Tuesday, December 31, 2013

We Are Here Now

In our busy lives, it often takes extrinsic motivators to inspire self-reflection. It is nice to have certain days throughout the year to constructively assess where you have been, where you are, and where you are going. New Year’s Eve is really the grandest of them all.

December 31st, marks the milestone of another completed year. Tomorrow is the first day of the next year: a symbolic fresh start or clean slate.

Reflecting on 2013 is difficult for me. It was an eventful year with my wedding and the loss of David: it has been a year filled with highs and lows. There has been excitement and heartbreak, happiness and despair.

The emotions are painfully contradictory. How can love be so pure, and pain be so raw, at the very same time?

I am not sure if feeling happiness first makes the pain more severe, or if the pain is made more bearable with the memory of joy. Either way, it's difficult to look back at this year and see these polar opposite experiences so close to each other.

2013 has opened my eyes to real pain, real loss, and real questions. It is a year that has shaken the ground upon which I stand. I have been confronted with the honest reality of life: created in an instant, developed over years, and gone in a moment.

Doesn't it seem impossible? It is counter-intuitive that something that requires so much work, perseverance, and patience, can end in the blink of an eye.

This year, I have learned that there are questions that will go unanswered, there are actions left undone, and words left unsaid.

There is no promise of tomorrow, but there is today. There is only this moment for certain, there is this breath and this thought. Life is delicate, fragile, and fleeting but we are here now.

2013 will forever hold the most recent, most dear memories with my brother David. It will house the memories of my wedding and the joy that was felt. It will hold the sorrow of losing my brother.

2013 will be a changing point, no doubt; a clear fork in the road of my life’s journey. This year holds experience and growth that I wish I never had to experience. Since I did, I am thankful for the ability to endure. 

Holding this close to my heart always, I will move forward to 2014.

As the new year draws near, I breath in and breath out, thankful for this moment. Thankful for the year's end and hopeful for the new year's beginning.

This coming year, I hope to be better. Following David’s example, I hope to be more compassionate, more loving, more grounded, and more curious. Inspired by his spirit, I will strive to do my best every day.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013


Our Christmas celebration was kicked off with mass and a gathering of our immediate family. We had a delicious meal, made cookies, played games, and exchanged gifts.

We did a candle lighting ceremony in David's memory:

"As we light these five candles in honor of you, we light one for our grief, one for our courage, one for our memories, one for our love, and one for our hope.

1. This candle represents our grief. The pain of losing you is intense. It reminds us of the depth of our love for you.

2. This candle represents our courage- to confront our sorrow, to comfort each other, and to change our lives.

3. This candle is in your memory- the times we laughed, the times we cried, the times we were angry with each other, the silly things you did, and the caring and joy you gave us.

4. This candle is the light of love. As we enter this holiday season, day by day we cherish the special place in our hearts that will always be reserved for you. We thank you for the gift your living brought to each of us.

5. And this candle is the light of hope. It reminds us of love and memories of you that are ours forever. May the glow of the flame be our source of hopefulness now and forever. We love you, David."

This is the first time David has not been with his family for Christmas and he is greatly missed. We miss his love of the season, the sweet way he gave gifts, and his appreciation of food! He was a really special person to have around.

A gift this Christmas is the ability to be happy, while also being sad. There were times when I didn't know or understand how that day could ever come.

I am so sad that David is not here with us this Christmas. I am sad that I can't call him to talk or make plans together. I am sad that I have to live the rest of my life here without him.

I am also happy. I am happy to be with my family. I am happy that we can still laugh together. I am thankful for them.

I feel peace knowing that David is at peace. I feel hope when I imagine his new reality.

I know for certain that David's spirit lives in each of those whom he loved. His memory lives through us, and that is most comforting.

One of my favorite poems is written by EE Cummings,

"I Carry your Heart."
I carry your heart with me (I carry it in my heart)
I am never without it (anywhere I go you go, my dear;
and whatever is done by only me is your doing, my darling)

 I fear no fate (for you are my fate, my sweet)
I want no world (for beautiful you are my world, my true)

and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant

and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows

(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud

and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;
which grows higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)

and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart

I carry your heart (I carry it in my heart)

I love the message in this poem. The idea that unconditional love is the dance and exchange of two hearts, something that can never go away. I feel this for David, and now carry him on in my heart.
Merry Christmas to you, David, I love you.

Merry Christmas to you all! Sending my love to you and your families in this very special time of year. God Bless!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Brothers and Sisters

I have been enjoying time with my sister for the last couple days. She has arrived home after a semester abroad. Spending time with her, I have been made so aware of her similarities to David. I talk to my brothers and feel the same way: things they say, what they do, and how they do it; all is so reminiscent of my brother, David.

Talking with them reminds me of all of our similarities: our intrinsic, natural kin-ness. It reminds me of the value and beauty in brothers and sisters. There is no one else in the world as paradoxically similar and unique as your siblings. We all share the same two wonderful parents, and are each a speckled version of their different traits.

We have been created by the generations before, and we will create generations after. David will never have his own children, but we will carry forth many of his beautiful qualities. We are not him, yet we each have a part of him in us. His memory will live in our hearts, and his spirit in ours. Our children will know him through us. Not only through his memory we share, but also through who we are. We are different yet we are the same, and that brings me some comfort.

It is important to recognize and appreciate what an incredible gift family is. In the best of times and in the worst of times, they are our blood: the carrying agent that brings life to us. They are part of us, and us a part of them.

Christmas will be difficult this year because someone very important will be missing. The blessing is that we remain, and David will be there in all of us. We will be reunited and we will be reminded of the things we love about David, through each other.

We will laugh and we will cry. We will probably fight, but we will make up with "I love you."

We will be there. We will celebrate the life that we have, and the many blessings we've been given. 

We will remember our brother David and as always, we will miss him.

Skiing over Christmas vacation at Sundown.

Night out in South Beach Miami before David left for Colombia.

Perfect afternoon at the Park Farm Winery this summer. 

Beautiful place, beautiful people. 

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Hark the Herald Angels Sing

I haven't written in a few days. I've been busy and sad which doesn't make for very inspired writing. I have been occupying my mind with Christmas preparations. Mostly shopping for gifts and being distracted by material goods. I've never enjoyed Christmas shopping as much as this year. This year, it is the perfect distraction to think about something different. To focus on the person I'm getting a gift for, rather than the recent hardship in my life.

Every year my family draws names for Christmas. David always told me that he hoped I had his name. "I gave the best presents!" The truth is that he was one of my favorite people to draw. He had such defined interests and I understood his style very well. We shared similar tastes and he was fun to shop for.

When I was traveling in Europe, one of the gifts I bought David was a green and blue braided belt. I loved this belt! It was one of those gifts that you hope the receiver will appreciate as much as you! David did! He wore it every day, told me at least five times, and even wrote on my Facebook wall telling me again how much he loved it.

It makes me sad that I can't buy him gifts anymore. When I see things that he would love, I feel a sadness in my heart.

Today in Barnes and Noble, "Hark the Herald Sing" was playing, it sounded like the exact version that is in the last scene of "It's a Wonderful Life." My breath was taken away with this song. "It's a Wonderful Life" was David's most favorite Christmas movie. Every Christmas Eve, he would turn it on. I often gave him grief about this because I would get annoyed when he was able to quote EVERY single line!

It's interesting to think now of David's love for this movie, especially since the role suicide played within the plot. Here's a brief video synopsis. I remember David telling me he loved the happy ending. Maybe he identified with George Bailey; maybe he liked the happy ending because he hoped for the same.

Maybe David knew I needed to hear these words today, the third verse in particular:

Hark the herald angels sing
"Glory to the newborn King!
Peace on earth and mercy mild
God and sinners reconciled"
Joyful, all ye nations rise
Join the triumph of the skies
With the angelic host proclaim:
"Christ is born in Bethlehem"
Hark! The herald angels sing
"Glory to the newborn King!"

Christ by highest heav'n adored
Christ the everlasting Lord!
Late in time behold Him come
Offspring of a Virgin's womb
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see
Hail the incarnate Deity
Pleased as man with man to dwell
Jesus, our Emmanuel
Hark! The herald angels sing
"Glory to the newborn King!"

Hail the heav'n-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Son of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings
Ris'n with healing in His wings
Mild He lays His glory by
Born that man no more may die
Born to raise the sons of earth
Born to give them second birth
Hark! The herald angels sing
"Glory to the newborn King!"

My hope and belief is that David did get a happy ending. Not the one George got in "It's a Wonderful Life," but a different one, an even better one. I hope David is with the Herald Angels, joining in their song. I hope he's at peace. I hope he can still feel my love.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Two Months

Today marks two months since David's death.

In a sense, only two months while also two entire months. Do you understand what I mean?

Nothing in my life is the same anymore.

David changed my life through his presence, and now he is changing it through his absence.

David opened my eyes to a realm of new questions about life and death. He has taught me something each day.

Often times I learn from myself. When you think long enough, you begin see things in new ways and gain a deeper understanding. Eventually, you begin to teach yourself. In this counter-intuitive way, David is teaching me through my own thoughts and ideas.

David has always been my role model. Now he is an example in a different way.

He has made me more empathetic, understanding, loving, and also impatient.

I get very impatient with the trivial details of life. Impatient with the meaningless complaints voiced on social media or by people on the bus. I get impatient with myself when I am the one voicing these complaints.

It's amazing how after feeling real pain, I can still complain that my feet are cold. I feel so different and I am so different, but yet I am still human. Somehow, I am still alive. While my thoughts are wondering and contemplating, my person is here living: doing the best that I can do.

There are moments throughout the day when everything feels normal. I feel at peace mentally and occupied with other things: tasks, responsibilities, and ideas. These moments come and go, and are violently awakened with the memory of David. The memory of my new reality.

The abrasive memory of my loss causes a physical reaction. My feet stop walking, my head quickly shakes left to right, and my heart feels the now familiar stabbing pain.

Over and over I think, "this is not what David would have wanted." He would not have wanted to cause this pain. This is simply not David.

It is important to draw the distinction between David and the disease. David vs. Depression.

David is who I want to remember. David is who is with me now. He is in my mind through memory and he is in my heart through love.

I read this quotation today:

“We all want to do something to mitigate the pain of loss or to turn grief into something positive, to find a silver lining in the clouds. But I believe there is real value in just standing there, being still, being sad.” --John Green

I think that this is a good reminder today. Take time to remember and to celebrate. Become better people: more educated, more understanding, and more contemplative. Also, remember to sometimes just be sad. Be still. Sit with your grief and feel its pain. Allow it to push you. Allow it to heal you.

I am thankful today is over but I am thankful that it happened, too. Everyday is a gift and one day closer to being reunited with my brother David.

Sending love to him, and all who loved him, tonight.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

The Big Black Dog

This is a wonderful video discovered by a close family friend. I felt I needed to share:

I wish David would have been able to embrace this same acceptance of the "Black Dog," though I understand that I cannot begin to imagine the fear and pain he was feeling.

I'm thankful for this man's creative ability to share the disease in such a relateable way.

The clinical studies showing that physical exercise and talk therapy can be equally effective as medication are very exciting. I remember feeling very empowered with this knowledge while studying psychology. Due to these findings, I was very opposed to medication. I believed very strongly in the body's ability to heal itself.

Through this experience, my opinion has changed. I now feel that there are instances when medication is necessary.

The tragedy is that there times when none of the above will work to alleviate depressive symptoms.

I imagine that sense of helplessness to be terrifying.

Sending love and understanding to my brother David tonight. Missing him.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Brothers are Forever

February 12th, 2010 David celebrated his 24th birthday in Iowa City. His actual birthday was February 21st but he had a special event at his school in West Branch so he planned his festivities a little early.

My parents came to Iowa City and we all went out to eat for pizza at Herb and Lou's (probably the only bar/restaurant in West Branch!) Carlos was coincidentally at Herb and Lou's (he had arrived in Carlos time: 1 hour early!) We all enjoyed talking: Mom, Dad, David, Carlos and I. David was excited to see his many friends who were coming to watch him play in a staff vs. students basketball game and he had planned a get-together after the game to celebrate his birthday.

David was the coordinator for student government and he had organized the basketball event at West Branch. I didn't know anyone playing except David but that was enough to be thoroughly entertained! David was entertaining in everything he did. He also liked to be the center of attention so he knew how to captivate an audience! I should also say, David was really good at basketball!

David warming up for the game!

After the game, we said good bye to our parents and I rode with David to my apartment. He took a quick shower and I changed my clothes. I remember asking him if I looked okay, he always said the same response, "Yes, you look really nice." It's funny looking back on this now because I later learned how nervous he was for me to be meeting his friends. His fear was that I would date them, even worse, marry them! That night I had a high-neck dress on that went down to my knees. Perfect for David!

David and I walked downtown to meet up with his friends. It was a little awkward for me at first but David tried to make me feel welcome. He was so sweet to me. Eventually, while David was talking to other friends, Carlos struck up conversation. We ended up hitting it off! We talked on and off the whole night, and I knew that there was something really special about him.

Fast forward a few years: (I'm skipping the transition period when David acclimated to my dating his best friend, and lots of other good memories in between!) Carlos and I were engaged to be married. Carlos not only talked to my parents before proposing, he also asked for David's blessing!

As soon as we began making wedding plans last fall, I thought of asking David to give a toast at our wedding. David knew us both best. He knew me as his sister and friend, and Carlos as his friend and sister's boyfriend! I told David we would love it if he gave a toast, but only if he wanted to. I told him we wanted to include him because he played such an important role in our relationship and he was so important to each of us.

This summer, David moved back from Colombia. I can still remember him telling me he was coming back early so he could help with the wedding. He also brought back up his wedding "speech." I was a little nervous and said, "Speech? Well, I thought it would be nice to give a toast." If David was doing something, he did it all the way! He told me he had already written his wedding speech and I laughed. I said my only requirement was that it came from his heart and was written with love. I was a little nervous about what David might say in his "speech." He was a little hurt about this and ensured me that he would say nothing less than loving.

David spoke of our relationship growing up and the way we'd become close as adults. He shared memories of him and Carlos in high school and beyond as best friends. He told us how happy he was for us, and that he thought we were perfect for each other. The way David said this was so genuine, it made me cry.

The last line of his speech was, "At first when Anna and Carlos began dating I was sad to lose a best friend, but now I see that I gain a brother. The thing is, best friends come and go, but brothers are forever."

David was, of course, directing this to Carlos, but now I think of these words often: "Brothers are forever." 

David was an integral person in Carlos and my relationship. He means so much to both of us: individually and together. I never in a million years imagined that he wouldn't share life with us.

This makes me really sad. I miss him for all we had, and all that we would have had.

I am counting on heaven because I need more time with my brother David, preferably forever.

Missing and loving David J.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

It Loves

Really missing David today. 

I haven't written poetry for quite a few years. I used to really enjoy it so thought jotting down my ideas would maybe bring me some peace tonight: 
It Loves

broken heart
broken apart

pieces here 
pieces there

broken heart 
broken apart

hurts so badly 
yet can still love

eyes fill with tears and 
chest with pain

but heart does love

it hurts and it loves

it cries and it loves

it hopes and it loves

broken heart 
broken apart

somehow it loves

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Result of a Loss

When I was a teenager, I had a phase when I questioned what it would be like if I died. I wondered who would care, and what would happen. I didn't have self-destructive behaviors, but knew plenty of classmates who did. There were times when I felt I would rather die.

I didn't see the point of life's hardship. The circus of striving and achieving, only to realize there was more work to do. The never-ending game of trying to be better. Our culture's way of seeing more as better, nothing ever good enough.

A lot of these things bothered David, too. How could some people in the world endure a life of suffering, while others live one of luxurious ignorance? Why do some struggle to have their basic needs met, while others go about with an excessive lifestyle?

For me, I found my happy medium somewhere in the grey area. I seek a healthy balance of moderation and simplicity. I try to be aware of my blessings, and do what I can to turn these privileges for good.

David was similar although I don't know that it ever came easy to him. I witnessed a constant distress regarding the injustices of the world. There was an ever-present anxiety about the rat race of life. He continually was striving for better, and I'm not sure he ever felt it was good enough.

When his second episode of depression returned after believing the first was triggered by environmental factors, I believe David was terrified.

He didn't fit the mold for someone who would be depressed. In fact, depression was so opposite David that I now wonder if he struggled with it more than we knew. It's possible he struggled with it more than even he knew.

Maybe his tendencies for depression pushed him to fight with opposite characteristics. Instead of laying in bed all day, David would busy himself with activity. His mind and body were always working: reading, exercising, socializing, etc; David was go-getting and life-loving.

I believe the second episode caught him off guard, with his defenses down. So overwhelmingly painful, it was impossible for him to see outside of it. I think that David felt helpless. No matter how proactive he was: working out every day, eating right, being social, etc. the depression could still come and knock him off his feet.

Maybe he couldn't see the point. David lost sight of all he had done, all he had, and could only see the illness. It was all-encompassing and he was hopeless.

In a book I am reading, No Time to Say Goodbye, the author writes that suicide is often the result of a loss. For some it might follow a separation from spouse, loss of a job, etc. but for many it is the loss of the will to fight.

I empathize with David's feelings: he didn't deserve his illness, and yet he had it. It pains me to think of his pain and fear. As much as is possible, I understand his despair.

In a way, my grief is selfish. I know that he has found peace, yet I am here talking about my great loss.

I am thankful that David does not feel the pain anymore. I am thankful that he does not have to live in fear of another episode knocking him to the ground. I am thankful for his fight and his example. Most of all, I love him. I will always love him.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Processing Grief

Today is Monday, the first day of the week and the second day of December. It's hard to believe it is December already. David died in October. How could that already be almost two months ago? Time is the strangest thing: on one hand it feels like those two months were an eternity ago. On the other, David's memory is so alive in my mind that it feels like we just spoke yesterday.

David would be nearing the end of his semester at the University of Minnesota. Otherwise, if he decided not to continue with his program he would be job searching. Maybe he would have already found a job by now. Who knows?

I still catch myself hanging on to the hope of David's return. Anything is possible, right? I snap myself back to reality with the memory of saying goodbye to David's physical body. That memory feels fake, like I really really didn't live it.

I've been thinking of so many things: suicide, depression, death, afterlife, etc. My mind works on overload, processing and reprocessing details, ideas, and questions.

Today was the first morning that I woke up and my first thought was not the heart-wrenching memory that David is gone. This morning, my alarm went off and I was searching for excuses to stay in bed and hide from the chilly morning. I'm not sure how many minutes went by until I thought of David, probably not too many. I wonder if this will continue. Maybe over time, the once instantaneous memory, will become triggered after minutes, then hours. How will my grief change over time?

I feel conflicted about this. I want to hold on to my grief as it's the way that I am able to hold on to David.

One Sunday in mass the priest explained that grieving is our mind's way to form a more concrete, living memory of the person that we lost. By going through each memory you share with that person and experiencing the painful sorrow of your loss, you create a more clear image of that person and relationship.

I really like this explanation of grief and I feel its truth in my own life.

I miss David for all that he was, and all that he was to be. I miss our times together, and wish I could re-live every one and savor each moment. I wish I would have discussed more about the future with him so that I could feel his guidance now.

With the recent tornadoes in Illinois, I thought of analogy. David's depression began as a cloud, but it quickly became darker and darker. The storm began and the wind picked up. David was sucked up in a tornado and taken away. All who love David were also picked up, only we were spit back out. We were thrown out of this storm with our physical houses un-damaged, but our emotional and spiritual homes leveled to the ground. We know we need to rebuild, as other storms could come our way. We need to heal.

The dilemma is rebuilding in a way that leaves a space for David.

Sunday, December 1, 2013


We made it through the first holiday. Our Thanksgiving weekend was filled with many emotions: highs and lows.

I haven't had Thanksgiving with David for the last two years. While he was living in Colombia, he came back for a long Christmas break. That probably made the days go easier than they would have otherwise, it's so easy for me to still think that David is in Colombia.

Despite this, there were still many tear-triggers. The first was seeing my husband and his two brothers talking together. I have never thought about Carlos being one of three brothers. It caught me completely off-guard.

The second was seeing a pumpkin pie. David LOVED pumpkin pie. He claimed in was his favorite. Now, if it really was his favorite or if he just was buttering up my Grandma I don't know. Either way, she eventually began making David his own personal-sized pumpkin pie each Thanksgiving. The love for her precious third child (third-born in the family like her) materialized in a miniature-sized pumpkin pie. David loved it! He would proudly polish the entire thing off, satisfying my Grandma with every bite!

These two triggers were ones I had not considered. Others I had prepared for and were not as affected by.

Spending time with my family is difficult. It's painful not to be with them, and it's painful to be with them. Everyone is grieving and feeling their individualized pain. We need to be gentle with each other, at a time when we are raw. Though there are difficult moments, I am thankful for this time. Each of our worlds have been turned upside down. There is no one who is able to understand my personal relationship with David or my mothers, fathers, etc. but we can most closely empathize with each other's loss.

I'm thankful that Thanksgiving is over and though I am not looking forward to Christmas like in years passed, I am looking forward to it in a different way. I am anxious to be reunited with my entire family, hug them, and make new memories together.

A thanksgiving-related memory:

Thanksgiving break my Freshman year of college, David invited me over to his apartment in Iowa City. He picked me up, we made a frozen pizza, and watched a movie. At the time David was making his way through a list of the top 100 movies of all time so we checked one off the list. I don't remember which it was. The entire night David was such a gentleman and made me feel really special. After the movie, he drove me back to my dorm. This was our first brother-sister date and served as the changing point in our relationship. I will forever treasure this memory.