Letters to Chris. March 2nd. Day 328.

Hey Buddy,

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

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

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

It’ll be there next year.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Letters to Chris. 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. September 2nd. Day 144

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

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

“Sister” by The Nixons:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Letters to Chris. August 31st. Day 139

Hey Buddy,

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

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

Life is good. For the most part.

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

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

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

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

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

Jenn

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.

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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.