My little brother, Chris, took his own life April 8, 2017. Anyone who has lost a loved one to suicide knows that every single day is a roller coaster of emotion, from anger to devastation, denial to fear to anger again. I lost a huge part of myself that night I received Mom’s phone call. My identity as a big sister, as a protector, who I am, in so many ways died with Chris. Chris was my buddy, my bratty little bro who grew up into a military man, a volunteer firefighter, a loving father, a dedicated hard worker and one hell of a griller. He loved his son, hunting, tinkering (he was always taking things apart and putting them back together), cars, his country (I found a shirt in his things that simply said “Merica.” I kept it), the mountains, pizza, a nice cold beer and his dogs. I look at pictures of him and it feels like I can just reach right through the computer screen and hug him. The fact that I can’t is more heartbreaking than I can ever put into words. He’s right there! And I can’t touch him.
Even though he was only 25 when he passed, he had lived a full life. There was so much more I wish he could have done…including visit me in Colorado (he really wanted to learn to snowboard and I couldn’t wait to teach him), watch his son Carter grow up and have a family of his own, continue climbing up the ranks in the military, travel to Ireland (his father was Irish), be at our sister’s wedding…the list goes on and on. But sometimes hurts go too deep and my brother struggled so much with depression, alcoholism and anxiety. He knew who, and what, he wanted to be but struggled so much to get there. He tried so hard. Chris lived in Minnesota and we always did everything we could to help him. But it’s the same story so many tell…We had no idea how lost he actually was. He seemed better, happier. He had recently come home to visit a couple days and Mom said he seemed quieter than normal but in good spirits. Chris gave no hints of his struggles until that night in April, when he sent Mom a short text goodbye, ending it with “Love you guys.”
After Chris passed, I searched for books, blogs, anything, to help me process my grief. I needed to know others had survived such a tragedy. There was some information out there, but mostly for parents. I found solace in one book called The Forgotten Mourners, written by the sister of a suicide victim named John, but I needed more. So one night I sat down at my computer after my husband went to bed and started to type. And from that single entry grew an entire blog. I decided to make my letters to Chris public to: 1) help me process my grief, 2) help others grieving Chris, 3) be a safe place for others grieving a lost sibling and (hopefully) help them feel a little less alone, and 4) maybe even show those who are contemplating taking their lives realize suicide is never the answer. It doesn’t end pain, but just transfers it to those of us they leave behind. Our lives will forever be divided into “before” and “after.” I’m still learning what my “after” looks like. Life won’t be the same. Ever. Will it still have meaning and happiness? I hope so. But I write this not even three months after Chris’ passing. My world has been upended and I’m still finding my footing. I may have a different, hopefully more promising, answer a few years from now.
I made a promise to myself, my family and to Chris that I would speak out for all those who have lost their lives to suicide. So since my brother tired of fighting for himself, I have made it my lifelong mission to continue the fight on his behalf. Suicide is becoming far too prevalent (at least 44,193 people lose their lives every year in the US alone. Worldwide that number is 800,000), so something needs to change. We need to show those struggling that we are NOT better off without them. We need to start the discussion about mental health and keep it going. This needs to no longer be a taboo subject, but one that those who struggle can feel safe bringing up at home, with friends and in the workplace.
I have also joined as a team captain for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s annual Walk out of the Darkness fundraiser. I may not have been able to save my brother, but maybe, just maybe, I can help someone else’s sibling. If you would like to visit my donation page, click here. If you or anyone you know needs help, please contact the AFSP at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
I am also dedicating this blog to Ben Walder, Scotty Phelps, Nicholas Hill, James Jacob, Caitlyn Rose Bailey and Chance Rapinda. Their loved ones have reached out to me to share their own stories of loss and I want to help keep their memories alive.