Saturday, December 31, 2022

Never shined through what I've shown.

 I have lived through hard things.

On Thanksgiving day in 1997 my then-husband told me that he didn't love me. That he'd never loved me and he wanted a divorce. I was pregnant with Jonathan and Megan. He was hugely, unforgivably cruel to me during my pregnancy. I don't know how I survived that. I don't know how I survived the ensuing months. I don't know how I continued to get out of bed every morning.

I'm weak, remember? A snowflake, a bleeding heart. I'm not made for this world. I need to grow up and toughen up. I've heard it my whole life. Endlessly. People would spat, "You're so sensitive" as though that word was a slur. As though I was a mistake, a problem, just plain wrong.

I survived. My kids survived being born super early and being medically fragile. No walls built around them. They will be 25 in a few months. 25 years old in 2023. The year that gives us another chance.

There are so many other things, big and small, we've survived. A few years ago my husband was brutally assaulted for thirty dollars and a pizza. He was not left unscathed, but he survived. Our marriage survived (and thrived, maybe coincidentally, but I'll take it). So many years ago I fulfilled a life-long dream of becoming a published author, and survived the reality of what it really means- criticism, unkindness, and jealousy. I nearly lost my love for writing, but this, this horrible, anguishing year has required me to write again. To tell the stories that hurt my heart. To tell the truth in all it's ugly, naked horror.

This year, this worst, most horrible year of my life, is coming to an end tonight.

I want to send it to the fires of Hell.

I want to hang on to it and never let it go. 

 Both, at the same time.

 

Sometimes when I think about everything that has transpired in 2022, it literally takes my breath. I've cried endless oceans of tears. I cried this very morning, listening to my Bootcamp coach explain the workout. I've cried in work meetings, silently muting my line and switching my camera off. I've had to leave stores because I'll see someone out of the corner of my eye who reminds me of Chris, or a song will come on the radio and my heart cannot abide it. 

I've dreamed of him, whole and alive and okay, so many times. I've woken up, angry and sobbing and broken, because I just want one more time. I've cried in my sleep. The nightmare is the truth about how he died. The monsters are real in this story and they take your brother away. 

So many times, hundreds of thousands of times, I've quietly whispered to myself, "Okay. Okay. You are okay". Over and over again, reminding myself that I am here and I'm alive and although the pain in my chest never, ever goes away, I am still above the ground and even though sometimes that's all I can be, sometimes that's enough.

A huge part of me feels like 2022 can go away and never, ever be spoken of again.


Also.

My brother took his last breath in 2022, and oh my God, I don't want to leave it behind. Every page of the calendar that turns takes him further away from me, and I can't stand how much that hurts.

We are the same age now, which is horrible and also beautiful, because he was so many things to me. He was my big brother, but now we are the same. Sometimes I cry and the scar on my forehead turns bright red. He had the same scar when he died. It's a horrible connection, but I am desperate for those connections.

He was weird and sensitive and so am I. He cared about people the way I do. He loved people the way I do. He and I were more alike than I wanted us to be.

He had demons and monsters in his brain and so do I.

 

He fought. I know he did. He tried so hard. 

I fight too. If people knew how hard I had to fight then no one would ever call me weak or a snowflake or sensitive ever again. 

I'm glad they don't know though. I'm glad that people think I'm weak and pathetic instead of knowing the truth. The truth is awful and I wouldn't wish it on anyone. 

 

 

I had big goals and dreams for 2022 and they didn't happen. Point blank, period.  All I did was survive.

 

2023 holds a lot of beautiful possibilities. Jason and I will celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary in July. I will see my work friends again, after three long years. The workout classes I teach are filling up, and I love helping people find joy in moving their bodies. My children are doing well. I have the sweetest, funniest little puppy dog in the world. I have friends who care about me. There is always joy in the pain, and this year has definitely taught me that. 

I can't stop this year from coming. I can't stop time. I can't bring back my sweet, funny, sensitive, broken, beautiful brother.


All I can do is keep being honest.

Keep talking about this.

Honor his memory. 

Boldly and honestly say I'm not okay. 

Admit these weaknesses. 

 

Survive.

Survive.

Survive.

 


Friday, December 23, 2022

It's the most Wonderful time of the year. Except it isn't.

 Every day, I think about how my brother laughed.

I can still hear it. He's been gone ten months and seven days and I can still hear it. 

I am afraid of forgetting.


All around me are Christmas lights and trees and Holiday Happenings. I want to be happy and joyful, but this year it is hard. I don't know if Christmas will ever not be hard.

 

Chris, my brother, loved Christmas. Absolutely loved it. He always overspent and he often overdecorated and he was usually overexcited, but that was just him. That was Chris. He was an explosion in every sense of the word.


The last time I saw my brother alive was Christmas eve of 2021. I remember as we were chatting thinking to myself, "I should ask dad to take a picture of the two of us". I can't recall the last time we had a picture, just us. Probably when we were little kids. We'd become so close in the last few years- he was the only person outside the people I lived with that I could really talk to. We whispered secret conversations and texted back and forth even in the same room, and even though it was clear he was struggling, I was able to pretend it was all okay. He was my brother and even though he was having a hard time it would all work out eventually. 

I believed.

He left before I could ask dad and I remember feeling a moment of almost suffocating panic about that, which was silly, right? There would be other days. There would always be more days. 

A lot happened in the weeks following Christmas 2021. I don't know the exact order of all of the events, nor does it matter. I just know I never got another chance to take that photo. Fifty-four days later he was gone. The next time I saw him it was just his body. Nothing would ever be the same again.


So tonight, almost exactly one year to the day, I am sitting with this grief.


I am asking myself, again, for the millionth time, if there was something, anything I could have done.

I am wishing he had been able to understand how much we all loved him.

I am thinking of his children and his granddaughter, and wishing I could take the pain away for them.

I am helpless, because my parents hearts are broken and there is nothing, absolutely nothing I can ever do to make that better.


I wish I had the stupid picture. I am sure he would have been talking in it and I'm sure I would have smiled too big and had the squinty eyes I ALWAYS have in pictures and I'm sure I would have completely critiqued the photo and hated how I looked in it, but oh, God I would give anything to have that damn picture.



Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. 

A sweet neighbor baked me a pecan pie and left it on my front porch this morning. A friend from Bootcamp  surprised me with a small gift. A Christmas card from my sweet nephew arrived. I had an email from one of my oldest, dearest friends this week.

I know there are people who love me. As the grief poured out of me this year so many people caught it and sat with me in it. So many people have listened to my venting, my crying, my pain. They've loved me and let me and I am thankful. So thankful.


Tonight, though, it is me and my grief. Just us. 

Everything hurts. 

I am weary with this pain. 



Friends, I beg of you:

If you have the chance to tell someone you love them, do it.

If you have a chance to take the picture, do it. I don't care if you think you are too fat or you aren't wearing makeup or your hair is a mess. Take the picture. Please.

If you celebrate this Holiday season with someone who is grieving, please know that you are inviting not just that person, but their grief as well. We can't separate it. Even though it's Christmas. Even if we wanted to, which we maybe don't. This grief is love and I can't stop loving. 


Tomorrow could be totally different. Tomorrow everything can change.

 

 

Love them, even if it's difficult.

Embrace them, every chance you can.

Take the picture. Take too many pictures. Take an obscene amount of pictures.



 

Blessed are those who grieve.  

There is a purpose in this pain and I will find it. 


I still believe.


Sunday, November 20, 2022

Just one more time

 If I could talk to you one more time, I would tell you what life felt like the morning after you died.

I would tell you about how bleak and dark and lonely this world felt. I would tell you how I cried and cried and how it was almost unbelievable to me that you were never coming back. 

I would tell you about the day we went into the cold, cold funeral home and identified your body. How you looked at peace for the first time in a really long time, but that didn't really make it any easier. How dads shoulders sagged as he wept for you. How it was like a horrible nightmare, seeing you lying there. How it wasn't really you, because your soul was long gone, but seeing your broken body there was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do. Knowing it wasn't REALLY you. Knowing the real you was gone to me as long as I live on this Earth.

I would tell you about the day of your memorial. How your ashes weren't ready and how we laughed at how you were late to your own funeral. How the funeral home started playing a song as I was standing there, about to try my damnedest to memorialize your entirely too short life with words I didn't even remember writing, and I whispered to our sisters who were standing on each side of me, "Oh God, he would have hated this". 

Oh honey. You would have hated it. 

Not as much as I hated it.


If I could talk to you one more time I would tell you about the day after the memorial, after the people went home. How dark and cold the world felt. How I wondered if any of this was real. How much I hoped it wasn't.

How I wondered how I would live the next day.

Or the next year.

Or the next twenty years.


It felt impossible that day.


I would tell you how I had to ease back into my life. How kind my coworkers were. How the people at my Bootcamp wore buttons that said "We love Steph". How when I finally stepped back in front of my Zumba class I smiled and laughed for an hour and then cried all the way home and for the rest of the entire day. 

 How it still doesn't seem real.

 

I would tell you how we worried we would lose dad just about a month after we lost you. Triple bypass. Totally unexpected. How terrifying those months were. How I walked endless loops around the hospital grounds listening to the Dolly Partons America podcast, trying to figure out how this had become my life.   How much I missed you. How much I wished we could have faced this together.

 

I would tell you how much I worry about and love your kids, and your granddaughter. How much they miss you. How much we all miss you. How I will never let them go, not just because they are amazing and I love the Hell out of them, but also because they are what I have left of you. 

 

I would tell you the pain is getting easier.

Some days that's the truth.

 

I would tell you about Megan's adventures in Yellowstone. How much she grew up over the Summer. How mature and smart and responsible she is. How Jonathan is almost done with Grad school. How brilliant and wise and blindingly funny he is. 

How much they love and miss their Uncle Chris.

 

I would tell you how the Mountains of Wyoming look. How big and bright and beautiful the world is. There is such an amazing world beyond this tiny town and all of its problems. How much we have left to do to make it the world we want to live in.

 

I would tell you, my sweet, broken brother, about how some days are really, really bad.

How I had really big goals and plans for 2022 and the vast majority of them have fallen completely apart.

I would tell you that some days I struggle to get out of bed. That some days I can't seem to find my purpose. Panic attacks wake me up most nights. My sleep paralysis demon (Brenda) says, "Hey". 

 

I would tell you, honey, the sun rises again.

I would tell you that the only thing we can't fix is death. 

That no matter what it takes, I would help you.

I would tell you that you matter. You matter. You matter. 

That I am so lost without your friendship.

 

 

I would tell you that there are nights I pray for morning, because the darkness that took you knocks quietly at my door.


 

I would tell you that I don't judge you.

I would tell you that I understand.

I hate it, but I understand.

 

I wish you could have seen how much you meant to me.

To all of us.

 

I would tell you I love you.

 

I wish I had just one more chance.

 

 

Sunday, November 13, 2022

A side of me you didn't know.

 I recently read an article about how the loss of a parent changes you. How you can't be who you used to be anymore and how the relationships you have with others will be forever changed.

I don't know. I've never lost a parent.

It makes sense to me though.

I don't know how it feels to lose a parent. I've had a miscarriage (more than one) and that was awful. Just horrible. Terribly painful and life-changing. I don't think it equates to losing a child that you've loved and lived with for many years though. I don't know. I hope I never find out.

I only know how it feels to lose a brother.

 

"Only".

 

It might sound crazy when I say this, but honestly? One of the hard things about losing a brother is I honestly didn't know how I would manage my relationships with anyone else, ever again.

I know that sounds silly and I know I can't make this make sense.

Death is a gutting feeling. It feels like everything you understood is suddenly, irrevocably broken. I learned a lot of really painful, difficult things about my brother after he died. I realized a lot of things he'd lied to me about. I started to wonder what was actually real. I started to wonder if anything was actually real.

 

That fear still haunts me some nights. When I can't sleep and I stare at the wall, trying to work out how everything went so wrong. How could all  your love and friendship and sanity and grace just disappear in a moment? How could my brother, my precious brother, be suddenly and forever gone? How could any of this be real?

 


There is a finality to this loss. A suddenness. The world completely stops spinning for you and it just never starts again. It spins for everyone else but you. You are just left, grasping. Trying to hang on to your unsure footing. Trying to understand. Trying to make sense of it all...of any of it. Alone in a void that you can't even articulate much less comprehend.

The love, though. That is the worst of it all.

When someone dies it hurts. When someone takes their own life, it's as though a bomb has gone off and you can never contain the debris. 

 

The unanswered questions. The unending, forever whys. The love, all the damn love, with no place left to go.

 

It feels scary to love. Reckless. Ridiculous. It can all be taken away in two seconds, so why bother?


Why indeed?


 

There was no way I could know.


I didn't know when I fell in love with Jason where we'd be today. I met him in 1999 and I gave the relationship a 50/50 chance of lasting a year.

There is so much you don't know when you marry someone. So much you don't realize. I doubt it would matter anyway, would it? 


We just keep climbing these mountains. We just keep loving without fear. We just keep hanging on. And on. And on. 

Reckless and ridiculous and sometimes so, so scary.

 

Take my hand and keep it in yours.


 We'll keep hanging on.


This is real. 

This is real. 

This is real.


Sunday, October 16, 2022

Worthy

 Yesterday was my birthday. I'm 47 years old.


It is not lost on me that I am the age my brother was when he died. It's unnerving. We aren't supposed to be the same age. He was my older brother and I am forever supposed to be his younger sister. That's the way this works. That's the way it's always worked. I was the third of four. I'm not supposed to be the middle child, by myself. Alone. It was always the two of us in the middle and it's not right that now it's just me and I feel more alone than I've ever felt.

I spent a great deal of the day yesterday fighting back tears. Everything seemed hard. 

I checked my phone a thousand times. 

I know my brother wasn't going to text me. I know he is gone. There is no way I can pretend otherwise, ever.


Yet.


I kept waiting for that text.

He never, ever forgot my birthday. No matter what was going on in his complicated, often messy life. He remembered. Every year.

He never forgot any of our birthdays. 

Jason's birthday was the day before my brother took his own life. Literally hours before he died, he messaged my husband to wish him a Happy Birthday. He already knew what he had planned. He had already decided. He just loved Jason. He loved all of us. He couldn't let Jason's Birthday pass without letting him know he cared.  THAT was who my brother was. THAT person. THAT man. Not any of the terrible things that people think about people who are addicts. Not any of the mean things people think about others who struggle with their mental health. He had a good heart and a bad brain and I know this. In my soul, I know.

 

It is so wrong that he's gone. It's the most wrong thing in the world.

 

I teach Zumba now at a couple of places and one of them, my favorite, is my Bootcamp. I love my Bootcamp. I love my coach. I love my friends. I love my workouts. I love Zumba. I love dancing. It's all really, really beautiful and having that outlet saved my sanity so many times over the past year.

I came into Zumba yesterday morning and my friends had cake and balloons and presents. It was a celebration and it was for me and it was the nicest thing that I've ever experienced in my life and oh. Oh my God. It made me so, so uncomfortable.

I don't feel worthy. 

Not of any of it. 

Not of the gifts or the cake or the balloons...or the friendship. Or the love. Or the care. Or the concern. None of it. Not any of it.

I am not a good friend. I know I am not.

 

I found out when I was 45 years old that I have ADHD and a lot of things started making sense in my life. I care, deeply, about other people, but sometimes my brain and my mouth just don't connect in the right ways and I end up talking a lot about myself and my life and things going on with me and not asking nearly enough about the people around me. I'm always baffled and embarrassed when I realize this because I DO care. I care SO much. I am just terrible. I am not even interesting and I just go on and on because I'm nervous and anxious and oh my good God, so very lonely and desperate for someone, anyone, to give a damn about what I have to say that it just pours out of me like fountains. 

It got worse when my brother died. So much worse.

For so long I hid so many things about my life. I was ashamed. I couldn't figure out why it was all so abnormal. Why we were so weird. I was overweight for so long and then I lost weight and I could disappear and it was literally the best thing that ever happened to me. I could go through airports and no one would remember me. I was just another face in the crowd and completely unmemorable (my propensity to wear Lilly Pulitzer clothing notwithstanding). I didn't want to be remembered because people always remembered me because I was the "fat girl" and I just wanted to be a normal person. I didn't want people to remember me for the weird things or the things they considered bad.

I wanted my brother to be normal too.

I guess that was easier to hide. Most people I knew, aside from a few very, very close friends, had no idea how bad it was. Honestly, even with my best friends I didn't share the worst of it. Partially because I was afraid I would be judged for his addiction. Probably because I've judged people in the past because of addiction in their family (see also: I am terrible and stupid). Also, because I didn't want people to see an addict. I didn't want people to see someone who was mentally ill. I wanted them to see my funny, smart, creative, talented brother. The one who sent me funny jokes and always checked in on me. The one who taught both of my kids their first word (unsurprisingly, it was "Uncle"). The person who helped me hold on to my sanity throughout a really dark, troubling 2020 and 2021. 

That guy.

My brother.


After he died, I just began to...spew. Fountains. I talked. Oh God, I talked. I said so much. Way too much. I couldn't stop. I know, for sure, I made a lot of people uncomfortable but it was impossible to control. I told stories. I cried...wept really. I was no holds barred, 100 percent honest. If it was a shit day, I said it was a shit day. If I had a chance to share, I shared. Good, bad, ugly, anything. It was coming out, period.

What I didn't do was remember other people's birthday. I didn't ask, nearly enough, how they were doing. I was...I AM so wrapped up in my own grief that I am positive, 100% sure, that I completely suck as a friend, an employee, a mom, a wife, an aunt, and probably a human being at this point.

I don't know what I've said and done the last eight months.

Today it's been exactly eight months.

Eight months and eight thousand lifetimes. 


It is comforting in many ways to know that people still love and care about me even though I clearly am not hanging on very well right now.


It's also so, so hard.

It's so painful to feel like such an abject failure.

It hurts so much to wonder why anyone would care.


I relate to my brother in this way and I hate it so much. I hate that we have this in common. I hate that his feelings of unworthiness took his life. I hate that sometimes I understand it so deeply that it scares me. It terrifies me.

Not me. Never me. 

We all think this, right? We hang on. We work through the hard feelings.  We tell ourselves that depression is a liar and tomorrow will be a better day. We get up and try, over and over again. We go to therapy and counseling. We go outside and breathe in the clean air. We apologize. We start over. We do this every time. Every, every time.


My brother couldn't and I will never, ever judge him for that. I know how hard he tried. I know


We had the same sense of humor. When he died he had a scar on his forehead and shortly after he died I got into a fight with a trampoline (don't ask) and I have a matching scar now. We had the same ideas about a lot of things. We had a lot of things in common. A lot. 

Sometimes I wish we had less in common.


One of my sweetest friends loves Jesus so bad. She goes to church a lot and prays a lot and I know she prays a lot for me. I don't go to church anymore and I was afraid she wouldn't love me because of that. She's not like that though. She knows that I believe that Jesus doesn't have a building and she knows that the more I seek by myself, away from all the noise, the more I find what I've been looking for. 

She gave me a card for my 47th birthday. The worst year of my life, by far.

On the front it said:

Some people make the goodness of God easy to see.

She was talking about me.


Not me. Never me.

 

It was me though. She meant me.


I don't know.

None of this makes sense to me. None of it. None at all.


I am taking it all in though. I am learning. I am listening. I am trying every day to be worthy.

Someday I'm going to be worthy.