Crying is good for you

I’ve had a lot of tears the past month, seemingly out of the blue.

I cry every time I watch the moms on The Voice. They’re either clutching their hands or someone else’s and you can just tell they’re holding their kid’s whole heart in theirs and wishing every good thing for them. And when they cry tears of proud joy when their kid gets a judge to turn around? Then I’m officially a goner. Oh, and Grey’s Anatomy- I’m a season behind, watching it on Netflix, but shaeeessh- can we just talk about Maggie’s mom? In short, I’ve probably cried a few times a week for the past 4 or 5 weeks. And that is frequent for me.

A co-worker who knows me well and saw me falling apart asked if it was the anniversary of my brother’s death. I said, nope, just a random day! But I was missing my brother. And it’s weird to me how some days I don’t even think of my brother, and some days I think about him all day long. I feel guilty when I realize it’s been a few days since I consciously thought of him. Especially when other people, decades further along in their grief say they think of their loved one (brother, spouse, etc.) every day.

I have to imagine if I had died and my brother had lived, he would have some days where he didn’t think of me and I would know that didn’t mean he loved me any less. Maybe he just was going forward in his life. I hope that’s what I’m doing.

I had two really big sobbing fits over missing my brother in the past month, no three. One was on my birthday when I realized he wasn’t there to give me a hard time for celebrating my birthday for too long. He called it Missika, an 8 day festival of lights. Another was just a day I was thinking about how much I was enjoying our niece Charlotte and how wonderful she is, and I was sad he wasn’t here for each minute. Then most recently I just missed him so I scrolled through his facebook and at first I was smiling and happy to see his face, watch his videos, and hear his voice. But by the time Andy found me I was a puddle of tears and I physically ached with how much I wished he was still here.

So I tell myself the same thing I tell my friends when they apologize for crying; tears are healing.

There are studies that found chemicals released in tears actually help humans heal. Our tears can reduce pain, lower stress, remove toxins from our body and help us to self-soothe faster than an anti-depressant. It’s actually pretty cool. Especially for someone who’s become a professional crier over the past 4 years. I like knowing there are benefits to feeling like you’re falling apart.

My mom says I never cried so easily until I came home from Kenya. Apparently, Africa broke my heart for the first time. But my brother’s death broke my heart wide open and left it raw and bleeding. It feels pretty stitched up these days. Just a leak every now and then.

This back and forth thing with grief is so unpredictable. I’m feeling mostly fine most of the time with plenty of joy, happiness and silliness sprinkled in like any other normal life. And then SURPRISE the rug is pulled out and I’m flat on my face weeping like the grief is fresh and new again.

Most grief moments still catch me totally off guard. And I still find myself grateful to have known Justin, to have loved him and to still be missing him so much, two years later. All the grief is worth it, for all the time I got to call him my brother.

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Touch the hem of His robe

Today in church we read Matthew 14. The message honed in on the story of Peter getting out of the boat to walk on water. I was caught up in what happened just after that when Jesus got to the other side.

34 When they had crossed over, they landed at Gennesaret. 35 And when the men of that place recognized Jesus, they sent word to all the surrounding country. People brought all their sick to him 36 and begged him to let the sick just touch the edge of his cloak, and all who touched it were healed.

When my brother was sick I was praying all. the. time. Little bits of bible verses would come to mind and I would pray them for my brother. This passage reminded me of a similar story of the woman who had been bleeding for years. It’s found in Matthew 9, Luke 8 and Mark 5 where we get the longest account.

The story tells that crowds of people were pushing around Jesus and this woman thought to herself, if I can just touch his robe, I’ll get well. She got herself through the crowd and touched Jesus’ clothes. Instantly she felt the blood dry up (message version) and knew she had been healed completely. Jesus knew something had happened to and asked who touched him. The disciples were like, um… we’re in a crowd. Literally, everyone is touching you.

31 His disciples said, “What are you talking about? With this crowd pushing and jostling you, you’re asking, ‘Who touched me?’ Dozens have touched you!”

Jesus is persistent and says he felt power go out of him. The woman knows she has to fess up so she tells her whole story while she kneels at his feet.

And this is the best part. When Jesus responds he tells her “Daughter, you took a risk of faith, and now you’re healed and whole. Live well, live blessed! Be healed of your plague.” (Matthew 5:34)

Often when I would pray for my brother to be healed I would reference this story in my prayers. I would tell/ask God, hey— just let him touch the hem of your robe and be healed. Just a tiny piece of your power. Could you direct it to his body and heal him?

Going back to the verses we read today from Matthew 14.

34 When they had crossed over, they landed at Gennesaret. 35 And when the men of that place recognized Jesus, they sent word to all the surrounding country. People brought all their sick to him 36 and begged him to let the sick just touch the edge of his cloak, and all who touched it were healed.

Reading it brought to mind all those prayers I had prayed. Prayers left unanswered for who knows why. Or maybe they were answered and my brother lived much longer than was originally intended. I have no idea, but I like that possibility.

Okay, back to these verses ^^

I love that all the surrounding areas were like, “Hey- Jesus is in town, bring all the sick to be healed!” And I imagined what it would be like if Jesus’ time on earth coincided with my little life right now. Jesus being in town, or just getting to the other side of a lake would be big news. I would have bought two airline tickets so fast to get my brother to wherever Jesus was. Just to push him through the crowds to touch the edge of His clothes so he could be healed.

When my brother died two years ago I yelled/prayed to God to remind Him that I was asking for my brother to be healed here, not in heaven!

So what do I do with these thoughts now? Knowing Justin could be sitting with Jesus this moment? Heck, maybe he has touched the hem of His robe!

Image courtesy of: Hem of his garment, "Faith that Touches" sermon at http://icdpentecostal.org

The truth is- I don’t know what to do with these thoughts. And to be honest they don’t come with as much frequency as they used to. So when they do, I just write them down to make note of them. To remember.

The only thing I can think to say is what my dad said just the other day. “It’s weird that he’s not here.”

Six short words. But it sums up all my feelings too.

 

Shifting Memories

“Grief, I’ve learned, is really just love. It’s all the love you want to give, but cannot. All that unspent love gathers up in the corners of your eyes, the lump in your throat, and in that hollow part of your chest. Grief is just love with no place to go” ~ Jamie Anderson

The way I talk about my brother’s death has changed over the months and years. When people ask if his death was sudden I used to say yes. Then somewhere along the way, I said, well, others probably saw it coming but it was a surprise to me. Later I added an explanation, “I was too close to see it coming. I didn’t want to accept the possibility, so it was sudden to me.”

Then this morning, facebook showed me a reminder that 2 years ago on this date, 2 weeks before my brother died, we were looking into PCAs to help during the day and my brother was eating more than he had been. We were planning for his strength to increase.

I didn’t make up my surprise. I don’t need to justify the timing of events. It was sudden.

There was a big shift in a short period of time from– okay- this is the next step to get some strength to- oh shit- there is nothing else to do.

I read that post this morning and then I got out of bed. I walked to my closet, held onto the door for support, and I wept.

Sometimes a memory brings all the weight of the loss right to the surface. And there’s nowhere for the love to go but through my eyes.

A non-hiker hikes in Montana

To understand the significance of me hiking Beehive Basin, I need to get one thing out of the way first. I have to give an accurate picture of how out of shape I am. I have never exercised more than three times in a week– actually, I’m probably being generous there- let’s say twice in a week. And those occasions were extremely rare. Like the times that I’ve exercised twice in week has happened maybe…. 10 times in my life. So yes, I am the person who gets winded walking a steep flight of stairs just a little too quickly (read: at a normal pace). Okay, so that’s me.

Andy loves to hike, loves Montana and he loves Beehive Basin, a hike in Big Sky, MT. He calls it his happy place and recently had the mountain range of the Spanish Peaks (the range at the top of the hike) tattooed on his arm. It’s a place in the world where he feels most at peace and most himself.

Andy’s family has been visiting Big Sky since the 90s and this is a hike I have heard the whole family talk about often. On our first trip out here together 5 years ago I twisted my ankle the day before the hike so this year was my chance at redemption and to see what all the fuss is about.

Andy told me the hike was 2 miles, so I thought it was weird we had packed a lunch, but whatever. And let’s also be clear- this is not a difficult hike for probably most humans on the planet. People in their 70s were passing me. I’d like to blame the elevation (a gain of 1600 feet up) and the length (turns out it’s between 6 and 7 miles total) or the time (I think we were gone for 6 hours) and any other excuse that sounds reasonable, but really, I’m just out of shape.

At one point when the hike got hard I looked down and I saw my arm. I saw where I had my brother’s signature tattooed a couple months ago. His writing was taken from a card he sent me years ago. My dad calls it, “the perfect Justin scrawl.”

We were in a flat part of the hike and I had gotten ahead of our little group of me, Andy and his mom and dad. (Which, PS, my in-laws can do this hike in their sleep. They kindly slowed down so I didn’t feel like I was the one constantly stopping us, though at the beginning, I most certainly did.)

Anyway, I looked at my arm and thought of my brother. And I also thought about his death. I thought about his last breath. And I reminded myself that I was alive, I had air in my lungs, and I could do this hike. I could keep going even when it was tough.

My brother doesn’t have breath in his lungs anymore, but when he did, he wanted to keep on living. It wasn’t his choice to die. So I kept going because he can’t. I thought of him and cried because I missed him. I cried because sometimes it’s hard to believe he’s really gone. I cried because I hate that he’s gone.

I was glad I had on sunglasses and was a ways ahead of the group for these thoughts and memories. I was cruising at this point, having something else to think about and focus on probably helped. Andy actually had to call out to me to stop because it wasn’t safe for me to be by myself in bear country.

After a while of processing all these thoughts and continuing to push myself further than I thought I was capable of, I stopped to take a picture of my arm. But the rear facing camera was on which made me laugh (because when is that ever a flattering angle?), so I grinned and got this one first.

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I switched the camera back to get a picture of my hiking motivation, my brother’s signature complete with a little heart and arrow he used to draw when signing his name on cards.

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My brother’s signature

I felt my brother’s presence with me on that hike which made me smile because I don’t think that hike would have been his first idea of a good time either. I got brave at one point and asked him what he thought of me doing this hike. He liked to tease me for being what he called, “unathletic” for well, my whole life. And when I asked what he thought, I only heard four words back, “I’m proud of you.”

And yes, I sobbed exactly like a woman talking to her dead brother’s spirit on a hiking trail.

When we got to the lake at the top and were rewarded with an up close view of the Spanish Peaks, I felt glad I had done something that was hard for me. And I noticed another feeling. I was proud of me, too.

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The view at Beehive Basin with Alpine Lake and the Spanish Peaks

Does Grief Have a Timeline?

This morning as I was backing my car out of the driveway a song was just starting on the radio. It was a song that reminded me of Justin because he had said something about it once. “I almost stopped believin’ once, and I bet Journey was pissed!” So I smiled, laughed at the memory of how funny my brother was, and .02 seconds later I was full on ugly crying. I cried through the entire song, up the hill, through the stop lights and into a new town, until it ended. I hadn’t had a long cry like that over Justin in quite a while.

So I started thinking, it’s been over a year and the missing him waves can be just as strong as it was the moment he was no longer in this world.

A friend’s dad recently died and he describes the void in the world as a hole he lives with where his dad used to be. I saw an author say those feelings are the cost of loving deeply, and I think that’s true too. If there wasn’t such great love there, there wouldn’t be such great pain and grief without them.

Facebook memories reminded me this morning that a year ago, a friend posted a picture on my page of an hourglass that said, “There is no timeline with grief, take all the time you need.” I like that. I don’t know if I’ll ever be “done” grieving and I definitely don’t think grief is something to “get over” or “move on” from.

But I like the language about moving forward, in spite of the grief, continuing to live around this hole where our person used to be, acknowledging their life and the sadness of their absence for as long as we need to.

Even if it’s as long as we live.

 

Other People’s Loss

It’s hard to know what someone needs when they’re grieving. Mostly because as  a general rule, we humans are pretty bad at mind reading.

The earliest memory I have of being with someone I loved, who was losing someone they loved, was when one of my best friend’s dad was dying. We were college students and I was driving her to the VA hospital to visit her dad. On our first visit he was alert and cracking jokes. On our second visit just a few days later, he had slipped into a coma and was non-responsive.

After one hospital visit we were driving home and just as a side note, I am horrible with directions. This is substantiated by the fact that I still manage to get lost in the town we live in and I’ve lived here for six years. Add in if I’m having a conversation with someone while driving, either in person or on the phone– and I’m toast.

Sure enough, we missed our exit out of the cities. My friend spotted some lights in the distance and I suggested we drive towards them and maybe we’d find our way home. Did you know that Mystic Lake Casino shines spotlights into the sky at night? Neither did we.

We found ourselves at the casino, both under lifestyle agreements we had signed at different local christian colleges that forbid gambling. But when your friend’s dad is dying and you find yourself led to a casino from lights in the sky, is there any other option? We hit the nickel slots. Hey, we were cheap college students. And when we hadn’t played long enough to lose it all, we walked away with plastic cups full of nickels.

My friend’s dad died a few days later, in between Christmas and New Years.

It’s been years and I don’t remember much about my friend’s grief. I just have a few memories poking through about that time.

The rest of our friends drove up to Winnipeg to celebrate New Years Eve and we stayed home together. I remember we watched an entire season of Real World on tv that night. We each had our own couch. We barely moved. We entertained ourselves with our own commentary on the train wreck we were witnessing. Tivo and dvr hadn’t been invented yet which means we also watched hours of commercials. We wondered aloud if it was possible to get bed sores from our high level of inactivity.

I have a few memories about the funeral. My friend’s dad served in Vietnam and it was the first military service I remember attending. I remember they fired the shots and played taps. I really appreciate this tradition and think it is one of the most beautiful and honoring things to witness. 

I also remember my friend and I, along with my brother, making jokes one night about her dad’s ashes being sealed in tupperware. Before this sounds callous let’s remember a couple things. First, we all had a sense of humor. Next, we didn’t know how to be sensitive about grief. So, being the age we were, we did our best Robin Williams impressions of the Genie from Aladdin saying, “Blurp, still good!” over and over again until my friend laughed so hard she nearly peed her pants.

When I was thinking back about this time in my friend’s life I wondered if I was supportive enough, or there for her enough. I hope so. It’s strange- because it would be ten more years before that co-worker would have to tell me it’s important to go to a funeral. But in my early twenties, I didn’t question it at all.

When my brother’s close friend died at 17, we all showed up. When my friend’s dad died, all of us were there. We went because these deaths affected the people we loved. It made me wonder what happened in the next ten years that I started to feel like attending a funeral was out of place, or in the way of family who was mourning. What changed?

Probably me.

Maybe there weren’t a lot of deaths around me during that time. Maybe the ones that did happen I was numb to. Or worse, maybe I didn’t notice them because I hadn’t lost someone that close to me yet. That last thought sickens me a bit, but it could very well be true. Maybe it’s like that thing where you get a car and suddenly you see your same car on the road everywhere. Your awareness for it has been heightened. It’s not that everyone suddenly went out and bought the same car as you, those cars were always there, you just couldn’t see them before.

Since my brother died, I swear I see others loss in extreme 3D. I cry when my friends lose someone they love. It’s entirely possible that I feel too much. Maybe that’s part of what got broken when my brother died.

I’ve heard that when someone you love has died, your heart gets ripped open and it’s raw and bleeding. And slowly it gets stitched back together, a little different than before. And that sounds about right to me. Maybe I have a little piece flapping around that isn’t stitched back yet, and it leaves me a bit more sensitive.

I don’t know what’s best for people when they’re grieving because every person grieves differently. But I still think it’s important to see them and show up.

Even if it’s just to lay around on the couch together and watch mtv.

Being Mortal and Living Soft

WILLOW TREE BENCH

I’m reading the book Being Mortal by Atul Gawande and it’s fascinating. It’s about growing older, allowing people to maintain independence and dignity as they age, while giving opportunities to continue to live.

He’s done a crap ton of research and the stories he shares are captivating. My favorite so far is from a woman who had a near death experience at age 21. Before the car accident she had spent her time thinking about finding the right person to spend her life with and what she was going to do next in life. After the accident, her perspective changed to not caring about those things at all, she just wanted to spend more time with loved ones because she was so grateful to be alive.

She wondered if how we choose to spend our time depends on how much time we think we have left in life. So she did studies.

Her theory was that “When horizons are measured in decades, which might as well be infinity to human beings, you most desire all that stuff at the top of Maslow’s pyramid- achievement, creativity…. But as your horizons contract- when you see the future ahead of you as finite and uncertain- your focus shifts to the here and now, to everyday pleasures and the people closest to you.”

I watched this happen to my brother. My dad described him as “soft” the closer he came to the end of his life. And I think that is the best word for it. Little things that used to get him riled up, he barely flinched at, in fact, he took a couple opportunities to chastise my mom when we would get worked up over things. He waved his hand and told us, “It doesn’t matter” and “you need to let that go.”

On the anniversary of his death this year, I was laying in bed staring at the ceiling and talking out loud. It was part prayer, part thoughts. I was trying to determine what Justin had taught me that was the most valuable. And I realized it was this- this softness that my dad talked about. How could I learn to live like that?

I saw the shift in my uncle TJ too, as he realized the days he had were a gift, not a guarantee. Almost nothing ruffled him. It was the littlest things that made him the happiest. Spending time with people he loved was his favorite, and my brother’s too.

I feel like I get the spending time with people I love part, but I am terrible at the not letting little things (that truly don’t matter) irritate me part.

In the studies this woman did, she saw this shift in perspective based on people’s age. The younger ones valued time with people they thought could teach them something new and they valued building new relationships. The older ones valued time with people they were emotionally close to. And when they studied people who were sick with a terminal disease, whether they were young or old, they all responded the way of the older people. And to further verify her findings, when the older people in the study were told that a new development would allow them to live 20 extra years, they all shifted their responses to value the things of the younger people.

Then, they studied people in different cultures just after a big event occurred where lots of people died. For the US, it was following 9/11. “In each case the results were consistent. When, as researchers put it, “life’s fragility is primed,” people’s goals and motives in their everyday lives shift completely. It’s perspective, not age, that matters most.”

Death can have that effect on us as humans. For me, my brother’s death was a total wake up call and a shift in perspective. I realized that if he could die, anyone could. And yes, I realize how stupid this sounds because in reality- we will all die at some point. Side note: My uncle used to tell the story of the doctor telling him he was dying. He quickly quipped, “So are you!”

One thing my brother’s death did was normalize conversations about death. Andy asked me just a few weeks after my brother died, what I would do if he died. I told him I’d sell the house, I’d take a break from work to grieve and I’d probably travel. When I asked him the same question he had the same answers, plus he specified he’d visit my friends and ask them to tell him stories about me. I told him his idea was sweeter than mine and now I’d want to do that too, for him.

Once we acknowledged how easily one of us could die, it caused us to narrow in on some of our dreams and figure out what do we want to do before we die. But even more so, how do we want to live?

If I want to be a softer person who lets things go, doesn’t read into stuff, and learns not to fill in the blanks for things that may or may not be true– how do I practically start to do that now?

It’s a great question- and one I’ve been asking myself. I’ve been applying a “practice things until they become a habit” idea to a couple different areas of my life and I’m giving it a whirl in this one too. I remind myself it’s okay to be a work in progress. When I start to feel stress, anger, or frustration, there are things I can practice to help things bug me less, or (ideally) not at all!

Taking a minute to take a few deep breaths to focus on that instead of the issue is a good place to start. Resisting the urge to jump to conclusions (I can’t say this without thinking of Office Space) and read other people’s minds is a good place to start. Repeating “not my monkeys, not my circus” to remind myself that other people’s stuff is not my stuff- is a good place to start. Going on a walk outside in the fresh air to process while moving is a good place to start.

I don’t want to wait until I’m staring death in the face to be a softer person. It’s just going to take some practice.

Just making sure of you

“Pooh?” whispered Piglet. “Yes, Piglet” said Pooh. “Oh, nothing” said Piglet. “I was just making sure of you.”

The morning after my brother died, a friend gave me a card with this conversation on it. She also brought over a homemade meal, made our bed and stayed to fold the laundry. The words are such a sweet sentiment. My friend was making sure I was still there, that I would be alright. She was gently checking in.

This past week of the first year anniversary of my brother’s death several people have checked in. Many via text, phone calls or facebook and I appreciate each one. One friend asked if she could bring a meal over. So last week we ate broccoli cheddar soup, muffins and salad on a rainy night.

Another friend sent me a picture of a box addressed to me and said, “I know this must be a a bit of a tough week for you, so I wanted to attempt to “brighten” it up for you. I managed to put a care package together and tried to mail it to you so you would receive “a box of sunshine” on Friday. However, the USPS denied it (cause who knew you couldn’t send baby bottles of alcohol in the mail? Not me.).

I laughed and then promptly cried at her thoughtfulness. It is a really good feeling to be thought of, to be remembered. It’s pretty hard to feel alone when others are remembering with you.

Community is one of God’s best ideas.

Thanks friends, I feel loved.

The year of firsts

A year ago yesterday my brother went to heaven. Somehow we made it through what so many refer to “the year of firsts.” Each first without him was hard, Thanksgiving and Christmas especially. But so was 4th of July, Easter, his birthday, my birthday, mother’s day, father’s day. I had been with him for almost all of those the year before. And we celebrated most of those days together for over 30 years in a row.

So the holidays and special days were hard without him, but so were random Tuesdays, Saturdays, and any old day that I thought of him and wished he was still here, which was most days in the past year. I remember the first day I didn’t think of my brother until it was almost the end of the day and I was like, “Oh my gosh, it happened, a day came where I didn’t think of him” and I burst into tears. But then I realized, oh, I guess today is not that day because I am thinking of how I didn’t think of him. Grief is weird.

I was trying to wrap my head around the fact that he has been gone for a whole year. I told my mom that it seems like yesterday that he was still here. Mom gently pointed out that we had 33 years with him, and only one without, so it seems natural to remember all the time with him instead.

And honestly? I prefer it that way. I like that I can look back on memories and remember him full of life, funny, telling stories, making people laugh. Or on holidays I can remember different things we did together. Mother’s day was a tough one this year because it was the last holiday before he died.

My mom decided to call this mother’s day simply, “Sunday” and that made it a lot easier to handle. We got together to tell stories, laugh and cry a little bit.

My favorite Mother’s day memory was when Justin and I were teenagers. My mom is and was a very good mom to us. And she almost never swore in front of us, so when she did, it was memorable. Our parents divorce was fresh and emotions were high. The custody rules were for us to visit my dad every other weekend. It so happened that one fell on Mother’s day weekend. My mom was expressing her frustration saying, “He got you on Christmas Eve, (and some other holiday I’ve since forgotten)… and now he gets you on Mother’s F@%#ING Day?!” My brother and I stood there in stunned silence. It was clearly a rhetorical question.

And that Mother’s Day, my brother decided to make a joke out of the awkward moment. We made mom cards that year saying, “Happy Mother’s F@%#ing Day” that morphed into “Mother’s King Day” over the years, complete with us drawing tiny crowns in the cards.

This story still makes me smile years later and I know my brother’s creativity made mom grin too. I’ll have to remember this on next year’s mother’s day.

I’m so thankful to have had him as my brother. He was a very good one that could always make me laugh, even on command. Last night I told Andy a dumb joke that Justin used to tell that still makes me smile- probably because I can hear his voice doing a goofy accent with it in my head.

What’s brown, and sounds like a bell?

 

DUUUUNNNNNNG!

Love you, Gus.

I’ll take all the therapy for $600, Alex

I took some time to write on real paper instead of a keyboard this week. I don’t know why it makes such a difference to get thoughts out of my head this way. Maybe the physical act of putting pen to paper frees up mental energy or space or something. As a side bonus, it’s cheap therapy! Though I just emailed my counselor to go back for another session after a two month hiatus, so who am I kidding- I’ll take allll the therapy!

My first time in a counselor’s office was when my parents were divorcing. I don’t remember much except that my counselor asked a lot of questions and I didn’t feel comfortable to answer/share with her. I also remember feeling extremely jealous when I asked my brother what he and his counselor talked about and he said, “We play checkers.” What!? I wanted to play checkers and not have to talk! I felt like I was getting the raw end of the deal.

My next time with a counselor would be another fifteenish years later. It would be the first time I was diagnosed with depression. I liked this woman instantly. She took time to clarify the different types of depression. One kind is where the depression is brought on by a situation and with a good support system (fam/friends) and some counseling, you can get out of this little pit. Another kind of depression is a little deeper in the pit and someone could need some medicine for a while. And the third kind needs medicine on a long-term basis for a chemical imbalance. As she described these, I could think of family and friends who have been in each spot. At the time, it hadn’t occurred to me that I was depressed.

As we talked a little more, she put me squarely in the first one. Situational Depression. This type is usually brought on by some sort of life change that is typically unwanted and sometimes traumatic. Anything from a job loss, to death of a family member or close friend, to divorce, retirement, etc. Something that jolts you from your regular routine/daily life. In looking at that list, mine was far less traumatic. But there I was, in a funk.

The counselor had me write out all the losses I had experienced in my life. After I gave her the list she looked at me over the top of her glasses and said, “And this is the first time you’ve ever been depressed?” I told her I guessed so. She said that was amazing. (My husband says I have too much self-esteem, but when these are your true stories, can you even help it? ;))

Our conversation reminded me of the stress tests we had to take as teens in school. You would get points based on the life changes, points for changing houses, schools, for parents separating, divorcing, pet dying, etc. The year that all of those things happened at once? Justin and I scored off the charts and we still weren’t depressed. In our family we used denial and humor as coping mechanisms, and for the most part, it worked.

My counselor and I worked through stuff over the next few months and then she told me I had graduated and didn’t need to see her anymore. I was kind of sad, it was fun to work through things and test out what I was learning. I didn’t see another counselor again for years.

One morning I sent an email to a new counselor asking if she had any openings because I thought I might need to talk to someone soon. Later that night, my brother died.

Having been diagnosed with depression once, I can say I was probably depressed for some period of time after Justin died. Or maybe I still am? It’s hard to tell when there is a string of days that are really good and then a couple emotional ones and then good ones again that can last for weeks. Or maybe this is just grief? But this wondering is all hindsight in looking back nearly a year later. I didn’t notice depression symptoms this time around right away. For a long time I was in the shock and numb stage. Probably longer than I realized.

I saw this new counselor each week for a while, then every two weeks, then every three and in February I just didn’t make another appointment. But yesterday I did. With my brother’s deathiversary right around the corner, I figured it probably doesn’t hurt to have an extra set of ears and insight. Also, I’ve had a few extra emotions lately.

I’m sure most of it has to do with coming up on one year without my brother. I was trying to explain it to my mom the other day. I said, “I remember everything so clearly like it was yesterday.” She asked if I meant the day he died. I said, well, I’ll probably always remember that- but I meant him being alive, being here on this planet with us. My mom so simply pointed out that we had a lot more time with him than without him, so it is natural that we remember more the time he was with us. And honestly, I prefer it that way.

I’m grateful for the 33 years I got to have him as a brother. Now I get to grin and laugh as I read old messages from him. And I still talk to him on occasion, even if it’s as brief to say aloud, “Hi, Gus” when I think of him. Recently my dad asked me to imagine my brother’s reaction to something. When I did, I saw a clear picture of him laughing with his head in his hands, shaking his head back and forth and telling me, “I can’t believe you did that!” and maybe he called me stupid too. We laughed together and my dad said that sounded about right.

I think the next couple weeks will be tough, but if our family motto is anything- it can get us through this. “Always leave them laughing.” Always leave your audience wanting more.

 

(If my brother was here right now he’d wink and say, “See what I did there?”)