His story.


I suppose the thing is, it isn't my story to tell.

When I try to think about why it is so hard to talk about, why it is so hard to write about. It is because it isn't my story.

My story is the one where I suddenly and unexpectedly lost my little brother, who died by suicide two and half years ago now, when he was only twenty-six and I was thirty-one. My story is one of gut-wrenching heartache and overwhelming guilt.

My story is the one where, in those days and weeks following his death, I was constantly asked "Did you see this coming? Was he depressed?" Which makes me feel like shit because it is basically saying, "Do you feel like this is your fault?"

(I did, by the way. Of course I did. And even now, during the really horrible times of missing him so much that my ribcage aches, I still do.)

My story is the one where I cried so hard and so long that my eyes became swollen and red and raw. So I would sit with an ice pack held against my tender eyelids, and I would cry into the icepack instead.

My story is waiting for him to walk through my door any second, his long thermal shirt sleeves pulled up just below his elbows, his volcom hat overly bent, a crooked smile on his handsome face, saying something smart ass like he always did.

My story is seeing his body in the casket and knowing then that he was really gone. Of reaching in and grabbing hold of his stiff arm and sobbing how sorry I was. Of sitting in the cemetery amidst chunks of frozen snow, beneath a pure gray dim cloud filled sky, watching the man playing taps on bagpipes and shivering uncontrollably before they dropped the casket that held him into the ground.

My story is losing happiness and hope for a very long while. My story is stepping away from my desk at work to cry in the bathroom, to cry in the car. Coming home from work and crawling in bed and wishing in my bones that I could sleep forever and stop feeling this horrible pain.

My story is knowing that I was the last person to text him before he died. I texted him Christmas morning. He died just after midnight that night. I still have those texts. I still hate myself for not saying "I love you" in them.

My story is that I still had to be strong. My story is that I had a one year old and a five year old that still depended on me to live, and so I couldn't sleep forever, and I had to show up even though I did so terribly, with no patience and a lot of resentment towards where I was and what I had to do as a Mother when it was the last thing I wanted to do at all.

My story is dark and scary and lonely and ugly.

My story is also one where, over the course of time, after the very hardest thickest days of wallowing in misery and grief, I found that I could connect with him still. Somehow, he was in the air surrounding me. I started to find him there, through the cracks in my heart. I could feel him. He showed up in my dreams at night, he showed up by my side at the grocery store, he showed up until I couldn't doubt it anymore.

He was gone, but I realized that my connection with him could continue. And so I have spent the past two years working so incredibly hard to cultivate that space for him. I have worked hard by ridding distractions. By meditating. By connecting to a higher power.

And my story is now, that I have found that space and continue to find that space. That I have honed in on what really deserves my energy in life, and what truly does not. That I have found incredible amounts of peace and hope for the future.

My story is, that somehow, against all odds, I have risen from the ashes that I was then to find a larger, stronger, more understanding and compassionate person than I ever was before.

But none of that is his story. His story is one only he can tell, and he isn't here to tell it, so what a predicament we are in. I don't know how to tell it, because it isn't mine to tell.

I wish it could be told.

What you should know about my little brother, is that he was the most loyal of anyone I have ever met. If you were lucky enough to be considered his friend, he would stick by your side through it all. He would buy you cigarettes and drinks and loan you money and his car and help you move when you had heavy lifting and sit by your side when you were down.

He was always good for a laugh. He loved to joke. In fact, it's almost all that he did. He teased and prodded and in that regards, he was the perfect little brother.

He was my very best friend when we were kids. We did everything together, until I got older and got friends and started liking boys and worrying about superficial things like my outfits and my eyebrows.

He joined the army when he was only 18. Or was he 19? He was so, so young. He decided to do it all on his own and didn't tell us until after he enlisted. I remember finding out while working my job as a receptionist a lumberyard. I remember crying.

But from his years in the army, he grew and matured tremendously. I still have the letters he wrote me from Afghanistan. One time, I wrote his address incorrectly and apparently his Lieutenant made him do extra pushups that day. My favorite letter from him sits in my top nightstand drawer.

"Keep praying for me, it really helps. I love you. Love, James."

I took that letter to the tattoo parlor the Summer after he passed and had his signature permanently tattooed in black ink on my wrist, where I can always see it for the rest of my life.

And the thing is, I do remember the James he was after the army. I remember things differently, though, the way you remember things only in retrospect. I remember him crashing his truck and ending up in the hospital, and how scary that was, and how hard he fought to overcome that crash and those mistakes he made over the next year following.

I remember worrying about him then, but not in this way. I never, ever thought it would be this.

I worried about him because he had a lot on his plate. Because he worked grueling graveyard hours. Because he wasn't sure what to do with his life now. He seemed a little quieter, had a little less time, didn't attend as many family events.

But I never, ever, thought it would be this. That had never crossed my mind. Not once.

I remember, now, only in retrospect, those last few months of his life. How reserved he was. How he kept to himself at family parties, sleeping longer, staying in his room, leaving the group to go do Mom's dishes in the kitchen by himself instead.

My biggest regret now is not seeing it. Obviously it is, my biggest most horrible most terrible regret that I will ever have in my entire life. How could I be so blind? How selfish, that I could be so caught up in my life that I couldn't make the time to be a big sister anymore?

I have worked so hard these past two years to stop hating myself for that.

It might be a work in progress, forever. But I'm trying, because I know without a sliver of a doubt that it is what James would want. He would never, ever, in a million years want me to feel that way about myself. He would never have wanted to hurt anyone. He hated hurting people. He was that way from such a young age. He was so caring and kind-hearted and tender that way, always.

I don't know his story. I can't know it. His story is his alone to tell. But I think that his story is, that he was sick. There at the end, he was sick and broken. And his sickness made his mind tell him terrible lies and in the end, he believed them.

And in the end he made a split second decision and now he is gone and it is the one biggest regret and heartache of my life so far.

I miss him so much. We all do. And all that I can ever hope, all that I keep hoping every day, is that he knows now from wherever he is, from his ride on the wind as he keeps checking in, how loved and missed he really, truly is.

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