A lot has changed since I was last on here. Just popping on right now and seeing old posts of life before Christmas was a little triggering.
For those who don't follow me on Instagram (@seasonalsara) and have yet to know the reason for my absense, on December 24th, 2017, my youngest brother Andrew passed away. He ended his life after years of battling mental health issues. I guess another way of saying it could be that the mental health issues took him. My family had planned a Christmas weekend getaway up to a cabin in the woods, but the week leading up to Christmas, Andrew was showing signs of being in crisis so everything planned was put on hold. Without going into the events leading up to the news of his passing, we unexpectedly got word at 4am on Christmas Eve that he was gone. Andrew was 4 hours up north in his college town, so by 5am my whole family had met up and were on the road making our way to him.
There were a few things that I experienced as we made that torturous 4 hour drive. Sadness and grief overwhelm you to tears and collapse you to the ground. Shock shakes your body continuously and cold sweat covers you. I wept at the horror of knowing he was gone, I wept over the anxiety caused by the thought of putting my 19 year old brother into the ground cause. I wept when the unimaginable thought creeping in of living the rest of my life without my brother and quickly thrust it out with a counter one saying, "I just have to get through this hour, this day. Don't think about the rest of your life." Because that thought paralyzes you and you can't be paralyzed at a time like this. You have to move and you have to do. I desperately looked for come sort of comfort to grasp on to. I found myself clinging on to my own hands for the rare few moments Joseph had to let go of mine to have both on the car steering wheel - but he was quick to grab them again, holding my cold, clammy hands for 4 hours straight - grounding me. I was trying to find hope in the sunrise, or the flocks of birds flying over the water, or the words in the worship music we had on for a short time - but nothing helped. Despite the grief that overwhelmed me after we got the news and frantically threw our bags in the car leaving the hotel, I somehow had my wits about me to grab the hotel Kleenex box. The only comfort I found during that car ride was the surprise realization as I used them to wipe my tears of "how soft Kleenex are. I am so thankful for the person that invented these. Do they even know how much comfort this brings to people who have none?". It was tangible and it was practical. I remember being thankful for how empty the roads were that morning, but got sad knowing it was because everyone else was probably already with their families. We knew that the following events and even days were only going to get harder as we discovered the actual events that happened, so we braced ourselves for the news and the unexpected as we arrived.
I remember feeling so alone in that cold little mountain town. It was basically deserted because it was so cold and everyone was inside enjoying the holiday. Throughout that day, there were times I felt bad for the handful of people that this event caused to have them be away from their families - the deputy and sheriff, the workers at the school, the man at the mortuary. I even felt bad telling the news to my friends because I knew it would make them sad and I didn't want them to be sad on Christmas. But then rational would come to me and I would be reminded that I was the one with a dead brother. December 24th was an incredible day. The grief and heartbreak and shock and sadness were beyond words. . . and God felt no where in the situation. I'd never imagined such emotional hurt could be felt in a human body. Despite this, I couldn't help notice a few tiny things - there was this weird grace that made everything we had to do in that town feel so seamless. There were no bumps in the road, so to speak. Time seemed to stand still, yet we were moving forward from point A, B, and C with ease. It was as if a spirit seemed to be carrying us from the sheriffs office, to Andrews dorm room, to the mortuary. . . And there was the pure gift of kindness and sensitivity, by the people we encountered. The first responders at the school who knew Andrew. The man at the mortuary who was so understanding without being overly emotional. The sheriff who first got to Andrew and began CPR. . . they were seeds of love that slipped into our hearts when it felt like there was no hope in this cruel and terrible world.
At the mortuary, we sat with Andrew for hours. It was devastating. . . anxiety before seeing him, shock when we finally did, wailing and our bodies collapsing to the floor or the nearest chair, then running, if you can call it that, to be by his side. When you get past that, those hours with him were so cherished. We just couldn't leave his side. Just to be with him a little longer before we knew it was forever goodbye, everyone mourning in their own way. The gift of time that we had for our minds and hearts to process and to say our last words to his face. . . And the strange thought of how lucky we were that he chose to end in life in a way that we were able to be able to see him with him just the way we remembered him. No wounds, no bruises, no distortion, he looked asleep.
After the mortuary, when we were sitting with the sheriff, my oldest brother got a text message from of the workers at the school who had met us at Andrews dorm when we went to clear it out. The message was from him and his wife, extending an invitation to our family to have Christmas Eve dinner with them and their children before we left town. We just started crying. It brought up such an overwhelming range of emotions. The gesture made me feel seen and loved and cared about, by strangers we didn't even know. So much sadness that this was the situation we were in and the reality that our family unit was no longer complete. We graciously declined, but I will never forget this man's gesture of kindness towards my family at that time.
It was hard to tell if the drive up that day or the drive back was worse. I say they were both equally terrible. We had met with the deputy, cleared Andrews dorm, sat at the mortuary and ended our time with the sheriff who was the one who received the call about Andrew first. We had barely slept, eaten, barely drank, we were cold, in shock, and physically, I felt like my body was shutting down. Not to mention, the next day was supposed to be Christmas. That part was just sad to me. We just couldn't take any more grief. I finally fell asleep in the car and went to bed when we got home hoping to sleep long and hard.
The days leading up to Christmas were challenging in many ways. One of those ways I will share now was how impossible it was to be on social media. Those little squares were filled with joy, and life, and celebration, while my youngest brother was in the hospital after his first attempt to take his life off the Golden Gate bridge and refusing to see or talk to any family members. I felt alone and unseen, and resentful to all those who were blissfully unaware of the struggle countless of others face during the holiday season. It only took a moment to teach me that sensitivity, understanding, and awareness go a long way no matter what season you are in (good or bad). I was so grateful to the friends and followers who acknowledged those in pain during this generally happy time, before I even mentioned the trials happening in my own family.
Survivors of loved ones lost to suicide are often in a bit of a wrestle when it comes to sharing how their loved one died. Instinctively, there seems to be the feeling of shame that comes when sharing that a loved one has passed by suicide. We want to honor our loved one and protect them from the stigma that has come from society about suicide and yet, we also are so desperate to raise awareness of the topic of mental health and how real it is. We want people to remember our loved ones legacy for all the incredible things they were know by, not how their life ended. Ignorant people will think that someone who took their own life was too weak to carry on through life, or that they were selfish by choosing to end their life - but in reality, my brother Andrew was the strongest person I know. Not because he took his life, but because of the mental and physical battles he faced for years leading up to it. A few quotes that have helped me slowly begin my journey to understanding suicide are below:
"There is no single cause to suicide. It most often occurs when stressors exceed current coping abilities of someone suffering from a mental health condition."