Friday, April 29, 2011

My Brother: Part 2...

You must have been in a place so dark, you couldn't feel the light
Reachin' for you through that stormy cloud
Now here we are gathered in our little home town
This can't be the way you meant to draw a crowd

Oh, why?
That's what I keep askin'
Was there anything I could have said or done?
Oh, I had no clue you were maskin' a troubled soul
God only knows what went wrong
And why you would leave the stage in the middle of a song

("Why" by Rascal Flatts)

It's funny how bringing a life into the world makes you evaluate and appreciate everything in a different light.  My kids make me think about things with such different mentality.  I re-visit my own childhood and remember the good things that I want to recreate for Brady and Brooklyn. 

I think about the relationship I had with my own siblings.  Oil and water.  I think that's the best way to describe it.  Donita and I were far enough apart that our relationship didn't really develop until we were all that was left for each other.  From what I remember, DJ and I were like Tom and Jerry.  We had moments when we could kill each other, but were always the first to jump to the others' defense. We played outside together riding bikes, playing in the creek, making mud puddles, destroying things we probably shouldn't have, fighting over the TV channel, throwing things at each know, typical sibling rivalry.  

As we got older, obviously our relationship changed.  I started middle school, liking boys and he was now "the little brother" that was always around.  Bugging me when I friends over, irritating me when I was on the phone with Chad and just trying to piss me off.  At least that's how I saw it then.  I'd give anything for him to piss me off now.

Once he started middle school and I got my first job(s), we didn't relate much anymore.  He played football.  I remember sitting along Middle Street watching practice with mom and Sally Whitener.  I didn't know him much anymore.  He was changing and so was I.  We drifted apart, but he was still my brother and I would've been the first to jump to his defense.  

Oh, why?
There's no comprehending
And who am I to try to judge or explain?
Oh, but I do have one burning question:
Who told you life wasn't worth the fight?
They were wrong
They lied
And now you're gone
And we cry

'Cause it's not like you to walk away in the middle of a song

I may not have been spending every waking minute with him, but I still felt like he was there if I needed him and he knew I was there for him.  We just didn't NEED each other anymore.  At least that's what I thought.  Little did I know that he was just starting to struggle with life.  Middle school and high school can be hard for girls, but it can be just as trying for boys.  From the outside, he was the happiest most care-free person you'd meet.  The big dork was even on the cover of the local newspaper his senior year for riding our tractor to school with some of his friends.  His was just quirky like that.

I got married, he went to college.  I could tell he was changing.  He liked to be the life of the party and became a real "John Deere" kind of guy.  Cut off jeans with cowboy boots.  Plaid shirts with the sleeves ripped off.  Hat hair all the time.  His friends were an interesting crowd.  Some were good to him, some took his generosity for granted.  He worked random jobs while at school, liked to go mudding and have a beer in the evening.  Through all this freedom, he would've been at my side if I'd ever needed him.  What a great man.

Your beautiful song
Your absolutely beautiful song

He finished school, moved back to Farmigton and worked at a trucking company.  He was still looking for his calling and experimenting with life as he tried to figure it out.  

Then mom got sick.  He made the daily trips with us for 6 weeks before she passed.  He was never the same again.  He blamed himself.  As we all carried some guilt.  I guess children just do that no matter their age.  Those 2 years after mom died, he really struggled.  He withdrew from us.  He tried to look and act the part.  I could feel something wasn't right.  I knew it, but I thought he was grieving and would eventually find his way without interference from me.  I thought if I asked too much, he would completely disappear.  So I never asked.  What a mistake.  

I remember one day he came to St. Louis and we went shopping for new clothes and a haircut for him.  I thought he was "coming out of the gray" and wanting to put himself back together.  I see now, he was trying to mask his pain and recreate what he thought we wanted.  We spent much of the afternoon together (with the girl he was seeing at the time) had lunch, bought some clothes, found our childhood dining table at Goodwill (which he bought for his new rental house).  It was a good day.  I thought he was back.  I chose to believe he was back.  

He called when he got home that evening to let me know he made it, he loved me and that he had enjoyed the day just getting to spend time with me.  I could still feel "it".  Something wasn't right in his voice.  

So I asked, "DJ, are you happy?"...there was a pause and then he replied, "I'm working on it."  

He had said enough to satisfy me.  It was close enough that I wouldn't push anymore.  I just made sure he knew that we wanted him to be happy, no matter what that meant for him.  What a cry for help, as I hear it now in my head.  The biggest regret I have is accepting that answer and choosing to believe he was OK. 

Now the oak trees are swayin' in the early autumn breeze
A golden sun is shining on my face
Through tangled thoughts I hear, a mockingbird sing
This old world really ain't that bad a place

Fast forward about a year...Three Rivers Cemetery on a sunny April morning.  Standing, staring at a powder blue casket surrounded by people and not seeing any of them.  I felt like such a failure.  I had let him down and now there's nothing I could do about it.  I don't know how long I stood there after the service was over as people began to leave, but I remember finally stepping up to his casket, kissing it and saying my final words to him...

..."I hope you found what you were looking for.  I hope you're happy now"...

Now, I see my own son and think about how much Uncle DJ would love hanging out with him.  He is so happy-go-lucky like DJ.  He loves to play with anything that has wheels and they would've been the best buddies.  And Brooklyn would've been a spoiled princess.  He would've loved them.  He DOES love them.   And he loves me, he doesn't blame me and I'm working on not blaming me either.  

Thursday, April 14, 2011

My brother and April 18, 2008: Part 1

This Sunday will mark the 3rd "anniversary" of one of the worst days of my life.  Hopefully there will be none worse than it.  I have so many thoughts surrounding this event that it's hard to know where to start.

Friday, April 18, 2008...I was waiting in the carpool line to pick up Jack and a friend.  He's the little guy I nannied for at the time.  He was having a playdate that afternoon.  We were going to the park to play and then home for snack and Jack's mom, Laura, was going to be home earlier than usual.  My phone rang while I was waiting, it was Laura.  She said she was on her way home at the moment and to just bring the boys there.  Her daughter was coming home early from a week long camp and she wanted to be there to meet her and start the weekend early.  I was thinking that it sounded perfect, because my weekend could start early too!

As we pulled up to Jack's house, I noticed Chad's car sitting outside his house.  I thought nothing of it- maybe he had planned to surprise me with a visit, a dinner, or something.  I was not prepared for the surprise he had.  The boys jumped out of my car, and Laura came out the front door and rushed them inside.  Chad stepped out of his car and I almost ran to him.  I was so excited to see him and also know that I was finished working for the day!  He walked towards me.  I'm still so excited to see him that I'm not noticing the solemn look on his face.  I greet him with a kiss and energetically asked what he's up to.  Then I realize, "This is not good".  He can't really look at me, but says words I'll never forget.

"It's DJ."

"What about him?"  I thought he was in an accident, got arrested or something similar.

"...he killed himself."

I froze.  Time froze.  I instantly comprehended what he was saying and the visuals in my head went overboard.  I knew he was gone.  There was no denial.  No misunderstanding.  Just sheer pain and incredible guilt.  Instantly.  I melted and cried.  We walked inside Jack's house.  Laura was standing inside and I went to her immediately.  She hugged me and told us to take all the time we needed at the house.  We sat in the living room and I remember staring out the window trying to answer all the questions that were swirling in my head.

"How did he do it?" I asked Chad.  I'm sure that's one question he didn't want to answer.
"Shotgun, I think." was all he said.  That was enough for me.
I wanted to throw up.  I wanted to hide.  I wanted to die.  I have NEVER felt a pain like that before.  An emotional pain that hurts so much you can feel it in your bones.

We sat for a few more minutes and then I wanted to be in Farmington with my family.  NOW.  We said our goodbyes to Laura.  I told her I'd call her in a few days and let her know what was happening.  Then we got in my car, headed home to pack and make the hour drive to Farmington.

When we got to our townhouse, I remember walking inside and trying to focus on what clothes to take with me.  I stood outside our little laundry room, trying to pick out an outfit or 2 and just melted into the floor.  I became a weeping pile.  Chad came and sat with me while I cried and got angry about not having anything to take.  We finally grabbed the essentials and decided we'd go shopping for anything else we needed.

It was raining.  A pathetic, cold, depressing rain as we drove.  I called Donita to check on her and get what little details she had.  She was rather together, as she'd had a little more time to process than I had at this point.  She said he was found that morning, but had done it the afternoon before.  I was so angry that my little brother had been dead for more than 12 hours and no one knew it.  I felt like I should've known.  I should've felt it.  I felt like it was my fault that he had laid there, alone.  Alone.  I was so angry at myself.

We drove what felt like 25 MPH to Farmington.  We got to my sister's house where she and my dad were.  They were so still.  We talked about the details.  When did it happen, how was he found, who found out first... All the pointless information that seems so vital in the moment.

My biggest worry was "Was he scared? Did he have doubts in that last split second?"

The next few days went by in a blur.   There were hundreds of people.  Tons of flowers.  Lots of tears.  We had the option of seeing him during our family visitation.  Without seeing him, we knew we'd never believe it.  The funeral home told us that they tried to "reconstruct" as much as possible, but were not able to.   For us, his tattoo served as closure.  The visitation, the funeral, the gravesite, the cleaning out of his belongings, the questions, the grief, the guilt.  It was all part of the process and the worst week of my life.

There are days that are still as paralyzing as April 18, 2008. There are days when I can't forgive myself for moving away and leaving him after mom died.  Days when I beat myself up for not asking more questions of him when I knew something wasn't right.  There have been days when I just wanted to die with him.

But those days are coming fewer and far between.  I definitely believe that God takes our pain and helps us create strength from it.  Only He knows how much pain we've endured.  This life hurdle can be used to help others.  It has taught me to not take anything for granted, to appreciate love, to be more understanding of other peoples' circumstances and to treat today as though it may be your last. It has made me a better mother, because I never want my children to doubt how much they are loved, how special they are and how much better they can make this world.

We are here for a reason.  We are here for a season.  With God, nothing is impossible.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

BrAiN dEaD...

There comes a point in pregnancy where a woman goes completely brain dead.  I have officially reached that point.
I'm sitting at my desk with a million thoughts of things I need to be doing to prepare for Brooklyn's arrival both at home and at work.  So many things in fact that I can't pick one.  I sleep, but don't feel rested and am in a steady round of hip/back pain that keeps me distracted.  Brooklyn is slowing in her movements, but picking up in weight and definitely running out of room in there.
On one hand, I can't wait for her to get here so I can meet her and get to know her.  (Not to mention, no longer be sharing a body with her) On the other hand, I have plenty of anxiety of how I'm going to handle the additional responsibility of caring for a newborn again, physically recover from surgery, ride the hormone roller coaster and then transition back into work.  It's all a bit much to handle right now and I'm trying to come up with answers to questions that haven't been asked yet.
We've had a crazy month at work, with more than enough change in staffing placement.  We've made a shift in what teachers work what room and everyone is trying to settle and still care for the kids in their room while maintaining some sort of sanity.
As I sit here, my stress level is off the charts and I just want to take my baby boy, go home and cry.  I'm so tapped out with drama and stupidity and just wish people would take a deep breath, realize that some details aren't important and get their priorities straight.
So, enough of my hormonal rant.  I'll re-focus, lead by example and put on my big girl panties and deal with it.
God never gives us more than we can handle, right?