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?
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.
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.
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,
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
Sister I miss you
Fleeting visits pass
Still they satisfy
Reminders of the next
Our flames burn as one
Sister I see you
Dancing on the stage
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
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
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.
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?
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.
Chris (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.
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.
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.
We had my brother’s Celebration of Life June 23rd. Family from all over, from Washington to Indiana to Colorado, came to laugh and cry together and remember Chris. Even his ex-wife and her family came, which meant more to our family than we could ever possibly put into words.
It’s a constant struggle. We miss our brother. Every second of every minute of every day. No matter where I am or what I’m doing, he’s there. When I laugh. When I cry. Whether I’m brushing my teeth or hanging out with friends. He’s there. It never stops hurting. It never will. The pain is a constant reminder that he’s no longer here, that he was too gentle for this world. So much of the time, I get it. I understand. Life can be so cruel that it makes you question what the point of being here is. And then moments like the ones in these photos happen. Where family gets together after years of separation, where old wounds heal and hours are spent just talking about life, where we can laugh over silly memories, laughing until it hurts and we cry not from being sad but just from laughing, where Chris’ and my birth mother meets his son for the first time and sees his father in his smile, in his love of playing in dirt and “fishing” in our tiny pond. And though it can’t heal the heartache, it makes it a little bit easier to bear. We have lost Chris, and nothing can ever replace the void my brother left the night he took his own life. But we continue to live for moments like these. They are the point of being here.
Looking at all the fish in our pond! I was terrified to see Carter, because every time he was here, Chris was with him. I didn’t know how I’d handle it, worried that I’d be a total emotional mess. But Carter was just so excited to see Mom’s pond, and made a beeline for it the second they got there. That effectively broke the ice!
Our birth mom, Heidi, and Carter. “He looks so much like his daddy! His eyes are his mama’s but his smile…that’s all Chris.”
“Love this little boy. Cherish him. We can no longer hug Chris, but we can hold Carter.”
Serious discussions about snacks. And about how we don’t throw rocks.
We started to share memories about Chris. Dad began. “Whenever I’d go geod-hunting, I’d always bring along a bucket of water to rinse hands after digging. It wasn’t 100% clean, but it did the job. The first time I took Chris with me, I explained what the water was for, and told him we’d wash the geods when we got back to the house. Well, we went about our separate ways that day…each digging in a different spot. An hour or so later, I went to washmy hands and found the water to be just a muddy mess. So I called Chris over and asked, ‘What the hell happened to this water??’ Well, I found out Chris had misunderstood and had been cleaning all his geods in this water meant for washing hands. So I dumped it out and told him to NOT use it for his rocks, just his hands.”
“Years ago, when I was little, Mom wrote a card to Dad and signed it ‘With all my love.’ I saw this and cried, thinking that meant that she had used up all her love for Dad and had none left for me. Later on, Chris and Mom would sign cards to each other ‘With all my love,’ and then in parentheses would write ‘don’t tell Nikea.'”
“I’d always go to McDonalds, and get two apple pies for $1. Such a great deal. And I’d bring back one apple pie for Chris. He came to expect one every time I’d visit. He’d be standing there, waiting for me, wanting his apple pie. I created a monster.”
“He loved to build things. So he had all this wood in our backyard that he would use, just hammering away. We’d always laugh, because you could never quite tell what it was he was building.”
“Well, for starters he was always ‘CJ’ to me. When he started to call himself ‘Chris,’ I refused. I remember how much CJ loved going through my dad’s old Army stuff.”
“The Guard came and got all of Chris’ military things. They had been set in a pile for them so they just walked in and grabbed everything and left. When going through Chris’ things, we found two mismatched Army boots. We couldn’t figure out why, but then we realized the Guard must have grabbed the other halves thinking they were one set. So now we have two different Army boots. We thought that was pretty funny.”
“I’m glad I had the time with him I had. He was a great friend I wish he could see all the people that cared about him who he didn’t know were there. He will forever be missed and the world is missing out on such a great person.”
Three generations of women who loved Chris.
And our Mom….and Dad….
Twenty six years of friendship. Keri knew Chris his entire life. This picture sums up our relationship.
Carter likes cookies. As does Ginger.
“He said my name. Chris said my name. I was in bed reading one night. Seth wasn’t home, so it was just me. And I heard his voice. It was calm. But I have no doubt it was him. He said my name and that was it. I didn’t hear anything else. But it was him telling me he was there and he was okay.”
“I MISS FIREFLIES! I just want to catch a few in this cup to see them up close!”
“I let him pick me up [for our first date] and I was so nervous! And he just stared at me…and then I felt awkward thinking, whats wrong with me? So I asked him why he was looking at me like that. And he said, “God d*mn. You’re beautiful.
“I wish I could have saved him…so much. I wish that I could have kept him alive, that he would have been happy enough knowing I was coming to see him that night.”
Dad telling a story. His stories have always been our favorite.
I’m back home in Colorado, after spending an amazing three weeks at home in Jeff. I’m sorry I didn’t write earlier…Just sometimes it takes so much for me to sit down and type out my thoughts. I know it’s good for me and helps me process. But it takes too much out of me. I’ll often feel fine when I start to write, but by the end I can’t even breathe. So I’ve been procrastinating. I figured it was good to have a couple days to settle back in at home. I’d been planning to write this evening, but Clay just texted me about one of my favorite singers who took his life this morning. I’m sure you’re familiar with the lead singer of Linkin Park, Chester Bennington. Apparently, he was good friends with Chris Cornell. Chester had six kids. And an incredible voice. I just can’t wrap my mind around it. Another one?? Another one. F*cking suicide…it rarely stops at just one. So often following a suicide, a loved one will take his life, too. It creates this domino effect. It really f*cks with my head.
When does it end?
So I needed to sit down and write. Get my thoughts out…tell you what I’m thinking. It’s hard to put it on paper (or computer. You know what I mean). Emotions are complex, and so many times it’s hard for me to even know what I’m feeling. I’m just like this giant ball of emotions right now. I have been the past three and a half months. There were so many coming back to Jeff City, and again so many flying back to Colorado. Coming back wasn’t as hard as it was the first time, after I spent two weeks with our parents the week after you died. I was actually ready to get back into my routine, see Clay, spend time with my puppies. What I didn’t expect was how hard it was to see your stuff in my living room when I walked in. Mom had sent a bunch of things with Clay when he drove back; some things I had picked out, others she thought I’d like. I have your dress blues, your hats, some more clothing, your coffee pot, your toaster and mixer that Katrina bought you….your firefighter blanket. Your dress blues were hanging up on our lamp in the living room, and the second I saw them I started to cry. It was all wrong. No. Your stuff shouldn’t be here. I shouldn’t have it. It shouldn’t be in my apartment. All your belongings should be in your apartment. Clay said he wasn’t surprised by my reaction. I surely was. I don’t have the racking sobs as much anymore, so my cries don’t last as long, and I was able to pick myself up faster this time. I just needed a few minutes. But I couldn’t just have it all sitting out in the open. It was too much. So yesterday I spent all day cleaning and putting things away. They needed to have their own place. It took six hours, and our apartment is small but luckily I was able to find a home for everything. Then last night I did research about how to preserve your uniform. That upset me again. Because, again, I shouldn’t be researching that. But I think I found someone who can help me. I want to hang it, but it looks like it needs to be under tinted glass to protect it from light. I need it to be safe.
It’s crazy to think I’ve spent over a month at home this year so far, which is the most time I’ve spent there since college (remember how I’d come home during summer and winter breaks? I miss those days…everything was so simple). Even though it was tough at times, I can’t tell you how awesome it was to spend so much time at home. My favorite time of day has always been evening, sitting on the patio, listening to the cicadas and watching the hummingbirds, then as it darkens watching the lightning bugs. I forget how much I miss that. Mom, Dad and I would sit out there, chatting, listening to the sounds of summer and enjoying the weather (when it was cool enough to enjoy, anyway). That is home to me. The cicadas. The gorgeous sunsets over the lake. The hummingbirds. Dad eating his tortillas with his Jack and diet coke. Watching Mom’s shows (she’s watching Doogie Howser right now, which I had always thought was a western for some reason), taking the dogs on walks around the neighborhood, family dinners. Nothing calms me more. Days were good. Nights were always the hardest. I would spend time with your ashes in my old bedroom. I told you that I normally don’t look at them like they are you, but sometimes it just hits me and I can’t breathe. Just like your stuff shouldn’t be in my apartment, your lanky, six foot frame shouldn’t be in a little box. But I’m glad you’re there. I love the fact that you’re home. But one night was especially rough. We were watching home videos all night with Katrina (she had come to visit), and it was impossible to wrap my mind around the fact that the little boy in the videos was now ashes. That sweet, albeit pain-in-the-ass little boy, who loved playing dress up in the most random of get-ups, sodas (and called root beer his “beer”), legos, Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter, whose favorite books were The Berenstein Bears and loved to have his dad read to him all night, who adored all things firefighting, woodworking and cowboys, who would drive his sisters and mom crazy with his crazy restless energy. It made no sense. So I held you in my lap and cried. Then I heard Katrina crying in her room. So I put you back on your old dresser and went to hug her. That’s basically how every night went. Us consoling each other, talking about how much we miss you, how some days we aren’t sure how to keep going. I know you were in that room with us each night as we held each other.
You know what’s weird? We feel like we’ve known Katrina for years. Maybe it’s because we’ve talked so much, but I think there’s more to it. When you go through something like this together, it bonds you in a way nothing else can. When I picked her up from the KC airport, it felt like I was picking up an old friend. I showed her around my old stomping grounds in KC. We went to my old favorite coffee shop that was by my old apartment (you weren’t ever able to come visit there, but you would have loved it), then walked around the farmer’s market in the Rivermarket. We drank coffee, ate macaroons (I took her to Bloom Bakery…yummm), visited the spices shop and the Italian market..it was so fun! We talked the entire way back to Jeff, and when we got home she told Mom and Dad she had talked my ear off, which Dad quipped was super impressive (shut up, Dad!). I can see why you’d always tell her she reminded you of me…we are so similar, especially when it comes to how much we talk! That Sunday we visited Nikea at the Lake, where we hiked Ha Ha Tonka and even did the stairs of doom (the stairs leading to this pretty lagoon number in the 300s), did a little shopping and then went to lunch. Another day we visited the Capital with Dad (I hadn’t been since Nikea and I were little) then walked around downtown Jeff. It was fun spending so much time with her. It was emotional, but healing on both sides I think.
One night we watched hours of home videos. I couldn’t find the one from summer where you were balancing on the huge floatie (one of my favorites), but there were so many awesome memories in the tapes I did find. Bull Shoals, when you were riding the inner tube behind the pontoon but was sooo not enjoying it. You looked in pain the entire time! The video of you playing your guitar on front porch. I’ve remembered it wrong…it wasn’t a blade of grass between your teeth; it was your old bubble pipe! You and Nikea playing with super soakers, running all around the yard trying to get a good shot at each other. You crashing Nikea’s 13th birthday party with all her friends, dancing to pop music then terrorizing her as she unwrapped presents (prompting her to call you a “little brat”). You dressing up in the most interesting outfits, like the one with an Indiana Jones hat and your dad’s boots that were easily 10 sizes too big. At Tan Tar A, building forts in your room, sitting on Dad’s lap as you wrestled around, feeding the fish, playing in the pool, listening to Dad as he read you a book before bed. God you were so precious. You were literally beautiful your entire life. I was again reminded of this as I scanned all your photos (remember that tub of thousands of photos? That was my project while visiting. And I actually finished). You were a beautiful baby, a beautiful toddler, a beautiful kid, a somewhat awkward but still beautiful teenager, and a beautiful adult. And always the skinniest, albeit strong, thing. You were always able to eat so much and not gain any weight. The simple fact that we were able to laugh at these videos is such a major victory. I don’t think I could have even watched them a couple months ago, much less without losing it.
So I’m sure you’ve noticed we are all doing “better.” I put it in quotations, because “better” is still not good. Your loss is still there. I know it always will be. Mom’s health has suffered from it. But what else can you expect from someone who has lost a son? It’s just so damn all-encompassing right now. It’s still there, no matter what we do. Mom reminds me that it hasn’t even been four months. I know that. I still struggle with letting you down. It eats away at me. I’ll feel good for hours, where I really believe I’ll be okay and that maybe life will actually go on, forever changed, but go on nonetheless. Then all of a sudden I’ll feel like I’ve been punched in the gut and unable to breathe through the pain. Part of me really believes I could have saved you, if you had let me. I told you this, during a particularly difficult night (I talk to you so much I’m sure someone who overheard me would think I’m losing my mind), and the next day when we went to see Laurel, Mom’s counselor, she told me point blank I couldn’t have saved you, that I didn’t have that power. Maybe she just knew that’s what I was thinking, but I hadn’t said anything to her about it. So I think that was you reminding me. “Sis, you couldn’t save me. No one could have saved me. I wanted to go.” Perhaps. But this is something that I’m probably always going to deal with. I think often about what I would say to you, if I woke up and all this was a horrible dream. I would call you and tell you about how I had this f*cking terrible dream that seemed to go on forever, that you died and it was horrible and then beg you to never, ever EVER hurt yourself because it would destroy me. Then I’d schedule a flight to come see you, and spend every day thanking God that it was just a dream.
But that’s never going to happen. And it’s just too painful to spend too much time thinking about, because no amount of prayer or dreaming can bring you back. So I spend more time thinking about what I’d say to you if you were sitting here right now:
Chris, I love you. And I’m so so sorry for everything. I’m sorry I didn’t call you that often, or text, or comment on your posts. I’m sorry for letting you down. I’m sorry I wasn’t there when you needed me. I’m sorry I didn’t come home when you came home. That will haunt me the rest of my life. I’m sorry I was so absorbed in my own stuff I didn’t ask you about yours. I’m sorry that you hurt, that you felt there was no way out. Don’t you understand what I would have given to keep you? To make you happy? That’s all I ever wanted, was for you and our birth mom to be happy. I always saw that sadness in you. And it always broke me. I would have given anything, everything, to save you. To make you see how worthy, how wonderful, you were. I need you to know how much I’ve always loved you. Always. Your entire life. My entire life. Starting from the second Mom told me she was pregnant. And not just because you are my brother. But because you had such a good heart. A good, beautiful heart. And you were so worthy of love. And I’m so proud of you, for everything. You were everything to me. And even though you weren’t here for nearly as long as I needed you, I’m so grateful you are my brother. I’m so grateful I knew you, loved you, laughed with you, cried with you. Please, please forgive me for all the mistakes I made as your sister. You deserved the best big sisters out there, and we love you. We miss you.
Well, I’m home. Thank goodness. It feels so unbelievably good to be home. I know you understand. I’m sitting on our couch, relaxing after helping Mom with a few things around the house. I’d like to sit outside, but the unseasonable coolness of the weekend has worn off, and the typical humidity has set back in. I did take Sandy and Ginger on a short run earlier. I say short, because you know how little Ginger’s legs are. She didn’t last very long. Not like when I ran with your pup, Oliver. I couldn’t keep up with his lanky legs. I miss that puppy.
As you know, we had your Celebration of Life Friday. It seemed like it was forever away last time I was here, so it’s crazy that to think it’s over. Somehow we all survived. Like I had told you, I was dreading it. Yet also looking forward to it. It’s hard to explain. I guess I was dreading the all emotions it would bring up. Emotions that are already there, but sometimes I can keep them a little more at bay. Emphasis on sometimes. Also dreading because as much as I don’t want to, I have to accept that you’re gone. Having a Celebration of Life for someone shoves the reality that they are no longer there right in your face. Friday felt like an impossibility. I didn’t know how to make it through. I had to keep reminding myself that I’ve survived thus far. What was one more thing? But…surprisingly it was a good weekend, filled with both heartache and healing, tears and laughter. Not healing in the way of you…that’s going to take a lot longer than 2.5 months. But healing in some relationships that have been strained for years. Differences and old hurts set aside and forgiven. Reconciliation, I guess you could say. And you helped do that…That’s pretty cool, Bud. So here’s to surviving another…what would I call it? Milestone? Roadblock? I don’t know. But here’s to surviving another difficult day. And now there’s nothing else to fear until the holidays come. Well, except for Tan Tar A in August. You should be there for that.
We’ll set a place for you at our table in Wind Rose.
Clay and I got in super late Thursday night/Friday morning. It was a long drive, to put it lightly. Twelve hours. (Apparently it took him less than 10 on the way back because someone wasn’t there constantly having to pee). Our birth mom, Heidi, and Gretchen were already in…I could hear them chatting in your old room as Clay and I set down all our stuff in the guest room. So of course I had to go in and say hi. Mom grabbed me in a huge bear hug and we tumbled to the bed. Then Gretchen came and pounced, and all three of us hugged each other in the ginormous king bed, laughing, just happy to be together again. It’s weird. We were so happy to be reunited, even though we were all together because you’re gone. So that realization was, of course, there. But we still found so much comfort in one another. We decided to have a slumber party in that bed, staying up until at least four am laughing over anything and everything. You know how much Gretchen laughs. Clay had to beg us to be quiet so he could get some sleep in the next room, because, and I quote, we were “yelling.” Poor dude. You remember how sound travels in our house. I’ll never forget how I could hear you grinding your teeth through those walls. Yeah. So I’m sure you can imagine the nonstop giggling of three slap-happy women.
We ended up having like 25-30 people come the next day. Everyone started showing up around 1230, and before long our entire patio was full. I had met everyone at your wedding, but it has been a few years. I recognized most faces. I was just so grateful they all came. And I know it meant the world to Mom and Dad. Luckily, the weather was absolutely perfect. How often can you say that in mid-Missouri in the middle of June?? It was sunny but cool, so we were all able to sit outside and enjoy Mom’s beautiful garden. Mom had bought American flag disposable plates and napkins, which just seemed so perfect for celebrating our patriotic little brother. You would have loved it-we had so much food: brownies, cookies, cookies and more cookies (this is when I’m grateful to have a gluten intolerance, or else I would have stress eaten the f*ck out of all those baked goods), TONS of BBQ from Lutz’s as well as their house-made chips, fruit, tortillas and homemade salsa. I can’t put into words how weird it was that you weren’t there. I mean, you were never one to pass up on family get-togethers. Like Dad said tonight, you absolutely loved them. It felt like you should have been underfoot in the kitchen like you always were, eating all the sweets. Prompting Mom to yell, “Go outside! Get out of my kitchen! Go!”
Hey, you know how they set boots out to commemorate a fallen soldier? Mom had placed, as a joke, your combat boots outside on the patio table on either side of your artillery box that contains your ashes. Apparently when the Guard came to pick up your stuff, they grabbed the rights of both pairs of your boots, thinking they were one pair. So now we have two left feet. We’re just grateful to have anything military of yours, even if it is a pair of mismatched boots. But Mom got a kick out of it, and had to share the story with everyone. I had noticed the missing boots when organizing your things, but failed to realize why. Mystery solved!
Speaking of military, weren’t you proud of me for putting all your medals on your uniform? I just knew you’d want your blues on display, so I grabbed them and hung them up on the hall-tree so everyone could see. Since Dad had them dry cleaned, your medals were safely tucked in your pockets. Thanks to a picture of you and Martin I have on my phone, I was able to put all your medals back in their rightful place. I could just hear you teasing me about putting them on just perfectly. I felt so honored to be able to do that. It made me feel so close to you, like I was doing something for you. I love that uniform. It’s the one you wore to my wedding, the one you’re wearing in the picture on my phone’s lock screen. You looked so handsome in it. I’m so honored to have it. Clay and I are going to contact a museum to find the best way to display it but keep it safe. Maybe tinted glass? I want it hanging on the wall in our living room so everyone can see it. And more importantly, so I can always see it. So we will figure out how to preserve it.
The best part of the weekend? We got to spend time with Carter. Heidi and Gretchen had never met him, so you can imagine how excited they were. Oh my goodness he has gotten so big. I was so worried about how I’d feel when I saw him, since you’ve always been around when he was (you can tell I’m terrified of my emotions. But they come so swift and fast, I never quite know what to expect). But I did fine. Carter cut any tension I may have felt by swiftly making a beeline for Mom’s little pond the second he was loose. You know how much he loves water and fish. (Later on, he ended up tying rope to a toy and “fishing” with it. He’d pull it up out of the water and we’d applaud the huge fish he’d catch. He truly is your son). And he’s talking so much now! Just a nonstop little chatterbox, like his daddy (don’t deny it. You would talk and talk and talk. Not that it’s bad. You know well that I do the same thing). His shirt smelled like all your things did when we got them from Minnesota. It must have been a detergent you used. We just thought it was a ton of Febreze, because our entire garage smelled like it. Your couch pillows still do (I buried my face in them last night. They were still in the tote, so I basically laid in it). I just wanted to hold Carter close and breathe him in deeply, but of course he had other ideas. I mean, the kid doesn’t stop moving. Heidi obviously fell in love. She kept saying how he is a part of you, that his smile is yours. It totally is. It reminds me of my favorite picture of you. You were three. I’m guessing it’s a preschool photo. But you were the most beautiful little boy. I obviously have a million photos of you, and they all hurt to look at. But this particular one makes me ache. It claws at my insides and leaves me gasping. That may sound dramatic, but I don’t know how else to put it. Because all I want to do is hold that little boy close. I want to hold him and kiss him and never ever put him down. I want nothing more than to protect him. Mom says that now that little boy is Carter. I know she’s right. And I love my nephew. I’m so grateful we were able to spend time with him. He’s a living part of you. I just wish I could have protected that little boy in the picture.
Becky brought some more things of yours. A military jacket. Your high school graduation robe (how did you still have that??). Your Holts Summit Fire Department bag. More pictures, including your official military photos. They were so hard to look at, but they also made me laugh. You look so serious! Keri was here, and commented, “I mean, yeah! You’re supposed to look super serious!” I get it…You look so handsome, but definitely like you’re about to kick someone’s ass. It felt good to be able to laugh at a photo of you. Just because, obviously, that’s not our normal reaction. I wondered what you would have said to us as we giggled. Would you have laughed with us? Been a little irritated? I’ll have to ask Nikea what she thinks. There was also a picture of you holding a fish you caught, looking so happy, along with a bunch of other pics with military buddies you printed off from Facebook. Man. You did have the best smile. I never really realized it was crooked until someone pointed it out after you passed. How did I miss that in a smile I’ve seen for 25 years?
Well, we’ve all established I’m not always observant.
Everyone did okay during the Celebration. At least until Dad’s speech. He began by saying it was a happy day, because so many of us were together. We had people in from different states, families reunited. But when he said, “But it’s also a sad day, because Chris isn’t here,” and his voice cracked, I broke. I looked over at Nikea, and she was crying as well. You know Dad. He’s so stoic. I’ve never heard his voice crack. I’ve never seen his constitution waiver. But it did twice during his speech. He opened the floor for people to share memories. He shared the one about taking you rock hunting as a teenager, when you muddied the water he brought for washing hands because you thought you were supposed to wash your geodes in there. Grandpa talked about how he’d always buy you apple pies from McDonald’s, effectively spoiling you to the point that you’d always expect an apple pie when he’d drive up for a visit. I spoke of how you loved to play dress-up as a kiddo. You loved being a cowboy. Nikea and Mom talked about how you’d always sign cards “With all my love,” since that phrase used to upset Nikea when she was little (Mom signed it once in a card to Dad, and Nikea thought it meant Mom had no love left over for her since Dad had “all of Mom’s love.”) Someone (I believe Bailey’s grandpa) shared his memory about your first buck, a 14-pointer, and how excited you were. That reminded me of the letter you wrote to dad’s brother three years back, and I tried to share the things you wrote about. How you were so excited to be married and have a son. How you explained in detail about dropping that particular buck. How lucky we were that we found this amazing letter that was so long and so full of hope and happiness. But I just couldn’t get it out. The harder I tried to fight the tears, the harder they fell. It was like a dam broke, and I felt so stupid. So I got out what I could, then escaped into the back bedroom and dropped to the floor and cried and cried, because we shouldn’t be having a Celebration of Life for you. None of those people should be there, talking about you like you aren’t here anymore. We shouldn’t have your ashes or combat boots sitting out, or that slideshow of you playing on our television. We shouldn’t have American flag disposable dishes and napkins and American flags decorating Mom’s potted plants. Dad’s voice shouldn’t be cracking when he talks about you and my sister shouldn’t be crying.
None of this should be happening.
That’s exactly what Mom said today. She had a rough morning. Potatoes. Did I tell you about that word, our code word? Last time I was home, we’d always ask each other, “Are you okay?” One night Mom asked me that, and then said how she felt silly asking because, “of course you aren’t okay.” She said we need to come up with a code word. One that means, “No, I’m not okay but as okay as I can be right now.” At the time, I was eating a sweet potato, and joked that “potato” should be the code word. And it stuck. So now we will just say “potatoes” to let one another know that we aren’t okay at the moment but we will be. So it was potatoes for Mom this morning. We went to see Laurel, her therapist, and that always is a huge help. I absolutely love her and wish I could take her back to Denver with me. Or at least have a carbon copy of her to bring back. We, of course, spoke of this weekend and the reconciliations that happened. We talked about how wonderful it was to have all the sisters in one place (it hasn’t happened in over 10 years), and how great it was to see Heidi doing so well. We spoke of Mom’s visit from you…how she was laying in bed and felt a presence enveloping her. She felt warm and loved. The dogs even reacted to it, which was the proof she needed since she really never had that sort of experience before. And Heidi’s experience…How she had begged you for a sign that you were here, and you obliged by waking her with a (not so gentle) swipe under her left eye, very similar to what you did to me. Almost like you were wiping away her tears. It startled her awake, causing her to sit up in bed in alarm. She said she felt your presence by the bed, and then you were gone. I know some people may not believe this, or think we both hit ourselves in our sleep. But I know that’s not the case. Thank you, Buddy, because it helped Heidi so much. She seemed freer, lighter, that next morning. The fact that you are still reaching out, that we still felt your physical touch even if it was a bit…well, painful…is more incredible, more healing than we can ever put into words. It’s something that we will not take for granted. It’s what keeps me sane. And honestly, I think I love the fact that you startled us both with rough touches to the face. It makes me laugh. You had a huge heart and gave hugs freely, but you were never the “loving touch” kind of brother. A good flick to the face is much more like my bratty lil bro. I love it. (And yes, I’m kidding. You grew out of the bratty phase. But you’ll always be my bratty lil bro, regardless.)
Oh, by the way….I shared your voicemails with everyone. Katrina had sent me three that she had saved a while back (I can’t remember if I told you this or not), and I had sent them to Mom and Nikea. But they must not have gone through. So I started to play the voicemails to show Heidi and Gretchen, with only a tiny warning to Mom and Nikea. I should have given them more time to prepare themselves. I just thought they had heard them already. I looked over and saw Nikea crying, and it broke my heart. It sucks to hurt, but it sucks even more to see the people you love hurting and knowing you can’t stop it. We just have to feel it. Hearing your voice is so comforting, but also reminds us how we will never hear it directed at us again. And that’s too much. We love your voice. In the voicemails, you sound so hopeful. Goofy, even. That’s what is hardest for Mom. We talked about it this afternoon. She knows you’re happy now, without all your burdens (which reminds me of another talk we had. She said she didn’t recognize the presence in her bedroom as you when you visited. I reminded her that you no longer are sad or angry, that all that anxious energy you had is gone. You’re different, free). But the fact that there was so much…what’s the right phrase…potential for healing there destroys her. We all know you could have gotten better. You could have healed. You, after all, were on the right track. You were seeing a counselor. In fact, you had just seen on that morning. You were trying to face your issues (I’m right there with you, Buddy, and I can appreciate that it’s not easy in the slightest). She said that maybe it would be easier if you’d been super depressed all the time, that then there maybe wouldn’t have been as much hope. Because we all had so much hope that you were feeling better. I argued that would have been worse, because knowing you had so much joy, so much happiness, so many people who loved you and wanted to be there for you, you having a home you loved to come back to that supported you and not one but TWO mothers who absolutely adored you (I never realized until this weekend how lucky we are to have two moms. Most people only get one), one awesome dad who tells the best dad jokes, three big sisters, a son who looked up to Daddy, awesome friends who were there for you, a job you loved, the military and fire fighting…I mean wow…you had so much. And even though it f*cking blows because you hurt enough to end your life, you did have so much love. And that makes me feel as “better” as anything will. And Mom agreed. It’s just hard. You can’t make sense out of it. Dad and I have had some talks about it, as well. One night we talked for almost two hours (Mom, Heidi and Gretchen were talking plants and getting seeds to take back to Washington…I’m sure you’re not surprised). As horrible as it is for Nikea, Bethany and me…I mean, I just can’t imagine being the parents of a suicide victim. It has no reflection on them as parents, because they did absolutely everything, everything, they could to help you. But still…I can’t imagine how impossible it must be. I told Dad how I had watched an interview with James Hetfield (you know, the lead singer of Metallica) about Chris Cornell’s suicide, and oddly found comfort in his words. You know I’ve been questioning why you hadn’t reached out to me when you knew I was someone who loved you who had been through the same exact thing. James brought some understanding:
“When you’re there (and I know the depth of my darkness at times), it is difficult when you’re in that space to even fathom that there is someone there that can help you or has been through that before.”
And this is something I did know at one time, but it’s so hard to apply it to your situation when you’re right there in the middle of it. This kind of darkness is ruthless. And even though it thankfully didn’t consume you all the time, I know that night it was just too much. So it wasn’t that you didn’t want to reach out to me and ask for help. You just honestly didn’t think about it.
I also opened up more to Dad about my guilt. It’s consuming me. Gretchen said that anyone who knows a suicide victim, even someone who met one for five minutes, will ask what they could have done differently. It’s human nature. Dad told me I did the best I could with the knowledge that I had at the time, as we all did. Maybe. But all I know is I’m your big sister and I didn’t reach out like I should have. I didn’t check in on you the last few months. It doesn’t matter that I was going through a difficult time of my own. I should have been the big sister you deserved. I should have called you on your birthday, even if I was dealing with my own depression. I should have texted you a few times a week to tell you I love you and I was grateful to call you my brother. I should have fought harder for you. Yeah, when you texted or reached out I would do everything I could to help. But when the texts stopped in November, I should have kept them going. I don’t know if I thought you were honestly getting better, or if I just didn’t want to see it. I was going through your Facebook posts, and I just would give anything to have been more active on your page. I just really suck at being on Facebook, but I should have used it to keep up with you.
I don’t know. But it’s something I’m going to have to live with the rest of my life. If you could just let me know that I’m not this terrible big sister, that you forgive me for not being there, please please do. Because it f*cking sucks.
Anyway. I love you. I miss you. I love you. I love you.
They say sometimes you win some Sometimes you lose some And right now, right now I’m losing bad I’ve stood on this stage night after night Reminding the broken it’ll be alright But right now, oh right now I just can’t
It’s easy to sing When there’s nothing to bring me down But what will I say When I’m held to the flame Like I am right now
I know You’re able and I know You can Save through the fire with Your mighty hand But even if You don’t My hope is You alone
They say it only takes a little faith To move a mountain Well good thing A little faith is all I have, right now But God, when You choose To leave mountains unmovable Oh give me the strength to be able to sing It is well with my soul
I know You’re able and I know You can Save through the fire with Your mighty hand But even if You don’t My hope is You alone I know the sorrow, and I know the hurt Would all go away if You’d just say the word But even if You don’t My hope is You alone
You’ve been faithful, You’ve been good All of my days Jesus, I will cling to You Come what may ‘Cause I know You’re able I know You can
I know You’re able and I know You can Save through the fire with Your mighty hand But even if You don’t My hope is You alone I know the sorrow, I know the hurt Would all go away if You’d just say the word But even if You don’t My hope is You alone
It is well with my soul It is well, it is well with my soul
Songwriters: Bart Marshall Millard / Benjamin Glover / Crystal Lewis / David Arthur Garcia / Tim Timmons
In two days I head home for your Celebration of Life. When you first passed away, I wanted nothing more than a funeral. I felt I really needed something, anything, to help give me closure. But the past 73 days have shown me that I never will have closure. How can anyone have any sort of closure after experiencing such a loss? So I’ve gone from needing some sort of something to almost dreading it. Not because I don’t want to celebrate you, or see Carter (I haven’t seen him in over a year…I can’t wait to see how big he has gotten). But because I’ve never seen Carter without you there. Because everyone is going to be talking about you in past tense. Because we will be playing slideshows of your pictures, where you look so happy and alive. How can I look forward to this? I’m so scared of how I’ll feel. This is already hard enough. It’s going to hit home that you are really gone, and I don’t think I’m ready for that. I don’t think I ever will be ready for it.
It will be nice to see our family. Our birth mom will be there. Aunt Gretchen. Aunt Dietricha. Grandpa Ward. Grandma Jeanne. Carter. Bailey and her family. Clay’s mom, Karen (you met her once, at Carter’s baby shower. I don’t think you got to talk at our wedding, although I’m sure she noticed you. Everyone did in your handsome uniform). Can you believe I’m going to be home for THREE WEEKS? It’s going to be so wonderful. Grandma’s 90th birthday is the second weekend in July, so I’m staying for that. And that’s when the Rudloff clan will get together and have our own little celebration for you. You always loved going to Grandma and Grandpa’s. I can’t eat any hole-in-the-bread for you (still waiting for Hawaiian Bread to make a gluten-free version for lameos like me who have Celiac’s) , but I’m sure everyone else will, especially Nikea, Hannah and Sayre 🙂 As for your Celebration, I wish I could be there earlier to help Mom prepare. As you can imagine, her OCD has been in overdrive. I’ve been doing my best to keep her calm, but I know there’s only so much I can do. You’re her son. She wants everything to be perfect. Everything needs to be perfect. She called me today asking about photos. She’s going to be playing a slideshow. Luckily, I have a TON of you. Plus all the ones I re-edited recently of Carter’s newborn session. I wish I had more professional photos I took of you. But I’m grateful for the ones I do have.
I wish. I wish. I wish. I feel like that’s all I ever say anymore in regards to you. I wish I had more pictures. I wish I had reached out more. I wish I told you every day that I loved you. I wish I could have taken your place. I wish you would have texted me that night. I wish I would have known how sad you were. I wish. I wish. I wish. It really does drive one mad. That and the “if onlys.” If only I had known. If only you hadn’t bought those guns. If only you had told one of us you wanted to die. If only you were more honest in counseling. If only I had opened my eyes more. That’s why I can never have closure. Because of those f*cking “I wishes” and “if onlys.”
You’ll be happy to know I connected with a counselor here. I told you that the Guard puts families in contact with counselors…I had thought it was free but it doesn’t look like it is. Luckily, thanks to a million doctors visits between Clay’s torn meniscus and my Health Crisis of 2017, we’ve just about hit our deductible. So we’ve got that going for us. Part of me doesn’t want to see someone about it. I feel like I’m processing okay. At least most of the time I do. Other times I think I’m not doing well at all. It just depends on the day. I still get into my pissy fits, where nothing at all will happen but I’ll still be furious at anything and everything. Lucky for Clay, those only last a few minutes. I just don’t have the energy to be that angry for very long. Clay…Poor guy. We had a heart-to-heart the other day. He opened up about his struggles with this:
“You’re not the only one affected here. I feel like I have been as supportive and loving as anyone possibly could be, and just because you’re going through a hard time doesn’t mean that support shouldn’t be appreciated or valued, or taken for granted. I feel like you take for granted how patient I am and how I support whatever you need to do.
“Sometimes you’re so focused on yourself and whatever is going on in your world that I wonder if you even care or notice what is going on in mine. I work long hours, get stressed, sad, and worry about my family or miss Alex or think about my dad, but I always feel secondary to your issues. Even when I had my surgery you tried to say that it wasn’t as bad as what you were going through. Or when I mentioned my feelings about Alex (Clay’s cousin who unexpectedly passed away five years ago), you said your situation was worse because it was suicide. It isn’t a contest. Pain is pain, loss is loss.”
I felt like an asshole. Which is something that totally isn’t new the past few months. He’s right. Pain is pain. Loss is loss. I don’t even remember saying that stuff, but I’m sure I did. Something about grief makes us super self-absorbed. We just can’t see outside ourselves. I’m so blessed to have such a loving, patient husband. Because, honestly, anyone else would have tossed me over our balcony by now.
I have been doing better, though. I promise I have. I’ve literally thrown myself back into my photography, and I feel your silent encouragement pushing me to excel and breathe life back into my photo business. I can’t say I’ve ever felt such a fire under my a** when it came to anything. I laugh more. I like to leave the apartment. I am finding solace in nature (I’ve been on three long hikes the last week). I cry, but not for hours at a time. I even changed my Facebook cover photo to a picture of my girlfriends and me (you know when something is Facebook-official, it’s a big deal). I’m working out again. You’re still there, every second of every day, and I don’t want you to be anywhere else. You belong here with me. I fight constantly with myself on whether I should change things like my cover photo, whether I should wear your shirt to bed or one of mine (I still sleep with three of your shirts. That’s not going to change). I just feel like if I begin to move on, I’ll be letting you down. You’re my baby brother. I’m not supposed to be here without you. I don’t want to let you go. I don’t want to say goodbye. Part of me doesn’t want to be happy because that means I’ve moved on without you. Doesn’t it?
Maybe I do need to see a counselor.
Love you buddy. Miss you. Hey, be there with us Friday, okay? I don’t think we can do this without you.