As I write this, I am sitting in my favorite coffee shop in Seattle. I should be at work right now, but I’ve decided November 3rd should be an unofficial holiday for me. I am calling it “Nathan’s Mental Health Day.” If you can think of a catchier title, let me know. I have also decided that I will do this for the foreseeable future. This day will consist of nothing, but things that make me happy. Writing is one of those things. It is also the best way for me to encapsulate the feelings and emotions I am feeling today. Now, I choose to share these words not for selfish reasons. I don’t need another like or share in my life. I don’t need any more condolences, but I do hope that these words can help someone… anyone. So, here goes.
What a difference a year makes. November 3rd last year was just a normal Monday. I was at work. Being the first Monday of the month, I was running analytic reports on our social media, donor, database and website growth over the previous month. It was a particularly dark outside; a combination of the time-change and the gray, gloomy Seattle weather. As the day progressed, I was trying to get my mind ready for the evening’s Pike chapter meeting at the University of Washington. Somewhere between 4 and 5 P.M., our receptionist came down and told me I had a call on *600. She said, “There is a Paula on the phone and she says I am supposed to stand here with you while you take the call.” Instantly, I knew something was wrong. The first person who crossed my mind was Dad. I assumed something happened during a chemo treatment or maybe a heart attack. Never in my wildest dreams did I think the news would be about you.
Needless to say, the news hit me like a ton of bricks. Instantly, I felt my world change. I burst into tears from the shock there in my office holding tightly to our receptionist. She was overcome with emotion too. It is a moment I will never forget; my own personal September 11th.
The rest is history. Friends rallied around me. My company supported me and helped get me to Oklahoma. A friend’s family helped me pay for the flight. My phone rang or beeped every few minutes from calls, text messages and social media notifications. As we went through the process of laying you to rest, I tried to stand strong. I did my best to be there for mom and dad. I tried to be the older brother Clayton needed. I tried to be logical about such an emotional situation. I poured my heart and soul into your eulogy. I have given away pieces of myself with everything I have written about you since. On a few occasions, I have completely broken down. Once was on November 4th in the Denver airport. I turned my phone on and was blown away by the outpouring. The second time was earlier this year. I was restlessly lying in bed and I was overtaken with emotion; mostly guilt. Guilt is one of those things I battle every day. My last breakdown was two weeks ago when I participated in the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s “Out of the Darkness Walk.” I couldn’t believe I was participating in such a thing.
Not many people know this, but when I laid my hand on your casket for the final time I made a promise. I promised you that this trauma would not be in vain. I promised to work every day to raise the collective conversation around mental health, chronic pain and substance abuse. In my mind, if I can use your story to save one person, then I have done you honor. With everything I am doing, I hope I am making you proud. While I will never be able to make up for my shortcomings as a brother, I hope you are smiling down on me now. I hope you are guiding every decision I make and are pushing me in the direction I am to go.
You should know that I raised nearly $3,500 for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention walk. The money will be used to provide care to survivor’s families, pushing for stronger legislation around mental health, outreach around mental health in schools and a myriad of other things.
I also used your story to raise money during the Kent Youth and Family Services annual event; The One Thing Experience. I told a room of 250 people about how lucky we were to live in a city where teens and young adults have access to mental health/substance abuse services, a safe place to go after school, transitional housing and for those little kids we serve, early childhood education. We raised over $50,000 that night. Lucas, that will change a lot of lives.
With Mom’s permission, I have decided to write a book about your life. Right now, I am running with the title, “We Remember Lucas.” I am going to invite ten family members and friends to write about your life from beginning to end. Mom and I hope the story can be used to save someone’s life, as well as heighten awareness around mental health and suicide reduction efforts. We also hope it will lead families down a path of courageous conversations. Talking about weaknesses or things with which we struggle is never easy, but we hope this book can be a launching point. By no means, do I think it will be a best seller, but again, if it saves one life then it will be worth the effort.
Finally, little brother, I want to close with these thoughts. 2014 was one of the most challenging years of my life. Your passing was the final blow, but you should know there isn’t a day that passes where I don’t think about you. I have your senior picture on my nightstand. You’re the last face I see before I go to bed. You are always the final intentional thought on my mind. Every day, I wish I could have been better. I wish I would have called more often. I wish I would have been a better role model. I wish I could have spent more time with you. I wish I could have paid less attention to your struggles and more attention to what you needed. I wish I could have been the brother you deserved, but I also know there is something fundamentally wrong with that statement and these wishes. No amount of bargaining, guilt, pain, anger or sadness will bring you back. I have no way of knowing if my actions could have saved you. When I read about mental health and the stories of those other people have lost, I am convinced there wasn’t much I could have changed.
I cannot change the past. All I can do is be in this moment and the make the best decisions for my future. As I make those decisions, you should know you will never be far from my mind. Together, I am convinced we can change the world. I may not have been able to save your life, but I know we can save others and while I would give anything to have you back, I also know this will have to be enough. Giving all that I am will have to be enough.
Be good to each other,