Letters to Chris. Day 855.

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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

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.

Jenn

 

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.

Sis

 

 

 

Waves

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:

Hi,

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.

–GSnow

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.

Sis

“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!”
“Yep.”

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.

Sis

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.

Sis