One year ago, Mike ate Thanksgiving dinner alone in a motel room in Staunton, Virginia. Mom and Dad tried to convince him to come home for the Thanksgiving, but he had to work. Mike still had his apartment in Virginia Beach, but had recently been transferred to Staunton, a fact which caused him great turmoil. Mike didn't like change, and being temporarily relocated from Virginia Beach to Staunton was evidence, in his mind, of how things never worked out for him. He loved Virginia Beach, so of course it couldn't work out for him there. He hated Staunton, so of course he was going to be stuck there. In his mind, twisted by depression, paranoid and confused, he believed his company had a conspiracy against him. In reality, his company went out of its way to find a place for Mike when they were downsizing. Most companies would have just let him go. As it turned out, a position opened up in Roanoke less than six months after he died, so if he'd stuck around, he wouldn't have been stuck in Staunton very long. His mind, however, was not capable of seeing beyond his immediate circumstances. Then again, his immediate circumstances were not the point. He was healthy, educated, employed, and loved. Yet more alone than anyone knew.
Mom and Dad offered to meet Mike halfway between Staunton and their home in Parkersburg, West Virginia. It wouldn't have been a long drive for any of them, but Mike insisted it was too far. Mom told him, "That's ridiculous, let us come meet you." But he wouldn't meet them. He complained to them on the phone about being alone, but he had chosen to be alone. Looking back, I can't remember if I talked to him that day, or if Mom and Dad conveyed to me how he was feeling. Did I even leave him a message wishing him a Happy Thanksgiving? I want to believe I did, but I'm honestly not sure.
It wasn't until this Thanksgiving, a year later, that I realized he was probably already planning his suicide when he refused to meet Mom and Dad for dinner. The detective who investigated his death told us that he had been going to the shooting range for two weeks before his death. Thanksgiving was eight days before his death. The detective said Mike's visits to the shooting range didn't prove he was contemplating suicide; perhaps he was shooting guns for recreation, he suggested. But the detective did not know my brother. Mike hated guns. He didn't pick up a new hobby in the last weeks on his life. There is only one reason Mike went to the shooting range. The same reason he sat alone on Thanksgiving. The same reason we are without him now.
So now, one year later, it is time to give thanks.
I am thankful for my brother Mike, who I had the privilege of knowing for 37 years. I have many regrets about some of that time that was wasted, but no matter what, I know that I am a stronger and better person for having Mike in my life. I love you, Mike.
I am thankful for my Dad. I regret that my grief for Mike has made my grief for Dad come a little more slowly. He was a good man and a good father, and I know his love was unconditional. I love you, Dad.
I am thankful for my Mom. I don't know how I could get through losing Mike and Dad without Mom. I hope she stays with me for a long time. I love you, Mom.
I am thankful for Dolly, my beautiful baby girl. She is my reason for everything. I love you, Dolly.
I am thankful for all of my friends for helping me through this year, even when I have been withdrawn.
Most of all, I am thankful for God, for watching over all of us, keeping us safe as we keep moving forward.
Sunday, November 28, 2010
Sunday, November 7, 2010
Earlier that morning, I tried, unsuccessfully, to assert my will onto Dolly. Over the weekend she had written a beautiful essay for Day of the Dead, which she planned to enter into an essay contest. The winners would get to read their essays at her school's Day of the Day Assembly. That morning, however, she decided she didn't want to turn in her essay, and she didn't want to read it in front of her friends. I was proud of her for writing it, and tried to convince her to show her essay to her teacher. I even walked her into school, thinking I would enlist her teacher's help in convincing her. In the end, I realized that this quest was more about me than about Dolly. It was completely understandable that she didn't want to read an extremely personal essay to her entire school. When I realized what I was doing, I stopped. I turned around. I let it go.
Dolly and I left the Dia de los Muertos procession and walked to the festival of altars in Garfield Park. As upset as I was about leaving the procession, as soon I got to the altars, I knew it was where I needed to be. Someone looked at my sign and said, "Look, she's carrying her altar with her." We went into the playground so Dolly could ride on the merry-go-round. I had an overwhelming feeling of warmth and calm. I thought it was Dad telling me that everything was going to be OK. Then I cried for a long time.
Dolly and I walked around the park, looking at the altars. I felt inspired to build an altar next year for people who died by suicide. Next year I won't go the procession, and will spend the evening in the park only. At one altar, there were cards, pens, and envelopes for people to write messages to those they have lost. We wrote a note to Dad and Mike, saying that we loved them and missed them, and that we hoped they were at peace and with each other.