Letters to Chris. April 25th. Day 17.

Hey Buddy,

I’ve hoarded more of your things. My pile of Chris articles on the bed has grown to include nine shirts, a jacket, a pair of jeans, a pillow from your couch and one from your bed (complete with camo pillowcase), your stuffed toy dog, pajama pants, four books and your firefighter blanket. I’m lucky this bed is a king or else there would be no room for me. Nikea came home for dinner tonight and went through your things to find stuff she wanted to keep, too. I told her she could go through the things on my bed and she laughed, remarking how every time she comes home the heap grows. But I HAD to grow it slowly. I wasn’t sure if Mom would be okay with me removing anything, so Id sneak up a few pieces of clothing every night. What started out as a couple shirts has blossomed into an entire wardrobe.

Remember how Nikea rarely cries? She did when she started going through your shirts downstairs tonight. She held up one of your grey sweatshirts with the zipper neck, saying how she could just SEE you wearing it. I walked around your things to her and held her tight, then Mom wrapped her arms around both of us and we all started to sob. Mom asked how we are going to get through this. She knows we will, but she just doesn’t know how. I don’t either. Time I guess. It’s going to take so long. But time is the only thing that will help. Poor Mom. She not only feels her own pain, but also Nikea’s and mine. She sobbed that she would do anything to take our pain away, that she wished she could just take it all as her own. And I know she would in a second. It must be the hardest thing in the world, to be a parent at a time like this. She couldn’t save her son, and now she can’t protect her daughters from hurting. That has to be such a powerless feeling. But I wouldn’t want her to take away my pain. Yes, it sucks to ache, to miss you like this. To have this crazy huge chasm in my heart that hurts all the time. Every minute of every day. But this grief is my own. It connects me to you. I was thinking about that movie, “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” and if I was given the option to erase you to get rid of the pain, would I? The answer was so simple. Absolutely not. Never. Knowing you, loving you, growing up with you as my brother, is worth the pain. Every single second of it. You helped make me who I am, and there is no way in hell I would ever let that go. Even if I felt like this every day for the rest of my life. I know everyone feels the same. You are ours, and we would never give that up. Nikea ended up picking out several different shirts, and as she held them close to her chest she remarked how the pile was about the same width as you. I held out my arms and hugged the air, the exact width I remember your tall skinny body being. I still remember the exact way my arms fit around you. I just can see you, hear you so clearly. Feel our hugs so clearly. Like I hugged you yesterday, even though it’s been a year (A year…it just doesn’t seem possible that it’s been that long since I saw your beautiful face). Don’t let that fade, Chris.

Yesterday, I met one of my closest friends for coffee. You may have met Chris at our wedding. She’s incredible and is one of the most loving and supportive human beings I know. She’s one of those people who simply calms your heart by being there. She cried with me, and she really didn’t even know you; she just felt my pain with me. I’m grateful you had friends like that in your life. I know of a couple. But despite a few tears during our visit, there were actually quite a few laughs. It was so good to catch up.  It’s so easy to want to stay home, huddled on the couch with your stuff, but I need to keep doing normal things like meeting for coffee. I told Mom tonight that I don’t know how to go on with my normal life, to which she responded, “You will because you have to. You have to go to work. You have to walk the dogs. You have to go to the grocery store.” And I know she’s right. But it also feels so wrong to get on with a normal life. I’m just not ready yet. Not even close. Like tonight, I RSVP’d to a friend’s birthday party. It’s going to be so weird…celebrating someone’s another year alive when you died. It just seems so foreign to me. Things I would look forward to I now have no idea how to handle. I feel so changed.

But I do notice more “normal” moments in between the crying. I put quotations around normal, because it’s still not normal. Not at all. You’re there, regardless of what we do. But there are more moments of easy conversation, even more laughter. We sat on the patio this evening. Today was almost too warm but this evening was perfect. I love springtime in Missouri. Dad, of course, was telling stories about this and that, waving his arms wildly as he does. Somehow Trump came up, which Mom put a stop to quickly. I teased Dad about the Glenn Beck book he has on his work bench, worrying that he was going to pass it to us to read. Then an Oriole perched on a tree close to us, contemplating visiting the bird feeder (it changed its mind. Dad said we moved too much-every time one of us would shift slightly, he’d be like, “Don’t move….Stop blinking! Stop rubbing your neck. Nikea, hold still!” Nikea was trying to remove a hair from her face and commented she was going to throw hair in Dad’s face and see if he could hold still. Such a little smart ass. I really need to record these conversations).

I went to Mom’s therapy appointment with her yesterday. I’m so glad I did. I wish I could take Dr. Kramer with me to Denver. I don’t remember this, but apparently she interviewed you, Bethany and I when Mom and Dad were becoming our guardians. Anyway, she’s amazing. Obviously we talked about you. Ha. But she could just see I’ve been beating myself up about not being there for you. I didn’t even have to say anything, but she pulled her chair closer to me, looked me in the eyes and said, “Jennifer. There is nothing you could have done. You were there for him. That’s all you could do.”

“No. I didn’t reach out like I should have. I was so pissed at him for not wanting to be better. I let him down.”

“You did what you could. You were there for him as much as he would let you. You reached out, and he kept slapping away your hand. He did that to everyone. It was not your fault. You were living in two different states, living your own lives. Unless someone calls 24 hours in advance to tell you they are going to commit suicide, there is not much you can do. Chris didn’t tell anyone he had these thoughts.”

It helped, but I’m still angry with myself. I still have guilt. I still think about all the things I should have done differently. But it helped to hear someone say I couldn’t have saved you, if only for a little while. Dr. Kramer also helped me feel better about something that has been plaguing me: your final moments. See, we went through your phone and know you were alive when Mom and Dad called. You texted someone else that you were thinking about killing yourself AFTER Dad called. Chris, why the f*ck didn’t you pick up the phone? Was it because your text didn’t come through for an hour and so you were upset no one responded?? One thing that haunts Mom is that her phone didn’t even show your text until 730, a full hour after you sent it. It just didn’t come through. I assured her that you had already made up your mind, but she still wonders if you were waiting for a response. I don’t know if trying to figure out the timeline made anything better. No. It didn’t. What do we do with this knowledge? But we just felt we needed to know. That’s the thing when someone you love ends his life-you look for answers. Any answers. We are beyond grateful you sent a text, but in a way it leaves us with more questions. What does “I can’t live like this anymore” mean, Chris?? I hate all these questions that will never have answers. Do you understand what that does to us? Do you know what it was like for Mom, Dad and Nikea to be sitting here, waiting to hear back from the police? What it was like when they patched Mom through to the sheriff on the scene who confirmed what Mom already knew? I wish I had known of that text. I would have texted you, begging you to live, to let me come out and visit. It wouldn’t have done any good. But this is stuck on repeat in my head. Best we can tell, it was between 741 (when you sent your final text) and 830. Like I said, this knowledge doesn’t do anyone any good. But your final moments, at this particular time in my grief, seem so important. To know what you were feeling, what you were thinking. I’ve always told myself you were at peace, but of course there’s that part of me that questions. So I told Dr. Kramer how I keep thinking about those final moments. Were you scared? What was going through your mind? To which she replied that she believes you were at peace. That I cannot possibly know what you were thinking, because I cannot apply my “sane” mind to where you were. She explained that once someone has gotten to the place where they are going to kill themselves, they have crossed from “sanity” to “insanity,” or rather, no longer sane. In those moments, our brains process differently. And instead of the fear and anguish another person may feel at the thought of death, you felt relief. Clearheaded. Peace. It showed through the text you sent Mom. I cling to that. Dr. Kramer has strong faith like me. The serenity prayer hangs in her office. So we talked about God and Heaven, and how God took care of you because he knew you were sick. You weren’t alone in your final moments…someone who loved you very much was there with you. Hearing that has helped more than anything else. My faith, and knowing you are in Heaven and being cared for, that you are here watching over us, are the only things that keep me going.

I did find something cool…I was going through your emails and came across one you had sent your uncle almost two years ago to the day. It was four pages of you talking about how happy you were, describing in detail your time in AIT, your first deer hunt, your new wife and little boy. You were so damn happy, so proud of what you accomplished and so in love with life. It was so funny, too, quoting Forest Gump when talking about your butt shots (“Something jumped up and bit me!” I didn’t know that was your favorite movie). It was heartbreaking and comforting to read, because this was the person I knew before the last six months. Comforting because you DID know happiness. Heartbreaking because of the difference between the person who wrote this and the person who took his life. Two years. Two. Years. But I forwarded your email to Mom, Dad and Nikea. Because this is how we want to remember you. Proud. Deeply happy. Excited about the future. I’m so tired and am going to try to sleep. I wish I could work on this earlier in the day, but it just seems my brain doesn’t work until the odd hours of the night.

Love you, Buddy. Miss you.

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