While we’ve never officially met, I know you.  Damn, do I know you.  I know you through the impact you’ve left, and continue to leave, on your family.  I know you as a man’s man who knows how to work with your hands and loves the outdoors, who is exceptionally curious and has a big heart.  I know you through your immortal memory from your sister.  I’ve witnessed love in my forms throughout my life and her love for you will always be the highest, most pure form:  selfless love.  She’s so proud to be your sister and any/all of the pain you’ve encountered, she’s using that is fuel for good in your name, Chris.  You’d be so proud of her.  She has so many amazing memories of you and has painted me so many pictures of that man that you were and you still are.  

I asked her to marry me last month and, for some reason, she said yes.  You’re invited to our celebration and hope you’ll stand next to me at the alter as best man with my brother. We’ll also toast to your 30th.  

On this day, your 30th birthday, may you know that we are living better lives because of your imprint on us.  We are better people because of you and what we’ve learned from you.  I hope that this is truly your best year yet.  30s are better than you think, especially from the view you have, amongst everything eternal. 

Until we meet on the other side, brother, happy birthday.  


I found a fucking good one, didn’t I? He even endured a horse show today for me. Because he knew that was what I needed.

I don’t believe that time heals all pain. I think we just get used to carrying that heartache with us. Six years later, I have a good days 99% of the time. The days that are hard, I cry, Dan holds me, and then I’m okay. I’ll always miss you. That will never stop. But I know I’ll be okay. You’ve made sure of it by bringing so much good into my life.

Give Grandpa and Tim a hug for me. Tell them we love them. Oh, and say hi to Butch, too, will you?

I miss you, Buddy. Now and always.

Letters to Chris. 3 Years Later.

Hey Buddy,

TAPS calls the day you died your “Angelversary.” I kind of like it. It’s better than the alternative. Today is the one day a year I dread. I hate it. I basically hate the entire month of April because of today. So, Happy Angelversary.

Can you tell I’m a bundle of joy today?

I can’t wrap my mind around it. How has it been three years? I remember the first few months were the slowest of my life. Every second seemed to drag by. It was all I could do to keep breathing. I did, though, because I had no other choice. There’s no way to go but through, right? The decision you made three years ago today is not one I could, or would, ever repeat. I don’t have it in me, but I’ve also seen what it does to those who love you, and how could I ever do that to those who love me?  It’s funny though, because in so many ways you felt so close. Maybe because you were. The months after you passed were filled with signs from you that you were okay. That you are okay. Those signs, those unmistakable times you reached out, are what got me through. Thank you.

What also is funny is, I can’t remember crap that happened only yesterday. But I remember every single minute about April 8, 2017. Going to Starbucks. Shopping at Whole Foods and looking for ingredients for a curry recipe. Watching Shameless until Clay took the dogs out that night. And then every second of when he walked back into the apartment talking to Mom. Realizing that something was very wrong, and thinking that something happened to the dogs or Dad. And the sound of her voice when she told me that, no, everything wasn’t okay and that you had shot yourself. I remember falling to the floor screaming. It’s all ingrained into my memory. The day I want to forget is the one day I can’t.

I took today off. I didn’t know how I was going to handle it. It’s so hard to know how I’m going to feel. I had taken your birthday off, but I did okay. I Facetimed Nikea and Mom, and there was a lot of laughter. Especially because Mom couldn’t figure out how to get both our faces on the screen so had me up on her laptop and Nikea on her phone. Then would hold the phone up to the computer so Nikea and I could see each other. Thought you’d get a kick out of that. Then we cooked ribs since that was one of the two birthday meals you had requested Mom make for you when you came home the last time. Total meat coma. Then a few days later we had Papa Murphy’s for you.

Happy belated birthday.

Today is different. Part of me was hoping it would just be another day. I obviously always miss you. You’re obviously always on my mind. You don’t dominate my thoughts and emotions like you did even a year ago. I guess my life is as back to “normal” as it will ever be. But fuck today. It’s rough as hell. I feel so broken. And while I know this is okay, I don’t do well with feeling weak. I don’t see tears as weakness in other people, but I see them as such in myself. Why do I hold myself to another standard? You deserve all my tears, and you certainly get them. But I still get so irritated with myself when I break down. But God I need to. I needed to cry today. I need to hold you. To tell you I love you and miss you. That, three years later, I can still hear your voice so clearly. See your face so clearly. I miss your face. I love your face.

But my anger is still here. You talked to me about everything. I was your person. It was a position I was so proud to hold. But when it came down to it, you wouldn’t let me save you. And this, I can’t understand. You and I were bound together by our childhood. You were mine. Maybe I broke that trust when I became upset with you the last few months. Instead of chastising, I should I have listened. Instead of judging your decisions, I should have just given you all the love you deserved and needed. Instead of silence, I should have called you every single day. Just to say I loved you. I’m so sorry I wasn’t there when you needed me. And yes, I know these feelings are normal for a surviving sibling. But that doesn’t change my regrets and my anger at myself.

Anyway. I am going to go sit outside and enjoy the weather before Denver gets cold again.

I love you, Buddy. I miss you. Always.



Letters to Chris. Day 855.


Chris during Basic with some friends. He’s on the right.

Hey Buddy,

You have been gone for 855 days. 73,872,000 seconds. 1,231,200 minutes. 20,520 hours. 122 weeks and 1 day.

Isn’t it crazy how time goes by no matter how slowly it drags?

I have been trying to get myself to sit down and write for quite some time. Like I’ve told you before when you first passed, I was IN that place 24/7. That dark place where no matter what I did or where I was or who I was with, you were there. Not really you, but your absence from this world. I felt like I was standing on the edge of the giant void you left, looking down into its depths, so close to being sucked in.

As time has passed, life has returned to semi-normal. Remember how I said I was surviving but not quite thriving yet? I feel like I’m starting to grow again. I don’t feel stuck like I did. The world doesn’t feel like it is stopped, where everyone in it is living their life and I’m watching from the outside. I’m actually happy again. Happier than I’ve been in a long, long time.

But I still miss you. Every day. You’re still there. No matter what. But while I still feel your absence, it’s become my norm. They say time heals all pain, and honestly Buddy, that’s bullshit. We can move on to an extent, but the hurt is still there. You just learn to live with it. It becomes a part of you, as much as anything is a part of you. We decide whether we let it dictate the rest of our years, or go on living. It’s a hard decision to make, for so many reasons. Going on living, for me, has meant leaving you in my past. And it’s something I have struggled with since you died. And is something I have been absolutely terrified to do.

I’ve been going to reiki for about a year now. I wasn’t sure what I was looking for, just some sort of cleansing because I could feel that depressive energy still suffocating me. We performed this “ritual” I guess you can call it, where Katie would say something and I would repeat it. It was to further my healing process, and was all about you. I did okay until I was supposed to say “I am whole without him.” And I couldn’t do it. Try as I may, the words refused to come out. Not only do I feel I would be abandoning you if I said that, I know it to not be true. I will never be whole without you. You’re more a part of me than anything could ever be. My baby brother. So while I can allow myself to be happy and have dreams again, I will never say those words. I will never believe I am whole without you. Ever


Remember when you first passed, and all these crazy signs would prove to me you’re still around? From smelling your shampoo to my Spotify playing a song out of order you know I love to feeling you poke me at night, there were so many instances that blew my mind. You would come through so strongly to show you weren’t going anywhere. And while I don’t “hear” from you as much, you have come through a few times recently. Like when I was begging you to show yourself to me while I was in a reiki session. I silently pleaded with you over and over, to the point where it had become a mantra in my head, as Katie worked. And all of a sudden, not 30 seconds later, she stopped and said, “Jenn, I know I don’t ever talk during this, but you need to know Chris is here and he is adamant I tell you.”

Thank you for showing up.

And then yesterday my TV turned on by itself. Something it did a lot when you first passed. And it happened the day I had talked to two different people about suicide. One, a woman searching for someone, anyone to listen, and happened to find this blog. Another who recently lost her brother to suicide. I had actually known him. Shelby. It had been years since I’d seen him. But I reached out to his sister because I made you that promise to use your death to help others. And I know what it’s like. How everything is “before” and “after.” How you count every day that passes. How you relive those last moments over and over. How that phone call and the days right after are ingrained in your brain forever. How every single second seems to drag by and how you question what else can go wrong in this world if your baby brother can kill himself. Who knows if I can actually make a difference. But I feel if I can help one person, just one other, it’ll be worth it. While I was on Shelby’s page, I noticed some people had posted a fundraiser for Walk out of the Darkness. And in the comments, someone else mentioned the suicide of her own brother. We are three too many.

Shelby’s sister and I talked about signs. She gets them from him a lot. All I can say is, we are so grateful you all let us know you’re okay. It would have been a lot, A LOT, harder to get through that first year without them. It has proven to me that not only is there life after death, but that we can still communicate with those we leave behind. It’s so comforting.

Speaking of Walk Out of the Darkness, Katrina is coming to walk it with me and stay a week. I’m trying to get Nikea out too, but we shall see if her schedule allows it. I wasn’t able to make myself walk last year (I just did the fundraiser), so it’ll be nice to have such amazing company this year.

Well, I better get dinner going. I love you, Buddy. Missing you.



Letters to Chris. Day 519

Hey Buddy,

It’s World Suicide Prevention Day. It was a slow, painful, stupid day for me. I couldn’t think. I felt on the verge of tears all day. I made mistakes at work. I probably should have called in. I don’t have days like this often. That’s the beauty of always being busy. Busy with work. Busy with dirt biking, mountain biking, hiking, traveling, weddings, bachelorette parties…busy busy busy. But then I go home to Missouri. And go to our sister and Mark’s joint bachelor/bachelorette party and I realize you should be there. And then all of a sudden it feels like I’ve been pulled back to the first few months after you died where I can’t breathe.

It sucks.

Grief is really weird, isn’t it? You think you’re doing okay, you’re making progress, and then something like Suicide Awareness Month comes up and you’re surrounded by that fucking word that was never really in your vocabulary before. Don’t get me wrong. I’m grateful for this month. I’m grateful there is a movement to fight suicide. I’m so relieved it’s gaining traction and people are learning that it is okay to need help. But then again, it’s exhausting. I’m exhausted.

I just want to travel somewhere far away and not come back until it’s October. Can I do that?

But even when I’d come back, I’d have to face your absence at our sister’s wedding. You know I’m giving a speech. And I can tell you right now I’m not going to get through it easily. Because I will talk about you, and how you would be so proud of her. How you ARE so proud of her. And that I’m sure you’d be wearing your dress blues if you were still here. You know, those dress blues you wore to my wedding that are now in a preservation box in my closet. I wish, I WISH, I would have gotten a photo with you at my wedding. Just you and me. But I didn’t leave the dance floor all night. That is one of my biggest regrets. But at least I have this one with you and Clay.

And one more thing. I’ve accumulated more of your stuff. This is what I do when I go home. I go through your belongings. Your wallet with your military ID, your flag and that sign that hung on your door in elementary school that says “Batman lives here.” I noticed I had doodled your name, and mine, on the back in colorful marker. It seems like forever ago, doesn’t it? I held your phone again…the one you texted Mom from that night. It’s such a weird feeling, one I could never ever describe, holding that phone. Something you held, took pictures with, called from. Mom doesn’t want to part with it, and I completely understand. You have so many photos on there and on your tablet. Texts. Just remnants of a life that we cherish.

You know…this may be the first letter I’ve typed where I didn’t cry. I also didn’t cry when I visited your ashes when I got home…first time ever. Yay for progress.

But…I’m still mad at you. I’m not sorry for that. You should be here.

Yet…I love you. Always and always.






I can’t remember when Clay first shared a passage with me written on the social media platform Reddit by a man with the username GSnow as he attempted to console a fellow Redditor reeling from loss. Yet, the sincerity of these words, written at a moment’s notice, stayed with me. Right after Chris passed, I asked Clay to find this passage again. It gave me hope…hope that one day I would breathe again, that there would be life after my world fell apart April 8, 2017. I’ve shared it with numerous friends and loved ones who have endured loss, hoping it would provide the same comfort it gave me.

Sometimes, in the shitstorm that life can be, we can have a significant and life-altering encounter with a person we will never meet again, all in the space of a few seconds. Chances are, they may never even realize how they saved us in that moment. I had one such interaction with GSnow. I’ve been meaning to share this experience for a while now, because I know this could, again, help someone else enduring the same type of heartache my family and I are.

So here it is. Someone posted the plea below seven years ago on Reddit, begging for guidance:

My friend just died. I don’t know what to do.

GSnow’s response:

Alright, here goes. I’m old. What that means is that I’ve survived (so far) and a lot of people I’ve known and loved did not. I’ve lost friends, best friends, acquaintances, co-workers, grandparents, mom, relatives, teachers, mentors, students, neighbors, and a host of other folks. I have no children, and I can’t imagine the pain it must be to lose a child. But here’s my two cents.

I wish I could say you get used to people dying. I never did. I don’t want to. It tears a hole through me whenever somebody I love dies, no matter the circumstances. But I don’t want it to “not matter”. I don’t want it to be something that just passes. My scars are a testament to the love and the relationship that I had for and with that person. And if the scar is deep, so was the love. So be it. Scars are a testament to life. Scars are a testament that I can love deeply and live deeply and be cut, or even gouged, and that I can heal and continue to live and continue to love. And the scar tissue is stronger than the original flesh ever was. Scars are a testament to life. Scars are only ugly to people who can’t see.

As for grief, you’ll find it comes in waves. When the ship is first wrecked, you’re drowning, with wreckage all around you. Everything floating around you reminds you of the beauty and the magnificence of the ship that was, and is no more. And all you can do is float. You find some piece of the wreckage and you hang on for a while. Maybe it’s some physical thing. Maybe it’s a happy memory or a photograph. Maybe it’s a person who is also floating. For a while, all you can do is float. Stay alive.

In the beginning, the waves are 100 feet tall and crash over you without mercy. They come 10 seconds apart and don’t even give you time to catch your breath. All you can do is hang on and float. After a while, maybe weeks, maybe months, you’ll find the waves are still 100 feet tall, but they come further apart. When they come, they still crash all over you and wipe you out. But in between, you can breathe, you can function. You never know what’s going to trigger the grief. It might be a song, a picture, a street intersection, the smell of a cup of coffee. It can be just about anything…and the wave comes crashing. But in between waves, there is life.

Somewhere down the line, and it’s different for everybody, you find that the waves are only 80 feet tall. Or 50 feet tall. And while they still come, they come further apart. You can see them coming. An anniversary, a birthday, or Christmas, or landing at O’Hare. You can see it coming, for the most part, and prepare yourself. And when it washes over you, you know that somehow you will, again, come out the other side. Soaking wet, sputtering, still hanging on to some tiny piece of the wreckage, but you’ll come out.

Take it from an old guy. The waves never stop coming, and somehow you don’t really want them to. But you learn that you’ll survive them. And other waves will come. And you’ll survive them too. If you’re lucky, you’ll have lots of scars from lots of loves. And lots of shipwrecks.

I decided to try to find the man who wrote these beautiful words, hoping that even though seven years had passed he would still be active on Reddit. Amazingly, I found him without an issue. I had to thank him.

I wrote:


You obviously don’t know me, but I want to thank you for your post about grief. The one about surviving 100 foot waves. My baby brother took his life April 8, and your words have provided so much comfort for my family. And I just found them printed off among our sympathy cards-I had shared it with Mom a while back and she must have printed it off. So…thank you. For helping a grieving family you have never met. Like you said, there is starting to be life again between the waves. Slowly, but surely, I’m starting to believe we will survive this.

All our love,

Jennifer (Chris’ big sister)


GSnow’s response:

Hi, Jennifer,

I’m so sorry for the loss of your brother. My brothers and sisters are all still with me, and I can’t imagine the pain you’ve gone through since Chris’ death. Your mother’s pain too, I think would be too much to bear, but she bears it, a mystery and a triumph just to keep going. In my own experience over the years, I’ve lost three students to suicide, and it laid me flat. They weren’t even my children, and I was still devastated. I truly can’t imagine what it would be like to be in yours and your mom’s place. I hope the inevitable woulda-coulda-shoulda’s that must, by human nature, accompany such an agony eventually fade into only occasional visits.

When I wrote that post, six years ago, I wrote it off the top of my heart to a young man who had lost his best friend to cancer. I never thought it would still be around six years later. But if what I wrote to him has been of benefit to you, then I’m glad. Though I’m sorry you’re in a position to find it helpful.

Peace, eventually.


Thank you, GSnow, for helping a family you never met get through what will always be the worst time in our lives.

Letters to Chris. May 15th. Day 395

Hey Buddy,

Rough night. Today an email about Walk Out of the Darkness hit my inbox. Is it really time for that again?? Things like this jar me out of my day-to-day routine, where I work and don’t let myself think of much else but what is in front of me. But I did okay until I climbed into bed. I grabbed your shirt and held it close to my face, burying myself in your smell. That safe, familiar smell that takes me back a year to when you first passed. You felt so close then. Like you surrounded us. And then I grabbed my phone and started going through your texts again. The last text you sent me (“Me too!”) and the one where you told me someone agreed you’d be better off dead. And I started to hyperventilate. Clay, asleep next to me, woke up and held me. And I just lost it.  A sobby, snotty mess right into his chest. I miss you so much. I throw myself headfirst into work now, and barely have time to think about anything else. It’s purposeful, to keep myself from times like this where I feel like I’m going to break into a million pieces again. Where the regret and self-hatred come flooding back in, drowning me. I tried so hard to protect you your whole life. Mostly from yourself. I always knew you were your own biggest enemy. And when you opened up over and over in me your last few months about your depression, I tried so hard to make you see how good you had it, how you had so much to be grateful for. But in doing so, I failed to validate your feelings. I failed to hear you. And eventually…you stopped confiding. And I’m sorry. I know I say sorry over and over and over. But I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.

I had a dream the other night about you. You were there, alive. I knew you weren’t supposed to be there, that you had come from the other side for just a brief time. So I held you. I held you so close. And you felt so real. I can still feel it, how real you felt. And now, that’s all I can think about. Holding you. Squeezing you as tightly as I can. I have never wanted something so badly, needed something so badly, that I physically ached. I need to hold you. And I need to be Chris’ big sister again. I’ve never needed anything more.

I can’t hold you anymore, but can you hold me? Please. Wrap your arms around me and help me fall asleep. I need you, little bro.

Love you.


“Sister” by The Nixons

I was driving home from the mountains a few months back, and was jamming out to the radio. I had asked Chris if he could send me a sign a few hours earlier, but my thoughts at this particular moment were just on the road. But all of a sudden, I had this overwhelming urge to switch to a station playing The Goo Goo Dolls. I like their songs okay, but normally wouldn’t stay on a station playing them. Yet I knew I was supposed to leave it there. There was something that was going to play next Chris wanted me to hear. Sure enough, the next song brought me to sobs so strong I had to pull my car over.
I know there are skeptics who don’t believe me when I talk of the signs I receive from my brother. And that’s totally okay. Everyone is entitled to their own opinions. But what I can say is this: far too many “coincidences” happen for me to believe they are anything other than Chris letting us know he’s still here with us. Not just to me, but to others in my family. Even those who never had any belief in the afterlife. And I’ve heard dozens of similar stories from others regarding loved ones they’ve lost. Things that just cannot be explained.
But I digress. Here are the lyrics from the song that played next. They still blow me away when I read them:
Here I am again,
Overwhelming feelings
A thousand miles away
From your ocean home
Part of me is near
Thoughts of what we were invade
The miles that stand between
We can’t separate
Your all I hoped you’d become
Sister I see you
Dancing on the stage
Of memory
Sister I miss you
Fleeting visits pass
Still they satisfy
Reminders of the next
Overshadow goodbye
Our flames burn as one
Sister I see you
Dancing on the stage
Of memory
Sister I miss you
All I am begins with you
Thoughts of hope understood
Half of me breathes in you
Thoughts of love remain true
Here we are again saying goodbye
Still we fall asleep underneath the same sky
You’re all I knew you’d become
Sister I see you
Dancing on the stage
Of memory
Sister I miss you
Entwined, you and I
Our souls speak from across the miles
Intertwined, you and I
Our blood flows from the same inside
Half of me, breathes in you
Thoughts of love remain true
I see you, I feel you
When I close my eyes
I see walking there…
I see you dancing in my mind

Letters to Chris. April 8th. One Year Later.

Hey Buddy,

April 8. It’s April 8. You’ve been gone exactly one year today. I mean..how? HOW?

I don’t even know what to say or how to feel. I’m sitting on the couch at home, Ginger on my left…Dad and Clay sitting here talking about golf while watching the Masters. You can imagine how happy Dad is to have someone to talk about golf with. It just seems a little too…normal. But it’s not normal. Everything is changed. For one, your ashes are on the table in front of me. I brought them out this morning to hang out with the family. I just couldn’t bear the thought of them in the bedroom alone (where I had brought them to be with me at night). And two, I’m home because our family needed to be together today. I feel agitated. I feel anxious.  I feel really fucking bitchy.

I just need to go kick the shit out of something.

But, here we are. Three hundred and sixty five days later. And we are still breathing. I’m still breathing. I laugh a lot. I cry, but not nearly like I did. I’m excited to go do things again. While I think of you all the time, your death doesn’t haunt me as it did (although so many times it’ll hit me out of nowhere and all I want to do is scream “FUCK FUCK FUCK!!!”) While your things are still by my bed, where they will stay for probably at least another year, I don’t bury myself in them every night. I can look at a few photos of you without breaking down (unless it’s more than “a few” photos…then it becomes problematic). I can talk about your death now, even though that word is still so foreign and final and I fucking hate saying it about my baby brother (and always will. That won’t change).

I guess what I’m saying is I’m living again. I’m a different person than I was before the night of April 8, 2017. I don’t know if I’m a better person, but I’m definitely a hell of a lot stronger. I love more fiercely. I’m more afraid of loss. I’m still angry with myself for the ways I failed you (How can I say sorry for all the ways I feel I’ve failed the person I was supposed to protect?). But I also love myself more, because I survived something I never in my wildest dreams believed I could survive. But here I am. Surviving. Not necessarily thriving yet. But I’ll get there again one day.

Clay and I got here Friday. Grandpa was already here. After hugging everyone, I walked into the back room, grabbed your ashes and sat on the bed and cried. It’s become a tradition. I know it’s not you (you reminded me a while back when I cried over your ashes then heard a quote from a show Mom was watching literally 10 minutes later, “It’s just a body. It’s not his soul.”). It’s so weird…to equate those ashes with you. My tall, skinny brother. Sometimes, my head goes into a bad place and I start thinking about how it’s all that we have left of you. And then I have to smack myself because that’s obviously not true. You’re still here. You remind us all the time. I’ve had quite a few reminders lately.

But more of that later.

We obviously survived your birthday. I don’t know how.  It was just a reminder of my guilt. And Buddy, I have so much guilt. SO much guilt. I cannot forgive myself for not calling you on your birthday. That’s when I was sick, and we didn’t know what was wrong with me. But the why doesn’t matter. What matters is I forgot your birthday. Something I had never done. And, as life would have it, the one year I forget your birthday is the last birthday you had. And I wasn’t able to go home since I was heading there April 8. So I kept myself busy. I went snowboarding. I ate a shit-ton of Papa Murphy’s. Clay asked how many pizzas I wanted. I said two. One just wasn’t enough. I figured you’d be proud of the amount of pizza I put away. I had to decide whether I wanted ribs or pizza to celebrate you, since you’d asked for both last year. Do you remember? Mom asked you to choose three birthday dinners, one for each night you’d be home. Your answer? Papa Murphy’s. Ribs. I can’t remember the third (was it burgers??). But you ended up going out to get Mexican with some friends instead one of those nights. They threw a sombrero on you then smashed a dessert in your face. Phil got pictures of your shenanigans, and I absolutely love them. I know you were feeling very loved that night, and nothing makes me happier (by the way, I’m pretty sure that was the sweatshirt you died in. I couldn’t find it anywhere). But here’s the funny thing. I had Papa Murphy’s for your birthday, but then next day we went over to a friend’s house for a BBQ, and Bill showed up with…ribs. I think that was you saying hi. Because I know for a fact you had ribs that exact day the year before. Maybe coincidence, but you show up enough for me to believe most things like this aren’t.

No, I survived your birthday. But the next day, the 25th, was worse. The 25th was the last day we talked. You texted me a picture of Carter playing on the floor here at home.

“Awwww. Wish I could be there.”

“Me too!”

Such simple texts. I had no idea, and I know you didn’t either at the time, that it would be the last time we talked. I would never hear from you again. So in so many ways, the 25th was even harder than the 24th. God I wish I would have come home. Or at least talked to you more. Why didn’t I talk to you more that day??

What would I have said, had I known I’d never talk to you again? I think about this a LOT, and I know I’ve told you this before. But here it is again:

“Buddy. I love you. I’ve always loved you. I’m so sorry I forgot your birthday. I don’t know what’s wrong with me and it’s scary. But still. It’s no excuse. I’m so lucky to call you my brother. I remember the first time I saw you. So tiny in your crib. I was in love. And from that moment on, I’ve never wanted anything more than to hug you and hold you and keep you safe. Every day. For the rest of our lives. Hold you tight and never ever EVER let go. You’re my everything. I’ve loved you every second of every day, even those times I was annoyed with you, angry with you, even absolutely pissed at you. I never stopped loving you. Please realize how much you’re needed. How much you’re loved. How worthy you are. I’m coming to Minnesota to spend time with you. I’m buying a ticket now. Please, don’t go anywhere.” Although it would probably be so much more frantic and with a lot more begging and pleading.

But honestly, I don’t think I would have had the words. I still imagine what I’d do if I saw you, like so many many times before, walk in front of the living room windows towards the front door. Your lanky frame stooped forward a bit, like your shoulders are just a little too heavy to stand completely straight. I don’t think I’d say anything. I would just sob and hold you. And hold you. And hold you. And probably punch you for scaring us like you did, but thank God it was all a big mix up and that wasn’t you and you’re safe and have been alive this whole time.

Yesterday, we celebrated Dad’s 70th birthday, and Nikea and Mark’s wedding shower. As you can imagine, everyone came over. The timing was purposeful. We wanted a fun distraction. Grandpa Ward drove in. Grandma and Grandpa Irene and Bill were here. Sue, Hannah, Sayre, Conner and Holton. Stacie and David. Trav, Austen and Grayson. Sierra. And Keri came in from St. Louis. It was a fun day, and I was so happy to see everyone. There was a lot of hugs and a lot of laughter. And eating. Per usual in the crazy Rudloff household. In the midst of all the chaos, I turned to Nikea and asked what she thought you’d be doing if you were here.

“Oh, sitting quietly somewhere. Probably over there in the corner of the couch.”
“On his phone? Haha!”

It was a comforting thought. You here, eating way too many burgers and then messing around with your phone. You would have wrestled with Austen and played with Stacie’s new puppy. You would have laughed at the goofy gifts everyone got Dad and then probably eaten more. You always loved family gatherings. You loved your family. That I know.

And it’s more obvious now than ever. We continue to get signs. Remember how I said I took your ashes to the back room and held them when I first got home Friday? Mom came back and we talked about all the signs we’ve been receiving. She said Nikea had an experience with you. She actually saw you in her mirror, and your image was that of your younger self when you had long hair. She said she saw movement, and it was you flipping your hair by moving your entire head like you used to do. I have no doubt she saw you; our scientific sister has never seen anything like that before. I should have known you would decide to take on the image of you with your shaggy hair 😉 Then Mom said Gretchen had more experiences, as well. I shared my newest experiences as well,  about how my TV turned on twice by itself, something it hasn’t done since you first died. And then how, when I was pretending to talk to you on the phone the other day (this may be up there on the weirdness scale, but hopefully not quite as odd as burying my face in the armpit of your shirt because it still smells like your BO), my phone randomly called you. Even though my screen was off, and your number wasn’t pulled up, anyway. This has actually happened twice. Mom said her therapist, Laurel, commented how you “sure are doing everything you can to reach out to us.” It’s hard to put into words what that meant to me. Because, yes, you are. You have gone out of your way to make sure we know you’re still here. It’s so crazy because, as I said to Mom, it’s different than it was when you were physically here. We knew you loved us. But we know you didn’t “get it.” You knew you loved us and needed us, but you couldn’t open up to us the way I know you wanted. In so many ways, I got it. You and I were so very alike, which is why I understood you so well. We were one and the same. But it was still hard for me. I wanted, I craved, a relationship with you where we talked all the time about anything and everything.

I guess we can have that now. I know you hear everything I say to you, and I tell you everything now. You told me the other day we could have that relationship I always wanted now. I heard you. As clear as day. Chris, when you say things to me, it’s so loud I have no doubt at all it’s you. Like the other evening when I was sobbing in my car, and I heard you say, “You need to drive.” When you told me  “I got you, Sis” when I quit my job last year, and I found out hours later I got a new one. Or when you told me to turn on the radio right before the “Sister” song came on with the lyrics “Sister, I see you. Dancing on the stage of memory. Sister, I miss you.” That STILL gives me the chills. Or, when you told me to “Look after Mom.” She and I talked about this one, in particular. I told her how your very first words to me were about her. That you’re worried about her. That you want us to take care of her. We will, Buddy. We all have Mom’s back. Don’t worry. We got her.

Anyway. I love you. We love you. More now than ever.


Letters to Chris. March 12th. Day 338

Hey Buddy,

Just got back from a walk with the pups. I walked on my old trail…you know, the one I walked on nonstop when you first died. Listening to my old playlist titled “Chris.” And I just let myself feel. Which is something I don’t allow myself to do as much. I explained why in the last letter. It just hurts too fucking much. Pretending you’re still here is so much easier than accepting that you’re not.

But…even though everything in me ached for you on that walk, I felt at home. My heartache, listening to that playlist on our trail, it just felt so familiar. Comfortable in a way. And for the first time in months, I felt like myself. Months. It was as though I’d gone back in time, to last spring when you still felt so close. You’ve felt so far away the last few months, and I know that’s my fault. I’ve pushed you away because I just can’t do this. I’m no closer to figuring out how to live without you than I was last spring. If anything, I feel even more lost. Because, somehow, you’ve been gone from this earth for almost 365 days. And it’s not going to end. You’ll just keep being gone.

Do you have any, any, idea how much that sucks?

When you first died, you felt so far away and yet so close. I knew you were right there by me. I received so many signs. Unmistakable signs that you were still here. My TV turning on by itself almost every night. Smelling your shampoo in my room randomly. You waking both Mom and me by (not so gently) tapping our faces. My dog seeing something walking around my room. I haven’t gotten one in so long. I need one now, Chris. Please. Show me you haven’t left my side. I know I don’t deserve it, because I’ve pushed you away. I’m so sorry. I just cannot accept your death. How can I? You being gone makes me realize how much I failed you as your big sister. And I cannot forgive myself for that. I can’t.

So. I’ll be going home in three weeks for Dad’s 70th and your birthday. I think I already told you that. I want to go home. And I dread it. Just facing it again. Sitting on the couch where Mom and Nikea sat while waiting to hear back from the police exactly a year before. No. I know I’ll get through it. But I don’t want to have to.

God. See? It’s so much easier to not feel. But then I miss you too much. I don’t know which is worse. Feeling like this…or not feeling at all.

Get us through the next couple months, Buddy. Please. I can’t do it alone.

Love you.


Letters to Chris. March 2nd. Day 328.

Hey Buddy,

I know it has been so long since I have written. I just haven’t been able to make myself sit down and talk to you like this. I mean, I talk to you a lot in general. And I know you hear me. But sitting here, in front of this computer, just hits home that you aren’t here anymore. And for the last few months, I haven’t been able to accept that you’re gone.  Not like I could before…But I’m without a doubt in the denial phase again. For example, I was talking to someone I just met the other day about my brother who lives in Minnesota. And it felt so wonderful to talk about you in the present tense. You can’t even know. I just got so fucking tired of hurting…I needed a break. To throw myself blissfully into working 10+ hour days and not think about anything else.

But your birthday is in three weeks. And you won’t be turning 26 this year. Fuck you for not being here to celebrate your birthday, Chris.

Thanksgiving came and went. Christmas. New Years. Thanksgiving was fine. I stayed here in Denver while Clay visited STL. I went snowboarding the day of, then enjoyed Friendsgiving with some of my closest buddies. Christmas was harder. I didn’t decorate. I didn’t listen to Christmas music. I didn’t watch Christmas movies. This is the first year since middle school that I didn’t listen to my Christmas Solitudes CD. You remember that one…the one we’d always play when decorating the tree. I tried. And then turned it off. It was weird. You know how much I love the holidays. But I seriously was the biggest grinch this year. And you know what? It was okay. I gave myself permission. Christmas Day last year was the last time I heard your voice. And I was angry at you and barely talked while we all had you on speaker phone. It’s something I can’t forgive myself for. So yeah. The only Christmas thing I did was shop. The week before. I went to America Eagle and got you a present, just like I always did. I picked something you’d like and got it in my size. That’s going to be my new tradition. But basically, I said fuck Christmas.

It’ll be there next year.

Work has been a Godsend, though. And the people I work with. They are so incredibly supportive. They did the AFSP walk with me. One of my girls came with me to get your uniform preserved (God, we won’t go into how terrible THAT was. It was like I was burying you and it felt like my heart would rip apart. The woman who did it was so wonderful. She refused to charge me, and was so careful with your uniform you could have thought it belonged to her own brother). I don’t know if I would be where I am without them all. And Clay, obviously. But the majority of my time is spent at work, and I’m beyond grateful to spend my days in a job that I love with people I adore.

Also. I got a tattoo of your writing. Remember the card you gave Mom years ago for Mother’s Day where you wrote “Love you always?” I told you about it. But, I had our tattoo guy, Steven, put that on my arm in your handwriting. With your birthdate, also in your handwriting.  And your name. In your handwriting. Your adorable boyish scrawl. It’s on my forearm so I can look at it whenever I want. It’s so precious to me. I also want to get the one of you as a boy in your cowboy getup…I’ll do that next.

I also got to see Carter last time I was home. He’s so beautiful. Just like his daddy. And so tenacious and sweet and hyper. Basically a tiny human wrecking ball with endless energy. He’s you. And all I wanted to do was hug and kiss him…but force cuddling a toddler is nearly impossible. I’m so glad he and Bailey are moving back to MO.

God, I’m trying to think of everything that has happened in the past four months. Basically, I’ve just been on work mode. That’s all I have energy for. Work. Snowboard. Eat. Sleep. Luckily, Clay is so understanding and supportive. And the next couple months are going to fucking suck, so I’m so grateful to have a husband who has an enormous amount of patience for me. But God. It’s almost a year. A YEAR. HOW??? How have I survived this long without you? How? I can remember sitting down at this computer to talk to you for the first time like it was yesterday. And writing to you at Starbucks, hiding under my hat, telling you how I couldn’t believe I’d survived six days without you. The thought that you’ve been gone almost a year is too much to bear. I can’t.  I’m not strong enough to live through your birthday and April 8. I don’t know how, Chris. I’m going home. Mom figured we could combine Dad’s 70th with the anniversary of your death. As a distraction. And then, of course, we will eat your favorite food and talk about you. But fuck. How can we do this and get through it? I know how it’s going to go for me. I’ll be holding your ashes in my lap on the couch. When you should be sitting next to me, talking about your job and Carter. And all the random stuff you’d talk about. You should be there to celebrate your birthday with us.

See..this is why I don’t write. I just can’t handle it. Before, when I was crying all the time anyway, it didn’t make much of a difference. But I’m so fucking tired of hurting. I’m ready for this to be over. I’m ready for you to come back. I get it. I took you for granted. I should have been there for you. I should have told you I loved you every day. So please. Just come back. Make this all be a bad dream.

I love you, Buddy. So much. More now than ever.