Letters to Chris. May 1st. Day 22.

Hey Buddy,

It’s been a tough day, and an even tougher night. Today was my first day back to my “normal life.” It feels so weird. So wrong. I arrived back in Colorado yesterday morning. I wasn’t close to ready to come home. I missed Clay and the pups, but I feel like nothing has gone right since we moved here a year ago. I wanted to stay away. Stay home with our family. It was hard walking back into our apartment. I just don’t have many memories here. We JUST moved in. It doesn’t feel like home…not at all. So the only memory that sticks out is that horrible, long night. So obviously, being back has been rough. Tonight, I felt like I did that first week…where the pain was so unbearable I couldn’t breathe. All I wanted to do was scream. Or die. Anything but feel the way I was feeling. And this morning, it was almost too much to go to work, to talk to people like nothing happened, to be happy because at any workplace you need to leave your shit at the door. How can I act normal when my heart is shattered into a million pieces? One minute I’ll be okay, and the next I feel like I’m drowning under this massive wave that is crashing over me and I keep trying to swim to the surface but a huge part of me wants to give up and drown. I feel so lost. All I want to do is go back home to where we grew up and be with Mom, Dad, Nikea and Bethany. Where our memories are. Where your stuff is. Where your old room is. Where your ashes are. I feel so far away right now and it’s almost unbearable. Sorry, Buddy. I’m just so tired. Talking to people all day has been exhausting when all I wanted to do was hide. But everyone tells me that I need to be around others. That working is good. That getting back into my routine is good. I can’t hide away all the time.

I’m not ready. I just want to cuddle with your things and sleep.

Dad drove me to Kansas City Saturday to stay with Court and Cory since my flight left so early Sunday morning. I could have taken the train, but I wanted to spend more time with him. Since he works and goes to bed at a decent hour (unlike Mom and me), I didn’t get to see him as much as I would have liked. So I made him be stuck with me in a car for 2.5 hours 🙂 It was so fun. It’s rarely, if ever, just Dad and me. As I’ve told you, I’m not ever going to take our family for granted again. It was funny…I’d been waiting for an awesome thunderstorm the entire time I was home, and of course the day I leave one hits. You should have seen the flooding. It was crazy. Fields looked like lakes. But luckily it never got too bad, or else I would have felt like the world’s worst daughter for asking him to drive me through it. I know he didn’t mind though. Dad’s love language is acts of service. (By the way, one of your close friends gave us a card telling us all the things you talked about in regards to us. I know it meant so much to Dad that you told her how smart he was, and how you wanted to be half the man he is. I wish you could have known that you were a good man, too. You were, Chris. I was proud to call you my brother. And Mom…she started crying when she read how you said she had been such a huge influence in your life. And it was so sweet that you bragged about her garden. That meant so much to her).

Saying bye to Mom, Dad and Nikea went as well as it could have. Better than expected. I figured I’d be sobbing, or at least Mom would be. I mean, she’d cry when I’d leave when I lived in Kansas City. But everyone did okay. Nikea came home to hang out after work, even though it was just for a half hour. She sat with me while I packed. I think having actual dates when I’m coming back helps tremendously (June and August). And Mom let me take everything I wanted of yours (even though I forgot your PJ pants I’ve been wearing which really upset me). She had felt so protective of your things, like they were being picked over. She knew that wasn’t the case, but you know how she is. She just needed time. Always the protective mother. I understand. That’s how I feel about your ashes. We had discussed sharing them, but I couldn’t deal with the thought of dividing you up. I say “you.” I know it’s not you. It’s funny how we cling to the physical remnants when that’s not who you actually were. Your soul lives on. But anyway…I’m so grateful to Mom. I don’t know what I would have done if I didn’t have anything of yours here. It was hard enough being away from your belongings for a few hours at work. I had so many of your things I had to borrow Mom’s massive suitcase. And when I say massive, I mean MASSIVE. I could fit in there easily. Twice. I wasn’t able to bring everything I wanted due to weight restrictions, but I’ll be going home for your Celebration of Life at the end of June, and will bring them back with me (our birth mom and aunts are coming, as is the rest of the family and any of your friends, too. We haven’t made an official announcement yet, but will soon. It’s just so hard to get things going right now). Your Harry Potter books, your cowboy hat, your dress blues…Maybe some of your antlers. You had so many! Did you shoot all those deer? I know you did one, at least. Perhaps I can Pinterest something to do with your antlers. I know you’d be so annoyed with me if I tried to turn your antlers into a craft project, but sorry, dude, that’s what you get. And I’m trying to figure out what to do with your uniform. Would it be weird if I framed it? I’d love to have it hanging somewhere I can always see it. Maybe in our living room. I also took your ACU backpack and your cap. Oh and your deodorant. May be weird, but since I’ve already told you about how I cuddle with your sweaty shirts, I figure you can’t judge me any more than you already have. As for the rest of your clothes, they are all lying on my side of the bed. I want them close. Maybe months down the line I’ll fold them neatly and store them somewhere that’s easily accessible. And not all of them-some I’m sure I’ll wear to bed every night. It helps me to sleep. What’s neat is I’ve been finding so many photos of you wearing the shirts that I have. I had asked you to show me what you wanted me to take, and all these shirts I picked ended up in photographs. It makes me ache, but it also makes me feel so close to you. Especially the shirts that smell like you. I dread the day when your smell fades. I don’t know what I’ll do then.

Sometimes, I just don’t think. Like yesterday, I asked Dad if they had offered to give him the clothes you were wearing. Mom had been wondering if you were wearing the “Life is Good” shirt (you know, the ice fishing one she gave you) that night because it wasn’t in your things. Dad said they offered them to him, but recommended incineration because they were soiled. It’s like the couch…I knew you bled. I knew that. Considering everything, how could you not? I’ve seen the blood. So why did it hit me so hard when he said they incinerated your clothing because they were soiled? Shouldn’t that be old news by now? Why does it hit me like a sledgehammer to my chest whenever I hear something like that? Damn you for hurting yourself like that, Chris. Your life may not have been a big deal to you, but you were my everything. Our everything. And now life expects me to pick up the pieces and keep going. Because that is what you’re supposed to do. Keep living. Keep working. Keep growing.

How?

You did reach out to me Saturday, though. I walked into Courtney’s apartment and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was playing on her TV. Since I was just talking to you about that in my last letter, I know that was you saying hi again. Thank you so much. I can’t hold you, talk to you, laugh with you or wrestle you anymore, but I can see you in so many ways. Feel you in so many ways. Moments like that keep me going. Keep them coming, Chris. I’m going to need constant reminders that you’re still here. I’m needy. Get over it.

You would have laughed at me on the plane yesterday. It wasn’t funny at the time, but it does make me laugh now. We hit the worst turbulence I’ve ever experienced. Nervous chatter filled the cabin. The entire midwest was covered in storms, so as we left Kansas City we hit some major bumps. We would drop so far my stomach would jump into my throat. Turbulence normally doesn’t bother me. You know I fly all the time. But I was just so frazzled after the last three weeks, I started crying. It seems like anything bad can happen now. Like if you can die, then anything can go wrong (good outlook to have, right?). The woman next to me asked if I was okay. To which I responded, “My brother just died, now I’m going to die and it’s going to kill my mother.” I’m sure that was the last response she expected. I felt so stupid. Talk about word vomit. But all I could think about was Mom dealing with another child being killed. Luckily, the woman didn’t seem to mind, bless her. She patted my knee and promised we weren’t going to die, and started asking about you. I was honest about how you died. I refuse to hide it. Hiding it means I’m ashamed of you or your decision. No way. Never. Well it turned out her cousin committed suicide two years ago. He was 51. I’m not sure how, but somehow I knew I would sit next to someone who lost a loved one to suicide, too. I hadn’t planned on talking about it, but it’s funny how turbulence + a shitty three weeks can make us talk to complete strangers about the most personal stuff. It makes me cringe to think about it. But I’m grateful she was there to share her experience. We also talked about depression. She had suffered some major depression a few years back, and said she understood how someone could get to that point. I know so many people would have shied away from talking to me. It’s pretty cool how God puts people in our path that help us along the way.

Luckily, the turbulence calmed down, as did I. At least until I walked into our apartment. But, what can you do? I just feel bad for Clay. He was so excited to have me home, and I became a wreck the second I walked through the door. Of course he misses you, too. He just wants to fix this. You know how guys are. They are fixers. But this can’t be fixed. It can’t be solved. You’re gone, and I’m grieving. It’s just the way it is going to be.

I’m super fun to be around right now.

By the way, I’m listening to your favorite song. “Your Guardian Angel” by Red Jumpsuit Apparatus. Yesterday, while on your Facebook I came across a status I had somehow missed:

February 25th at 6:42 am.

Commercial on addiction on Pandora then RJA My Guardian Angel plays. Someone is truly looking over me today!! Feeling great today.

So I put on this song. This status brought me so much comfort. You were feeling so positive and encouraged. I wish I would have commented on it. I had stopped getting on Facebook very often (social media overwhelms me), so rarely commented on anyone’s statuses. But I’m so so grateful I saw this. Because now I know you believed you were being looked out for. And now, I have a song I know you loved that I can listen to (and it’s not country, which I know you loved but man…I can’t do it. Unless it’s Brad Paisley or 90′s country).

You know what I find interesting? Throughout this entire ordeal, I haven’t been angry with God. I’ve been angry with Him in the past for things that have gone wrong. I blamed him when our Uncle Tim died, and when my friend Shanna passed. But I haven’t blamed him for your death. Because I know He brought you eternal peace. He didn’t cause this to happen. Your heartache and addictions did. But He did welcome you home. And while I would give anything to have you here with us, I know that is selfish. How could I ever wish you away from the incredible place you are now? Free from your burdens, your sadness. We may not be fine right now, but you are. More than fine. You are happier than we could ever hope to be. And you know, the therapist Mom and I saw said she was surprised you lived as long as you did. Just because you’d been dealing with those issues for so long. So I need to say thank you, Chris. For holding on as long as you did. While 25 years wasn’t nearly long enough (not even close), I’m so grateful that I got to have you in my life for those 25 years. Twenty five years of memories: of birthdays, Christmases, family dinners, movie nights, laughter, vacations, late night chats…I’ll take it. Having you as a brother was well worth the pain.

You’ll always be my brother.

By the way, I finally checked my Facebook messages yesterday. I had so many from your friends, reaching out to tell me how much they loved you. How they cannot wrap their mind around what happened, how they miss you, and how they are here for our family in any way, shape or form we need. We are beyond grateful for their words. Knowing we aren’t alone in our grief makes it a little easier of a burden to bear. Some things people have said about you:

“He had the heart of a giant and was built to serve others. I was proud to call him my brother and stand beside him in serving our community.”

“He definitely came into my life for a reason…even if it was for such a short time. I can sense it. He changed me in a good way.”

“Besides his love for his job and his hard work ethic, Chris was one of the kindest souls I had ever met.”

“I’m glad I had the time with him I had. He was a great friend I wish he could see all the people that cared about him who he didn’t know were there. He will forever be missed and the world is missing out on such a great person.”

“You were a great person. A funny smartass who always had a witty comeback. I miss you. I’m mad at you.”

“You were a beautiful soul.”

“I only knew Chris for a short while when he joined the Holts Summit Fire Department as a cadet a while back and his wonderful attitude and great personality made a forever lasting impression.”

“You were such a kind hearted guy. You would have done anything for anyone anytime they needed you. You loved your son immensely and you could see in his eyes he obviously adored you.”

“I thought highly of Chris, from the moment he walked into my office wanting to join the National Guard I could tell he was a bright, charismatic young man who had a promising future. When he told me he was moving, I knew I would miss seeing him around and talking with him about his progression in his military career and life in general. I know for anyone that had the opportunity meet him he had a positive impact on them as a person. He will be greatly missed and my thoughts go out to his friends and loved ones.”

And there are SO many more. People loved you, Buddy. And they will continue to love you. Couldn’t you see it?? I’m going to post on your wall and ask everyone to share a memory. Then I want to make a book of your photos and add all those memories they share there. It’s through all of us that you will keep living. We won’t ever let your memory fade.

Here comes another wave.

God, I love you. I miss you. I need it to stop hurting, but it just won’t. I love you. I love you.

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