Letters to Chris. Day 855.

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Chris during Basic with some friends. He’s on the right.

Hey Buddy,

You have been gone for 855 days. 73,872,000 seconds. 1,231,200 minutes. 20,520 hours. 122 weeks and 1 day.

Isn’t it crazy how time goes by no matter how slowly it drags?

I have been trying to get myself to sit down and write for quite some time. Like I’ve told you before when you first passed, I was IN that place 24/7. That dark place where no matter what I did or where I was or who I was with, you were there. Not really you, but your absence from this world. I felt like I was standing on the edge of the giant void you left, looking down into its depths, so close to being sucked in.

As time has passed, life has returned to semi-normal. Remember how I said I was surviving but not quite thriving yet? I feel like I’m starting to grow again. I don’t feel stuck like I did. The world doesn’t feel like it is stopped, where everyone in it is living their life and I’m watching from the outside. I’m actually happy again. Happier than I’ve been in a long, long time.

But I still miss you. Every day. You’re still there. No matter what. But while I still feel your absence, it’s become my norm. They say time heals all pain, and honestly Buddy, that’s bullshit. We can move on to an extent, but the hurt is still there. You just learn to live with it. It becomes a part of you, as much as anything is a part of you. We decide whether we let it dictate the rest of our years, or go on living. It’s a hard decision to make, for so many reasons. Going on living, for me, has meant leaving you in my past. And it’s something I have struggled with since you died. And is something I have been absolutely terrified to do.

I’ve been going to reiki for about a year now. I wasn’t sure what I was looking for, just some sort of cleansing because I could feel that depressive energy still suffocating me. We performed this “ritual” I guess you can call it, where Katie would say something and I would repeat it. It was to further my healing process, and was all about you. I did okay until I was supposed to say “I am whole without him.” And I couldn’t do it. Try as I may, the words refused to come out. Not only do I feel I would be abandoning you if I said that, I know it to not be true. I will never be whole without you. You’re more a part of me than anything could ever be. My baby brother. So while I can allow myself to be happy and have dreams again, I will never say those words. I will never believe I am whole without you. Ever

Ever.

Remember when you first passed, and all these crazy signs would prove to me you’re still around? From smelling your shampoo to my Spotify playing a song out of order you know I love to feeling you poke me at night, there were so many instances that blew my mind. You would come through so strongly to show you weren’t going anywhere. And while I don’t “hear” from you as much, you have come through a few times recently. Like when I was begging you to show yourself to me while I was in a reiki session. I silently pleaded with you over and over, to the point where it had become a mantra in my head, as Katie worked. And all of a sudden, not 30 seconds later, she stopped and said, “Jenn, I know I don’t ever talk during this, but you need to know Chris is here and he is adamant I tell you.”

Thank you for showing up.

And then yesterday my TV turned on by itself. Something it did a lot when you first passed. And it happened the day I had talked to two different people about suicide. One, a woman searching for someone, anyone to listen, and happened to find this blog. Another who recently lost her brother to suicide. I had actually known him. Shelby. It had been years since I’d seen him. But I reached out to his sister because I made you that promise to use your death to help others. And I know what it’s like. How everything is “before” and “after.” How you count every day that passes. How you relive those last moments over and over. How that phone call and the days right after are ingrained in your brain forever. How every single second seems to drag by and how you question what else can go wrong in this world if your baby brother can kill himself. Who knows if I can actually make a difference. But I feel if I can help one person, just one other, it’ll be worth it. While I was on Shelby’s page, I noticed some people had posted a fundraiser for Walk out of the Darkness. And in the comments, someone else mentioned the suicide of her own brother. We are three too many.

Shelby’s sister and I talked about signs. She gets them from him a lot. All I can say is, we are so grateful you all let us know you’re okay. It would have been a lot, A LOT, harder to get through that first year without them. It has proven to me that not only is there life after death, but that we can still communicate with those we leave behind. It’s so comforting.

Speaking of Walk Out of the Darkness, Katrina is coming to walk it with me and stay a week. I’m trying to get Nikea out too, but we shall see if her schedule allows it. I wasn’t able to make myself walk last year (I just did the fundraiser), so it’ll be nice to have such amazing company this year.

Well, I better get dinner going. I love you, Buddy. Missing you.

Jenn

 

Waves

I can’t remember when Clay first shared a passage with me written on the social media platform Reddit by a man with the username GSnow as he attempted to console a fellow Redditor reeling from loss. Yet, the sincerity of these words, written at a moment’s notice, stayed with me. Right after Chris passed, I asked Clay to find this passage again. It gave me hope…hope that one day I would breathe again, that there would be life after my world fell apart April 8, 2017. I’ve shared it with numerous friends and loved ones who have endured loss, hoping it would provide the same comfort it gave me.

Sometimes, in the shitstorm that life can be, we can have a significant and life-altering encounter with a person we will never meet again, all in the space of a few seconds. Chances are, they may never even realize how they saved us in that moment. I had one such interaction with GSnow. I’ve been meaning to share this experience for a while now, because I know this could, again, help someone else enduring the same type of heartache my family and I are.

So here it is. Someone posted the plea below seven years ago on Reddit, begging for guidance:

My friend just died. I don’t know what to do.

GSnow’s response:

Alright, here goes. I’m old. What that means is that I’ve survived (so far) and a lot of people I’ve known and loved did not. I’ve lost friends, best friends, acquaintances, co-workers, grandparents, mom, relatives, teachers, mentors, students, neighbors, and a host of other folks. I have no children, and I can’t imagine the pain it must be to lose a child. But here’s my two cents.

I wish I could say you get used to people dying. I never did. I don’t want to. It tears a hole through me whenever somebody I love dies, no matter the circumstances. But I don’t want it to “not matter”. I don’t want it to be something that just passes. My scars are a testament to the love and the relationship that I had for and with that person. And if the scar is deep, so was the love. So be it. Scars are a testament to life. Scars are a testament that I can love deeply and live deeply and be cut, or even gouged, and that I can heal and continue to live and continue to love. And the scar tissue is stronger than the original flesh ever was. Scars are a testament to life. Scars are only ugly to people who can’t see.

As for grief, you’ll find it comes in waves. When the ship is first wrecked, you’re drowning, with wreckage all around you. Everything floating around you reminds you of the beauty and the magnificence of the ship that was, and is no more. And all you can do is float. You find some piece of the wreckage and you hang on for a while. Maybe it’s some physical thing. Maybe it’s a happy memory or a photograph. Maybe it’s a person who is also floating. For a while, all you can do is float. Stay alive.

In the beginning, the waves are 100 feet tall and crash over you without mercy. They come 10 seconds apart and don’t even give you time to catch your breath. All you can do is hang on and float. After a while, maybe weeks, maybe months, you’ll find the waves are still 100 feet tall, but they come further apart. When they come, they still crash all over you and wipe you out. But in between, you can breathe, you can function. You never know what’s going to trigger the grief. It might be a song, a picture, a street intersection, the smell of a cup of coffee. It can be just about anything…and the wave comes crashing. But in between waves, there is life.

Somewhere down the line, and it’s different for everybody, you find that the waves are only 80 feet tall. Or 50 feet tall. And while they still come, they come further apart. You can see them coming. An anniversary, a birthday, or Christmas, or landing at O’Hare. You can see it coming, for the most part, and prepare yourself. And when it washes over you, you know that somehow you will, again, come out the other side. Soaking wet, sputtering, still hanging on to some tiny piece of the wreckage, but you’ll come out.

Take it from an old guy. The waves never stop coming, and somehow you don’t really want them to. But you learn that you’ll survive them. And other waves will come. And you’ll survive them too. If you’re lucky, you’ll have lots of scars from lots of loves. And lots of shipwrecks.

I decided to try to find the man who wrote these beautiful words, hoping that even though seven years had passed he would still be active on Reddit. Amazingly, I found him without an issue. I had to thank him.

I wrote:

Hi,

You obviously don’t know me, but I want to thank you for your post about grief. The one about surviving 100 foot waves. My baby brother took his life April 8, and your words have provided so much comfort for my family. And I just found them printed off among our sympathy cards-I had shared it with Mom a while back and she must have printed it off. So…thank you. For helping a grieving family you have never met. Like you said, there is starting to be life again between the waves. Slowly, but surely, I’m starting to believe we will survive this.

All our love,

Jennifer (Chris’ big sister)

 

GSnow’s response:

Hi, Jennifer,

I’m so sorry for the loss of your brother. My brothers and sisters are all still with me, and I can’t imagine the pain you’ve gone through since Chris’ death. Your mother’s pain too, I think would be too much to bear, but she bears it, a mystery and a triumph just to keep going. In my own experience over the years, I’ve lost three students to suicide, and it laid me flat. They weren’t even my children, and I was still devastated. I truly can’t imagine what it would be like to be in yours and your mom’s place. I hope the inevitable woulda-coulda-shoulda’s that must, by human nature, accompany such an agony eventually fade into only occasional visits.

When I wrote that post, six years ago, I wrote it off the top of my heart to a young man who had lost his best friend to cancer. I never thought it would still be around six years later. But if what I wrote to him has been of benefit to you, then I’m glad. Though I’m sorry you’re in a position to find it helpful.

Peace, eventually.

–GSnow

Thank you, GSnow, for helping a family you never met get through what will always be the worst time in our lives.

Letters to Chris. May 15th. Day 395

Hey Buddy,

Rough night. Today an email about Walk Out of the Darkness hit my inbox. Is it really time for that again?? Things like this jar me out of my day-to-day routine, where I work and don’t let myself think of much else but what is in front of me. But I did okay until I climbed into bed. I grabbed your shirt and held it close to my face, burying myself in your smell. That safe, familiar smell that takes me back a year to when you first passed. You felt so close then. Like you surrounded us. And then I grabbed my phone and started going through your texts again. The last text you sent me (“Me too!”) and the one where you told me someone agreed you’d be better off dead. And I started to hyperventilate. Clay, asleep next to me, woke up and held me. And I just lost it.  A sobby, snotty mess right into his chest. I miss you so much. I throw myself headfirst into work now, and barely have time to think about anything else. It’s purposeful, to keep myself from times like this where I feel like I’m going to break into a million pieces again. Where the regret and self-hatred come flooding back in, drowning me. I tried so hard to protect you your whole life. Mostly from yourself. I always knew you were your own biggest enemy. And when you opened up over and over in me your last few months about your depression, I tried so hard to make you see how good you had it, how you had so much to be grateful for. But in doing so, I failed to validate your feelings. I failed to hear you. And eventually…you stopped confiding. And I’m sorry. I know I say sorry over and over and over. But I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.

I had a dream the other night about you. You were there, alive. I knew you weren’t supposed to be there, that you had come from the other side for just a brief time. So I held you. I held you so close. And you felt so real. I can still feel it, how real you felt. And now, that’s all I can think about. Holding you. Squeezing you as tightly as I can. I have never wanted something so badly, needed something so badly, that I physically ached. I need to hold you. And I need to be Chris’ big sister again. I’ve never needed anything more.

I can’t hold you anymore, but can you hold me? Please. Wrap your arms around me and help me fall asleep. I need you, little bro.

Love you.

Sis

Letters to Chris. March 12th. Day 338

Hey Buddy,

Just got back from a walk with the pups. I walked on my old trail…you know, the one I walked on nonstop when you first died. Listening to my old playlist titled “Chris.” And I just let myself feel. Which is something I don’t allow myself to do as much. I explained why in the last letter. It just hurts too fucking much. Pretending you’re still here is so much easier than accepting that you’re not.

But…even though everything in me ached for you on that walk, I felt at home. My heartache, listening to that playlist on our trail, it just felt so familiar. Comfortable in a way. And for the first time in months, I felt like myself. Months. It was as though I’d gone back in time, to last spring when you still felt so close. You’ve felt so far away the last few months, and I know that’s my fault. I’ve pushed you away because I just can’t do this. I’m no closer to figuring out how to live without you than I was last spring. If anything, I feel even more lost. Because, somehow, you’ve been gone from this earth for almost 365 days. And it’s not going to end. You’ll just keep being gone.

Do you have any, any, idea how much that sucks?

When you first died, you felt so far away and yet so close. I knew you were right there by me. I received so many signs. Unmistakable signs that you were still here. My TV turning on by itself almost every night. Smelling your shampoo in my room randomly. You waking both Mom and me by (not so gently) tapping our faces. My dog seeing something walking around my room. I haven’t gotten one in so long. I need one now, Chris. Please. Show me you haven’t left my side. I know I don’t deserve it, because I’ve pushed you away. I’m so sorry. I just cannot accept your death. How can I? You being gone makes me realize how much I failed you as your big sister. And I cannot forgive myself for that. I can’t.

So. I’ll be going home in three weeks for Dad’s 70th and your birthday. I think I already told you that. I want to go home. And I dread it. Just facing it again. Sitting on the couch where Mom and Nikea sat while waiting to hear back from the police exactly a year before. No. I know I’ll get through it. But I don’t want to have to.

God. See? It’s so much easier to not feel. But then I miss you too much. I don’t know which is worse. Feeling like this…or not feeling at all.

Get us through the next couple months, Buddy. Please. I can’t do it alone.

Love you.

Sis

Letters to Chris. March 2nd. Day 328.

Hey Buddy,

I know it has been so long since I have written. I just haven’t been able to make myself sit down and talk to you like this. I mean, I talk to you a lot in general. And I know you hear me. But sitting here, in front of this computer, just hits home that you aren’t here anymore. And for the last few months, I haven’t been able to accept that you’re gone.  Not like I could before…But I’m without a doubt in the denial phase again. For example, I was talking to someone I just met the other day about my brother who lives in Minnesota. And it felt so wonderful to talk about you in the present tense. You can’t even know. I just got so fucking tired of hurting…I needed a break. To throw myself blissfully into working 10+ hour days and not think about anything else.

But your birthday is in three weeks. And you won’t be turning 26 this year. Fuck you for not being here to celebrate your birthday, Chris.

Thanksgiving came and went. Christmas. New Years. Thanksgiving was fine. I stayed here in Denver while Clay visited STL. I went snowboarding the day of, then enjoyed Friendsgiving with some of my closest buddies. Christmas was harder. I didn’t decorate. I didn’t listen to Christmas music. I didn’t watch Christmas movies. This is the first year since middle school that I didn’t listen to my Christmas Solitudes CD. You remember that one…the one we’d always play when decorating the tree. I tried. And then turned it off. It was weird. You know how much I love the holidays. But I seriously was the biggest grinch this year. And you know what? It was okay. I gave myself permission. Christmas Day last year was the last time I heard your voice. And I was angry at you and barely talked while we all had you on speaker phone. It’s something I can’t forgive myself for. So yeah. The only Christmas thing I did was shop. The week before. I went to America Eagle and got you a present, just like I always did. I picked something you’d like and got it in my size. That’s going to be my new tradition. But basically, I said fuck Christmas.

It’ll be there next year.

Work has been a Godsend, though. And the people I work with. They are so incredibly supportive. They did the AFSP walk with me. One of my girls came with me to get your uniform preserved (God, we won’t go into how terrible THAT was. It was like I was burying you and it felt like my heart would rip apart. The woman who did it was so wonderful. She refused to charge me, and was so careful with your uniform you could have thought it belonged to her own brother). I don’t know if I would be where I am without them all. And Clay, obviously. But the majority of my time is spent at work, and I’m beyond grateful to spend my days in a job that I love with people I adore.

Also. I got a tattoo of your writing. Remember the card you gave Mom years ago for Mother’s Day where you wrote “Love you always?” I told you about it. But, I had our tattoo guy, Steven, put that on my arm in your handwriting. With your birthdate, also in your handwriting.  And your name. In your handwriting. Your adorable boyish scrawl. It’s on my forearm so I can look at it whenever I want. It’s so precious to me. I also want to get the one of you as a boy in your cowboy getup…I’ll do that next.

I also got to see Carter last time I was home. He’s so beautiful. Just like his daddy. And so tenacious and sweet and hyper. Basically a tiny human wrecking ball with endless energy. He’s you. And all I wanted to do was hug and kiss him…but force cuddling a toddler is nearly impossible. I’m so glad he and Bailey are moving back to MO.

God, I’m trying to think of everything that has happened in the past four months. Basically, I’ve just been on work mode. That’s all I have energy for. Work. Snowboard. Eat. Sleep. Luckily, Clay is so understanding and supportive. And the next couple months are going to fucking suck, so I’m so grateful to have a husband who has an enormous amount of patience for me. But God. It’s almost a year. A YEAR. HOW??? How have I survived this long without you? How? I can remember sitting down at this computer to talk to you for the first time like it was yesterday. And writing to you at Starbucks, hiding under my hat, telling you how I couldn’t believe I’d survived six days without you. The thought that you’ve been gone almost a year is too much to bear. I can’t.  I’m not strong enough to live through your birthday and April 8. I don’t know how, Chris. I’m going home. Mom figured we could combine Dad’s 70th with the anniversary of your death. As a distraction. And then, of course, we will eat your favorite food and talk about you. But fuck. How can we do this and get through it? I know how it’s going to go for me. I’ll be holding your ashes in my lap on the couch. When you should be sitting next to me, talking about your job and Carter. And all the random stuff you’d talk about. You should be there to celebrate your birthday with us.

See..this is why I don’t write. I just can’t handle it. Before, when I was crying all the time anyway, it didn’t make much of a difference. But I’m so fucking tired of hurting. I’m ready for this to be over. I’m ready for you to come back. I get it. I took you for granted. I should have been there for you. I should have told you I loved you every day. So please. Just come back. Make this all be a bad dream.

I love you, Buddy. So much. More now than ever.

Letters to Chris. September 2nd. Day 144

I took the dogs to Mt. Evans yesterday. It was an awesome day. We hiked two different gorgeous trails, waded in mountain water, took in some incredible views and saw bighorn sheep just hanging out on the road (one actually crossed right in front of my car. This is the type of traffic jam I don’t mind). On the way home, as I was flipping through radio stations, I stopped on one playing Goo Goo Dolls. Judge if you will, I love their music. But it was the song right after that took my breath away. See, I’ve been asking Chris for another sign. Just something solid I can hold on to. I’ve never heard the song that played next, even though it came out in 1995. I absolutely LOST it, and had to pull over to get my sh*t together before continuing on my drive. They weren’t sad tears, but tears of happiness and relief. My brother, once again, heard my pleas and delivered. He always lets us know he’s still around. (PS the shirt in the picture above is one I got him for Christmas years ago. I still remember picking it out like it was yesterday. He was so hard to buy shirts for because he was so skinny but had the longest torso and arms. I have that shirt now.)

Anyway, I wanted to share these lyrics because I honestly could not think of a more fitting song for my brother to send me:

“Sister” by The Nixons:

Here I am again,
Overwhelming feelings
A thousand miles away
From your ocean home
Part of me is near

Thoughts of what we were invade
The miles that stand between
We can’t separate
You’re all I hoped you’d become

Sister I see you
Dancing on the stage
Of memory
Sister I miss you

Fleeting visits pass
Still they satisfy
Reminders of the next
Overshadow goodbye
Our flames burn as one

Sister I see you
Dancing on the stage
Of memory
Sister I miss you

All I am begins with you
Thoughts of hope understood
Half of me breathes in you
Thoughts of love remain true

Here we are again saying goodbye
Still we fall asleep underneath the same sky
You’re all I knew you’d become

Sister I see you
Dancing on the stage
Of memory
Sister I miss you

Entwined, you and I
Our souls speak from across the miles
Intertwined, you and I
Our blood flows from the same inside
Half of me, breathes in you
Thoughts of love remain true

I see you, I feel you
When I close my eyes
I see walking there…
I see you dancing in my mind

Letters to Chris. August 31st. Day 139

Hey Buddy,

I wasn’t planning on writing tonight…it’s late and I haven’t even eaten dinner yet. But Clay isn’t here, so of course my mind is wandering. I hate when it does this. Part of me needs to cry over you…another part of me is so d*mn tired of the tears. It’s exhausting to cry. I always feel it the next day. Like I had a super hard workout and pushed my body beyond what I should have. I literally drag the following day. It came out of nowhere, like most of the time. This time I was just in the shower when it hit. And then when I was trying to edit engagement photos. It’s like the grief is there just waiting to pounce when I don’t have anything to occupy my mind. It makes being still very difficult.

But the good news is I’m starting to look like myself again. My face has cleared up. My hair has finally stopped falling out (thanks grief, for making everyone going through quite enough ugly as a bonus). I got a  new job that I absolutely love, and a ton of trips coming up (Dallas, Vegas, Seattle and HOME). Fall is almost here, and you know how your big sister is a basic bitch who loves all things pumpkin.

Life is good. For the most part.

And then nights like tonight happen. Where all I want to do cry and call you to console me. You’re still on my speed dial. Where you’ll remain. Sometimes I just want to call that number, but I’m sure someone else has it now. I wonder if they get texts and calls from people looking for you. For a while after you died I would just text you, because that’s what I had to do to get through the day sometimes. Now I just make due with this and posting on your Facebook.

GOD it sucks. I’m still mad at you, you know. You should be here to read my Facebook posts and take my calls. Asshole.

I talked to someone the other day from the AFSP. Another survivor. They put you in touch with someone local who has also lost someone. Her name was Lena, and for an hour she listened to me ramble on and on about you. About your depression, your fears and your heartbreaking texts. But also about how you were such a goofball, and loved to play dress up and with legos as a little boy. About how big of a heart you had, how much you loved your son, how you accomplished your childhood dreams of becoming a soldier and firefighter. And about all the signs you’ve given us that you are still around. We stayed on that subject for quite a while. Her sister has sent her so many signs over the years (she passed in 2012). I had goosebumps for that entire conversation, because it solidifies our experiences with you. All the things we’ve had happen we can’t explain, she had also seen. That’s pretty damn incredible, right?

Oh! Katrina booked her flight-she’s coming here! She’ll be walking with Clay and me in the Out of the Darkness walk next month. I’m so excited to show her all around. It’ll be exactly what my heart needs. And then I’m going to need to plan a trip to Minnesota. I need to see where you worked, where you liked to eat out…where you lived and died. I need to. But I just can’t yet. I can’t face that apartment. Not yet. The thought of it makes me panic. But one day. She gave me a tour of her apartment on her phone. It was so cute. She panned through her kitchen and I could see where you were standing in the picture I posted above. Apparently you had asked her to take that photo while you were cooking breakfast. It makes me happy, seeing you so relaxed. Cooking eggs, drinking a Coke. Such a goofball.

Anyway, I need to eat. It’s almost 10 and this girl is getting hangry. I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you.

Jenn