Letter to Brian: March 17, 2015

Dear Brian,

I’ve seen two stories in the news recently about how families have chosen not to eliminate the term “suicide” from their loved ones’ obituaries.  They called it out for what it was by saying something like, “Edward lost his long and brave battle with mental illness and addiction and took his own life.”  There is so much bravery in that… and I also feel there is compassion for the person who died by not “covering it up” or giving a more ambiguous description like, “Edward died unexpectedly.”  Obviously it is a personal choice each family has to make for themselves but I don’t think there is anything to be ashamed of and by sharing with others how they died we are spreading awareness about depression, addiction and suicide.

I wasn’t involved in writing your obituary and it started like this: “Brian A. Habedank, 35, Brooklyn Park, formerly of Red Wing, died at his residence.”  Basically what I was just talking about.  However, it was indicated in the wording in the last line: “Memorials preferred to SAVE or NAMI.”  SAVE is the non-profit organization “Suicide Awareness Voices of Education” and NAMI is the “Alliance on Mental Illness.” So if one didn’t know you, or our family, they would likely still be able to piece it together for themselves.

We chose those two organizations for an obvious reason– because what happened to you was not something we wanted to see happen to other people and we were hopeful that any money raised would possibly help even just one person get the care they needed.  While cleaning and unpacking at my new home the other day I found a card from my former in-law that I really wished I hadn’t saved because it made me so angry.  Well, I guess “angry” isn’t so much the right word as “invalidated.”  The card read like this:

“Dear Ones,

Instead of donating to one of the organizations in Brian’s name, we are sending money to apply to Sophie’s vet bill.  I am sure Brian would think this appropriate.”

You’ll remember that at the time of your death, my dear kitty, Sophie, had been at the vet for a few weeks as her kidneys were failing.  And I guess I should clarify that I absolutely recognize that sending money at all was an extremely kind gesture.  But what wasn’t kind was to choose to specifically say, “we’ve chosen not to donate to either of those organizations” and “I think this is what Brian would have wanted.”  I was hurt, angered and frustrated.  There was a very meaningful reason behind our choices of groups to receive funds collected in your memory and she knew that.  The person who wrote the card, while well-meaning, was known to shy-away from difficult topics and situations and frequently adopted the “head in the sand” position when things became uncomfortable.  If she had simply sent the money and said, “please choose where you would like this money to go” versus openly telling me that she made the choice to ignore our wishes I wouldn’t have been hurt.  I realize that when this card came only weeks after you died, things were still pretty raw and fresh and all of my emotions were right on the surface.  But when I came across the card again on Sunday I had exactly the same response even 4-1/2 years later… so I don’t think it was simply me reacting out of the heat of the moment.

Anyhow… so I had told you I was unpacking in my new home– I just recently moved in with my sweetie of over 2 years.  While we were hiking on Saturday I was thinking about you and how much I miss you and so wished that the two of you could have met.  I know you’d have gotten along so well; you really would have liked him and I wish he could have had the chance to know you, too.  It’s a huge deal, this living together thing.  I’d been asked by others in the past but didn’t feel it was the right thing to do.  It’s a really meaningful decision and a huge responsibility which I don’t take lightly… it needed to be right.  I didn’t hesitate for a moment this time. I wish you were here to share this with me.  Oh, and I also had your whoopee cushion saved in the same box… so that brought a smile to my face.  You and I always did share an affinity for fart culture. 🙂

I’ve been having a really rough few days and while sitting at a stoplight on my way to work this morning, I was startled out of my fog by a voice saying, “Hey pretty lady!  Have a great day!!”  I turned to see a man sitting at the bus stop and grinning at me from ear to ear.  It absolutely made my day… people have no idea how much a smile like that might mean to someone who is feeling a lot of sadness.  I need to try and pass that smile on to others today, I think.

Well I’m out of words for now, I suppose.  I miss you, dude.


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I lost my brother Brian, my only sibling, to suicide on October 13, 2010. I write about dealing with the loss as well as my own life-long struggle with depression and suicidal ideation.