Until I Did

I’m not much of a crier. I’ve always been pretty successful at holding back the tears. The last four days they have fallen freely. It’s like the floodgates have opened. When I think there’s not another tear to shed there they come. 

Every time I think of Kheli those pesky things fill my eyes. I think of her pretty much all day everyday. As I sit here with music on the t.v., my pup in my lap, my phone in my hand I think of her and my eyes fill with tears. Who ever imagined someone could fulfill so much of your heart and soul and you would never understand just how much of them filled you until they were gone. I always knew she was special to me but I guess I never realized just HOW special.

I miss her something fierce. I missed her before but I always had that hope that we would reconnect. Now that that hope is gone the missing has magnified by infinity. I try to conjure up memories of all of the amazing times we had but all I can see is her face and know I will never really see it again. It is soul shattering. Spirit crushing. I never in a million years thought she would die. I know I said it, but I never thought there was truth in it. I used it as a scare tactic. There was never meant to be any truth in it.

I don’t know how to tuck away into my comfortable life anymore. I can’t hide any longer. I can’t pretend she’s on some adventure somewhere. I can’t pretend that life is just busy. None of those things exist anymore. I have to face the reality that she is gone. That no matter how hard I deny it in my heart my brain knows the truth. The person I trusted more than anyone in life is gone. One of the few that loved me for me is gone. That’s truth.

I don’t live with too many regrets. I have made mistakes and bad decisions and I have tried to learn from them; whatever they may be. Today my biggest regret is turning my back on her when she needed me the most. When I should have stepped up, regardless of how it would have affected me, and done more to help her. I was terrified to watch her slowly kill herself. I was terrified I would lose her. I lost her anyway. The person I knew no longer existed and now she’s dead. In the end the results were the same; however, I now live knowing one of the persons she trusted and depended on the most let her walk in her darkness alone.

I’ve been told not to blame myself. I don’t. Kheli made her decisions. This was her path, but the guilt is maddening. What if I had tried harder? What if I let her come here? What if I would have reached out? What if I had talked to her? What if I told her how amazing, valuable, worthy, and important she is? Would any of that made a difference? Would it have saved her? I don’t know. What I know is I will never know.

I didn’t see the signs before Matt killed himself until I did. He was an alcoholic. He struggled with alcoholism at the age of 28. I didn’t see how it controlled him until it was too late to help. I didn’t see the signs with Kheli until it was too late. I didn’t realize how severe her addiction was until I did. I didn’t realize how much it really controlled her until it was too late to help. I put my rose colored glasses on and believed they would beat their addictions. Even knowing, through my education, that’s not how it works. It’s not that easy. I still allowed myself to fall into a systematic faith that they would snap out of it. Having faith in someone doesn’t mean they can do it alone. I understand that but allowed myself to believe something other than the truth. And now part of my truth is I failed them miserably.

I wish you could have seen you through my eyes; maybe then you would have understood your importance and your value and worth. I wish just once you would have truly understood how loved you were. How life changing you were. You just couldn’t. Maybe I should have tried harder, Khel. 

Forever and always I’ve got your 6.

The Struggle is Real

Struggle is real. We all struggle with something in life. The struggles make us stronger, right?! I’m currently facing some of those struggles. The one thing I thought I knew how to do was grief. Hell, I’ve done it so many times before. I’m pretty logical and rational when it comes to death. I view it with logic and reason. It’s a coping mechanism I have developed, I suppose. This time is so different.

When my brother completed suicide last July I was able to reason through it. I was able to look at it logically. I understood. Life was painful and despair and darkness took over. I have never been mad at him for that. I have never questioned why. I have accepted his decision. I am sad that’s the decision he made. I miss him. I accepted his death quickly. I grieve and mourn for him. I am learning to live life without him.

My friend…her death…it is breaking me. I have known and loved her for 25 years. She was the ying to my yang. She got me. She accepted me, no matter what. She did not judge me. She has been my best friend since the day I met her. Even over the years when we ventured apart we always found each other. Our link and bond never broken. This last time…our bond did not break but our links separated. I have always supported her and loved her. No matter what. That never stopped. This time…I could not support her. I could not support her addiction and that is what separated our links.

The last time I spoke to her she told me she hated me. She was done. I was just like her mother. I know that was not her talking but the drugs. It was not her sassy soul telling me all of this. It was her addiction. Either way, it broke my heart. I had to let her go and hope that she would come back to me ready to get clean. I had to have enough faith in her that she would find her way back. That she would find her way. That never happened. Her addiction won.

She struggled so much in life. I don’t think she ever knew peace. She had many demons. She was a follower. She wanted to be loved and accepted. That was her downfall. Her desire to be loved and accepted led her to a group of people that made her believe they loved and accepted her when in reality they used her. They helped her dive further into her addiction. They accepted her as long as she could give them something. And she did. She has struggled with addiction before but has been able to clean herself up. This time was different. She went further into her addiction than any of us have ever seen. She went to the depths of hell for her addiction. She never returned from there.

Khel was an amazing being. She had so much love in her heart. She had so much potential. She was just unable to get past her demons. The hardest part…the way our last conversation ended a year and a half ago. I never got the chance to tell her how proud I was of her in life. I never got to tell her how much I loved her. I never got to tell her that the storm would end eventually. All I could tell her was when she was ready to get clean to let me know. I had to protect myself and my life. I couldn’t let her leave my life in her destruction. I didn’t know how bad it got until last night. People talked about the lengths she went to to support her addiction. Things that happened due to her addiction. Where was I? I was tucked away in my comfortable life. I wasn’t there to try to direct her down a different path. I wasn’t there to remind her how amazing she was. I was nowhere to be found. I left her to walk down her dark path alone. For that, I will never forgive myself.

Her death is a reminder that I have failed two people in my life. My brother and now her. I failed my best friend. I failed one of the few people in my life that loved me for who I am. I could not save her. I could not protect her from this cruel world. I threw her a life preserver but it wasn’t thrown far enough. She could never reach it. My Khel was NOT supposed to lose her battle with addiction. They were NOT supposed to win. She was supposed to fight harder. She was supposed to come back to me. She was not supposed to leave me. She did.

I have lost many people in my life. I know grief. This is so much different. This is breaking me. This has broken my heart and shattered my soul. I did not think it would be this hard. I thought basically having lost her a year and a half ago it would be easier. I was “prepared” for this. I “prepared” myself for this day. I just didn’t think it would be so soon. I struggle when I think of the details of the day she died. It happened so quickly. It wasn’t supposed to happen, not to her. It was supposed to happen to all those bad souls out there. Not to one of the good ones. She was no angel but her soul was good. I don’t know how to say goodbye. I don’t know how to process that I will never get another phone call. I will never get the phone call with her saying, “Hey biff, I’m ready. Can you help me?” I will never hear her country-ass voice again. Drugs took ALL of that from me. The fucking doctor prescribing medication to addicts took that from me. More than anything they took all of it from her. They took her life. I don’t even know how to start the healing process this time. I am lost. I don’t think I’ve been this lost in a long time…

One Year

One year.  That’s how long it’s been since I learned of your death.  It’s been one year that I’ve sat here waiting to hear whether you had been found.  One year since I received that phone call telling me you were dead – by your own hand.  One year since I cried for you.  One year that you made that fateful decision to end your suffering instead of asking for help.

So much has happened in one year.  Many events have happened and you were supposed to be there for those. Instead? Your buried in a 6 foot deep hole.  Our nephew was born a month ago.  Something you were supposed to be around for. Thanksgiving, Christmas, birthdays, family vacation.  But you weren’t there – for any of them.  Always the empty chair.

Many times I have wanted to pick up the phone to call my brother or just text him. Something I did not do much of because there was rarely a response.  One or two words. Changing of a phone number without telling anyone.  I have thought about you many times over the last year. Wondering what things would be like now had you not taken your own life.  What you would be doing.  Who you would be.  I guess we will never know.

Denial of alcoholism.  Denial of sexual orientation. Concern about what others would think of you.  Bad decision after bad decision, yet you were always supported by those who love you.  You suffered in silence. You wanted us to know nothing of your suffering and we didn’t.  I am not mad at you, but I am disappointed.  You had so much going for you but you refused to see the truth within yourself.  You allowed the opinions of others to dictate your life.  You allowed what you thought people thought or would think about you to determine your life. I don’t know what was going on with you, but I’ve put my own pieces together to make sense of it all.  It may not be the right pieces but you didn’t leave me with any other option.  I had to find a way to make sense of your death and I have.

One year ago today.  

I thought about you as I got up this morning.  Then, I received a message that my best friend for over 25 years died of a drug overdose on Friday.  I haven’t spoken to her in almost 2 years because she refused my help.  She wanted to continue down the path she was on and I could not be a part of that.  I have a life, a career.  I offered her help.  I tried to convince her to get help.  She didn’t want it and she didn’t want me in her life if I wasn’t going to support her in her addiction.  My last conversation with her was how much she hated me and never wanted to see me again.  She told me to fuck off.  I respected her request in hopes one day she would return to me. Return to me by asking for help or in sobriety.  That day never came. A reminder that I have failed two people.  I couldn’t help you and I couldn’t help her. Neither of you reached out.  I guess I don’t understand.  I have always reached out when I was in need.  I put my pride away and asked for help.  Neither of you did. Maybe ya’ll were too proud, embarrassed, ashamed.  Whatever the reason, the refusal to ask for help resulted in two lives lost.  The lives of two people I cared for and loved very deeply.  I hope that wherever you guys are you are at peace. 

Kheli Nikol Bartlett 07/11/84 – 07/21/17

Matthew Steven Shackelford 10/06/1987 – 07/23/16

The Forgotten Child

The forgotten child – it sounds like a book or a movie.  It’s not.  The forgotten child is a surviving sibling.  When a sibling dies, no matter the age, they are considered secondary mourners to the parents.  Their roles are altered.

This is all too familiar to me.  This is not the first time I have had a sibling die.  My sister died when I was 12 in a preventable car accident.  I have been down this road.  The parents become so engrossed in their own grief they forget about the living child.  They forget that they need love as well.  It becomes a cycle.  The first time I experienced this I was much younger.  I was constantly reminded that I was not my sister and I was left to feel as though I would never compare to her.  And for my biological father I never did.  Had he had a choice he would have chosen for me to die.  Those are his words – although no verbatim.  The surviving child is not seen as someone who grieves deeply.  They “only” lost their sibling not a child or spouse.  They have no idea – that’s the gist of it.

I am watching this happen all over again.  The difference now is that I am an adult and I can stand up for myself and speak without fear of hurting someone’s feelings or “getting in trouble.”  I have already been reminded that I only lost a brother – not a child – and it’s far different.  That my mother and father are struggling.  This I know.  I am fully aware they are struggling; however, I refuse to have my feelings invalidated.  I refuse to be treated less than I deserve simply because my brother chose to take his own life.  I did not choose that.  I did not commit suicide.  I refuse to allow “verbal abuse” – if that’s what you want to call it – in my life.  I value myself far more than that.  My parents don’t seem to understand that.  I understand there is pain and grief, etc, but under no circumstances is it okay to berate or belittle someone.  Under no circumstance is it okay to treat someone as though they are unworthy.  Under no circumstance is it okay to take out your anger on someone else – especially if they’ve done nothing to deserve it.

As I’ve gotten older and grown and changed I have learned to stand up for myself – even if that means pissing people off.  I refuse to become the forgotten child yet again.  I refuse to be denied my grief because it was not my child or spouse.  I am watching a split occur in my family – not by my hands but by the hands of my parents.  While this is happening, I refuse to allow myself to be sucked into the drama and the bullshit.  If this means that I become more of an outsider than I already am then so be it.  I know that sounds tacky, but I’ve done too much work and worked too hard to allow myself to be in a place that is unhealthy.  I love my parents, but I will not be their proverbial punching bag.  I will not allow myself to be treated as though I am less important than Matt is.  Yes, he is very important and yes my parents are struggling significantly, but when they refuse to acknowledge that other children exist and they are just as important they are creating a divide that may not be able to pieced back together.

The difficulties the surviving sibling goes through is hell.  Depending on their age, the circumstances surrounding the death, the relationship to the sibling all play part in their grief.  Matt was my kid brother – I was his protector.  I should have protected him, but I couldn’t – at least not from himself.  The fact is, he did not die accidentally.  He intentionally shot himself.  He meticulously planned his suicide and followed through on it.  For me it’s been a different experience.  My sister died in an accident – it was not intentional or deliberate.  Matt’s was.  There’s definitely different aspects.  Either way, none of it make sense.

I think parents and families need to recognize that surviving siblings not only deal with the loss of their sibling, but in a way with the loss of their parents, the loss of a relationship, and sometimes the loss of their best friend.  It is not just a quick fleeting ball of emotions.  It is true and valid grief.  Until people begin to recognize this we continue to allow surviving siblings to be invalidated and to be left feeling as though they are not as important as the one who died.  Think about living that way.  Think about not being able to live up to the dead – no matter how hard you try.  No matter your accomplishments.

However, surviving siblings need to work on learning and believing that they are just as important.  That they matter.  That they are valuable and worthy.  That they deserve the best this life has to offer and they should settle for nothing left.  If people fail to recognize their abilities and how amazing they are then that is on them.  I don’t believe surviving siblings should feel lost and defeated.  We should be empowered.  We are still alive and even if our parents or families or friends fail to recognize and validate us – we can do that for ourselves.  We don’t need validation from someone to feel as though our grief is real and it sucks and it’s difficult.  We know it is.  We must deal with it in the healthiest way possible.  Grow from it and move forward.  This is not always easy but it is doable.

No one deserves to feel as though they are unimportant or insignificant – and that, many times, is exactly how the forgotten child feels.  Perhaps we should recognize that the forgotten child does exist and because of this it further complicates the grief process as well as their own belief in their self-worth.

Rise Up…

I fell in love with this song the second I heard it.  It is far more meaningful now than it was 3 months ago.

Suicide?!

It’s been a month since my kid brother made the decision to take his own life. A decision that I understand. You see, there was a time in my life when I pondered suicide. It was a real option for me. I would have had it not been for my dog and my therapist. Life was dismal. I couldn’t see past the pain, the demons, the darkness. So, I understand.

However; because I understand doesn’t mean I’m at peace with his decision. It doesn’t mean I agree with it or support the decision he made; I don’t.

I search for answers I know I will never find. I try to pinpoint a moment when his world became unkind. When his world crumbled beneath him. When his life became so unbearable the only option he felt he had was suicide. I can’t.

Suicide?! Is it immoral? Does one go to hell? Is it the coward’s way out? In short, no. I don’t base my morality on religion. In fact, I don’t base my life on religion. The belief in a supreme being is no longer a part of my life. I believe in the Universe; in Mother Nature. To take your life does not make you immoral; which leads to the next question – do you go to hell? I don’t believe in heaven and he’ll. I believe we return to the Universe; to Mother Nature. But, if you believe the Bible and follow it’s preaching then if you are not baptized then perhaps you do. My brother was baptized, and even if he weren’t, I don’t believe a soul as kind as his would spend eternity in hell. Many times we hear and even say, “Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.” This is one of the most ignorant statements I have ever heard. Not all problems are temporary. The overwhelming pain and despair leads one to believe that life is no longer worth living. For that person suicide may be the only option / solution they have. Who are we to judge what’s temporary or permanent?!

I miss Matt. The reality still has not sunk in. Intellectually I know. My heart – well – she has not caught up yet. I have no cried since before the memorial service. I’ve felt the tears well up but they never fall. I’ve lost a sibling before – I a very different way – so I know what’s coming; whenever that is. But in this moment it’s not time.

For those thinking of taking your life, please reconsider. Ask for help. Reach out. Life gets better – I am proof of that. Just hang on one more day…

Until next time…

The day that changed everything

Over the next however long I will spending the majority of my blogging time discussing suicide; in many various aspects.

On July 23, 2016, my little brother, age 28, took his own life. He had text his mom and dad and told them he loved them and goodbye. They tried to reach him. To talk to him. His last message to his dad said, “just leave alone.” NO one heard from him after.

He pulled off of the interstate onto an access road that was around a rest stop. The cameras at the rest stop recorded him entering the area at around 12:30 a.m. His last message to his dad was around 12:50 a.m. Soon after, he got out of his car and put a 12 gauge shotgun to his head and pulled the trigger. Someone found them on their way to work – hours later. He left his hazard lights on. The family was not notified until approximately 1:45 p.m. 

As information came in and pieces were put together I determined that this was not an impulsive act. He had a plan. He had planned this. All the actions of the Friday night before were him saying goodbye. He somehow snuck his shotgun out od the house. He left with the pretense of going out. He met with at least one friend, had a drink, and disappeared. As he killed himself, people were frantically searching for him, trying to call and text him. He didn’t want to be found.

I don’t know what was going on in his head. I don’t know what pain and hurt he felt. I know he had some stuff going on, but by ordinary means they weren’t a game ender. They must have been for him. I can only imagine how lost he was. None of us saw thus coming. There were no signs, no red flags.

I want to be mad at him, but I find I’m only heart broken for him. That his pain was so unbearable this was the only option he thought he had. That this extreme, permanent act was the answer he had. I’m heart broken that his life was so dark and that he was so lost.

His story was not over. There were few too chapters written. There were so many chapters left. But, his story ended in the most tragic of ways. Ways that leave no answers – just more questions.

Rest in peace, little brother. Your life meant something – to me. You meant something – to me. I hope you are at peace now.