Letters to Chris. April 28th. Day 20

Hey Buddy,

Well, I started crying in Kohl’s today. I’ve been doing okay, but the last two days have been rough. I’m sure the fact that this is my last night home before heading back to Colorado has something to do with it. And last night I went through a huge tub of hundreds of photos, organizing, dating…What do you call something that is super cathartic and super heartbreaking at the same time?? That would describe that experience. But in Kohls, as Mom was looking for a thank you card to send a friend who made a donation in Carter’s name, I happened upon the “Birthday for Him” section. When you passed I obviously thought about how I’d never see you again, or hear your voice, but I didn’t think about other things. Things that continue to hit me. Like how you’ll always be 25. And how I’ll never be able to buy you another birthday card. How I should have bought you a birthday card this last March. So I began to cry. Luckily there were no other people around except Mom, who held me and brandished a much-needed Kleenex from her purse, joking about how she always carried Kleenex for allergies but oh, my how times have changed. I shouldn’t have tossed all the packages of Kleenex I had laying around the apartment. I never used them. But now I’m either going to need to purchase some or throw a bunch of toilet paper in my purse. Because obviously I don’t always know when and where I’m going to be triggered.

So that photo tub…Do you remember that huge plastic tote of pictures that’s been hanging out in the storage room for years? Yeah, you remember-I had dragged it upstairs last year to go through and you asked me to send you baby pics so you could see how much Carter looked like you. Well, like I said earlier, I went through it last night. What a job. Photos literally spanning 100 years. You never met our great grandma, but her baby picture was in there. Then pictures of our grandparents’ wedding (man, Grandpa was a looker!), pics of Mom and Dad before we all came along, tons of black and white childhood photos of Mom and her sisters (I’ve never seen these before. Not many were taken so it’s incredible so many survived). And then…pics of us. So many baby pictures of you from when we lived in Linn. A bunch from when I was going through my pink headband and unicorn shirt phase, holding you in my lap. Of your first birthday where you demolished your cake. Sleeping in your rocker. Laughing, naked, on your baby blanket (cutest baby butt in the world…I still have that blanket). One of you breastfeeding. Then photos throughout the years: capturing birthdays, fifth grade graduation, float trips, Christmases, Halloweens (remember when you were Inspector Gadget?), fishing, basketball games (one where you are literally sleeping on a bench at a game of Nikea’s), dressing up as Leonardo da Vinci for a speech in grade school, waiting for the school bus, dressing up as a biker for Dad’s themed TanTarA meetings, roller rink nights, dressing up with your dad’s firefighting badge. So many pictures. I totally forgot you used to wear glasses as a kid. And play soccer! Man, you were such a skinny little thing. I recalled how I’d get so annoyed with you because you’d always make such goofy faces in pictures. You’d either purposely make your eyes super huge or you’d furrow your brow so you looked super in pain. Hey, do you remember when you’d play around with that tiny leather saddle Mom gave you? You’d put it on your hand and pretend your arm was a horse. We could have gotten you a toy horse, but no. Apparently that wouldn’t have been as fun. Well I found the most adorable photo of you with that saddle, grinning from ear to ear. I have never longed for anything more than I longed to hold that little boy in those pictures. Squeeze him, kiss him and cuddle him and never let him go. Reality is a b*tch. I saw a great picture of your father before he passed, and for the tiniest second I thought how I should send it to you. Before, of course, reality hit me that I couldn’t text you anything anymore. I wonder how many more moments like that I’ll have. Those aren’t fun.

And home videos. OMG so many home videos.There’s an entire tote of those downstairs, as well. Stacy came over and dropped off a VHS to DVD converter, so next time I’m home I want to help Mom do that. We haven’t watched those videos since we had a VHS player, so it’s been years. I can’t remember much of what’s on there, except for one particular afternoon we were playing down at the lake. You were drinking a Squeeze-It super dramatically, throwing it back like it was a beer, and just being the cute and annoying little brother you were, running around and causing a ruckus. I remember you trying to balance on the huge floatie that was wider than we were tall (I miss that thing), and demanding Nikea, who stood too close for comfort, not to shove it out from under your feet (“Don’t! DON’T!!!”) Which of course she did. You were a lot easier to pick on when you weighed 50 pounds. We spent countless hours at that lake. I’m sure school ceremonies and Christmas mornings will be in there, too. Birthdays. I think videos will be even harder than photographs to go through…to see you so alive and happy. Being loud and irritating and just plain adorable. I actually did okay going through pics, until I saw a family photo from Christmas in Sedalia from a couple years ago. The year when the tripod started to tilt in mid-flash. You were wearing the shirt that I have slept with every night (Well, I’m sleeping with nine shirts but I mean the one I sleep with on my chest because it smells like your sweat and cologne). Then I did okay, until I saw a pic of you on a float trip. You look to be about 6. You were so serious in this picture…sitting on a branch and looking at the camera with your big blue eyes. You were annoyed because Mom was asking you to pose, and you wanted to play. You were always so restless. It drove Mom mad. And I was looking at this photo, thinking about how you’ve always been so beautiful and how much I love that face. And then I just lost it. And I couldn’t stop. Then I walked over to your ashes and cried some more. I calmed down, walked to the bathroom to wash my face, then remembered the bar of soap I found that had your facial hair on it (you apparently had trimmed your beard before washing your face and I knew it was you because other than me, you were the only person to use that bathroom) and cried again. I know. I talk about crying a LOT. But this is my reality. Sorry, but it’s kind of your fault. But I’m so grateful to our parents for always pulling out the camera. Because we will always have these photos to cherish now.

You’d be proud of Mom. She did your laundry. I can’t even imagine what that must have been like for her. But she did okay. It was actually very cathartic for her. Then she folded all your socks and boxers, towels and blankets. She is probably going to toss your briefs and older socks, but everything else we are keeping. Everything. Even tossing just socks and underwear is pushing it. I hate leaving her. She did better today, but it’s been rough. We had to get her out of the house yesterday so she could be distracted. Mornings are hardest for her. But know what’s neat? While going through the photos, I found a card you gave her for Mother’s Day years ago. You signed it, “Love you always. CJ Nacy.” I set it aside to show her, along with a pic of you two cuddling and holding hands on the couch when you were probably five or so. I was worried when she saw it this morning it would make her cry, but she did okay.

In hindsight, I should have saved it for Mother’s Day.

By the way, that signature of yours is the tattoo I’m going to get. Your childish penmanship writing those sweet words is perfect. I know you wanted me to find that card; that was your way of telling us that you’ll “love us always.” Those are the moments that get me through. Moments where I know you’re here. Like the other night when I was listening to a playlist on Spotify, and it randomly skipped down to my favorite song that I have listened to on repeat in the past because it reminds me of you. Then after it ended, Spotify jumped back up to where it was playing before, seven songs above that Mercy Me song. It was so weird-my Spotify wasn’t on the mix setting. Then Mom’s scanner. I hadn’t even noticed the brand name of it until I was sitting on the couch talking about you. The name is “Brother by Your Side.” Earlier that day, Mom turned on the radio right when Rachel Platten’s “Stand by You” was ending, where it kept repeating “Love, you’re not alone, ‘cause I’m gonna stand by you. Love, you’re not alone. Oh, I’m gonna stand by you.” Coincidence? Some people may say these all are. But I don’t believe so. I believe all those are my little brother letting me know he’s here and he’s okay. Mom’s okay with me taking a bunch of stuff home with me now. I have filled up your camo bag to max capacity with clothing and a hat or two. I’ll have to take your books on another trip; I just can’t fit an entire hardback series of Harry Potter books in my bag. Mom also told me I can have your dress blues. The ones you wore to my wedding. You looked so handsome and so proud. I can’t believe she’d give those up. I don’t know if I could in her situation. But she’s the mom, always trying to make her children happy. I’ll have to come back and get that, as well. I couldn’t ever fold that up to go in my bag. Even for a short flight.

Do you remember when we went to see “Twilight?” I had completely forgot about that, until the other night when I came across it on Netflix. I remembered taking you to “Lord of the Rings” and “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.” But for whatever reason, it had slipped my mind that we saw it together until that night. You and I had read the books, so I took you on a sister-brother outing. And it was so fun! Later on, you would decide you detested the story, and even sent me a pic you found of a Twilight book made into a flask holder because no one would ever open it. But I have a feeling you never stopped liking the books. Not really 🙂 I watched it last night. Just because it was another awesome memory with you.

You were such a big reader. I always thought that was so cute. Mom told me today how excited you were to get the Hunger Games trilogy. I wonder what you thought of those movies. I bet you liked them. We always liked the same books and movies. I found your Lord of the Rings books…Did you actually read those?? I would be so impressed. I couldn’t even get through those in college. I’m going to take them home and give it another go, though. We shall see. But first I have a couple other books I need to get to. Dad bought the family a book about how to survive a loved one’s suicide, called Finding Peace Without all the Pieces. The author’s son had shot himself, as well. I just finished the first book I bought just days after you died, written by a sister who also lost her brother to suicide. While I hate that other people have to endure this tragedy, it helps to know we aren’t alone. Reading her words gave me some comfort. Unless someone has been through this, it’s impossible to know what it’s like. There are deaths, and then there are suicides. The grieving process is so vastly different. “John’s sister” helped me to know any emotion is normal when it comes to grieving for you. So I’m sure the book Dad gave us will also be a big help. And I have to be grateful it’s not a Glenn Beck book (sorry, Dad)!

I told you about the meeting I’m going to start attending for suicide survivors, right? They meet on the third Tuesday of every month. That’s going to be super hard, but I think well worth it. There’s also one that meets on the first Wednesday of each month for the newly bereaved, so I may go to that as well. I just feel that going to one where they know how I feel will be so much more helpful. I don’t know. It’s one thing to talk to family about it…it’s going to be very different talking to strangers. It’s so weird…I’ve always been uncomfortable around the topic of death. I’ve always avoided it, because it’s just depressing to think about one’s own mortality. I mean, what’s the point, right?? But I’ve literally been living this for the last three weeks. My entire existence has become entwined in your death. And I know that’s not what you want. But it’s impossible not to focus on the fact that you are gone. It’s a pretty damn big blip on the radar. And the manner in which you left us. Even if I could take my mind off it, I just need to look in the mirror to be reminded of the hell we’ve been going through the last three weeks (thanks, cortisol). I’ve forgiven you, but I’m still pissed. Maybe that means I haven’t forgiven you. I don’t know. I do know one day we will remember how you lived, not how you died. But we are just so stuck right now. It’ll take time. Lots of it. Years, maybe. And now time passes so slowly.

I blame you for that.

Hey Dad found the perfect holder for your ashes. An artillery box. It is so ironic…but we know it’s exactly what you would have wanted. This is what you would have asked for. You loved all things military. So Dad went to the army surplus store in Columbia and found it. Mom is going to stencil “Nacy” in block lettering on the side. That works, right?

I’ve had a few of your friends reach out to me. That’s been so neat. These people just really loved you, Chris. They share photographs and memories with me…I think it’s healing for both sides, to talk to someone else who loved you. There’s always that same response to your passing…the heartache, but also the guilt and regret. “I should have seen it.” “I should have been there more.” “I didn’t know he was so sad.” The same exact things we say. I mean, I’m filled to the brim with regret. Guide me in what to say to these incredible people. I’m so so glad you had close friends, people who genuinely cared about you enough to reach out to your family. You were so blessed in so many ways, little brother. You did lead a very full life. A beautiful son, a loving family, an education, friends, a military career…I have to keep reminding myself of those things. Especially when I look at pictures of that sweet, innocent little boy that you were. He will grow up to have so many good things going for him. It wasn’t all heartache and despair.

That keeps me going, too.

Love you, Little Bro. Miss you.

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