My very good friend Leashya suffered a great pain when she lost her beautiful nephew, Christian, at the age of 5 about 9 months after Brian died. We decided we would like to do small things here and there to help others as a way to honor the memory of Christian and Brian. Together we designed these cards which we will hand out as we complete our “random acts of kindness.” So whether it be paying for the car behind us at the drive-thru or paying for someone’s dry cleaning– so many possibilities– we will hand off the card so they will know why we’ve chosen to spread a little joy and hopefully they will be moved to keep paying it forward!
Today I attended a conference for International Survivors of Suicide Awareness Day. It was the second one I’ve attended– the first being in November of 2010 only a few short weeks after your death. I thought that this one may be different for me being two full years since you orchestrated your untimely exit… but that really wasn’t the case. I was just as affected by the stories and tears of others today as I was two years ago.
It is always so rewarding and reassuring to hear the words and stories coming out of the other survivors’ mouths– for those few hours I don’t feel quite so crazy. In those meetings I can share things about your death that my friends would find all but impossible to endure and not feel ashamed or as though I’m imposing upon them an irrational need to talk about the gruesome details. They reminded me today, more than once, that not only am I OK, but I’m extremely normal in where I find myself these days.
The first year was in no way easy to get through but the second year proved to be far more difficult; it felt like had just run a painful marathon only to reach the “finish line” and find it wasn’t a stopping point at all but another starting line and I had to repeat the whole thing over again and again and again. Another survivor said they think the subsequent years are more difficult because the shock and numbness you experience that first year have begun to wear off and you’re left with the reality of what’s happened and have to deal with it and learn how to live in your “new normal.”
I continue to be surprised at when and where and just how often I’m struck with a crippling grief. Another sibling survivor mentioned today how even 4 years after the suicide of her brother she can be going about her day and she’ll hear a song, see a place she used to visit with him or see a face that resembled his and be immediately transported back to the day he died and find herself in the middle of a gut-wrenching pain complicated with feelings of guilt, and devastating sadness. We all acknowledge that the memories are always there just barely below the surface and some days it takes merely a split-second to bring them to life again.
One thing I’ve struggled with lately is the grief of alienation by what little family I have left. It is virtually only Mom and Dad now. I have begun to appreciate more and more each day the presence of the amazing friends I have in my life– aside from our parents they are my family now. They are the ones who are there to hug me, to listen to me and to check in with me from time to time to see how I am doing. Those moments mean more to me than they could ever imagine. There are days I mourn not just your death but my future with you; when our parents are gone I won’t have you there to lean on and share stories about our lives when we grew old. You took that future away from me.
Then there is the guilt… few suicide survivors are spared the feelings of guilt. I told the group today that I feel that because I saw it coming I had played a part in your death as I wasn’t able to prevent it from happening. I realize there would have been guilt even if it had come as a complete shock– I likely would have then blamed myself for missing the possible signs. But somehow the fact that I knew it was coming makes me feel as though I failed you in the worst way. I struggle so when going over our last several conversations in my mind. We spoke about my own history of depression and how I battled my own thoughts of suicide for the overwhelming majority of my life. I feel that because I knew what it was truly like to be in that deep darkness I didn’t have the right words for you… and I myself was having trouble coming up with reasons why life was worth it other than my own selfish reasons for wanting you to stay alive if only for me. And that reason turned out to be not quite enough for you to overcome your pain.
Not a day goes by that I don’t go to sleep at night and wake in the morning thinking of you. You’re on my mind nearly every moment of every single day; I’m learning to incorporate you into my new life knowing you are still with me. Watching over me, protecting me, loving me. I want those around me who never got to meet you to know you as you are still such a huge part of me. My true friends are those who allow room for you in my life and are not uncomfortable with me sharing stories about you to ensure that you live on inside of me.
I miss you so much, Brian.
I have been thinking about you so much lately. I find myself again obsessing over all the details I wasn’t able to get out of my head right after you died. Things like our last phone conversation, the last e-mail you sent me, the last time I was with you; I keep imagining what you were thinking as you were dying—were you in pain? Were you relieved? Were you thinking of me at all? What is the last thing you saw or thought before you passed? What did you take and how did you get it? What day did you die? I felt cheated that I couldn’t even have a “day” to mourn your death—all I know is it was sometime between October 7th and October 13th. However, based on the medical examiner’s report, it easily could have been a week. I still feel nauseous when I think about that part. You were dead for a week and I had no idea; I feel like I should have known or felt something wasn’t right.
Just before Christmas an acquaintance passed away following a 4 year battle with cancer. As I read her family’s last post on her Caring Bridge website to share the news, I absolutely fell apart. There was so much going through my head, Brian. They spoke of how she gently passed to the other side while surrounded by all those she held dear as they sang to her, prayed with her and held her hands and helped her to let go. It was the most beautiful thing I could ever imagine. It only made it that much more difficult to think of your passing—at your own hand, possibly painful and…absolutely all alone. I hope you had at least some idea of how much you were loved and appreciated and that your last thoughts were not questioning your worth. You were so important to me and your death has left an irreversible void.
It is so strange to think of how for all these years that you and I were so much the same— we both spent nearly all of our lives in and out of deep depressive episodes with recurring thoughts of suicide. I tried to hide it from everyone not only because I didn’t want to worry anyone but because I felt unsafe expressing any feelings or emotions and I know you felt the same way. Not only was there a robust family history of depression in our family, but we weren’t brought up in an environment where the healthy sharing of emotions and feelings was happening and that pattern seems to have run generations deep as well. There were a specific few years of my 20’s that were particularly bad when I thought of suicide every single day. I had a folder full of all sorts of methods I had researched which could implement to bring about my demise should one single day prove to be the one that put me over the edge. Having that folder kept me going—it brought me so much peace to know that I had a plan and I wouldn’t have to endure the pain forever. I tried so hard to talk with you about that towards the end; I shared all of that with you but, in hindsight, I can’t imagine things would have played out any other way.
Truth be told, when I felt like you did, there isn’t a single thing anyone could do or say to make any difference at all. In fact, I’m spending more and more time in that state since you died. I’m actually jealous of you most days! I’m exhausted with life and going through the motions of day to day life. I truly feel as though I’m just getting by when deep in my heart I see no point. Honestly, if Mom and Dad weren’t around I would quite possibly join you tomorrow; but I just can’t bring myself to do that to them as I’m the only family they have left and vice versa. I’m really struggling to get myself to a point where I don’t feel so listless and hopeless and where there is more keeping me alive than just an obligation to others.
I truly hope you are healing on the other side and have found some comfort where you are.
I’m finding myself in a strange place these days. The grief over losing you seems to come and go in vicious waves. The part that hurts the most right now is that I’m in very awkward territory; it’s been over a year now so people seem to thing I should “be over with being sad” by now.
I’ve ventured out into the world of the living again and spend a lot of time with people—but there are so many days I deeply regret it. I miss the shelter of being home alone all the time where I could cry all day and all night without judgment. And if I did cry in front of others they understood—after all, it had only been a few weeks… then a few months… but as time continues to pass there has been a growing sense from the world around me that I should be over it by now. Somehow it feels more isolating now than at the beginning because I don’t feel as safe allowing my hurt to come out anymore—if not for the pressure of not bothering those around me with it then for the pressure I put on myself to move past it.
The best way I can describe what I’m feeling is this… Remember in the movie “Castaway” with Tom Hanks how, after several years on that island alone, he was finally prepared to get off the island and get home or die trying? He worked so very hard to get his raft over the waves that threatened to push him back towards the island; he knew once he was past rough waters he’d have conquered the hard part and just might make it home again. Well once he reached calmer waters he alternated glances between the vast space in front of him and the shores of the island where he’d spent the past several years. You could see the concern in his face– the torment of wanting to get home but being afraid of the unknown and longing for the comfort of the island where he had come to feel safe. I know my own “island” wasn’t the best place for me to be, but I’m afraid to be out in the open and I find myself missing the days when it was OK for me to wall myself off for days at a time and not feel guilty for doing so. This first year was terrible but I fear the next few years will be even worse. I spent this year just talking myself through each holiday, anniversary and special occasion. Now the true reality of the situation has begun to set in—it wasn’t a one time thing getting through those days; it was just the first of many more to come and my heart aches overwhelmingly at the thought of it.
I miss you more than you could possibly imagine. I see and hear so many things that remind me of you and I wish I could pick up the phone to call you and share it with you. I think about that dream I had about 6 weeks after you left us—I think of it everyday and am still convinced it was a gift from you letting me know you were OK. Do you hear me before bed at night when I beg you to come visit me again? It’s been over a year since that dream and I just want to have the connection again that I felt upon waking up that night.
You know what else I think about a lot? After I moved to Texas I kept on pestering you to come for a visit and possibly even move here to be closer to me and get a fresh start. You always responded with something along the lines of, “yeah, I’ll have to plan that soon,” but it never happened. In hindsight I am grateful—because I think on some level you were sparing me from the pain of creating memories with you here in Austin and being reminded of them everyday. There are days I’m so grateful to have the distance from where we grew up because I don’t know how I would handle all the daily reminders of the people we knew and the places we’ve been. I don’t have any of those places here to haunt me and for that I am often grateful; and I think you knew what you were doing.
I guess I’m all out of words now… please just know I miss you so very much.
A year ago today we were cleaning out my brother’s home… it was only 3 days after we recieved the news of his death. I’d like to share a story about that day.
A few days before were given a copy of this poem by a dear friend:
I found a penny today just lying on the ground.
But it’s not just a penny, this coin I found.
Found pennies come from heaven,
That’s what my Grandpa told me.
He said Angels toss them down.
Oh how I loved that story.
He said when an angel misses you they toss a penny down.
Sometimes to cheer you up, to make a smile out of your frown.
So don’t pass by that penny when you’re feeling blue.
It may be a penny from heaven that an angel is tossing you.
I didn’t think too much of the poem upon first reading it… but as we were going through Brian’s things, it came to mean much, much more.
I had spent a lot of time in his room boxing up his books and clothes and periodically stopping to sit on the bed, hold something he used to wear up close to my cheek and cry for a bit. The last thing I emptied was his clothes hamper; after I’d removed the clothes and placed them in a bag, I carried all the bags I’d collected out into the living room– leaving the hamper where I had found it.
About a half hour later my Mom went back in there to get the hamper from his room and she came out with a such look on her face; one of awe, hope and pain all at the same time. She stretched out her hand and showed me something she found when she lifted the hamper from its place– it was a single penny. Thinking back to the poem about the pennies I felt myself beginning to choke up a bit. But it got better. I turned the penny over to see it was dated 1975– the year Brian was born. I immediately burst into tears… and it made my heart smile to think that Brian sent that penny to us to let us know he was there.
To this day, every single time I find a penny, my heart skips a beat as I pick it up because I think of each of those pennies as a reminder from Brian that he’s still with me. And, more often than not, I find the pennies at the most amazing times… when I truly needed to find them most. I think he knows exactly what he is doing.
I’m not religious but I am spiritual and I will state openly that I do not believe in God and haven’t since before Brian passed. But I believe with all my heart that we do not just “go away” when we die and each time I come across another penny I’ll continue to think Brian is smiling down on me!
Just wanted to share!
It’s so hard to believe that it’s been a whole year since you left this world for another… where hopefully you found the peace you weren’t able to find here.
There’s so much I could tell you about this past year—about how much I’ve cried until complete exhaustion, how much I’ve missed you and how often I’ve picked up the phone and started to dial your number to call you only to realize seconds later what I was doing. There are days it is so painful to be around people because I feel so different from them. And I think there is a part of me that is afraid to get close to people because I’m afraid that they too will leave.
I’ve started to come out of my shell a little bit and am beginning to return somewhat to the person I was before. While I’ll never be the same again—I’ve managed to find myself laughing more often and when I think of you there are almost as many smiles as there are tears… so I’m starting to move on a little bit.
After you died I was haunted by the fact that each day that passed was bringing you farther and farther away from me; the last time I saw you, the last time we spoke, the last e-mail I received from you… all of those were becoming farther away as well. Now that feeling seems to have shifted a tiny bit; I find myself beginning to see each day that passes as bringing me one day closer to the day I get to see you again.
I’ll never forget the last time I saw you. It was July 5th, 2010– you brought me back to the airport after my visit home for Mom’s birthday. The entire ride was so heartbreaking; I could feel it– your profound sadness. I tried to get you to talk about it but you kept changing the subject… so I let it be. I just wanted to spend time with you. I didn’t want the ride to end; the closer we got to the airport the more anxious I grew. I didn’t want to say goodbye to you– something was happening that made my heart ache for you but I couldn’t put my finger on it exactly. You got out to help me with my bags, I gave you a hug and said, “Come visit me soon, OK?? See ya later, dude.” Once inside the airport doors I allowed myself to turn around in time to see you driving away; I started sobbing because in my heart I knew I’d never see you again… and I didn’t.
That part still haunts me– that I was so connected with you that I could sense that but yet I didn’t feel it the moment you died. It will take me a lifetime to get past the fact that an entire week had passed before you were found. I felt like I let you down– that not only did you die alone but you continued to lie there alone for a week while I went about my life. “He’s gone, honey.” Those are the first words I heard from Mom confirming that what we had hoped hadn’t happened really had… and the nightmare began. For weeks I would call your cell phone several times a day just to hear your voicemail message; I worry that I’ll forget the sound of your voice. I was a mess the first time I called your number after it was finally disconnected– it was like you had died all over again and the last remaining connection I had to hearing your voice again was gone.
I keep running through our life together over and over in my head. We were so close in age that we shared everything together– we experienced all stages of life at the same time: childhood… high school… college… jobs… everything. And we even liked each other enough to choose to be roommates as adults! I loved that we were not just brother and sister, but we were friends. We both included each other in our circles of friends and activities. I keep trying to remember those things; our Sundays watching the Simpsons, you “singing” me the X-Files theme song, pizza and football games, and even you trying, very patiently, to teach me how to drive a manual transmission! You had the most amazing, contagious laugh and a very gentle spirit and are going to be missed by so many people– more than you could have ever imagined. It may not make sense but it feels like you have taken that past with you… and it also feels as though you have also taken my future as I never imagined it without you.
I often wonder how long it’ll be before those memories bring me more joy than pain– because right now it hurts to think of them. My heart is broken! I find myself detaching from the world, I’m suffering from frequent panic attacks when the pain is just so strong it takes my breath away. I have become jealous of others who have siblings who are still here– and am hurt when I see them angry with each other. I am not the same person anymore; I feel so isolated, so different from everyone else. I can laugh… but have no true joy right now. I suppose some happiness will come back someday… but for now there’s only a hole in my heart where you used to be.
Please know that I am not angry at you now… nor do I think I ever will be. I have been to that place myself before and fought my way back out. I know it wasn’t a compulsive choice you made but rather the culmination of years and years of battling a crippling depression and you held on as long as you could– for us.
I miss you and think of you every waking moment. Instead of saying goodbye to you, since I know I’ll see you again, I’ll just say what we always said to each other– “See ya later, dude.”
Your loving sister,