Letters to Chris. Day 519

Hey Buddy,

It’s World Suicide Prevention Day. It was a slow, painful, stupid day for me. I couldn’t think. I felt on the verge of tears all day. I made mistakes at work. I probably should have called in. I don’t have days like this often. That’s the beauty of always being busy. Busy with work. Busy with dirt biking, mountain biking, hiking, traveling, weddings, bachelorette parties…busy busy busy. But then I go home to Missouri. And go to our sister and Mark’s joint bachelor/bachelorette party and I realize you should be there. And then all of a sudden it feels like I’ve been pulled back to the first few months after you died where I can’t breathe.

It sucks.

Grief is really weird, isn’t it? You think you’re doing okay, you’re making progress, and then something like Suicide Awareness Month comes up and you’re surrounded by that fucking word that was never really in your vocabulary before. Don’t get me wrong. I’m grateful for this month. I’m grateful there is a movement to fight suicide. I’m so relieved it’s gaining traction and people are learning that it is okay to need help. But then again, it’s exhausting. I’m exhausted.

I just want to travel somewhere far away and not come back until it’s October. Can I do that?

But even when I’d come back, I’d have to face your absence at our sister’s wedding. You know I’m giving a speech. And I can tell you right now I’m not going to get through it easily. Because I will talk about you, and how you would be so proud of her. How you ARE so proud of her. And that I’m sure you’d be wearing your dress blues if you were still here. You know, those dress blues you wore to my wedding that are now in a preservation box in my closet. I wish, I WISH, I would have gotten a photo with you at my wedding. Just you and me. But I didn’t leave the dance floor all night. That is one of my biggest regrets. But at least I have this one with you and Clay.

And one more thing. I’ve accumulated more of your stuff. This is what I do when I go home. I go through your belongings. Your wallet with your military ID, your flag and that sign that hung on your door in elementary school that says “Batman lives here.” I noticed I had doodled your name, and mine, on the back in colorful marker. It seems like forever ago, doesn’t it? I held your phone again…the one you texted Mom from that night. It’s such a weird feeling, one I could never ever describe, holding that phone. Something you held, took pictures with, called from. Mom doesn’t want to part with it, and I completely understand. You have so many photos on there and on your tablet. Texts. Just remnants of a life that we cherish.

You know…this may be the first letter I’ve typed where I didn’t cry. I also didn’t cry when I visited your ashes when I got home…first time ever. Yay for progress.

But…I’m still mad at you. I’m not sorry for that. You should be here.

Yet…I love you. Always and always.

Sis

 

 

 

“Sister” by The Nixons

I was driving home from the mountains a few months back, and was jamming out to the radio. I had asked Chris if he could send me a sign a few hours earlier, but my thoughts at this particular moment were just on the road. But all of a sudden, I had this overwhelming urge to switch to a station playing The Goo Goo Dolls. I like their songs okay, but normally wouldn’t stay on a station playing them. Yet I knew I was supposed to leave it there. There was something that was going to play next Chris wanted me to hear. Sure enough, the next song brought me to sobs so strong I had to pull my car over.
I know there are skeptics who don’t believe me when I talk of the signs I receive from my brother. And that’s totally okay. Everyone is entitled to their own opinions. But what I can say is this: far too many “coincidences” happen for me to believe they are anything other than Chris letting us know he’s still here with us. Not just to me, but to others in my family. Even those who never had any belief in the afterlife. And I’ve heard dozens of similar stories from others regarding loved ones they’ve lost. Things that just cannot be explained.
But I digress. Here are the lyrics from the song that played next. They still blow me away when I read them:
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
Your 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. April 8th. One Year Later.

Hey Buddy,

April 8. It’s April 8. You’ve been gone exactly one year today. I mean..how? HOW?

I don’t even know what to say or how to feel. I’m sitting on the couch at home, Ginger on my left…Dad and Clay sitting here talking about golf while watching the Masters. You can imagine how happy Dad is to have someone to talk about golf with. It just seems a little too…normal. But it’s not normal. Everything is changed. For one, your ashes are on the table in front of me. I brought them out this morning to hang out with the family. I just couldn’t bear the thought of them in the bedroom alone (where I had brought them to be with me at night). And two, I’m home because our family needed to be together today. I feel agitated. I feel anxious.  I feel really fucking bitchy.

I just need to go kick the shit out of something.

But, here we are. Three hundred and sixty five days later. And we are still breathing. I’m still breathing. I laugh a lot. I cry, but not nearly like I did. I’m excited to go do things again. While I think of you all the time, your death doesn’t haunt me as it did (although so many times it’ll hit me out of nowhere and all I want to do is scream “FUCK FUCK FUCK!!!”) While your things are still by my bed, where they will stay for probably at least another year, I don’t bury myself in them every night. I can look at a few photos of you without breaking down (unless it’s more than “a few” photos…then it becomes problematic). I can talk about your death now, even though that word is still so foreign and final and I fucking hate saying it about my baby brother (and always will. That won’t change).

I guess what I’m saying is I’m living again. I’m a different person than I was before the night of April 8, 2017. I don’t know if I’m a better person, but I’m definitely a hell of a lot stronger. I love more fiercely. I’m more afraid of loss. I’m still angry with myself for the ways I failed you (How can I say sorry for all the ways I feel I’ve failed the person I was supposed to protect?). But I also love myself more, because I survived something I never in my wildest dreams believed I could survive. But here I am. Surviving. Not necessarily thriving yet. But I’ll get there again one day.

Clay and I got here Friday. Grandpa was already here. After hugging everyone, I walked into the back room, grabbed your ashes and sat on the bed and cried. It’s become a tradition. I know it’s not you (you reminded me a while back when I cried over your ashes then heard a quote from a show Mom was watching literally 10 minutes later, “It’s just a body. It’s not his soul.”). It’s so weird…to equate those ashes with you. My tall, skinny brother. Sometimes, my head goes into a bad place and I start thinking about how it’s all that we have left of you. And then I have to smack myself because that’s obviously not true. You’re still here. You remind us all the time. I’ve had quite a few reminders lately.

But more of that later.

We obviously survived your birthday. I don’t know how.  It was just a reminder of my guilt. And Buddy, I have so much guilt. SO much guilt. I cannot forgive myself for not calling you on your birthday. That’s when I was sick, and we didn’t know what was wrong with me. But the why doesn’t matter. What matters is I forgot your birthday. Something I had never done. And, as life would have it, the one year I forget your birthday is the last birthday you had. And I wasn’t able to go home since I was heading there April 8. So I kept myself busy. I went snowboarding. I ate a shit-ton of Papa Murphy’s. Clay asked how many pizzas I wanted. I said two. One just wasn’t enough. I figured you’d be proud of the amount of pizza I put away. I had to decide whether I wanted ribs or pizza to celebrate you, since you’d asked for both last year. Do you remember? Mom asked you to choose three birthday dinners, one for each night you’d be home. Your answer? Papa Murphy’s. Ribs. I can’t remember the third (was it burgers??). But you ended up going out to get Mexican with some friends instead one of those nights. They threw a sombrero on you then smashed a dessert in your face. Phil got pictures of your shenanigans, and I absolutely love them. I know you were feeling very loved that night, and nothing makes me happier (by the way, I’m pretty sure that was the sweatshirt you died in. I couldn’t find it anywhere). But here’s the funny thing. I had Papa Murphy’s for your birthday, but then next day we went over to a friend’s house for a BBQ, and Bill showed up with…ribs. I think that was you saying hi. Because I know for a fact you had ribs that exact day the year before. Maybe coincidence, but you show up enough for me to believe most things like this aren’t.

No, I survived your birthday. But the next day, the 25th, was worse. The 25th was the last day we talked. You texted me a picture of Carter playing on the floor here at home.

“Awwww. Wish I could be there.”

“Me too!”

Such simple texts. I had no idea, and I know you didn’t either at the time, that it would be the last time we talked. I would never hear from you again. So in so many ways, the 25th was even harder than the 24th. God I wish I would have come home. Or at least talked to you more. Why didn’t I talk to you more that day??

What would I have said, had I known I’d never talk to you again? I think about this a LOT, and I know I’ve told you this before. But here it is again:

“Buddy. I love you. I’ve always loved you. I’m so sorry I forgot your birthday. I don’t know what’s wrong with me and it’s scary. But still. It’s no excuse. I’m so lucky to call you my brother. I remember the first time I saw you. So tiny in your crib. I was in love. And from that moment on, I’ve never wanted anything more than to hug you and hold you and keep you safe. Every day. For the rest of our lives. Hold you tight and never ever EVER let go. You’re my everything. I’ve loved you every second of every day, even those times I was annoyed with you, angry with you, even absolutely pissed at you. I never stopped loving you. Please realize how much you’re needed. How much you’re loved. How worthy you are. I’m coming to Minnesota to spend time with you. I’m buying a ticket now. Please, don’t go anywhere.” Although it would probably be so much more frantic and with a lot more begging and pleading.

But honestly, I don’t think I would have had the words. I still imagine what I’d do if I saw you, like so many many times before, walk in front of the living room windows towards the front door. Your lanky frame stooped forward a bit, like your shoulders are just a little too heavy to stand completely straight. I don’t think I’d say anything. I would just sob and hold you. And hold you. And hold you. And probably punch you for scaring us like you did, but thank God it was all a big mix up and that wasn’t you and you’re safe and have been alive this whole time.

Yesterday, we celebrated Dad’s 70th birthday, and Nikea and Mark’s wedding shower. As you can imagine, everyone came over. The timing was purposeful. We wanted a fun distraction. Grandpa Ward drove in. Grandma and Grandpa Irene and Bill were here. Sue, Hannah, Sayre, Conner and Holton. Stacie and David. Trav, Austen and Grayson. Sierra. And Keri came in from St. Louis. It was a fun day, and I was so happy to see everyone. There was a lot of hugs and a lot of laughter. And eating. Per usual in the crazy Rudloff household. In the midst of all the chaos, I turned to Nikea and asked what she thought you’d be doing if you were here.

“Oh, sitting quietly somewhere. Probably over there in the corner of the couch.”
“On his phone? Haha!”
“Yep.”

It was a comforting thought. You here, eating way too many burgers and then messing around with your phone. You would have wrestled with Austen and played with Stacie’s new puppy. You would have laughed at the goofy gifts everyone got Dad and then probably eaten more. You always loved family gatherings. You loved your family. That I know.

And it’s more obvious now than ever. We continue to get signs. Remember how I said I took your ashes to the back room and held them when I first got home Friday? Mom came back and we talked about all the signs we’ve been receiving. She said Nikea had an experience with you. She actually saw you in her mirror, and your image was that of your younger self when you had long hair. She said she saw movement, and it was you flipping your hair by moving your entire head like you used to do. I have no doubt she saw you; our scientific sister has never seen anything like that before. I should have known you would decide to take on the image of you with your shaggy hair 😉 Then Mom said Gretchen had more experiences, as well. I shared my newest experiences as well,  about how my TV turned on twice by itself, something it hasn’t done since you first died. And then how, when I was pretending to talk to you on the phone the other day (this may be up there on the weirdness scale, but hopefully not quite as odd as burying my face in the armpit of your shirt because it still smells like your BO), my phone randomly called you. Even though my screen was off, and your number wasn’t pulled up, anyway. This has actually happened twice. Mom said her therapist, Laurel, commented how you “sure are doing everything you can to reach out to us.” It’s hard to put into words what that meant to me. Because, yes, you are. You have gone out of your way to make sure we know you’re still here. It’s so crazy because, as I said to Mom, it’s different than it was when you were physically here. We knew you loved us. But we know you didn’t “get it.” You knew you loved us and needed us, but you couldn’t open up to us the way I know you wanted. In so many ways, I got it. You and I were so very alike, which is why I understood you so well. We were one and the same. But it was still hard for me. I wanted, I craved, a relationship with you where we talked all the time about anything and everything.

I guess we can have that now. I know you hear everything I say to you, and I tell you everything now. You told me the other day we could have that relationship I always wanted now. I heard you. As clear as day. Chris, when you say things to me, it’s so loud I have no doubt at all it’s you. Like the other evening when I was sobbing in my car, and I heard you say, “You need to drive.” When you told me  “I got you, Sis” when I quit my job last year, and I found out hours later I got a new one. Or when you told me to turn on the radio right before the “Sister” song came on with the lyrics “Sister, I see you. Dancing on the stage of memory. Sister, I miss you.” That STILL gives me the chills. Or, when you told me to “Look after Mom.” She and I talked about this one, in particular. I told her how your very first words to me were about her. That you’re worried about her. That you want us to take care of her. We will, Buddy. We all have Mom’s back. Don’t worry. We got her.

Anyway. I love you. We love you. More now than ever.

Sis

Letters to Chris. October 8th. Six Months Later.

I’m remembering writing my letter to you when only six days had passed. It had seemed like a lifetime at that point since you had died. But it had only been six days. Today marks six months. It would have been about an hour ago, at my best guess. It’s impossible to wrap my mind around. Six months ago today, Clay and I were cooking dinner, watching Shameless and nothing was out of the ordinary. I didn’t know it yet, but my entire life, and our family’s entire life, had changed. I was about to change.

I miss that carefree me.

If you had asked me six months ago if I thought I’d still be here come October, I would have said, “I don’t know how.” How could someone survive something so fucking tragic? The fact that we are all still here, still breathing, still growing, is a testament to human strength. We are so much stronger than we give ourselves credit for. And I don’t just mean our family. I’m talking about the entire human race. How many hundreds of people had the worst night of their lives last weekend, when all those people were killed in Vegas? How many brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, wives, husbands, daughters, sons, grandparents, friends received the worst news of their lives that night? But they will survive. Because sometimes we don’t have a choice. We mourn, we feel like we are going to die, sometimes we want to die, too, and then we pick up the pieces as much as we can and keep walking forward. Because it’s all we CAN do.

I was debating whether to write tonight. I’ve been doing so well. It was ROUGH after the AFSP walk. I regressed back to where I had been emotionally in April. The night I wrote my last letter to you, I couldn’t stop crying for what seemed like hours. I cried and cried until I literally just couldn’t anymore. I texted Clay finally to beg him to come home. I just couldn’t be alone anymore. So I was afraid of going back to that spot tonight. I’m writing in silence. It helps. Listening to the playlist I created of songs that remind me of you is what really breaks me down. So instead I’m listening to the hum of our fridge, to the occasional car passing by outside. And I should mention Scotch is lying in my lap. I think he knows.

Speaking of Scotch…

It had to have been you in my room the other night. Clay was gone, but Scotch was seeing SOMETHING. He had never acted like that before. He was terrified, and literally laid on my chest, following something around my room with his eyes. Something was walking back and forth between both sides of the bed, and he could see it. Anytime I would barely move, he would jump a mile high. Unlike so many times, I couldn’t feel you. Sometimes your presence is so strong I know where you’re standing. But it had to be you. In the past, something like that would have terrified me. I would have slept with the lights on. But it was like, “Oh, it must be Chris.” And it was beyond comforting. Yet I needed a sign it was really you. So I asked for one. And today you delivered.

I was having tea with Kaylene. She’s been such a rock the last half year, and I don’t know where I’d be without her. So meeting her today was perfect timing. I told her about that experience, how Scotch saw something walking around my room. Without skipping a beat, she asked:

“Was Chris a pacer?”

And it CLICKED. Just like that. Yes. You were. In fact, Mom said when you came to visit and she knew SOMEONE was in her room, she didn’t recognize you. Her exact words were, “I’m used to Chris’ anxious, pacing presence.” It is moments like that, where it is so undeniable that it was you, that get me through the next few weeks. Moments like you showing me a song that’s too perfect to be coincidence, where I smell your old shampoo in my room that I never knew you used until Katrina confirmed it, where I wake up to something hitting my face and then Mom reporting the same thing happening to her, where I know without a doubt that six months later my baby brother is still around. I begged you to never leave. I know you ever will. I will keep having bad days. But I will keep having good days. There are hours that go by now where I’m distracted and thinking about other things. You’re always there, in the back of my mind even in those times. But it doesn’t always take over every time I have a moment to think. The other night I realized I had forgotten to grab your shirt to sleep with. All of your things are still right by my bed, and I’m not ready to move them yet. But for the first time, I didn’t sleep with your t-shirt and sweatshirt. I’m honestly not sure how I feel about it. I’ve said it before, but you deserve to be cried over every day. But I know this is what you want. You don’t want us to cry. The anger is still there. While I will never view what you did as selfish, I think I’m going to be upset with you for quite a while. You changed our worlds. You broke our hearts. You changed who we are down to our very core. I mean, I’m having an identity crisis right now. I have no idea who I am without you. Who am I? I don’t know anymore. Perhaps this is normal. But still. I blame you.

But I obviously love you more now than ever. I miss you more now than ever. My anger will change. It will subside over time. But loving you and missing you…that will never change. You are such a huge part of me. You always will be.

I love you, Buddy. So much it breaks my heart.

Letters to Chris. September 25th. Day 167

Hey Buddy,

Well I did it. I survived the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s annual Walk out of the Darkness. I realize how dramatic that sounds. But I’ve honestly been dreading it. It’s so easy to pretend you’re still here most of the time. I mean, you lived far away so I didn’t get to see you that often. Like I’ve said a million and one times, it’s not like I forget you’re gone. It’s there every f*cking second of every day, this horrible, relentless, unforgiving entity that follows me around. A constant reminder of what I’ve lost. But thankfully with my new (awesome) job I’m able to keep my mind occupied for a good portion of the day. But not Saturday. There’s no reason I would have participated in this walk had you still been here. I didn’t even know it existed before you died. But I put on my big girl pants and walked. It was emotional, to say the least. It was f*cking hard. But I’m so glad I did it. I went from not knowing the AFSP existed to it becoming my passion, something that has kept me going the past (almost) six months.

Funny how life works, huh?

Katrina came down for the walk. She arrived super early Thursday, so we had three full days together. She has become like a sister to me, so I was grateful she was able to be here Saturday. We had so much fun. We went out to eat, hiked, explored different parts of the city. There were still tears, but nothing like when she visited Missouri. And those tears were just on Saturday. So I’d say we did pretty well! I decided we needed to look like a team during the walk, so I got us all matching baseball tees that say “Nacy 92” on the back in the military stencil font. I wanted to incorporate something Harry Potter in there, with the “Always” line, but I couldn’t figure out how to pull that off. But still, I’m actually really excited about them. They turned out better than I could have hoped. Because I plan on doing this fundraiser every year, I wanted something that would hold up. After all, this is my thing now. I just feel like I need to do MORE. I need to do everything I can. I feel by throwing myself into something like this, I can make something good come out of losing you. I can honor you and make your death mean something. Remember how the AFSP put me in touch with someone who had lost a sibling? I want to do that one day, as well. Obviously, it’s too early now. I think they require at least a year before you are brought on. Which is understandable. But it’s hard for me to sit and do nothing. Now that the walk is done, what do I do? Where do I throw all my energy?

Any ideas??

You know what really blew me away? How many friends showed up to support me Saturday. Kat, Adam and Margie came. I ran into Kat as she was leaving the bathroom (we hadn’t met up yet) and I threw my arms around her. And then didn’t let go. That was the first time I cried that morning. I have never been happier to see her. And so much of my new work family came, too. I’ve never felt so supported. I couldn’t have done it without any of them. I’m so so lucky to have so many people who care. People with a toddler, where it would have been way easier to stay at home rather than come to a cold walk. People who don’t know me very well but still take time out of their day off to be with me. I mean, holy sh*t. Honestly, part of me was worried about so many people showing up, because I absolutely hate crying in front of people. It’s hard for me to cry in front of Clay. So you can imagine in front of anyone else, especially around 2,000 strangers. I think I like to pretend I’m a lot tougher than I really am. The opening ceremony got to me, but when the butterfly release came it provided some much needed comedic relief. The poor things didn’t want to fly away, and just kinda hung out on the volunteers’ fingers. It was pretty awkward. I lasted until we were on our ginal lap, then I had to pull over and just sob. It was all wrong. I shouldn’t be there. There are so many things that just shouldn’t be. And even though my day-to-day life isn’t all that different, everything has changed. I’ve changed. There are times I’m reminded how far I’ve come. A few months back there’s no way I could have participated in a walk like this. But I did it. A few months back I was still crying every day. I still cry, but not every day. That’s huge. But…tonight I cried. A lot. Until my stomach hurt and my eyes burned and I couldn’t breathe. There’s no way around it. I spoke with a friend tonight who also lost her brother. She put it so well:

“It’s like I think I’m finally at peace with it. Like able to deal. Then…psych, just kidding, you’re still a mess.”

And Nikea said basically the same thing:

“I’ll be okay. Just singing along to a song. But then a quiet part in the song will come, and I’ll just lose it. Out of nowhere.”

So I guess this is normal. It comes in waves. Like I said before, there is now life and laughter between the waves. After they hit, I am able to resurface easier. But God those waves still hit hard. Yet I’m not ready for them to stop crashing over me. I’m not ready to make peace with you being gone. And Chris, I never will be able to make peace. Peace = acceptance and I’m so not ever going to accept my baby brother died.

F*ck that.

God, okay. I need to eat dinner. Just so you know, I’m still mad at you. I’d punch you in the face if I could. And then I’d hug you. But I would definitely punch you for doing this to us. I hate this. What I wouldn’t give to have you back, to see your truck pull up outside home and you walking up our sidewalk again. It isn’t fair.

I need another sign, buddy, that you haven’t left me. Please.

Jenn

 

Letters to Chris. August 16th. Day 130

Hey Buddy,

Just got back from a walk with the pups. Crazy to say I’ve been feeling pretty good lately. Honestly, I actually can finally say I have more good days than bad. I cry…but not every day. I’m sure this is a relief for you (it can’t be fun having a big sister crying. ALL. THE. TIME). I laugh a lot, over stupid little things. I’m making plans (we are traveling a lot in the next few months). I’m actually motivated again. I mean, I still have rough patches, but I can say that I’m actually living for the first time since you died (although seeing that word still messes with my head. Died. I hate that word. It’s one I struggle to associate with you).

We have been having a lot of visitors the past month…Dad a couple weeks ago, Clay’s Mom this last weekend (we went on a five hour horseback ride through the mountains. I haven’t ridden since COLLEGE. I can’t tell you how good it felt to get back on a horse. Ironic that I tell you how much I miss horses and in the space of a month I get to hang out with some and then ride), then Clay’s cousin is coming to town this weekend and Court and Cory the following. It has been an awesomely busy time. But…tonight has been rough. I listened to my “Chris Playlist” while walking around our neighborhood (just songs that remind me of you), and it brought me back to the days right after you passed. Over four months ago. It’s so weird to think you’ve been gone for over four months. It’s something I just can’t wrap my mind around. (Seriously, how the f*ck am I still here after all this time?) I also watched clips of home videos I had taken with my phone while home.  One of my favorites is the one of you snowboarding in our backyard with that little board you got for Christmas. I have no idea how you were able to do that…this board didn’t even have bindings. There’s no way i could have stayed on like you did. You kept falling, and I could tell you were getting frustrated. But you kept at it! It was, in a word, adorable. This explains an entry I had found a book of yours from fifth grade where you wrote about different experiences. The one where you talked about was snowboarding:

“Snowboarding was hard for me, but I managed to learn it. I kept trying until I stood up and did not fall. It is easy now and I don’t fall as much now…’sourt of.'”

I love your misspelled “sourt.” Hey, man it makes sense. I mean, court/sourt. I get it. I had thought you were making up a story…I didn’t remember your snowboard. God, you would have loved to board here. I would give anything to have taken you out on the mountains here like you wanted. You would have rocked it. Given what I know now, I would have flown you out, no questions asked. Just bought your ticket and said, “Come.”

But I guess hindsight is 20/20.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the last year. It’s been a hellish year, but one where I’ve experienced more personal growth than any other time in my life. From our startup business going from extremely successful to failing, moving in our friend’s basement (which we were so grateful for, or else we would have had to move back to Missouri in defeat), things up until March of this year had sucked. And then your death, which I would have lived in a hundred thousand basements and gone through a hundred thousand failed businesses instead of enduring. I have to believe things are going to get better now. I mean, nothing will compare to losing you. Nothing. And things are better, for the most part. We have successful jobs. We have our own apartment. We can travel again. Most importantly, everyone is healthy. But I find that everytime something feels perfect, it’s still marred. Like the other day, Clay and I were sitting on the couch with the puppies. It was storming outside and I was drinking tea, thinking about how cozy it was. But it was all wrong. Because I was covering up with your huge firefighter blanket, which I shouldn’t have. And there was that ever-constant ache in my chest that I don’t think will ever go away. I know there will be a day when I’m just happy without exception….but it’s not yet. For one, I feel like I shouldn’t be happy. Not yet. I know that’s not what you want. But it’s just the way it is. I was talking to a friend the other day (we had actually found each other online through a suicide platform on Reddit, of all places). She had lost her brother 2.5 years ago and said that she is finally happy again. She can laugh again, feel joy. But it took a long time. And I think part of it for me is just waiting for something else bad to happen. It’s like, if you could die what else could happen?

But then I realize something. I am surviving the death of my little brother. His suicide. If I can survive that, I can take on anything. Anything. I had a bad day Monday. Bad interview, parking ticket, I got yelled at by a biker. It was literally one of those days where you go back to bed because, OMG, what else is going to happen? But it hit me that none of that was a big deal. None of it mattered. In the entire scheme of things, it was a great day. So I guess you gave me perspective.

Thanks, I guess?

I’m learning I can survive anything that comes my way. I am so much stronger than I ever gave myself credit for. Who knew?

I’m f*cking Wonder Woman.

Love you, Bud,

Jenn

Letters to Chris. August 7th. Day 128

Hey Buddy,

Bet you can’t guess where I am. Well, you probably can. Back at Starbucks. And guess what? DAD’S IN TOWN! Since he has meetings here, we just drove together from Jefferson City yesterday. Perfect timing, eh? It had been years since we had gone on a multi-state drive! He works all day today but is staying an extra day and a half to hang out. I’m so excited.

I flew back to Missouri last Tuesday morning. And when I say morning, I mean MORNING. We had to leave for the airport at 3:45 am because someone thought it was a good idea to book her flight at 5:20. I seriously thought I was going to miss my plane because security was so backed up. Which wouldn’t have been a huge deal, except that Dad was driving to KC to pick me up, and definitely wouldn’t have been very happy if I’d called him saying I was still in Denver. Luckily I got to my plane right when they were boarding. Talk about stressful.

I won’t be booking flights that early again.

But holy crap it was awesome to be home. AGAIN. And Tan Tara A. Our last visit there. Twenty-plus years of coming here with family came to an end. It was fun, albeit bittersweet, aside from one major glaring detail. You weren’t there. I can’t remember being there without you. At least, not for the last however many years. I watched some home videos before we left. I actually found a TON more. I was so excited. I’ll get more into them later, but I will tell you that I watched a few from Tan Tar A. You were, of course, swimming in the outdoor pool. I was camcording while sunbathing on a lounge chair watching you, Nikea, Bethany and Sheldon splash around (yes, this was years ago before I worried about aging skin. Sigh). You jumped out of the water, ran up to where I was laying, grabbed your sandals and slipped them over your hands, and jumped back in the water. I kept asking what you were doing, but you wouldn’t answer. Apparently, you just wanted something to splash Sheldon a little better. Such a goober. Mom and I went for a walk our last morning there and we walked around the pool. I could see exactly where you jumped in, exactly where I was laying…That was weird.

You know, it was hard being there. But I did okay. Wind Rose was hard. That was really f*cking difficult, actually. We sat at the table we used a few years back, when you brought your other friend along (I can’t remember his name). Nikea actually sat in the exact seat you were in. That table was right by the one we sat at last time we were all there together.

190Chris (left) and his friend (I wish I could remember his name). He absolutely loved Wind Rose and Tan Tar A. You can see how happy he is.

There was one point, before giving the waitress our orders, where I felt I needed to run away. I sat fighting the tears, and luckily won. Sometimes they have minds of their own and I’m at their mercy. Mom confided after that she didn’t want to be there. I could tell she was so sad. She wasn’t very talkative and didn’t laugh as much as she has previous years. I told her I was so glad she was there, regardless. I couldn’t have done it without her, Nikea or Dad.

Me and Chris-299
And another pic at Wind Rose from another night that trip. Always such a goofball.

The following morning I went for a run. I went down to the dock by Wind Rose where I took one of my favorite photos of you. The one where you are laying on your belly to get a close look at the carp. I said your name and you looked up at me through your shaggy hair. You look so young, so carefree and innocent in this picture. Standing there, placing my hand where yours was…that was surreal. Twelve years had passed since I took that picture but it felt like it could have been yesterday. Time is funny like that. It honestly felt like you just couldn’t make it this year, that you’re in Minnesota working. I want it to always feel like that. Like you’re still here, just working. Busy. I don’t want to accept your death. I want it to always feel like I had just taken a picture I’m looking at the day before.

1909444_555999565410_3432_n

It was probably even harder for Mom. She started crying as we ate at Black Bear. So we went outside in the warmth (the restaurant was freezing) with our teas and talked about you. About how you should be there. How much we miss you. It’s just this sadness that follows us everywhere. No matter what we are doing. It’s something neither of us can compartmentalize. I can’t put it in another little drawer while I’m doing something else. It leaks into everything. That void you left. Even Tan Tar A, one of our favorite places in the world. It’s not a bad thing…you deserve to be cried over every day.

You know Dad’s meeting where they present the golf prizes? They had that on a boat this year. You would have loved it. It was actually super fun. They had BBQ, and lucky for me had quite an extensive gluten-free menu. Yay. I had half a martini and got tipsy. Yay again. When Dad gave away the prizes, I walked upstairs to watch. I’ve always felt that was him in his element, in the front of a big group. It’s always been a source of pride for all of us. I’m really going to miss it. Mom and I sat outside the boat and enjoyed the sound of the waves and the cool breeze. We talked about you, and how they may move down there to the Lake. They aren’t sure yet. Just in the preliminary stages of talking. But how crazy would that be? I guess, at the end of the day, I just want Mom and Dad to be happy. If that means moving to a smaller house on a lake, Nikea and I will support it. We’ve been lucky to have had our Jefferson City home our entire lives. It will just be hard letting go of a home with so many memories. The one where you grew up.

Which brings me back to our home videos. I had been cleaning and organizing the storage room downstairs and found our old camcorder with dozens upon dozens of 8mm tapes. We were able to connect the camcorder to the TV and stream these videos. There are so many. There’s one from 1994 of you as a toddler. It was Christmas Eve, and you and Bethany were covering your faces with stickers. God, you were such a beautiful baby. It made me ache, but I’m so grateful for that video. So grateful. We also have ones of you playing basketball, where you’d hang back because you weren’t quite sure how you felt about the game. Several videos of school awards as well as your fifth-grade graduation, which I remember like it was yesterday. A funny one where you were singing with your fifth grade class but didn’t really know the words (but you knew the actions)! One where Mom and I woke you up with Toby and Esther (remember Esther, Toby’s puppy that we found a home for after her previous owner kept neglecting her?). You were so tired that morning and watched sleepily in your red bunk bed as the dogs wrestled on your floor. You were so cute when you were sleepy and your eyes were all puffy.

I guess I should also tell you that I went to my first suicide survivor meeting. It’s hard to describe how I felt. Extremely vulnerable. A bit out of place but also relieved to be around others who know exactly how I feel. Most of us (there were about 12 people) were first-timers. So at the beginning we went around and introduced ourselves, saying who we were there for, how they died, the day they died, their age and how they died. Saying that out loud was the hardest thing I’ve done. Katrina had told me about her first meeting and how she couldn’t say anything. I completely understand why now. I got it out, but I’m honestly not sure how.

“My name is Jennifer. I’m here for my brother, Chris. He died April 8. He was 25. Gunshot to the head.”

How can anyone say those words out loud? It forces you to confront what happened, to acknowledge that your brother is no longer alive. But it was good. I can’t say I felt good when I left, but maybe a glimmer of hope. These people had gone through exactly what I was going through, and they were all still here. I can’t say I’ve ever been grateful for what happened. How can I? But after hearing about how some of the other loved ones had ended their lives, I was grateful that your way was quick. What a weird thing to be thankful for. But perhaps the only worse thing than losing a brother to a painless suicide is losing a brother to a painful suicide.

That’s something, I guess.

The floor was opened up to ask questions to the attendees who had lost loved ones years back. So I asked about the guilt. How do I deal with this relentless guilt that plagues me day and night? A woman who had lost her brother a few years back answered, and her response has stayed with me:

“If you look at the definition of guilt, it’s all about intention. None of us ever intended to bring harm to our loved one. The thing that I want you to know,  that has helped me the most is this: you will never know all the things you did to help keep your brother here longer.”

I don’t know if that’s true…if I did anything that had kept you here longer. I don’t know. Because right now I’m still focused on all the ways I let you down. Not calling, not texting that often, being so focused on my own stuff. I know it’s normal. But I guess if you were that upset with me, you wouldn’t have reached out to me like you’ve been. And that’s honestly what gets me through. How many lose loved ones and never hear from them again? Yet you have let us all know you are okay. Mom told me more about when you visited her bedroom. She heard someone walk in front of the fan she has on their dresser. That is what first got her attention. And Ginger’s. And then she felt you. Then the other night when I was standing by your ashes, so upset about letting you down and not reaching out to you, I heard you. “No, Jenn. I should have called you. I should have reached out.” I can’t describe how I know it’s you…I’m sure so many people think I’m crazy, but I tell them that so many things have happened that I cannot explain. Honestly I don’t care. I know what my family and I have experienced. You’re still here. And that is what gets me from one day to the next. We actually talked about signs in our group. One woman had lost her grandson (heartbreaking…her son had taken his life as well as his son’s), who always loved those little Valentines Day hearts with the sayings. She kept them in her house for when he would visit. About a week and a half after he died, she found one on her floor. She was confused because the last time he had visited he hadn’t eaten any. But there was one sitting right there on her kitchen floor. She stooped over, picked it up and began to cry. Because its message was “See you soon.” She knew that was her little grandson.

I thought that was so beautiful. So, of course, I had to share how you had rapped both Mom and me on the face, as well as making my entire room smell like your shampoo that one night.

God, I’m lucky. Thank you.

Love you, Buddy.