Thursday, September 22, 2022


 There is a place that is simultaneously broken and beautiful. I live there now.

The broken part is really hard. I am the girl who lost her brother. Never mind I'm fully forty-six years old, almost forty-seven. I haven't been a girl for many years. This pain reduces you. It takes you down you to something small and scared and weak. I'm not a grown woman here, in this grief. I'm a little girl, crying out for her lost brother. Aching for what used to be and what could have been.


It's beautiful here too. That's also part of why it's so hard. 


Part of me doesn't want it to be beautiful. Part of me wants to be angry. I want to rage and scream until I'm hoarse. Why my brother? Why did it have to be him?  He was good and kind. He was important to me. He was special. Why him?

I want to be angry. I want to vent this fire that keeps building in me, let the steam out before I burn into ashes. I can't stand how much it hurts sometimes. 


Hurt isn't anger though. This is something that I've had to make myself learn. 


I'm not angry. I know it's one of the stages of grief, but I'm just not there yet. I don't know if I'll ever be there. Partially because I just feel like I can't be mad at someone who had a broken brain. I can't be mad at someone who  was so deeply wounded that they saw no other way. I have felt that sorrow. I have both dipped my toes in and touched the floor of that ocean of pain. The current sucks you under so quickly that in an blink of an eye you could be gone. I get it. I do.

The hurt isn't beautiful. It's ugly and jarring. It catches me off guard sometimes. A song lyric, a smell. I'm gone. Just completely gone. 

Somehow, at the exact same time, I both have no idea who I am and know exactly who I am. Which, in case it's not obvious, is also really jarring.

It's the beautiful part, though. This part is beautiful.


Never have I felt more lost. Never, ever have I felt more alone. Never have I felt more like an alien from another planet.




Never have I felt more loved. Never have so many people enveloped me in the warm blanket of their care and concern. Never have I been more sure of how I treat people and what I want to be to the world around me. 


I have regrets. So, so many regrets.

At the same time,I don't.

I knew my brother was mentally ill. I treated him with dignity and respect.

I knew my brother was an addict and I loved him anyway. I felt sorrow for his addiction and even more sorrow for his pain. 

He was not his addiction. 

He was not his pain. 

He was the fullness of a billion stars and sometimes he was the intensity of a red-dwarf; a superflare of emotion. That intensity scared me sometimes.

The intensity of all love scares me sometimes.


The world is ugly. It's harsh. It's terrible. My house is not ugly, harsh, or terrible. It will never be.

 I fell apart, more than once. I don't have the time or the inclination to fall apart so the falling scared me. Terrified me. I don't do that. That's not me, that's never, ever me. I get things done. I work. I problem solve.  God  gave me certain talents and gifts and one of them is that if the world is burning around me I walk straight into the flames. I throw every light on in the haunted house because we are going to deal with whatever the monster is. Hide it under a bushel, no. I'm gonna let it shine.

 That's always been me.

Until February that's always been me.


There have been moments though, in the last 218 days that I have said to my husband and my grown-adult children, "I'm tapping out". The sorrow is heavy. So heavy. Sometimes I just can't. Sometimes I think about the things that have transpired over the last 218 days and I simply cannot believe that I survived this pain. I cannot believe the things I've seen and had to deal with. I cannot fathom how a heart breaks in a chest and keeps on beating. 

I could not be me. Sometimes I still can not be me. 

They love me anyway. My son took my hand to steady it as I signed my brothers death certificate. When I have wailed in anguish at the heaviness the three people in my home have sat quietly and let the grief pour out of me so that the lightness could come back in. When I dropped my daughter off in Montana I wept and she drew her back up bravely and said, "I'll be okay." She has been okay. When I said to Jason that we had to get a divorce because I was a horrible wife and failing at everything and didn't even know who I was anymore he said, steadily, "I love whoever you are". They caught me in this downpour and offered me every umbrella they had. That is love.

Love is beautiful.

The last few years have been awful. The world is ugly and harsh. People I thought I knew? I didn't know at all. These seasons...they hurt sometimes. They are so, so dark sometimes.

This world is full of people who are kind. I know a lot of them. 

I want to be one of the kind people. I will be one of the kind people. 

There is no darkness that will take that away from me.


I am unbecoming all the things I've learned that don't serve me. As for me and my house, we will be different. We'll make a better way. A kinder way. We'll deal with the pain, we'll deal with the hurt, and we'll grow. We'll grow from it, always. 

That, my friends, is beautiful. 


That's the beautiful part.

Saturday, September 3, 2022

Maybe it's all pretend

In my dreams, my most vivid, beautiful dreams, this is all just a joke. 

An elaborate, unfunny joke, but I can't even be mad because you are whole and alive and here.

Last night I dreamed of you again. You were sitting at the table and you looked just like you. 

How is this possible? I asked.

Oh, it was all a joke, you assured me. None of this is real.I got you all good!

Oh you did. 

You got us all.

I didn't get upset, in this dream. I was just so relieved. So happy you that all of this was just a mistake somehow and that you were just gone somewhere for a bit.  Just hidden from where I could see you but not gone. Never gone forever, because that just can't be. It just can't.

We talked, in this dream, and something started to feel wrong. So wrong. You said something that let me know, this was a mistake too. You were going to be gone again. The loud thud as you fell backwards, and then you were no longer. You just vanished,  so much more seamlessly than the last time. The real time.

What I remember the most is the screams. The aching, guttural screams that came out of me. Just like the day you died when I dropped to my knees and screamed over and over again that this simply could not be. The pain just gushed out of me, like rivers. Not my brother. Not my friend. Not you. 

Not you.

I always wake up from those dreams in a cold sweat, a panic, and, oddly, with two seconds of hope. Just two seconds.

You are gone. I know this. There is no way, none, that I can deny it.  There is an unmistakable coldness to the body of someone whose soul is no longer here. You had that coldness. I touched your face and your skin and kissed your scarred forehead. You are gone. I know that you are not coming back. I know that you aren't going to just appear from wherever your hiding place has been this last few months. You are lost to me for as long as I live on this Earth and I know this. I can't stop knowing this. God, how I wish I could stop knowing this.

But, oh.


For two seconds I can think of how lovely it was to talk to you again. I just want to talk to you again. I just miss talking to you. Even in your hardest days, even in the darkest times, you were my friend and my brother and I loved you so very much. 

I didn't tell you enough, I never, ever told you enough, how much you mattered to me. How I think I would have gone completely insane the last few years if I didn't have you to talk to. How I knew. Buddy, I knew. The whole time I knew how bad your addiction was. You thought you were hiding it, but I knew. I just didn't know what to do to help you. I couldn't help you and it was so, so hard, so I just loved you. I just accepted you for who you were. A few years ago I decided that the time I got to have was the time I got to have, and I took it. Because you mattered to me. Because all I could do is love you. It was helpless and it was hopeless and it was terrifying and it was so hard, but I would do it all again, every second of it, to have that time with you. 

Dreams. It's all just dreams now.


How I wish though, I wish it could have all been different. For you and for me. 

I just wish I could talk to you again.

Monday, August 15, 2022

The in-between

There is a moment every morning, the moment in-between sleep and awake, that everything is okay. I forget in that moment that you are gone. 

That in-between place is my favorite place to be. Those three or five seconds that I think this was all a crazy dream and you will appear around the corner. You can’t be dead, because dead is forever. I have so many years left without you and that simply cannot be.
I sit in the space where you died sometimes. It’s not scary or weird or gross. It’s just a room. It doesn’t represent you or your life. I talk to you there. I cry a lot and laugh a lot too. I swear I expect you to roll out from under the bed where you have been hiding this whole time. My brain still lets me pretend that this can somehow all be made okay.
I have always been able to make things okay. Sometimes not immediately and sometimes with so much work that I just physically don’t know how I keep going, but I have always been able to fix things. I know this isn’t fixible. I do. My brain tries to trick me into thinking it is. Just for little moments, in those in-between times.
I only miss you in-between.
In-between breaths and seconds and thoughts. In-between days and nights and moments.
It gets easier. People say this and I know it’s real. I have whole days when the tears won’t stop followed by whole weeks where none fall.
Give it time, people tell me. Six months on Tuesday. It’s alternately been a blink of my eye and an eternity on Tuesday. Endless lifetimes and less than a second in that in-between.
I don’t pick up my phone to text you as much now, although sometimes I will see a news story or a joke and my brain immediately thinks “Chris”. That in-between makes me either immeasurably sad (news story) or smile (joke). I text the jokes to your son, who appreciates them. I deal with the news stories alone.
That’s part of it too. The deep, dark, hurty alone. I have so many friends who love me, and I am so thankful and honestly flabbergasted by this. I have people to talk to. I am blessed beyond measure by these souls who hear me.
You were different though.
You and me were different.
It has always been hard to be the different one in a family. You made it easier because we could be different together. You always had my back and I always had yours. It feels impossibly lonely without you. I take all the burdens alone that we used to take together and it’s heavy. It’s just really, really heavy.
All of it is just so heavy.
I miss you. Yesterday, today, and every moment in-between.

Friday, April 29, 2022

He ain't heavy.

 On February 16th my brother, my only brother, took his own life.

That seems like enough to say, and yet not enough at all.

The past few years have been so heavy with fear and loneliness, but this is next level. I can't even begin to describe the void in my soul. He was so broken and so beautiful. 

The broken people are always the most beautiful, aren't they?

My brother was an addict. I am certain this is the first time I'm typing this here, but this is reality. Every dark, secret shame he had is now laid bare. Every dark secret I kept for him was worthless. Pointless.  He was an addict. For many years I was so terrified he would overdose...that the drugs would take his life. The reality was worse. So much worse. I can't think too much about his last day on Earth. It takes my breath when I think about it. When I think about how lonely and sad and scared he must have been...I almost can't fathom it. 

It hurts.

I don't know if it will ever not hurt.

I have tried, in the last 73 days, to be okay again. I have worked. I went to my workouts. I taught my Zumba classes (oh, hey, I'm a Zumba instructor now. By the way). I laughed with my kids. I did my laundry, I cleaned my toilets, I fed my dog, I bought my groceries. 

I sat in my car and screamed until I was hoarse. I have cried so many tears I could fill up an ocean. I have a horse sitting on my chest twenty-four hours a day. I have sat in meetings and not heard a word that was being said. I have said the words "My brother took his own life" more times than should be necessary in one lifetime.

I have seen things I should have never had to see. There is something so horribly messed up about seeing your brother, lifeless in a cardboard box. My hand shook so hard when I signed his death certificate that I'm positive no one could read my signature. There have been moments that I stopped and reflected on the things I've done over the past few months and those moments have knocked the wind out of me. There are no words. Just sorrow. Just deep, unrelenting sorrow.


My brother was an addict. He suffered with bi-polar disorder. He took his own life. 


My brother was beautiful. He was funny. He was kind. He made me laugh more than anyone else on this Earth. He was sweet. In the last few years especially he was the person I told all of my secrets to. He was the person I could trust more than anyone else. I told him things I've never told my sisters, never told our parents. He was my confidante and my friend and I loved him.


I knew he was an addict.

I knew he was broken.

I loved him.


That's what love is, I think. I saw the addiction. It scared me sometimes. I saw the mental illness. That scared me less, honestly, but sometimes that scared me too.

I understood it though. I understood him in ways I wish I didn't. 


I understand depression. I understand it deeply. Intimately. It slowly, dangerously dances with me most every day of my life. I go to work and I go to my workouts and I teach my dance class and I laugh with my friends and I smile and I look totally normal and fine and meanwhile inside I feel like I am worthless and pathetic and  an idiot and sad and that no one could ever possibly love me.

That's what depression looks like for me. It has been my constant companion as long as I can remember. I've tried to break up with that bitch for years, but she's still here so I've learned to live with her. I've learned to call her a liar and ignore her when I can, but she's always, always here. I have trouble believing I am worthy of love and respect. There is a constant inner monologue in my soul that tells me YOU AREN'T GOOD ENOUGH AND YOU WILL NEVER BE GOOD ENOUGH. 

Some days I believe it. Some days I don't. Either way, it's always there.

I get addiction too. People are sometimes surprised that a fully grown-ass woman does not drink alcohol, but I don't. I won't. Because I know if I did, I would be an alcoholic. That's just the truth and I'm not trying to be dramatic. I would be an alcoholic.

I know I was...I am, I guess, a food addict. One does not get to a place in their life where they need to lose 200 pounds without being a food addict. For me it was sugar and carbs. One hit and everything is okay again. I know how  this sounds, but seriously. Something in my brain wanted that all. the. time. People think I'm extreme that I gave up sugar and stopped eating carbs, but I knew it was going to kill me. That's not hyperbole. I was afraid I would die young and not see my children grow up and that was that. I have an addict brain and I always have. I always will. I'm an addict without a drug of choice. 

It's not the same, you might say, and you are right. It's not the same. It's why I stay away from things though, because I know how easy it would be to slip into that world and never come back. 

I know I am broken. My brain is broken. I've known that for many years.

I know my brother was broken. I think he always was.

We were broken together. It was the two of us. After a while he couldn't hide his messiness anymore and I have (thus far) been able to keep mine under wraps pretty well, but it didn't matter. We understood each other. I knew who he was, or at least most of it. I loved him anyway. He saw my depression. I talked to him for a long time about my loneliness. I told him my fears. He understood. He understood more than I ever realized.

I feel like an orphan. 

I feel like I don't belong in the world anymore.

I don't know what my place in my family is anymore.

It's all terrible. Honestly, it's all just so terrible.

I miss him. I miss him so, so much.

Friday, December 24, 2021

Christmas wishes

I wish every single child on Earth could wake up and experience the magic of Christmas. That every single child was loved and wanted and respected. That no children goes to bed hungry tonight or any night. That every child everywhere has the opportunity to grow and learn and have whatever life they want to have.

 I wish we had this house when Jonathan and Megan were small. I can imagine them running down the stairs to the fireplace- a real fireplace instead of the stockings hanging on the t.v. stand. Not that we have a need for a real fireplace in Eastern North Carolina, but still. They are almost 24 now and there are so many things I wish I could take back. So many things I wish I had done better. So many things I wish I could fix.

I wish Ginger was still alive. I miss her so much my heart aches sometimes, even though it's been nearly two years since she left us. How can it be almost two years already?

Oh yeah.

I wish this damn pandemic was over. I wish things could go back to the before times.

I kind of wish that. Not exactly because a lot of the before times was also terrible. 

I just wish.

I wish that I didn't struggle so much with my body. I wish I didn't have to convince myself every single day that there is something redeeming in who I am. That my weight, whatever the number on the scale, doesn't define me. I wish I didn't struggle with food and eating. I wish I didn't feel like I have to work out three times a day.

I wish I didn't feel like I have to do everything all the time. Like I constantly have to prove myself. Like if I ever, ever stop then someone will figure out that I don't belong and kick me out.

I wish I wasn't so scared of the wolf at the door. I wish I didn't live in constant fear of the next domino falling and everything coming apart.

I wish my husband didn't have epilepsy. I wish he'd never had a brain injury. I wish I didn't feel him slipping away sometimes. I hate it. I hate it so much. Even though our marriage has evolved into something really lovely, sometimes I really miss who he used to be.

I wish I could go back sometimes. 

I wish I didn't want to go back. I wish I could trust myself to change the outcomes if I did. 

I wish I could tell five year-old Stephanie and twenty year-old Stephanie that life would get better. That the hard times don't last. That there will be people, maybe only a few but people, actual live, real people who do love you. Maybe if I could tell five year-old and twenty year-old Stephanie then 46 year-old Stephanie wouldn't still find it hard to believe.

I wish.

I wish there wasn't so much hate in the world. I wish the vast amount of conspiracy and misinformation that is turning families against each other didn't exist. I wish people who claim to be followers of Christ and outwardly shout hate and discontent and cruelty would just stop. 

I wish I wasn't so lonely. I wish it wasn't so hard for me to be myself. I wish everyone could know the me who does elaborate dance routines in the privacy of her living room, with only the dog as an audience as much as I wish people could know the vulnerable woman who sometimes sits in her car and wails in anguish at how damn hard everything is before drying her eyes, walking inside, and getting every hard thing done. I wish I didn't have so much absolute fear of what people would think or do if they knew the real me. I wish I didn't have so much confirmation of how much people hate the real me.

I wish addiction wasn't a thing.

I wish my son would find a woman who loves history (and talking about history) as much as he does.

I wish my daughter could find a full-time job.

I wish America could get it's proverbial shit together. I wish there wasn't so much hate and division and stupidity. I wish every teenager, every police officer, and everyone serving the country could come home safe tonight. 

I wish people would learn to listen. I wish people would stop thinking anyone gives a shit about whether or not Santa Claus is a man or woman or what Dr. Seuss books were pulled off the shelf and start talking about things that actually matter like children not having a decent education or food to eat or a stable home to live in. Like people in jail forever for minor drug offenses and people who have money buying their way out of jail no matter how many crimes they commit. I wish everyone could feel loved and seen and heard and valued. I wish people talked about what matters instead of yelling about nonsense.

I wish I could find the peace I only find when I'm walking in the woods, talking to Jesus. 

I wish I knew what was so awful and horrible and repugnant about me that people in my family and people that I considered good friends decided that I wasn't worth talking to anymore. I still have no idea what I did wrong. Maybe it doesn't matter- maybe I just don't even need to know. It does hurt though, and I wish it didn't.

I wish you love and peace and grace and wisdom. Today and always.

I wish.