Letters to Chris. June 20th. Day 73.

Hey Buddy,

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.


Letters to Chris. June 8. Two months later.

Hey Buddy,

Once again, I’m here at the Starbucks down the street. Where I wrote my second ever letter to you. At the time, I couldn’t believe it had been six days since you’d been alive. That was so hard to wrap my mind around….It feels like yesterday, but it that two months ago. Somehow 61 days have passed. In that letter, I talked to you about how time refuses to pass when you need it to. But obviously…pass it does. Because here we are…61 days later. I can’t understand how time keeps passing? I don’t want it to…Each day that passes is another day away from you. What is it going to feel like when you’ve been gone for years? I can’t bear to think about that. And for some reason, you’ve felt so far away lately. Where are you? I’m so scared I’ll never feel your presence again. There are days where I think everything will be okay. Where I think just knowing you are still very much alive, albeit in a different way than I am, will be enough. I go about my day. I’m productive. I laugh often. Then there are times where all of this is just too much, and I don’t know how to breathe. Those are the moments I feel on the verge of a panic attack. The walls close in, my chest constricts so I can’t take a deep breath. It’s like my body completely just rejects the reality of you being gone. Seriously, Chris, where are you? And how does the world keep spinning with you not here? How does the sun continue to rise? How do other people feel happy, laugh, make plans? I see all these people going about their days like nothing has changed. Can’t they feel your absence?? I feel like your death should have disrupted the entire world. I’m sure everyone who loses someone they love feels the same way. But yet…life goes on. For others. Not for me. Or Nikea. Or Mom or Dad. Not yet. I hear it’s supposed to again some day. Rumor has it. But I don’t want it to. I’m so afraid of letting go.

I’ve never been more scared of anything.

It’s weird…now you’re like this mystical being…someone who had at one time lived that has gone to a place I can’t follow. Who now knows things I could never imagine. Who I’ll never see or touch again. Or hear laugh. Or get a text from. You’ve taken on this almost ethereal quality. I don’t know how else to describe it.

I’ve been going through and re-editing professional photographs I took of you. The ones from when we visited you in the hospital for Carter’s birth, his newborn pictures, your wedding reception.  It is so weird seeing them. Looking at you in iPhone pictures is one thing…but from my beloved Canon 5D Mark iii, it is quite another. You look so alive. Like I could reach through the computer screen and touch you. The pictures from the hospital are adorable. You were so exhausted, but so in love with your new son. Then the newborn shoot we did a short while later…Remember that day? When everyone came over to see Carter, BBQ, smoke cigars, and hang out like the Rudloffs do best. Grandma and Grandpa, Grandpa Ward, David, Stacie, Derrick, Travis, Grayson, Austen, Hannah and Sayre, Sue and Tim were all there. It’s hard to describe how I feel when I see these photos. I can’t say “happy” or “peaceful,” but a weird hybrid where they there but completely overshadowed by a million other emotions. Devastation. Nausea. Exhaustion. Disbelief that you’re gone. Anger. Fear. Gratitude that I have these photos.

I posted a pic of you and Uncle Tim on Sue’s wall. In this picture, Tim is sitting at our patio table, with you in the background smiling. Hannah commented on it, her words perfectly describing what I feel every day:

“Isn’t it crazy that 2 people in this pic aren’t here anymore? I mean it’s just so crazy. They’re right there! I can picture what they looked like right after the pic was taken. I can see them talking, breathing, enjoying family time. But now they’re gone. It doesn’t seem real.”

It doesn’t. You’re right there. Both of you. Happy. Enjoying life. I just can’t wrap my mind around the fact that you are in those pictures which I feel were taken yesterday but not here. How?? God, life is cruel.

I posted a couple  of my favorites (remember the ones in our backyard where you were wearing your ACUs? You’re holding Carter and looking down on him, your cap pulled deep over your eyes, and another where you’re kissing him) on a photography community page I am a part of, called Mastin. Kirk Mastin, who created this forum, made a group of actions which help photographers edit photos in a way that make them look like they were taken by a film camera. On this particular page, people share photos and ask for ideas, editing tips, etc. I was honestly terrified to share these pictures. For one, there are thousands of super talented photographers on here. But also I wanted to share why these photographs are so precious to me. I’ll never withhold how you died. None of us will. Because we are never, ever going to be ashamed of you. Ever. But I am so protective of you, and am always waiting for someone to say something ignorant. And then I’d have to kick their ass. But I shared how my brother had commit suicide April 8, and how I had never really been a fan of my work on this particular shoot just because it was an earlier one and I was super hard on myself, yet after reediting using Mastin, I was completely in love with the photos. I ended the post saying, “How handsome was he in his uniform?!”

The response I received was overwhelming.

In the first hour, I had over 200 likes and about a dozen comments. Two days later there are over 550 likes and 62 comments, including 11 others who lost loved ones to suicide. I had hoped to reach at least one person who was going through what we are…but I was in no way expecting the outpouring of love I ended up getting. I cried because I had no idea so many on this website were themselves suicide survivors. I had asked what their loved ones names were…Scotty Phelps, Nicholas Hill, James Jacob, Caitlyn Rose Bailey. Beautiful souls who you are joined with on the other side. My heart feels as full as it has in two months, in a way, because so many people out there care. Perfect strangers who hurt for us and know what we feel. Now, 552 other people know who you were. They read about you, saw your pictures, cried for you. They know you lived. And I cannot physically put into words how that makes me feel. You may have only been here 25 years, buddy, but you’ve made your mark.

By the way, I’m sorry I chastised you for not thanking me when I gave you all the photos I edited. I know you were so exhausted from a new baby and work…I should never have gotten after you. I’ve freely admitted that I can be an asshole. But still, I’m sorry.

I taught yoga tonight for the first time in five months. My old boss asked if I could sub, and I wanted so badly to say no. But I felt this push…from Clay, who really thought it would be good for me, but also from you. It was so solid. I knew I had to say yes. And from the moment I accepted, there was never a question of what my “theme” would be (I love theming my classes. I’m a nerd-I know). I would talk about the resilience of the human spirit, how we learn so much about ourselves and our ability to survive during times of absolute heartbreak. I was completely honest, sharing how I didn’t want to teach at first. Because 1) it had been so long since I taught (five months…has it really been that long??), and 2) it’s the two month anniversary of your suicide. Our last full conversation took place after I had left a class there, too…Remember, when you were stressing out about finding an apartment and I told you how we were moving into our friend’s basement while we job searched? That conversation is still so fresh in my mind. Like it took place yesterday. You talked about how you couldn’t see the light, how you had started smoking to deal with your stress, saying you knew I would tell Mom and that you didn’t need a lecture (Hey punk-I never said anything. I didn’t “tell” on you ever. And when did I ever lecture you??! Hmph).

Anyways. In class I shared four main things I have learned in the past two months through grieving. Firstly, the human being is capable of enduring the most horrific of tragedies. Things we never think we’d be able to survive. If someone told me I’d lose my brother and my uncle Tim, I’d want to quit life right then. I would have said there was NO WAY I’d live through losing both of you. But obviously, we are all still here. Me. Mom. Nikea and Bethany. Dad. Katrina. Hannah, Sue and Sayre are still here after losing Tim. I don’t always know how I am. I say this a lot, but it does surprise me at times. It feels like I should have died from heartache by now. It just proves my point. We are resilient. We are so much stronger than we think could ever think possible.

Secondly, I believe we learn more about ourselves during times of grief than any other periods in our life. I’ve learned how fiercely I love. I never realized…I knew that I loved my family more than anything. Obviously. But I had no idea how deeply that love went. To my very core. I’ve learned how much I’ve taken these people I love for granted. Look at you-I always thought I had tomorrow to call. I’ve also learned how strong I am. This kinda goes back to my first point, but I’m blown away by my resilience (I’m totally patting myself on the back right now). I mean seriously. This is it. Bad shit will continue to happen because that’s life. But I know I’ll get through because I’m getting through this. Not unscathed. Forever changed. But still, I’m surviving. I’m a survivor.

Third, I’ve learned how much people can surprise you. I’ve had so people reach out, cry with me, share their own stories of loss, donate large sums of money. I mean, the photography post I told you about is a perfect example. It times of hardship, people want to be there for you. And we should let them. I think mental illness is a subject very near and dear to many hearts. From what I have seen, so many either struggle with it or have a loved one who does. So they desperately want to lend a helping hand, a shoulder to cry on, an ear to listen. They want to help me make a difference. And this gives me hope. Everyone I’ve talked to has been so eager to have a discussion about a topic that up to very recently has been considered taboo. Which leads me to four: regardless of what we are going through, there are people out there who know exactly how we feel. The first few weeks, I felt like I was the only one who had lost someone I love to suicide. I knew I wasn’t, but I had no idea how many were out there, desperately wanting to talk about their loved one. That’s why I asked the names of those I listed above…I know how desperately I want to tell people your name, talk about you, share your story, even with those I don’t know. And I want to know about their loved ones. You all need to be remembered, even by those of us who don’t know you but are still bound to you because we, too, have lost a sibling, parent, cousin, friend, spouse, to suicide.

Random thought, but I had a random memory pop in my head the other day. Remember when I used Endust on our wood floors that one time when my chore was to dry mop? When I was done, Mom told me I needed to actually mop because the Endust made the floors so slick everyone was falling. Right after she said that, you walked through the front door and slid. It was so funny, and even though I felt bad I couldn’t stop laughing.

I love those random memories.

By the way, I need to thank you. I think you’ve been helping my photography business take off again. Since you passed, I’ve booked a wedding, two family sessions and a yoga festival. Out of the blue. I really believe that’s you. One particularly rough day I heard you say, “I got you, Sis.” I heard it. As clear as day. And I know you do. You still feel so far away right now, but I know that’s not forever. I just need to keep holding on, like I’ve been doing. Keep breathing when my chest constricts and the walls close in, keep getting out of bed in the morning, keep loving…I know these are all things you want. Please be patient with me. I’m doing my best right now. But I miss you.

Love you, Buddy.

Letters to Chris. May 30th. Day 52.

Hey Buddy,

My grief has been evolving. I feel it changing into something else, something darker and harder to deal with. I think the reality of losing you has begun to set in, and it’s too much. It’s so weird how grief morphs over time…It’s not like at any point I ever believed you would “come back to life.” I think I was still in the denial phase. Since we haven’t lived in the same state for a few years, it has been easy to believe you were still in Minnesota…waking up for work in the mornings, hanging out with little Carter, grilling your amazing steaks, hanging out with friends, looking forward to coming home again to visit…living. Breathing. But the reality is, you’re not. You’re not doing any of those things. I don’t know what you’re doing now. And that’s so f*cking terrible. I want to know what you do during your days, what you think about, what you laugh about. What your world looks like. I hate not knowing, not being able to be a part of your new life. You feel so far away and it destroys me. You’ve done so much to show me you’re okay, and I’m so grateful. So I’m sorry that I complain about you being gone. But it’s just the way it is. You’re gone and I miss you. I just can’t wrap my mind around the fact that you were here and I took you for granted. I always thought I had tomorrow to call you and say I love you. I just can’t fathom it. How the hell did I not call you every single day to make sure you were doing okay? What the f*ck was wrong with me?

God, I suck.

The past few days have been some of the hardest yet. I know of the “stages of grief.” They are by no means linear, but more like a squiggly line that has no end and no beginning. Mom actually sent me a meme about that the other day. Two side by side depictions of grief, one “normal,” with the linear line going through the five stages, and then ours, a squiggly mess. Of course it was a joke. There’s no such thing as normal when it comes to grief. Knowing that helps. Nothing is normal, yet anything and everything is normal. Because it’s easy to be down on myself about how I’m doing. Some days are better than others. Some days I think I’m processing healthily and will be okay. I work out, take the dogs on long walks, care about how I look, laugh a lot. Other days I struggle to motivate myself to do anything. Cleaning? Forget it. Cooking? Hell no. Taking the dogs out? Clay can do that. If I didn’t have a job that forced me to get out of bed, I’m sure there are days I just wouldn’t. Today would have been one of them. I didn’t need to be in until 2:30, so I stayed under the covers cuddling your clothes until 1:30. It doesn’t help that the stress is still destroying my skin. I feel like I have aged 10 years. Confidence issues on top of everything else blows. I want to hide all the time. As you can see, I’m super productive.

Pretty sure this is the depression phase. I want to go back to denial.

I actually didn’t cry Friday or Saturday night. I know…wow, right? We were in Chicago celebrating a dear friend’s wedding, and it was a much-needed reunion with our Kansas City friends. I love Chicago. I have been there twice before, but the last time was 2010 when Clay and I first started dating. I absolutely fell in love with it, and have always wanted to go back. You would love it. Probably not to live in, but to visit. And you would LOVE Garrett’s. It’s a popcorn place that makes the best damn caramel popcorn you’ll ever eat. Yes, better than movie theater popcorn. Clay was a skeptic until he tasted it. There’s a reason there’s always a crazy long line every time. But anyways (sorry…always getting distracted by food), in the days leading up to flying out, I was honestly dreading leaving. Not because I didn’t want to see everyone, but because lately the thought of being around a lot of people overwhelms me. And I’ve lost my ability to celebrate right now…it just feels weird. How can I celebrate anything when you aren’t here? How can I laugh and be happy when my little brother has left me? I know this is normal, but it makes me feel like an asshole. Yet I’m so so glad we went. It was such a beautiful wedding. The bride has been such a wonderful friend for several years, and I was so grateful for the privilege of seeing her walk down the aisle. We got to hang with our friends and explore Chicago, which I know was good for me. I ate Garrett’s popcorn and chocolate gelato (which was as good as the gelato I ate in Italy, I sh*t you not), went on an architecture boat ride, visited Millennium Park and the Navy Pier, got caught in a crazy down pour, shopped Zara with Court (a tradition whenever we visit big cities together). It was a wonderful weekend. I just adore all my girlfriends that were there. They all know what happened to us, and have been so very supportive. It wasn’t until we were leaving that I opened up about my struggle with coming, how I don’t know how to be around people anymore. I used to look forward to hanging out with people. Now I feel so alone even when surrounded by friends. Remember my island analogy? Yeah. Everyone is way over there, laughing and happy. Enjoying their life, looking forward to their futures, planning, excited. And over here is me, trying my best just to get out of bed in the mornings, clutching my brother’s clothes because it’s all I have left.

The day after we got back, I became this ball of absolute and unstoppable fury. Without warning. Clay and I went to our cousin’s BBQ, which was a good time, and I was excited to learn that a Trader Joes was right down the street. That was my favorite store back in KC, and I have only been to one a couple times since we moved. So we decided to pay it a visit on our way home. For whatever reason, I lost my shit when we walked in. I just became so angry. I always know why, but I don’t know what the triggers are. I wanted nothing more than to fight with Clay. He knows better, and won’t take the bait, which made me even angrier. By the time we got home, I was a mess. I climbed in bed and held your shirts close to my chest and couldn’t stop crying. I haven’t cried like that yet. Where I couldn’t breathe, couldn’t think…where I want nothing more than to make it stop hurting. I get scared when I get to that point. I worry about what steps I would take to make the pain go away. At this point, I think it’s the people in my life keeping me here. I couldn’t do anything to put our family or Clay through any more heartache.

I feel like I’ve lost myself. Who am I without you? Will I figure this out? Will I ever feel like myself again?

Mom and Dad sent me an email about free counseling through the Guard. So I reached out to my contact person yesterday. I haven’t heard back, but am hoping she’ll get back to me this week sometime. I need someone to help me process this. I also was going to the Heartbeat Support Group tonight. Clay picked me up from work and we showed up to an empty parking lot. Apparently they moved the meeting to last week, but failed to update their website. I was pretty upset about that. Even though I was nervous, I was looking forward to being surrounded by people who know exactly what I’m going through. So now I’ll have to wait until the last Tuesday of next month. Disappointing, but it is what it is. I’m grateful to have a group even if it is only once a month. I had brought one of your shirts with me to work so I’d have it tonight in the meeting. I think I’m just going to start keeping it in my purse so I have it with me at all times. It helps. Katrina said she wished she could fly me out next week to go to her support group. If only! Maybe one day. That would be so awesome. (By the way, she’s hoping to come out in September to visit for the Walk Out of the Darkness walk. Fingers crossed.)

Tonight, I put your clothes away. It was so f*cking hard. I honestly hated it…I felt like I was burying you. They have been sitting in a folded pile on top of our dresser on my side of the bedroom. I just had to, though…the constant reminder just destroys me. I keep using that word. Destroy. But it’s the only word that seems appropriate. I kept a few of your shirts out to sleep with. And while half of your shirts are in my dresser, in the drawer closest to my side of the bed, the other half are in your military backpack right by my pillow. That was the hardest thing I’ve had to do in a while. Clay had to remind me that it’s not like I’m moving on…I just need some order. That helped.

Nikea and I talked yesterday. She said she and Mom put your stuff in tubberware containers to keep it all safe. I had organized it all, but many of the boxes didn’t have lids so your things were sitting out in the open. Mom had already been crying when Nikea showed up to help…she had just finished a load of your laundry. I think she’s been doing laundry ever since I left. It helps her to feel like she’s taking care of you. It’s been hard on Mom…a lot of your things are missing and we aren’t sure what happened. They may have been tossed, or maybe still in your old camper. It makes her hurt that you didn’t have a ton of stuff. So Nikea and I remind her that you were a bachelor…a 25 year old guy doesn’t want a bunch of stuff. Clay didn’t have any real fancy things before I showed up. Besides, if you wanted something you would have bought it. That made her feel better. But she’s your mama, and will always be protective of you. As we all will be. I’m so glad we get to keep your things. Mom will never get rid of anything. When I come home in June I will be getting your old coffee maker, toaster, uniform and that huge firefighter blanket. I may grab a pair of your pajama pants, too, since I cannot for the life of me find the ones I wore of yours while home (seriously, wtf happened to them??). I’m going to love having something of yours in our kitchen and living room. And Clay’s happy, because he has wanted a toaster forever. So we can think of you every time we brew coffee or make toast. Not like we don’t…I mean it when I say I think about you every single second. Still. Brushing my teeth, talking to patients, watching TV, walking the dogs, cooking, cleaning, sleeping…you’re always there.

I heard your voice this morning. It may have been a dream, but you said, “hello,” and it woke me up. It was your voice. I’ve never had a dream wake me up like that before. Was it you?

Anyway. I love you, Buddy. So f*cking much. Every second of every minute of every day I am missing you. I love you. I love you. I love you.

Letters to Chris. May 22nd. Day 44.

Hey Buddy,

“Suicide” was never a word that was really in my vocabulary. I’d obviously read in papers and books about it. I’d seen it on the news and TV shows. I had known a girl in my middle school who was rumored to have killed herself. But now it defines me. After you, suicide has become a massive part of me. I honestly can’t verbalize how that makes me feel. It’s not something I had ever expected to become such a huge part of my world, of my identity. And definitely not because of you. But now, after suicide has become part of my daily life, I see it everywhere. Now that the word has entered my vocabulary, it refuses to leave. Just last week, Chris Cornell commit suicide by hanging himself in his hotel room. His last tweet, much like your last Facebook post, seemed happy…carefree. He, like you, had children. Then my boss’ friend commit suicide. Not too long ago he had sent out a happy email to their friend group, cracking jokes about their annual golf trip. He also had kids. My friend’s friend threatened suicide last night…A high school here in Colorado is experiencing so many suicides it is being called an “epidemic.” Zack Snyder’s 20 year old daughter killed herself back in March. He only just went public with it because he’s taking a break from directing to be with his family.

It’s f*cking everywhere. It makes me ill and breaks my heart.

What can we do to stop this? I have decided to make it my life’s mission to bring awareness to a subject that has been taboo for far too long. With the pressures society places on us, the financial, workplace, family demands we all experience, mental illness is on the rise. And that scares me. We still know far too little about how the brain works. I remember how I felt about suicide before you. I had obviously tried it before, but I then picked myself up. Mom says that’s the difference between men and women. Women often use far less drastic ways to end our lives, which often allows us to survive and realize we don’t want to die after all. Men are more prone to violent ways, like you were. But anyway…I had understood it. When Mom had called me back in October to confide she was terrified you would shoot yourself, I became angry. Not at her, but at the possibility of losing you. I didn’t want to acknowledge the possibility of losing you. I was ignorant. As a psychologist, she knew the warning signs. So we begged you to get help. She sent me a text the other night after reading my last letter to you:

Chris, why did you lie to me last summer about getting counseling help through the guard? Were you purposefully misleading me? I found out yesterday that never happened. They would have helped you! And someone could surely have helped you manage finances better. If not Mom and Dad would have been glad to guide you.Why didn’t you ask for help, Chris???

Chris, WHY???? Didn’t you care what happened to you? Didn’t you care what losing you would do to us? I can’t even breathe without it hurting. I know we are going to survive this, but we shouldn’t have to. This should never have happened. It should never happen to anyone. Ever. So I’m going to fight for you. Always. For the rest of my life. I have no idea what I can do to help. But I have to try. No one should have to live without their brother the way Nikea, Bethany and I now have to. No one should grieve a son like Mom and Dad are. I feel so powerless, but I can’t just sit by and watch this happen. I couldn’t save you, but maybe I could help someone else. I tell myself if I can help one person, that’s all that matters. One person. It won’t bring you back, but I think it could help the heartache you left behind that refuses to abate.

I’ve been reading a book Dad got for us, called Finding Piece Without All the Pieces by LaRita Archibald. Her son took his life at 24 years of age. Her experience makes me grateful, if that’s possible, for ours. The people she dealt with through the police department and hospital that night were awful and uncaring. We were so lucky. Everyone our family worked with during that hellish first couple weeks were amazing. They knew you were someone’s son, someone’s brother, someone’s father, and treated you and us with so much love and compassion. When Dad went to get your things, people went out of their way to help. I think I told you about this already…how your landlord packed up your things and cleaned up, how your boss’ ex wife helped Dad load the truck, how Viking not only held a get-together in your honor but also donated to your son’s education fund. The funeral home was so patient as we made decisions…and completely understanding and not pushy when we decided against buying a fancy urn since we knew you’d want an artillery box for your ashes. God, we were so lucky, Chris. Nothing can bring you back, but the empathy of others has made this a little bit easier.

LaRita brought up something interesting in her book. That when you first hear about a loved one’s suicide, your grief over his loss is first overshadowed by the manner in which he died. It’s so true. Just knowing that you took your life almost destroyed me…I thought it was going to. Even though I knew you were gone, it was hard to wrap my mind around more than the simple fact that you had purposefully taken yourself away from us who love you. Now, over a month later, the reality that I’ll never hear your voice or hug you again is hitting. I’ve started having panic attacks. I think you help calm me when they start, because they abate fast. I’m just so tired of you being gone. I’m ready for this to be over. I’m ready to have you back…where I can call you anytime I want. It still doesn’t seem real. How can it, when someone who has always been there just ceases to exist in this world? I say this world, because I know you still exist. That you are as alive as me if not more. This helps get me through the days and nights, but it doesn’t keep me from hurting. I keep looking for other signs from you. And maybe that’s not fair to you. After all, I’m sure you have a lot going on right now. More than your high-maintenance sister.

I found a bunch of pictures of you on my computer last night. Remember the day we celebrated yours and Dad’s birthdays together? I even took a video of us singing to you guys. Dad had a blast with that….As we’d sing “Happy birthday to…” he’d keep interjecting “us!” I got you the two other Twilight books. Yes, argue all you want but you DID like those books. You had asked for them 🙂 And then there are several goofy pics you and I took together. I wish, I wish, I wish that we had taken more like that as we got older. I stopped taking selfies, and the silly sibling pictures stopped. And that breaks my heart. But at least I have these. Then I was randomly going through some pictures from my old Instagram the other night, and found a pic I posted of our grocery cart from when Mom, Nikea and I went shopping at Shnucks for our Christmas Eve celebration five years ago. There were like six huge wine bottles, and my caption read, “To say my family simply likes wine is a serious understatement.” To which you responded, “So very true! LOL love you sis!” Actually, you wrote, “love you you sis!” which makes me giggle. I wish there were more silly responses like that, but we didn’t comment on each other’s stuff all that often. I’m grateful for the things I do have…the photos, the voicemails, your texts…although I’d give anything, absolutely anything, to have commented on all your posts, to have texted you every day, called you every day. It f*cking sucks realizing your shortcomings as a big sister when it’s too late.

I talked to Grandma and Grandpa on the phone last night. We would only occasionally talk before you left us, but now we chat pretty often. They are doing well. Grandma talked about how they drove to Hermann to the wineries. According to Grandpa, there is some prime people-watching there. He said one time they drove up just to sit in the car and watch all the craziness unfold during one of Hermann’s festivals. I thought that was adorable. Such a cute date night. Grandma’s 90th birthday is in July, so I’m going to try to get home for that. I’m already coming home in June and August, fingers crossed I can take one more day off for that. It’s getting harder and harder to be away from family. I’m doing my best right now, but it’s not going very well.

Anyway, bedtime. I love you, Bud.


Letters to Chris. May 15th. Day 37.

949791_10101422435175460_1225571716_oHey Buddy,

I want to go home. So badly. I’d give anything to be able to get on a plane and go see our family in our home. Be close to all your things. Sleep in your old room. In so many ways, I feel so alone. In a way I never have. I miss our family more than I ever have. And oddly, even though I’m so far away, I feel closer to them than I ever have. It’s a weird dichotomy. I’m grateful that grief has brought us closer together. I’ve read about how other families have been torn apart by it. So I guess we have that going for us. I’ve definitely never been more grateful for the people I love. My God we are so blessed, Chris. There’s no way we could have survived this without each other. And it makes me realize how much I hate being so far away from everyone. I feel like I’m on an island. Clay loved you, and is grieving you, but he didn’t know you as well as we did. So in my grief I feel so alone. I just don’t have much to give. Or know how to connect right now. To anyone. Clay has been so loving and patient, but I know it must be lonely for him, too. I just feel like I’m trying my hardest to keep myself together so I don’t know how to be there for anyone else who isn’t grieving you. I’m sure there are times Clay feels so far from me, like he can’t reach me out here on my little island. But I don’t know how to fix that.

Mom said your autopsy report arrived today. Your autopsy report. That just sounds so weird to me. I asked if she had read it. She had. There was a lot of medical jargon she didn’t understand, but there were a few things she did. Your blood alcohol level was so low. Only .05. Which we had already figured. Your text to Mom was so clearheaded, it was obvious you were sober. It also said you shot yourself in your right temple. The picture of you on my phone is from your right side…I had taken it at Grandma and Grandpa’s Christmas a few years back. You look so happy…with this cute little smile across your face, your one dimple visible. It’s one of my favorite photos of you. Your beautiful face. It’s hard to describe the feeling of looking at you from that side and knowing a few years later you’d hold a gun to that temple…

I’m going to that dark place again. It’s so hard not to sometimes. I usually do okay. I honestly don’t think about that night very often. Mostly it’s just thinking about the fact that you aren’t here, that I can never hear your voice say my name again or laugh, or make fun of me. I find myself often imagining your response to different things I’m doing or thinking. Silly things. Like when I gave Scotland a much needed haircut, and dog fur literally enveloped me. I could just hear you laughing and saying, “Oh my gosh!” Or thinking about how much you would have loved the movie, Guardians of the Galaxy 2, that Clay and I saw Friday night. Or how much you’d love our view of the mountains. Or any ditzy moments I have, how you’d make so much fun of me. Or wondering if you’d like a dinner I prepared, or what you would think of Clay’s steak-cooking abilities (they are good, but between you and me, yours were better. Shhhh). In moments where it’s just too much, I envision you sitting right next to me, talking me through it. Like tonight. I was chopping sweet potatoes, and just lost it. I took a lot of aggression out on our poor cutting board, but it wasn’t enough. I slid down to the floor and sobbed. I had a bite of potato in my mouth, so I’m sure I looked pathetic. But I thought about you sitting on the floor in front of me, holding me as I cried. I try to pretend your arms were around me, holding me close and telling me that everything will be okay, that you’re here and you will never leave me. In those moments, I’ll close my eyes and try to feel your presence. To hear your voice.

God, I miss your voice.

Mom and I talked for a good hour tonight. This weekend was obviously hard for her, being Mother’s Day. I was thinking about that card you gave her…the one where you wrote “Love you always,” in your cute little scribble. I wonder if she got it out and looked at it again. All the little reminders of you all over the house are both comforting and heartbreaking for her. There just can’t be one without the other. Your pictures are all over. Your ashes. Your papers and letters Mom and Dad have to go through. Your weird “old man” artwork in your old bedroom (I’m never going to stop teasing you about that). I understand what Mom meant when she said she needed to put your things in a safe place, where she wasn’t constantly reminded of your absence. I get it. I mean, I’m wearing your sweatshirt right now. But even though I feel so close to you when I wear your clothes, it also breaks me. It’s hard to describe the way it feels…your absence, I mean. It’s like a vacuum. Like your missing place in our world has created this enormous black hole that is threatening to suck us all in. I guess it’s similar to the wave analogy, how I keep getting battered by all these 100 foot waves and all I want to do is let go and drown. We keep holding on, not allowing ourselves to be fully sucked in or under because we have to live for each other. We still have a life to live. What kind of life will it be? I don’t know. It’s going to be so different, and honestly it’s impossible to think about the future. I know it’s the same for all of us-Mom, Dad, Nikea, Bethany…We’re doing the best we can. But it’s so hard not to get shoved under this massive black ocean by these unrelenting waves.

I read through your texts again. Even though they are so sad, they make me feel closer to you, too.

Thu, Oct 13, 7:00 PM

You: F*ck this depression.

Me: You can change it. I promise. I’ve been there. Like super recently.

You: Recently?

Me: We just had a lot of financial shit going on. Clay’s business had a rough patch we couldn’t recover from. So it’s been really hard. I’ve decided that I can’t change the circumstances if I’m feeling that way and so I decided to just change my outlook on it (for the record, I sucked at this). So I’m back on my meds and I’ve been taking really good care of myself.

You: Come to Minnesota. Come work for me!!!

Me: Oh I’d love to buddy but I think Clay might’ve finally got a job today actually. We shall see! He had an interview that went really well today. 

You: I’m on meds…not working.

Me: Then you need to switch up your meds. Sometimes you have to try several different types of meds to find one that really works. I did 😦 We’re moving into our friend’s basement. It’s been a really hard road. But the thing is things always get better, Chris. And depression sucks! So if your medication isn’t working you could talk to your doctor about trying something different. And rely on the people that love you. Like me and the fam.

You: She was my first love. I miss her so much. I just wish she would take me back!! I’m not a bad person!!!

Me: Realize that you are worthy and that you are worthy of love and past mistakes never dictate who we are.

You: Exactly I told her that!!

Me: I know Chris. But you need to work on yourself first. That’s what I was doing for years! We can’t be what others deserve if we don’t take care of ourselves and heal what’s broken. Then you can only focus on fixing yourself. It sucks to have a broken heart. But they heal. I promise.

You: I just can’t see the light. And I’m sick of this shit. Like I never want to get up in the am anymore for work. WHICH IS NOT ME!!! SO F*CKING DONE!!!!

This is how are conversations would go. All of them the last several months.

Wed, Dec 21, 1:36 PM

You: [name] agreed saying that she would be happier if I was dead.

Me: She doesn’t mean that. of course no one wants you anywhere but here. Especially us. We love you. 

You: I’m tired of EVERYTHING. 

Me: Then change things. You have the power. You aren’t weak. You’re strong. Everyone goes through shit. Clay and I are too. Worst year of my life. But I’m not giving up. I’m going to keep f*cking fighting. You do the same. You find what is broke, and you fix it.You have a great job, you have partial custody of your son. You can be happy if you want. Or at least at peace. I’d kill to have your position in life right now.

You: She does mean it. I’m so tired of my f*cking stress.

Me: I know. Stress sucks. What is it that stresses you? You have a job. You have rights to see your son. You have a place to live. What is it that stresses you?

And you didn’t respond. This last text string I keep going over and over. I can’t help but think this was your cry for help, and I let you down. Were you telling me that you wanted to die? Were you wanting me to fight for you? I never knew the context of that conversation you were talking about, but I know it was something said in anger but not meant. I would give ANYTHING to go back to that conversation and call you, and beg you to never hurt yourself. I myself have said similar things in the past so figured it was the same with you…that you were saying it because you were sad but you didn’t mean it. And now all I can think about is how I let you down. My brain knows I couldn’t have saved you even if I had called you that day instead of texting, but my heart tells me otherwise. I told you that you could be happy if you wanted. What the hell was I thinking? I wasn’t trying to trivialize…I was trying to empower you. To make you see how lucky you were. But instead I came off like I didn’t care. And I’m so so sorry. That’s never what I intended. I was trying to hard to protect you from yourself. But as someone who has fought the same battles I should have known better.

Regrets make this so much harder.

But I’m still breathing. Even though nights suck ass, the days are okay. I told you that already. And this last weekend was the best I’ve had since you left. Clay and I popped around several different bars before going to the theater Friday. I’m not drinking, but I still have so much fun exploring different places and drinking my nonalcoholic beverages. I know you rolled your eyes at me when I ordered my kombucha at Fermentaria. Hey, man, don’t knock it till you try it. And what do you expect from a hippie former yoga instructor?? You would have loved the last two bars we went to…one entire wall was retracted to let in the awesome spring breeze, and dogs were everywhere. Then Saturday, we hiked and BBQ’d with our friends. I invited you to hike with us…did you take us up on it? Sunday, Clay had a meeting so we didn’t make it to church…but we ended up going to brunch and then meeting our cousin, Maggie, out for her birthday at a local cider place. So obviously…good weekend. I actually had a goal to not cry this weekend. I figured I would be busy enough that I could remain distracted, and be exhausted and happy enough at night from all our excursions that I could just fall asleep.

It didn’t work. It’s Day 37 and not a single day has gone by that I haven’t cried. I know that it takes time. But the grief has taken its toll. I’m exhausted all the time. I have black circles under my eyes. I have all these pimples on my cheeks from tears and under my nose from (I’m sure) snot. Sorry, dude. But that’s the truth. My face is raw, and I’m not sure how to fix it. I know us crying isn’t what you want. The other night as I sat in the living room crying to you, I asked you what to do. Begging you to tell me what to do. And in that moment, I heard you. Clear as day. Let me go. Which made me cry harder. Because I don’t want  to let you go. How can I let you go? I know that letting you go doesn’t mean it stops hurting, or I stop missing you. It means to take comfort in the fact that I’ll see you again one day and live my life. But, Chris, I just don’t know how to let go yet. If you have any pointers, by all means share them. I’m at a loss.

But you’re still showing up. That same night after I wiped my tears, I looked down at my phone and saw in my text box the words “I’m sorry.” I just stared at it. I hadn’t touched my phone. How did that get there?? And then our TV turned on by itself when I left our bedroom to get a drink later that night. Two more reminders that you are here with me. I’m sorry. I know you were apologizing for the grief your actions caused. Well…it’s okay, little brother. I forgive you. It’s okay. Despite you hurting me like this, you are my brother. Always. Now and forever. I may still be angry with you, but it’s just because I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you.

Love you, Buddy.

Letters to Chris. May 8th. One month later.

Hey Buddy,

It’s been one month. An entire month has gone by since you’ve been here. The idea of it is absolutely absurd. How the f*ck have you been gone for an entire month? How the f*ck am I still here? The idea that I still am is absurd. One month ago, Mom called to tell me you shot yourself, and my world turned upside down. I still don’t know how I survived that first night 30 days ago. Seriously…how am I still here? I must be stronger than I’ve ever thought.

But I’m so tired, Chris. Every day is a battle. I know I’m strong, but I don’t always want to be. I shouldn’t have to be. Not like this. It’s unfair how life tests us like this. Like it’s purposely testing my will to live. I obviously have one…that’s why I’m still breathing. Maybe it’s just for the people you left behind. Maybe it’s because I still want to live. I honestly don’t know. Because holy shit this f*cking sucks. It SUCKS. But somehow…I did okay today. Funny enough, I didn’t realize the date until I went into work this morning. I’m glad, because it would have been impossible to get out of bed had I known. It just doesn’t feel like it should be a month already. Death has a funny way of messing with time. It seems like April 8th was yesterday. It seems like a year ago. I can’t decide which…

It’s always there…but like I said before I can laugh now. I can actually laugh at jokes and TV shows. I can function at a semi-normal level. I can talk normally about you and not lose it. I spoke with a woman yesterday who had reached out about my letters to you. We talked for two whole hours about you and a flightmate of hers who had taken his life a year ago. His name was Ben. Ben was around your age, and also had a family that loved him. My heart broke for her and for his loved ones. Like his family and friends, we are left to pick up the pieces and live with hundreds of unanswered questions. But they are still going…still surviving. It gives me hope for us. I can’t tell you how much it helped to talk to someone who has been there. I give you and Ben credit for introducing us.

Thank you.

But I’m still broken on the inside, even if I look to be holding it together on the outside. You just can’t be a mess all day, every day. The world doesn’t work that way. I had my three weeks off work to be that mess. Now it’s time to be a functioning human again. One who contributes to society by going to work and the grocery store, talking to strangers, taking out the trash…you get my point. While I can see my normal self coming out now and again, like being able to get ready for work and actually care what I look like, I still see major changes. In addition to having no patience for anyone’s shit like I told you about in my last letter, or not being able to be teased by my husband (I’m so damn sensitive right now), I avoid talking to any stranger I absolutely don’t have to talk to. I’ll find myself praying that I don’t get stuck on an elevator with someone, or get checked out by a Chatty Kathy at the store. I just don’t have the stamina. My empathy is also limited. I told you about that, too. It’s just like I have no time for people’s petty problems. And that’s way different for me. The weather today was definitely appropriate. It stormed nonstop. The clouds came in fast and dark. There was hail surrounding us but luckily we were safe from the baseball sized ones that hit up north. By the time I got home, the rain had slowed to a trickle. So I went for a run on the same path I took the other day while listening to your favorite song, “Your Guardian Angel.“ I’ve been listening to that song nonstop. I think I told you I want to get some of the lyrics tattooed somewhere. I’m thinking the part that goes:

I will never let you fall
I’ll stand up with you forever
I’ll be there for you through it all

I’ll get them done the same time I get the one of you as a kiddo dressed up as a cowboy (I’ve messaged our tattoo guy in KC, sending him that pic and your signature to see if he has ideas about how to combine the two). I’m so excited. But anyway. It just felt so therapeutic to run in the rain. I loved it. It was so cleansing. It was grey, yet the clouds weren’t quite as ominous as they were earlier. It reminded me of when you and I would run together. Back when you were younger, and you had your long lanky legs…like a colt. Even though you were shorter than me, you could still outpace me.

It seems like a lifetime ago.

A lifetime ago that I changed your diapers. That you loved to play dress up. That you loved Legos and Toy Story and Harry Potter. That you had big dreams of firefighting. That you called to tell me you were going to have a son. You were so alive. Death is so weird. How can someone be here one second, and gone the very next? I can’t wrap my mind around it. Still. My brother died. One month ago. Thirty days ago. The words still seem so foreign to me. Maybe they always will.

One month. Yet you are still reaching out. The other night as I laid in bed with our door and window closed, and the dogs and Clay sleeping peacefully, I suddenly smelled Herbal Essence. Anyone who has used that shampoo knows it has such a distinct smell. We don’t have any floral scent in our house, but yet the aroma was almost overwhelming, like I was holding the bottle right under my nose. And it stayed for several minutes. I thought it was odd, but didn’t give it too much thought until two days later. Then it hit me. There was absolutely no reason for me to smell Herbal Essence in our bedroom. If anything, our room smells like dog (thanks, Daisy and Scotland). I texted Katrina to ask if she knew what shampoo you used. I already knew the answer. Because scent is a way passed loved ones reach out to us, I knew you used Herbal Essence. I just knew it. She answered:

“I used his shampoo once and laughed. It was a girly shampoo…herbal essences…”

I absolutely lost it. But for the first time since you passed, they were tears of joy. You were in my room. You were saying hi. Of course my tears scared Clay because they came on so fast. He looked absolutely terrified as he asked if they were happy tears or sad tears. “Happy! Happy!” I cried. I’m so so grateful, Chris, that you continually remind me that you are still here with us. I’m so grateful I can call Mom and tell her about these experiences. I called her the minute I received that text from Katrina. Mom was at an anniversary party at our neighbors (remember the Schrimpf’s old house?), so stepped out to chat. The second I told her, she started to cry tears of relief. As I’ve said, I cannot imagine the pain of losing a child. As much as this hurts your sisters, as your mama I know her pain is tenfold. So knowing you’re okay, knowing you’re reaching out to your big sister to let her know you’re safe and happy, helps ease her suffering. Even if it’s brief. Your ways of reaching out remind me that you are where you are supposed to be. I’ve always always wanted nothing but for you to be happy and safe. And now you are. In so many ways, it’s everything I’ve prayed for. The way you finally found peace definitely isn’t what I had in mind. But I can’t change it.  So keep reaching out, little brother. Please. Keep reminding me that you are okay. That you love us and are with us. Because we love you. Always.

Good night, lil bro.


Letters to Chris. May 5th. Day 27

Hey Buddy,

I survived my first week back in my “normal” life. It was a long, difficult week and I’m glad it’s over. I did okay for the most part. I only cried at work once. My poor boss. I felt it coming on and didn’t want to leave the front desk unattended, so instead of running to the bathroom I ran to his office and told him I needed a minute. Poor dude wasn’t quite sure what to do. He told me to take all the time I needed, said he’d get me some water if we had any, ran out and sent my sweet coworker in to console me. I’m sure as a man nothing is worse than getting cornered in a tiny office by a sobbing woman. But I’m doing the best I can. And while I did get in a bit of trouble because I was late two days, I actually was pretty productive. I was able to laugh, to joke around with patients and get shit done. I’m honestly amazed. And I had very few ditzy moments. My brain isn’t working like it should so I figured I’d be in a nonstop fog. I always joke about being in a constant state of confusion (you know this…you’ve been known to tease me about it), so I’m relieved it hasn’t gotten worse (or maybe I’m in denial and people are too nice to point it out). I’m beyond thankful for my coworkers. They have been rocks through it all. One of them had a close friend who committed suicide a few years back, so she’s been here. And one of our patients just lost her sister so we shared about you two. The similarities were odd. Her sister was 25 as well, and passed only four days before you. It felt good to talk to someone else who has just lost a sibling. I would never wish this suffering on my worst enemy, but a huge part of me is so grateful that I’m not alone.

Nights are the hardest now. I think because I try to keep my shit together during the entire day, I’m emotionally and mentally exhausted by the time I get home. And I miss you so much while at work. I’ve been used to spending all day with you in my thoughts, and obviously I just can’t do that while working. So during lunch break I’ll look at your pictures, or talk to you when we have quiet moments (in my head..I can’t let people think I’m losing it by talking to myself). Surprisingly, yesterday was my best day yet. I still cried, but it wasn’t until I went to bed. I had to get up and go to the kitchen so I wouldn’t wake Clay (not that he would have cared, but I haven’t been the most awesome bed buddy lately and didn’t want to keep him awake another night. He’s been so tired all week). I honestly wasn’t sure how I felt about not crying until so late. I felt guilty, like I was a bad sister for holding it together so well. It wasn’t that it hurt any less. I guess maybe I’m starting to get used to this constant ache..feeling this hole in my chest. It’s not like it goes away. No matter what I’m doing, even when I’m joking around and laughing, it’s still there lurking. Almost like it’s waiting to pounce. I read somewhere how at first the waves that hit you are 100 feet tall and back to back while you cling to this wreckage that was once a beautiful ship. Over time, the waves, while still 100 feet tall, become more spaced apart. And in those spaces is life. I think maybe that’s where I am right now. I’m still clinging to this wreckage like my life depends on it. I’m still fighting the urge to allow myself to drown whenever the waves hit. But in between, I can laugh. I can look at your pictures and not cry. I can almost see my old self coming out. I think this is the way the rest of my life will be. I’ll be okay one minute, but something will be a trigger and I’ll lose it. Something as simple as smelling your cologne somewhere, or someone talking about the National Guard or firefighting. Right now it’s anything. Or nothing. I’ll just be standing there not doing anything and it will hit.

The night before last, I went through all your pictures you uploaded on Facebook, taking screenshots of them so they are all on my phone. I had no idea you had a goatee at one point in time. I wish I had…I would have given you so much grief 🙂 Like, dude, what’s that on your chin?? I love the facial hair you had the last few months. I’d never really seen you with any. I remember when you were 14-15 and you had that patchy scruff you were so proud to shave (must be a right of passage as a young man). I couldn’t believe you were having to shave. But now you have a full fledged beard. Or did. You know what I mean. But it suited you.

My handsome boy.

Something new I’m noticing is my anger. Not just at you, but at anyone who irritates me. I noticed it a bit in Missouri, but it’s gotten worse. I raised my voice at an employee at Costco today when asking if they were out of coconut milk. He didn’t believe me when I said they usually carried it, saying he had never seen it and he always stocked the dairy aisle. I tried to explain it isn’t ever with the dairy and I literally buy it every week, but he kept trying to run away before I could explain. Finally I just snapped and yelled that he was acting like I was crazy but I knew what I was talking about. Something like that wouldn’t have bothered me to that extent a month ago. People around probably thought I was simply super passionate about coconut milk. It’s not like you can explain to everyone why you’re having a minor meltdown. The guy WAS being a dick, but I should have let it go. I just feel like the general public sucks right now. People are so self involved, worrying about all their petty little problems. I desperately want to yell at everyone, “Oh yeah? Your mother-in-law is visiting? You have to work late? You’re worried about bills? Boohoo. My brother just killed himself. Go f*ck yourself.“

Obviously this isn’t the best attitude to have. But it’s so hard not to resent people at the moment. And I know that everyone’s issues are valid. And I know that anger is normal right now. But this isn’t me in the slightest, and I hate feeling this way. So one of my goals tonight is to find a therapist who specializes in bereavement counseling. Before I make an even bigger scene over another unstocked grocery item. Or Clay locks me out of our apartment.

It’s also difficult to not get irritated with people who have things going awesome for them. I’m not talking about friends or family. I mean strangers. For whatever reason, strangers seem the safest people to hate right now. So I’ll overhear someone talking about their awesome vacation they just got back from (”OMG Paris was AMAZING!!) or how they are buying a new house, and I want to throw things at their face. And I hate that. Because, like I said, this is so not me. Clay reminded me that I have no idea what’s going on in people’s lives. Maybe they are going through the same thing as our family. He stepped on dangerous territory by asking if he just shouldn’t point out when I am being negative. Yeah, probably not. Definitely not the wisest thing at the moment. I know I can be an a**hole right now. I’m working on it. It’s a stage of grief and I know I need to get through it. I don’t want to be a ball of fury for the rest of my life.

Speaking of anger, after Costco I went out to my car and another wave hit, and I started yelling at you. I haven’t done that yet. Not like that. Anyone who walked by my car would have thought I was crazy. But it felt so good to yell at you. Because it’s you that I’m really angry at. I screamed at you for leaving us, that we f*cking told you things would get better, and that I’m absolutely devastated that you didn’t text me goodbye. Yes, I’m still stuck on that. I was always the one you listened to. Mom would ask me to talk to you about things because you actually listened to me. We always had that relationship our whole lives. But you didn’t tell me goodbye. I’m grateful you texted Mom, but why not your sisters?? I just can’t let that go. My phone had been right in front of me that night. Perhaps me begging you to live wouldn’t have changed anything. I know any therapist would say it wouldn’t have made a difference. But at least I could have told you how much I loved you. You would have died knowing I needed you and loved you and would have taken your place in a second. I would have told you I’d be flying out to see you that very night. Or beg you to come stay with us for a while. I would have told you that my life would be meaningless without you and that if you died I would die, too. That our family would be devastated, left picking up the pieces and never able to get closure. But you denied me that. So I’m angry. More than that. I’m p*ssed. And I hate how much our family hurts. Mom called a couple days ago and I could tell she’d been crying. She said she washed the rest of your laundry which took all day. And she cried and cried. Nikea has had a few difficult days this week. And while Dad is more the suffer in silence type, I know this is hell for him, too. We all know you never meant to hurt us, but it doesn’t make it any easier.

Yet I know you understand my anger, and love me regardless. You knew I needed to scream at you. And honestly, I’ll probably do it again. I apologized because I hate yelling at you, even though you probably deserve it right now. But I have this feeling you understand everything way better than any of us can on this side of Heaven. You’re way wiser than we are. You understand how we feel. You know what you put us through. I can’t explain how weird it is to realize you now know things that we cannot begin to comprehend. Nikea has always been the smartest of us four kids, but now you’re the wisest. If you were here now, I’m sure you’d gloat about how you know all the secrets of the universe.

Know what I miss most? Family dinners. Dad always making weird Dad jokes that still made us laugh, Bethany enjoying her food so much she’d look like she was falling asleep or in a trance. I know some kids don’t like being forced to eat dinner with their parents, but I’ve always loved it. It gave us a chance to connect, without our cell phones (which you were always on..ahem)…like really connect as a family. Then we’d always help clean the table afterwards while Dad rinsed the dishes. God I miss that. I always meant to record those conversations because you never quite knew what anyone was going to say. Nikea was saying how you teased her during dinner last time you were home because she was drinking Pepsi. Since you worked for Coke, you pretended it was a great betrayal.

God, I’d give anything to have been at that table.

I’m so frustrated because I still can’t pull any specific memories from recent years. I understand this is caused by grief. You know I’m the one who remembers the most random stuff, so it’s beyond heartbreaking that I can’t get my brain to work. It’s like this stupid mental block that just refuses to lift. It’s funny how you don’t realize how you’re going to react to grief until it hits. I know it’ll pass and the memories will come flooding back…I just wish I knew when.

Of course I remember things from years ago. Your first car, a Ford Taurus that you loved to work on. The muffler was nonexistent so we always knew when you were pulling up to the house. You were so proud to show me the alterations you made in that car. And remember when you hit that curb and jacked it up? I felt so awful for you. Then I remember when you were super little and grabbed one of my many “Titanic” books and threw it at me laughing. You ripped Leo’s face in half and I yelled at you and made you cry (I’m sorry). I remember how you’d always eat Mom and Dad out of house and home but never gain any weight. I remember road trips to Grandma and Grandpa’s, yearly visits to TanTarA. Key West. I’m still not recalling as many memories as I normally would, but like I said, I know this will pass. I just don’t want the strongest memories to be of your last few months when you were so distraught. I still go back and read your texts, even though they break my heart, just because they are you. And Katrina sent me some voicemails you had left her. I wasn’t sure if I could bear to listen to them, but I was able to. I miss your voice so much, so it helps to hear it even if your words weren’t directed at me.

I took the dogs on a walk tonight. I was grateful for the weather. It was beautiful out. The sun was setting behind the mountains which were all these different shades of deep blue. I was walking on this path I hadn’t known existed before near our apartment. This field of white cattails caught the sun, glowing bright white. I stopped on this old bridge and watched the sun set. It looked like Heaven. Your Heaven. I know you loved the mountains (you were so excited to see them in Montana and when you visited Colorado a couple years back), so I feel so close to you when I look at them. I felt your presence. It was so strong I felt like I could touch you. I’ve felt it before, but it has been getting stronger the brief seconds I’m able to experience it. I’ve read of people experiencing the same thing with departed loved ones, and it’s so encouraging. Like I’ve said before, those brief moments when you reach out get me through.

Anywho, Buddy…I love you and miss you. Clay grilled some steaks for us (hey remember how you cooked me steak that one day when Carter was brand new? It was DELICIOUS. First time I’d ever had your cooking and I was so proud), so I better get going. He’s been waiting patiently for me. But again, I LOVE you and I MISS you so damn much. Talk to you soon.

Your big sis.

Letters to Chris. May 1st. Day 22.

Hey Buddy,

It’s been a tough day, and an even tougher night. Today was my first day back to my “normal life.” It feels so weird. So wrong. I arrived back in Colorado yesterday morning. I wasn’t close to ready to come home. I missed Clay and the pups, but I feel like nothing has gone right since we moved here a year ago. I wanted to stay away. Stay home with our family. It was hard walking back into our apartment. I just don’t have many memories here. We JUST moved in. It doesn’t feel like home…not at all. So the only memory that sticks out is that horrible, long night. So obviously, being back has been rough. Tonight, I felt like I did that first week…where the pain was so unbearable I couldn’t breathe. All I wanted to do was scream. Or die. Anything but feel the way I was feeling. And this morning, it was almost too much to go to work, to talk to people like nothing happened, to be happy because at any workplace you need to leave your shit at the door. How can I act normal when my heart is shattered into a million pieces? One minute I’ll be okay, and the next I feel like I’m drowning under this massive wave that is crashing over me and I keep trying to swim to the surface but a huge part of me wants to give up and drown. I feel so lost. All I want to do is go back home to where we grew up and be with Mom, Dad, Nikea and Bethany. Where our memories are. Where your stuff is. Where your old room is. Where your ashes are. I feel so far away right now and it’s almost unbearable. Sorry, Buddy. I’m just so tired. Talking to people all day has been exhausting when all I wanted to do was hide. But everyone tells me that I need to be around others. That working is good. That getting back into my routine is good. I can’t hide away all the time.

I’m not ready. I just want to cuddle with your things and sleep.

Dad drove me to Kansas City Saturday to stay with Court and Cory since my flight left so early Sunday morning. I could have taken the train, but I wanted to spend more time with him. Since he works and goes to bed at a decent hour (unlike Mom and me), I didn’t get to see him as much as I would have liked. So I made him be stuck with me in a car for 2.5 hours 🙂 It was so fun. It’s rarely, if ever, just Dad and me. As I’ve told you, I’m not ever going to take our family for granted again. It was funny…I’d been waiting for an awesome thunderstorm the entire time I was home, and of course the day I leave one hits. You should have seen the flooding. It was crazy. Fields looked like lakes. But luckily it never got too bad, or else I would have felt like the world’s worst daughter for asking him to drive me through it. I know he didn’t mind though. Dad’s love language is acts of service. (By the way, one of your close friends gave us a card telling us all the things you talked about in regards to us. I know it meant so much to Dad that you told her how smart he was, and how you wanted to be half the man he is. I wish you could have known that you were a good man, too. You were, Chris. I was proud to call you my brother. And Mom…she started crying when she read how you said she had been such a huge influence in your life. And it was so sweet that you bragged about her garden. That meant so much to her).

Saying bye to Mom, Dad and Nikea went as well as it could have. Better than expected. I figured I’d be sobbing, or at least Mom would be. I mean, she’d cry when I’d leave when I lived in Kansas City. But everyone did okay. Nikea came home to hang out after work, even though it was just for a half hour. She sat with me while I packed. I think having actual dates when I’m coming back helps tremendously (June and August). And Mom let me take everything I wanted of yours (even though I forgot your PJ pants I’ve been wearing which really upset me). She had felt so protective of your things, like they were being picked over. She knew that wasn’t the case, but you know how she is. She just needed time. Always the protective mother. I understand. That’s how I feel about your ashes. We had discussed sharing them, but I couldn’t deal with the thought of dividing you up. I say “you.” I know it’s not you. It’s funny how we cling to the physical remnants when that’s not who you actually were. Your soul lives on. But anyway…I’m so grateful to Mom. I don’t know what I would have done if I didn’t have anything of yours here. It was hard enough being away from your belongings for a few hours at work. I had so many of your things I had to borrow Mom’s massive suitcase. And when I say massive, I mean MASSIVE. I could fit in there easily. Twice. I wasn’t able to bring everything I wanted due to weight restrictions, but I’ll be going home for your Celebration of Life at the end of June, and will bring them back with me (our birth mom and aunts are coming, as is the rest of the family and any of your friends, too. We haven’t made an official announcement yet, but will soon. It’s just so hard to get things going right now). Your Harry Potter books, your cowboy hat, your dress blues…Maybe some of your antlers. You had so many! Did you shoot all those deer? I know you did one, at least. Perhaps I can Pinterest something to do with your antlers. I know you’d be so annoyed with me if I tried to turn your antlers into a craft project, but sorry, dude, that’s what you get. And I’m trying to figure out what to do with your uniform. Would it be weird if I framed it? I’d love to have it hanging somewhere I can always see it. Maybe in our living room. I also took your ACU backpack and your cap. Oh and your deodorant. May be weird, but since I’ve already told you about how I cuddle with your sweaty shirts, I figure you can’t judge me any more than you already have. As for the rest of your clothes, they are all lying on my side of the bed. I want them close. Maybe months down the line I’ll fold them neatly and store them somewhere that’s easily accessible. And not all of them-some I’m sure I’ll wear to bed every night. It helps me to sleep. What’s neat is I’ve been finding so many photos of you wearing the shirts that I have. I had asked you to show me what you wanted me to take, and all these shirts I picked ended up in photographs. It makes me ache, but it also makes me feel so close to you. Especially the shirts that smell like you. I dread the day when your smell fades. I don’t know what I’ll do then.

Sometimes, I just don’t think. Like yesterday, I asked Dad if they had offered to give him the clothes you were wearing. Mom had been wondering if you were wearing the “Life is Good” shirt (you know, the ice fishing one she gave you) that night because it wasn’t in your things. Dad said they offered them to him, but recommended incineration because they were soiled. It’s like the couch…I knew you bled. I knew that. Considering everything, how could you not? I’ve seen the blood. So why did it hit me so hard when he said they incinerated your clothing because they were soiled? Shouldn’t that be old news by now? Why does it hit me like a sledgehammer to my chest whenever I hear something like that? Damn you for hurting yourself like that, Chris. Your life may not have been a big deal to you, but you were my everything. Our everything. And now life expects me to pick up the pieces and keep going. Because that is what you’re supposed to do. Keep living. Keep working. Keep growing.


You did reach out to me Saturday, though. I walked into Courtney’s apartment and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was playing on her TV. Since I was just talking to you about that in my last letter, I know that was you saying hi again. Thank you so much. I can’t hold you, talk to you, laugh with you or wrestle you anymore, but I can see you in so many ways. Feel you in so many ways. Moments like that keep me going. Keep them coming, Chris. I’m going to need constant reminders that you’re still here. I’m needy. Get over it.

You would have laughed at me on the plane yesterday. It wasn’t funny at the time, but it does make me laugh now. We hit the worst turbulence I’ve ever experienced. Nervous chatter filled the cabin. The entire midwest was covered in storms, so as we left Kansas City we hit some major bumps. We would drop so far my stomach would jump into my throat. Turbulence normally doesn’t bother me. You know I fly all the time. But I was just so frazzled after the last three weeks, I started crying. It seems like anything bad can happen now. Like if you can die, then anything can go wrong (good outlook to have, right?). The woman next to me asked if I was okay. To which I responded, “My brother just died, now I’m going to die and it’s going to kill my mother.” I’m sure that was the last response she expected. I felt so stupid. Talk about word vomit. But all I could think about was Mom dealing with another child being killed. Luckily, the woman didn’t seem to mind, bless her. She patted my knee and promised we weren’t going to die, and started asking about you. I was honest about how you died. I refuse to hide it. Hiding it means I’m ashamed of you or your decision. No way. Never. Well it turned out her cousin committed suicide two years ago. He was 51. I’m not sure how, but somehow I knew I would sit next to someone who lost a loved one to suicide, too. I hadn’t planned on talking about it, but it’s funny how turbulence + a shitty three weeks can make us talk to complete strangers about the most personal stuff. It makes me cringe to think about it. But I’m grateful she was there to share her experience. We also talked about depression. She had suffered some major depression a few years back, and said she understood how someone could get to that point. I know so many people would have shied away from talking to me. It’s pretty cool how God puts people in our path that help us along the way.

Luckily, the turbulence calmed down, as did I. At least until I walked into our apartment. But, what can you do? I just feel bad for Clay. He was so excited to have me home, and I became a wreck the second I walked through the door. Of course he misses you, too. He just wants to fix this. You know how guys are. They are fixers. But this can’t be fixed. It can’t be solved. You’re gone, and I’m grieving. It’s just the way it is going to be.

I’m super fun to be around right now.

By the way, I’m listening to your favorite song. “Your Guardian Angel” by Red Jumpsuit Apparatus. Yesterday, while on your Facebook I came across a status I had somehow missed:

February 25th at 6:42 am.

Commercial on addiction on Pandora then RJA My Guardian Angel plays. Someone is truly looking over me today!! Feeling great today.

So I put on this song. This status brought me so much comfort. You were feeling so positive and encouraged. I wish I would have commented on it. I had stopped getting on Facebook very often (social media overwhelms me), so rarely commented on anyone’s statuses. But I’m so so grateful I saw this. Because now I know you believed you were being looked out for. And now, I have a song I know you loved that I can listen to (and it’s not country, which I know you loved but man…I can’t do it. Unless it’s Brad Paisley or 90′s country).

You know what I find interesting? Throughout this entire ordeal, I haven’t been angry with God. I’ve been angry with Him in the past for things that have gone wrong. I blamed him when our Uncle Tim died, and when my friend Shanna passed. But I haven’t blamed him for your death. Because I know He brought you eternal peace. He didn’t cause this to happen. Your heartache and addictions did. But He did welcome you home. And while I would give anything to have you here with us, I know that is selfish. How could I ever wish you away from the incredible place you are now? Free from your burdens, your sadness. We may not be fine right now, but you are. More than fine. You are happier than we could ever hope to be. And you know, the therapist Mom and I saw said she was surprised you lived as long as you did. Just because you’d been dealing with those issues for so long. So I need to say thank you, Chris. For holding on as long as you did. While 25 years wasn’t nearly long enough (not even close), I’m so grateful that I got to have you in my life for those 25 years. Twenty five years of memories: of birthdays, Christmases, family dinners, movie nights, laughter, vacations, late night chats…I’ll take it. Having you as a brother was well worth the pain.

You’ll always be my brother.

By the way, I finally checked my Facebook messages yesterday. I had so many from your friends, reaching out to tell me how much they loved you. How they cannot wrap their mind around what happened, how they miss you, and how they are here for our family in any way, shape or form we need. We are beyond grateful for their words. Knowing we aren’t alone in our grief makes it a little easier of a burden to bear. Some things people have said about you:

“He had the heart of a giant and was built to serve others. I was proud to call him my brother and stand beside him in serving our community.”

“He definitely came into my life for a reason…even if it was for such a short time. I can sense it. He changed me in a good way.”

“Besides his love for his job and his hard work ethic, Chris was one of the kindest souls I had ever met.”

“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.”

“You were a great person. A funny smartass who always had a witty comeback. I miss you. I’m mad at you.”

“You were a beautiful soul.”

“I only knew Chris for a short while when he joined the Holts Summit Fire Department as a cadet a while back and his wonderful attitude and great personality made a forever lasting impression.”

“You were such a kind hearted guy. You would have done anything for anyone anytime they needed you. You loved your son immensely and you could see in his eyes he obviously adored you.”

“I thought highly of Chris, from the moment he walked into my office wanting to join the National Guard I could tell he was a bright, charismatic young man who had a promising future. When he told me he was moving, I knew I would miss seeing him around and talking with him about his progression in his military career and life in general. I know for anyone that had the opportunity meet him he had a positive impact on them as a person. He will be greatly missed and my thoughts go out to his friends and loved ones.”

And there are SO many more. People loved you, Buddy. And they will continue to love you. Couldn’t you see it?? I’m going to post on your wall and ask everyone to share a memory. Then I want to make a book of your photos and add all those memories they share there. It’s through all of us that you will keep living. We won’t ever let your memory fade.

Here comes another wave.

God, I love you. I miss you. I need it to stop hurting, but it just won’t. I love you. I love you.