Once again, I find myself sitting in my favorite coffee shop in Seattle. Just like last year, I have decided to take the day off from work. Just like last year, I am calling today, "Nathan's Mental Health Day." I have nothing on the agenda for today, but things that make me happy: writing, recording another podcast, lunch at my favorite sandwich spot, a quick presentation to the KYFS Board of Directors, perhaps a quick stop by a Rotary gathering, and then home to hang out with the love of my life. While I wish with my heart of hearts that there was some other genesis for this day, I feel a sense of calm and purpose once the day is through.
Two years ago on this day, you took your own life. For a year now, I have thought how I could use this second letter addressed you to make a difference in the world. After much thought, I have decided to focus my energies on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It is one of those things that often goes undiscussed for those survivors of suicide. As always, my hope is to use the violence of your death to bring some good into the world. Again, I want to thank you for the opportunity to do so and I hope by the end of this letter you're proud of me.
Almost daily, I am confronted with a reminder of the trauma I have endured. People mime shooting themselves in the head or hanging from a noose. People utter phrases such as, "if that were to happen, I would shoot myself" or "I would rather kill myself than so and so." On television and in movies, I am often confronted by dramatic scenes of suicide, often without warning. Almost daily, I am confronted by a form of violence I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy. Here is the part I now find baffling, we do these things without thinking. We make gestures, utter phrases, and consume media normalizing and glorifying suicide without much thought to the meaning of what we are actually doing. We have normalized suicide and suicidal ideation with very little regard given to those who are currently living with the pain of having lost someone we love.
Now, I am not blaming anyone for this reality. I am no saint either. Long before losing my brother, I mimed shooting myself or uttered those phrases I now find atrocious. It took a violent event to happen to me and my family to change my behavior. I also realize this is symbolic of the human condition. We are often forced to go through hell to learn something profound about ourselves and the world in which we live. With that said, I have been through hell and with every reminder of suicide I am taken right back to November 3rd, 2014. I am reminded of the carnage. I am reminded of my failings as a brother. The guilt swells within me. I am reminded of drugs, depression, chronic pain, and the unforgiving brutality of guns. I am reminded of the loneliness my brother must have felt moments before making such a fatal decision. I am reminded of death; the death of one of the most important human beings in my life.
Of course, I know this is no one's intention. The people I surround myself with are not that mean. If they knew what they were doing and the pain it caused, I know they would change their behavior. If Hollywood knew how it was making me feel, I know it would provide some sort of warning system. I believe people just don't know and need to be told. We've learned to be careful with fireworks around veterans of war. We've learned to change how we talk about rape out of respect for those who have been the victims of sexual assault. In so many instances, society and culture have changed the way it expresses itself for fear of unnecessarily hurting others. I think it is high time we do the same for survivors of suicide. Living with the loss is hard enough without being reminded of it on a daily basis.
So, here is my request on behalf of my brother, family, and all those touched by suicide, realize that your words and actions matter. Also, be gentle for everyone is fighting a private battle. Look closely at the words you say and the things you do. Ask yourself a fundamental question, is there someone who could be negatively impacted by the way I am carrying myself. If the answer is yes, then I implore you to change your behavior. Not out of fear of hurting someone's feelings, but rather in an attempt to a more gentle and loving human being.
With that said, Lucas, I miss you every day. I wish you could join Clayton, his kids, and me for late night video game sessions. I wish you could see Mom and Dad's new house. I wish you were around to take care of your sister. I wish you here right now for Clinton, he needs his best friend. I wish you were here with your family, as we gather for the holidays. I wish you could talk with Brian and show him an example of a life overcoming adversity. I wish you were dating, graduating, getting married, finding a dream job, and having kids. I wish you were here to meet Brandon. I wish you were here, but you aren't. That is our reality. What we choose to do with this reality is our choice. I, for one, plan on using this experience to make my little corner of the world a better place. All I can say is, thank you for being my guide. Even when I don't have the strength to press on, I feel you guiding me in the direction I am to go. For that I will be eternally grateful. Now, if you'll indulge me, I would love to play you a song from one of my favorite bands in the world. I have recently fallen in love with this song, because it reminds me of you. Love you brother.
Be good to each other,