From “Why,” by Rascal Flats
You must have been in a
Place so dark
You couldn’t feel the light
Reachin’ for you through
That stormy cloud
Now here we are
Gathered in our little hometown
This can’t be the way
You meant to draw a crowd
Oh why, that’s what I keep asking
Was there anything I could’ve
Said or done
Oh, I had no clue you were masking
A troubled soul, God only knows
What went wrong and why
You would leave the stage
In the middle of a song
These are the lyrics from a song that has been playing in my head for the last year, especially today, as I’m gathered with my family to remember my little brother, Chrissy.
A year ago today, as I waited in the Las Vegas airport for him to pick me up, my sister called to tell me that he had killed himself with a handgun.
Over the next days, weeks and months, the question of WHY consumed us. A year later, a new perspective has emerged. My uncle, a cancer survivor, told me that he spent a great deal of time during his treatment asking that very same question, until he started to reframe the question in a new way: “WHY NOT ME?”
Even more importantly, what can my family and I share with others in a similar place, to provide them with insight, help and support?
My brother was and is a gift. On this anniversary of his passing, I do not want to focus on the darkness that surrounds his past. Rather, I want to share with you the beautiful gifts he helped us “unwrap.”
The poet, Mary Oliver, wrote in her Thirst collection, “someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this, too, was a gift.”
Most people wouldn’t associate loss with being a gift. But because of Christopher, I do.
The death of my beloved brother, my box of darkness, was a gift. It just took a while to unwrap it completely. Here are some of the things that I’ve learned in the wake of my loss:
1. Knowledge is Empowering
My brother’s death was a beginning of a new and unwanted education for me.
Learning about suicide was never on my “bucket list,” but as my family and I are thrown into a world we did not seek out, a world where one is forced try to fathom the unfathomable, education and knowledge saved us.
For the past year I have been trying to learn all I could about depression, suicide, mental illness, prevention and treatment. Between the books I have read, research I have done and the stories that have been shared with me since I made my journey public, the most valuable insights were these:
A person who dies by suicide is often so consumed by pain that he can no longer think of anything but ending that pain.
The pre-suicidal state of mind is one of extreme mental anguish where one’s judgment is distorted and one does not have the ability to “make choices” or see options. Our rational minds can’t fathom how our loved ones could have “chosen” to take their lives, but in their grief-stricken minds, there was no other choice.
This is why it is so critical to reach out to others whenever you have suicidal thoughts of your own; you may be in a tailspin that you cannot pull out of by yourself.
While it can be very difficult to “spot” someone in this state of mind, we all need to be alert to the warning signs.
Individual therapy and group therapy in any form is essential for helping survivors to deal with this grief.
The group of people I know who are “survivors of suicide” is much larger than I would have ever guessed. Suicide is still so stigmatized by our society that most people choose not to speak about it publicly. It has amazed and saddened me to discover how many people I know that have suffered the loss of a loved one to suicide, and that they only felt they could share this with me after I had become one of them.
2. ABC: Always Be Capturing
Noticing and noting have always been critical in my life and in my learning, but I have been more conscious and conscientious about keeping a record of important moments in my life, and more importantly, the people I get to share those moments with.
Remembering you, Christopher, has been a gift: Airplanes, Colorado, Tevos, Jar of Hearts, Soup.
I wish I had ALWAYS BEEN CAPTURING – my memories of you would be even greater.
3. Live in Appreciation; Forgive
I know it seems cliche. We don’t appreciate what we have until it is gone. There is a reason things are cliche….they are often somewhat based in truth.
To say my brother and I had our ups-and-downs would be an understatement. But months before his death, we had made a lot of progress in our relationship. I was on my way to see him and hopeful about starting a new chapter. It excited me to think that my children might get to know him better.
We never got that chance. As I look back at how much I anticipated our new relationship, I regret not appreciating what we had much earlier.
Now, in death, rather than in life, I find myself appreciating him more for who he was, and forgiving whatever it was that drove us apart. I find myself wishing I had the opportunity to appreciate our differences as a window to learn about our similarities. I would so relish the opportunity to better know him, learn from him, and love him more deeply.
Live in appreciation; forgive. Now.
4. Facing Death to Value Life
The meaning I have found in my brother’s suicide is to realize that life is tenuous for us all. Facing death with grace is the fulfillment of life, regardless of what you believe will follow.
Of all the gifts my brother bestowed upon me, this is the most significant of all.
We have the choice of making every minute count with the people we love from now on, and valuing them and our lives in a way we never did before.
5. Grace and Gratitude
The pain and loss of my brother’s death will always remain, but my grief is beginning to be transformed into grace. His memories remind me how ephemeral life is and how fortunate I am to be blessed with family, friends, and work that fill me up.
His memories remind me to live every day to the fullest, to take nothing for granted and let those whom I love know how much they matter and I love them
His memories remind me we live in a beautiful world that offers endless possibilities.
Thank you.. from the bottom of my heart.. to all that prayed for our family.. to all that shared so generously … to all who reached out to me and to my family in the weeks and months that followed. You will never know how much you were a part of my learning, my healing and my ability to support others in their grief.
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I'll like you for always.
As long as I'm living,
My baby you'll be.