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

I’m Not In Kansas Anymore

Thank the lort. No, just kidding.

I spent the holiday weekend with my parents, brother and sister-in-law at my parents vacation home in Kansas. I was not looking forward to the trip. So much has gone on over the last month(ish). Not to mention with my dad remodeling my bathroom he is here daily and my mom almost daily. So I’ve seen them quite a bit. I love them but I need some space. But, nonetheless, we went on the first family vacation in years. It’s the first time we have been to their Kansas home and they’ve had it for a few years now.

On our first day there us girls were sitting on the deck and the picture below is what we saw. This doe and her twins, feet away. As I was taking the picture she just stared at me…we sat around the first day just talking and hanging out. It was a long drive and we were worn out.

The second day we ventured out for a while. I can’t remember the name of this lake…I think it is a State Park, but it was just outside of Independence. And it was stunning. I’m very much of an outdoor type. I love Mother Nature – her beauty. And it’s not hard to see why. I never expected to see so many trees in Kansas. When you think if Kansas you think of wheat fields and plains. It was much more than that. After our little adventure we went back to the house. Some napped. I sat on the deck, although a bit warm outside, and just enjoyed the peace and serenity. Quiet. A time to think and reflect. And I did just that.

On Monday my dad and I went fishing. I had no luck but he did. It was just him and me. No one else likes to fish. And it was his birthday. While I was fishing I talked to Matt. I think he would have loved it there. The peace it was able to bring over my soul – maybe it could have done the same for him. I stopped in the middle of fishing to capture a few pictures. The water, the trees. My sister-in-law and I stayed up until after 3 a.m. talking. We’ve never been close but we bonded that night. We talked about everything. It felt good to know her and my brother had many of the same feelings I do surrounding Matt’s death.

While we were cooking a late lunch we had a couple more deer show up on the property. They lingered for a good 15 minutes. They weren’t frightened by us. They didn’t get too close but they didn’t run. They approached closers to the property and ended up around the pond bottom. Another reminder of Mother Nature’s magnificence. The sunset was beautiful that night. As it fell behind the trees.

As we left this morning the sun had just come up. Night turned to day. I took a quick moment to capture the two photos below. A dirt road lined with trees and the sun peaking through. It’s the light at the “end of the tunnel.” I immediately thought of Matt and wishing he would have just waited for that light…

We talked about Matt quite a bit this weekend. We missed him. It wasn’t until dinner on Monday night that I looked around the table and processed there were only 5 of us. The chair at the end of the table was empty. I had seen that empty chair all weekend, but it wasn’t until our last night there that I recognized it. We were missing one. And that one missing is deeply missed. It came to me that this is how it will be from now on. One chair will always be empty. He will always be gone. Seeing all the beauty Mother Nature continues to produce makes me feel as though Matt’s soul is at peace. Maybe this was his way of telling me he is okay now. Wherever his soul is wandering in the Universe. I think this weekend it was right there with us.

I’m not in Kansas anymore. I’m back home. I had a great time with my family, much to my surprise. It was peaceful. I needed the time away, even if I tend to prefer to travel to places like that alone. To have a chance to ground myself. I was still able to do it a bit. I am home, where I belong. I will be in Kansas again. But for now, my yellow brick road is in the form of the plains of Texas. A place that while I don’t always like is home – for now. And if nothing else – my dog sure is happy I’m home.

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.