Six years ago at this time, I sat on my couch watching “Shameless.” It was the last normal night I would have in years. An hour from now, my life would change forever with a single phone call.
It was cloudy for days after you died. It was cloudy again today. That doesn’t happen very often here in Denver. I used to love cloudy days, but you get so used to the sun here, an overcast day directly impacts your mood. But I welcomed the cloudy days after you passed. They just fit. A beautiful sunny day would have been far too opposite of how I was feeling. The irony of it would have made me angry.
Today I also welcomed the clouds. But not because I couldn’t stand to see the sun. It was because I spent the day at my barn with my horse. A horse I know you found for me to spend time with on days like today. The clouds offered respite from the heat.
I am with DJ every one of your birthdays and angelversaries. Little Jenn would have been thrilled to know she’d have a horse as an adult. Adult Jenn knows it was because of you I have him.
I haven’t cried today. Not yet. I’ve been busy on purpose. It used to be, I’d spend all day on the couch, unable to find the will to do anything. But today, I haven’t stopped moving. I’ve gone from one end of the spectrum to the other. Busyness keeps my mind active…it’s not until I stop that I start thinking fully about what today means. So horse show, dirt bike gear shopping, dog walk, Freya’s doggy birthday party (yes, we celebrated her third today – I know you also brought me her….my sweet Bernese who was born April 8. You knew I needed something else to focus on today). She had a banner, balloons (which ended up terrifying her and Finley), a cake, even a party hat and bandana. Freya appreciated the cake only.
You would have given me so much shit for throwing a dog birthday party.
We also did Mexican tonight. It was the meal you had on your 25th, and last, birthday. I showed Dan the photos of you with you friends at the restaurant, a giant sombrero on your head, actively getting a cake smashed into your face. Those four photos make me so happy, knowing that, for a moment at least, you were happy.
But I couldn’t keep looking at your pics. Seeing your face, even now, can take me down a path that I have difficulty returning from. I do fine most of the time. You’re always there in the back of my mind, often moving to the front of my thoughts when I least expect you to. But it’s difficult for me to let the full emotions wash over, because I easily find myself back in that dark space, where the pain is so unimaginable I can’t breathe. For example, I volunteered at a grief clinic at my horse barn a few months back. I thought I would be there to only support, but the leaders asked everyone to share. I spoke openly of you…and while tears were shed they were minimal. But the second I got home to Dan, I lost it. I crumbled. When I go to that place, I can’t think of, or see, anything but your loss. It overwhelms every single fiber of my being. And it takes so long to claw myself back to the surface to breathe again. So if I can help it, I avoid it.
This time of year though…I’m not going to lie, it fucking sucks. Everyone who knows me will say how positive of a person I am, but it’s hard to be that way from March 1 – mid April. Your birthday and then…today. It’s a double whammy in such a short period of time. I guess it’s nice that it’s compartmentalized into a few-week span.
Letting us get the hard days over with semi-quickly. Thanks for that, I guess?
But the other day, driving home from the barn I decided to listen to my “Chris” Spotify playlist. The one I made right after you died. And I just lost it. I started screaming at you…asking why didn’t you call me tonight six years ago? Or text me? Why didn’t you let me fight for you? Because I would have. I would have done anything, said everything, to make you stay. If anything, I would have been able to hear your voice one last time. Before I could only hear it on old videos and voicemails. You didn’t give me that chance, and for that I can’t forgive you. Not for leaving as much (though I’m still angry at that), but that you didn’t tell me what you were feeling. You told me everything. I was your person. And you let me fail you by not opening up.
That’s one of the hardest things about losing a loved one to suicide. You think of all the ways you failed them. It’s all I still focus on. How I forgot to tell you happy birthday. How I chastised you for the decisions you had made lately. How I didn’t make it home the last time you were there. You didn’t let me make that up to you. You never gave me the chance.
But I have to focus on the positives. Sue, Hannah and Sayre reached out today. They obviously also know what it’s like to lose someone you love. And Sayre said, “I like to think that Dad, Grandpa and Chris are somewhere together today and at peace and in no pain and they are the lucky ones waiting on us to join them.” And that’s all I needed to hear. I know you are all together, watching over us, most likely laughing at us bumbling through this crazy thing called life, waiting patiently to see us again.
It’s so very comforting.
Mom, Nikea and I talked tonight. We Facetime on your birthday and today every single year. Bethany is home, and she and Mom were watching a movie. Nikea just got off work and was hanging out at home with Mark, who was on the phone with Dan, Dad, and Dan’s dad planning a fishing trip. No one cried….we’ve come a long way in six years that way. Thoug Mom did text us the other day, randomly, and in all caps:
Remember that term I came up with? After you died, we would keep asking each other how the other was doing. Which we would laugh at, because obviously everyone was doing quite shittily. So Mom said we need a code word, something that meant, “I’m not okay right now, but I will be.” I was eating potatoes at that moment, and said jokingly, “How about ‘potatoes?'” And it stuck. Just like that. So a few times a year, we will text each other “POTATOES.” The difference now is, the potato texts are fewer and farther between, and the potato moments don’t last as long.
Anyway, so much has happened since I last wrote. I adopted DJ. We got another Bernese, Freya’s half-brother, Finley. We’ve traveled. Dan and I married.
I know you brought him into my life. I told you about Dan before. He’s everything that is good, everything that is beautiful. He makes me a better person. He gives me so much strength. He makes me laugh so much. And…he loves you. During our wedding, he read a letter he wrote to you for your 30th. I don’t think there was a dry eye in the room:
Happy effing 30th birthday, my brother!
While we’ve never officially met, I know you. Damn, do I know you. I know you through the impact you’ve left, and continue to leave, on your family. I know you as a man’s man who knows how to work with your hands and loves the outdoors, who is exceptionally curious and has a big heart. I know you through your immortal memory from your sister. I’ve witnessed love in my forms throughout my life and her love for you will always be the highest, most pure form: selfless love. She’s so proud to be your sister and any/all of the pain you’ve encountered, she’s using that is fuel for good in your name, Chris. You’d be so proud of her. She has so many amazing memories of you and has painted me so many pictures of that man that you were and you still are.
I asked her to marry me last month and, for some reason, she said yes. You’re invited to our celebration and hope you’ll stand next to me at the alter as best man with my brother. We’ll also toast to your 30th.
On this day, your 30th birthday, may you know that we are living better lives because of your imprint on us. We are better people because of you and what we’ve learned from you. I hope that this is truly your best year yet. 30s are better than you think, especially from the view you have, amongst everything eternal.
Until we meet on the other side, brother, happy birthday.
I found a fucking good one, didn’t I? He even endured a horse show today for me. Because he knew that was what I needed.
I don’t believe that time heals all pain. I think we just get used to carrying that heartache with us. Six years later, I have a good days 99% of the time. The days that are hard, I cry, Dan holds me, and then I’m okay. I’ll always miss you. That will never stop. But I know I’ll be okay. You’ve made sure of it by bringing so much good into my life.
Give Grandpa and Tim a hug for me. Tell them we love them. Oh, and say hi to Butch, too, will you?
I miss you, Buddy. Now and always.