Letters to Chris. May 30th. Day 52.

Hey Buddy,

My grief has been evolving. I feel it changing into something else, something darker and harder to deal with. I think the reality of losing you has begun to set in, and it’s too much. It’s so weird how grief morphs over time…It’s not like at any point I ever believed you would “come back to life.” I think I was still in the denial phase. Since we haven’t lived in the same state for a few years, it has been easy to believe you were still in Minnesota…waking up for work in the mornings, hanging out with little Carter, grilling your amazing steaks, hanging out with friends, looking forward to coming home again to visit…living. Breathing. But the reality is, you’re not. You’re not doing any of those things. I don’t know what you’re doing now. And that’s so f*cking terrible. I want to know what you do during your days, what you think about, what you laugh about. What your world looks like. I hate not knowing, not being able to be a part of your new life. You feel so far away and it destroys me. You’ve done so much to show me you’re okay, and I’m so grateful. So I’m sorry that I complain about you being gone. But it’s just the way it is. You’re gone and I miss you. I just can’t wrap my mind around the fact that you were here and I took you for granted. I always thought I had tomorrow to call you and say I love you. I just can’t fathom it. How the hell did I not call you every single day to make sure you were doing okay? What the f*ck was wrong with me?

God, I suck.

The past few days have been some of the hardest yet. I know of the “stages of grief.” They are by no means linear, but more like a squiggly line that has no end and no beginning. Mom actually sent me a meme about that the other day. Two side by side depictions of grief, one “normal,” with the linear line going through the five stages, and then ours, a squiggly mess. Of course it was a joke. There’s no such thing as normal when it comes to grief. Knowing that helps. Nothing is normal, yet anything and everything is normal. Because it’s easy to be down on myself about how I’m doing. Some days are better than others. Some days I think I’m processing healthily and will be okay. I work out, take the dogs on long walks, care about how I look, laugh a lot. Other days I struggle to motivate myself to do anything. Cleaning? Forget it. Cooking? Hell no. Taking the dogs out? Clay can do that. If I didn’t have a job that forced me to get out of bed, I’m sure there are days I just wouldn’t. Today would have been one of them. I didn’t need to be in until 2:30, so I stayed under the covers cuddling your clothes until 1:30. It doesn’t help that the stress is still destroying my skin. I feel like I have aged 10 years. Confidence issues on top of everything else blows. I want to hide all the time. As you can see, I’m super productive.

Pretty sure this is the depression phase. I want to go back to denial.

I actually didn’t cry Friday or Saturday night. I know…wow, right? We were in Chicago celebrating a dear friend’s wedding, and it was a much-needed reunion with our Kansas City friends. I love Chicago. I have been there twice before, but the last time was 2010 when Clay and I first started dating. I absolutely fell in love with it, and have always wanted to go back. You would love it. Probably not to live in, but to visit. And you would LOVE Garrett’s. It’s a popcorn place that makes the best damn caramel popcorn you’ll ever eat. Yes, better than movie theater popcorn. Clay was a skeptic until he tasted it. There’s a reason there’s always a crazy long line every time. But anyways (sorry…always getting distracted by food), in the days leading up to flying out, I was honestly dreading leaving. Not because I didn’t want to see everyone, but because lately the thought of being around a lot of people overwhelms me. And I’ve lost my ability to celebrate right now…it just feels weird. How can I celebrate anything when you aren’t here? How can I laugh and be happy when my little brother has left me? I know this is normal, but it makes me feel like an asshole. Yet I’m so so glad we went. It was such a beautiful wedding. The bride has been such a wonderful friend for several years, and I was so grateful for the privilege of seeing her walk down the aisle. We got to hang with our friends and explore Chicago, which I know was good for me. I ate Garrett’s popcorn and chocolate gelato (which was as good as the gelato I ate in Italy, I sh*t you not), went on an architecture boat ride, visited Millennium Park and the Navy Pier, got caught in a crazy down pour, shopped Zara with Court (a tradition whenever we visit big cities together). It was a wonderful weekend. I just adore all my girlfriends that were there. They all know what happened to us, and have been so very supportive. It wasn’t until we were leaving that I opened up about my struggle with coming, how I don’t know how to be around people anymore. I used to look forward to hanging out with people. Now I feel so alone even when surrounded by friends. Remember my island analogy? Yeah. Everyone is way over there, laughing and happy. Enjoying their life, looking forward to their futures, planning, excited. And over here is me, trying my best just to get out of bed in the mornings, clutching my brother’s clothes because it’s all I have left.

The day after we got back, I became this ball of absolute and unstoppable fury. Without warning. Clay and I went to our cousin’s BBQ, which was a good time, and I was excited to learn that a Trader Joes was right down the street. That was my favorite store back in KC, and I have only been to one a couple times since we moved. So we decided to pay it a visit on our way home. For whatever reason, I lost my shit when we walked in. I just became so angry. I always know why, but I don’t know what the triggers are. I wanted nothing more than to fight with Clay. He knows better, and won’t take the bait, which made me even angrier. By the time we got home, I was a mess. I climbed in bed and held your shirts close to my chest and couldn’t stop crying. I haven’t cried like that yet. Where I couldn’t breathe, couldn’t think…where I want nothing more than to make it stop hurting. I get scared when I get to that point. I worry about what steps I would take to make the pain go away. At this point, I think it’s the people in my life keeping me here. I couldn’t do anything to put our family or Clay through any more heartache.

I feel like I’ve lost myself. Who am I without you? Will I figure this out? Will I ever feel like myself again?

Mom and Dad sent me an email about free counseling through the Guard. So I reached out to my contact person yesterday. I haven’t heard back, but am hoping she’ll get back to me this week sometime. I need someone to help me process this. I also was going to the Heartbeat Support Group tonight. Clay picked me up from work and we showed up to an empty parking lot. Apparently they moved the meeting to last week, but failed to update their website. I was pretty upset about that. Even though I was nervous, I was looking forward to being surrounded by people who know exactly what I’m going through. So now I’ll have to wait until the last Tuesday of next month. Disappointing, but it is what it is. I’m grateful to have a group even if it is only once a month. I had brought one of your shirts with me to work so I’d have it tonight in the meeting. I think I’m just going to start keeping it in my purse so I have it with me at all times. It helps. Katrina said she wished she could fly me out next week to go to her support group. If only! Maybe one day. That would be so awesome. (By the way, she’s hoping to come out in September to visit for the Walk Out of the Darkness walk. Fingers crossed.)

Tonight, I put your clothes away. It was so f*cking hard. I honestly hated it…I felt like I was burying you. They have been sitting in a folded pile on top of our dresser on my side of the bedroom. I just had to, though…the constant reminder just destroys me. I keep using that word. Destroy. But it’s the only word that seems appropriate. I kept a few of your shirts out to sleep with. And while half of your shirts are in my dresser, in the drawer closest to my side of the bed, the other half are in your military backpack right by my pillow. That was the hardest thing I’ve had to do in a while. Clay had to remind me that it’s not like I’m moving on…I just need some order. That helped.

Nikea and I talked yesterday. She said she and Mom put your stuff in tubberware containers to keep it all safe. I had organized it all, but many of the boxes didn’t have lids so your things were sitting out in the open. Mom had already been crying when Nikea showed up to help…she had just finished a load of your laundry. I think she’s been doing laundry ever since I left. It helps her to feel like she’s taking care of you. It’s been hard on Mom…a lot of your things are missing and we aren’t sure what happened. They may have been tossed, or maybe still in your old camper. It makes her hurt that you didn’t have a ton of stuff. So Nikea and I remind her that you were a bachelor…a 25 year old guy doesn’t want a bunch of stuff. Clay didn’t have any real fancy things before I showed up. Besides, if you wanted something you would have bought it. That made her feel better. But she’s your mama, and will always be protective of you. As we all will be. I’m so glad we get to keep your things. Mom will never get rid of anything. When I come home in June I will be getting your old coffee maker, toaster, uniform and that huge firefighter blanket. I may grab a pair of your pajama pants, too, since I cannot for the life of me find the ones I wore of yours while home (seriously, wtf happened to them??). I’m going to love having something of yours in our kitchen and living room. And Clay’s happy, because he has wanted a toaster forever. So we can think of you every time we brew coffee or make toast. Not like we don’t…I mean it when I say I think about you every single second. Still. Brushing my teeth, talking to patients, watching TV, walking the dogs, cooking, cleaning, sleeping…you’re always there.

I heard your voice this morning. It may have been a dream, but you said, “hello,” and it woke me up. It was your voice. I’ve never had a dream wake me up like that before. Was it you?

Anyway. I love you, Buddy. So f*cking much. Every second of every minute of every day I am missing you. I love you. I love you. I love you.

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