If I were to describe my life the last couple of days, it would sound like precisely what you would expect from the average Minnesota dad of three on the weekend: take Charlie and Kate to see Monsters vs. Aliens, drop Kate off at a birthday party, find a new bike for Charlie, build a snowman because yes we had enough snow to do so. I'm living the dream and the cliché. The one really unique thing I did this weekend, though, was take a walk down along the Mississippi near downtown St Paul for reasons that had nothing to do and everything to do with those other dad activities.
Two years ago Saturday, April 4th 2007, my big brother Rick died by suicide. If you've been reading this blog for a while, you know I wrote about it then. If not, you can read about it here. I've wrote about the issue of depression, mental health, and suicide periodically since. But I've thought about Rick's loss every day, so many times during the course of every day. There's no getting over it, of course, there's just getting different.
Rick was six years older than me and was my hero when I was young. In adulthood, our relationship was much rockier and there were long periods without contact. We had reconnected and were rebuilding ourselves as family when he died.
Last year, on the anniversary of Rick's death, I wrote him a long letter about his life and my life and our life. I looked for answers and made theories and tried to establish a plan for going forward knowing there would be no contact or answers. I told him that my daughter was going to be born on May 1, 2008. I crumpled up the pages of the letter and threw them into the Mississippi. Maybe they'd eventually make it out to the ocean- and all oceans are connected - where his ashes were scattered.
That's the thing about death: the crushing truth that this person will never be in your life again, ever, is too much to comprehend so you keep talking. You write letters that you toss into the Mississippi, you go to their gravestone, you mumble at them, asking questions that they won't answer.
This year, I wrote no letter. I just meant to walk across the same bridge, maybe think a bit. But when I reached in my pocket on a chilly April St Paul night, I found three ticket stubs from when I took Charlie and Kate to see Monsters Vs. Aliens the night before. It was a movie they said they HAD to see. We had driven up to Roseville, a suburb just north of us, and were the first ones in the theater. Obviously, this meant a ten minute discussion of where to sit. Then it was out to the lobby to sit on motorcycle video games without putting money in. Some popcorn and we went back to catch the movie. As happens every time we go to the movies, Kate wanted to cuddle up with me throughout and Charlie talked too much and laughed very loudly. Afterward it was home for pajamas and bedtime. A routine and lovely evening. I don't take them for granted.
Rick never got them. He died in April and his daughter was born in July. She'll be two years old this summer.
I walked across that bridge Saturday night and at one point I stopped. I had my letter after all. I crumpled up each of those three tiny blue ticket stubs. I tossed in the first for Rick and a life that ended too soon. I tossed in the second for his daughter who will never know him. And I tossed in the third for all that might have been. Then I went home to my family.
I'll close here with the first words of what I wrote about all this on the blog in April 2007:
If you are fighting the disease of depression, or even if you think you might be and you aren't sure, go get some help. Talk to a doctor. Take it very seriously. Don't just assume it will go away. And if you know someone who is fighting this, encourage them to get help also. Do it today.