It has been a year since I woke up to my mother screaming Jeff was dead. A year since he did not show up to my birthday and I had a minute long blank voicemail at midnight. A year since a horrible fight that is forever ingrained in my mind as I saw him crying leaving the house. A year since my last laugh with him. He knew I was upset over something and came home to me planking on the ground and he blasted DMX at the computer and waited for me to look up at him so he could do that high pitched bird laugh and yell, “we fighting?!” The thing about Jeff was he just knew he could change your mood through laughter. I miss only being allowed to cry for 5 minutes. It has been a year and I never thought I would make it to this day. You might have been through worse. You might think my problems are stupid or I am weak, but this is my story so please respect it.
I went through HELL with that boy. I wasn’t just there for the good times—I never turned my back or took shelter during the storm. Years of worrying. Phone calls at school or work. Hoping I wouldn’t get THAT call. Seeing someone so smart that he never even had to try, get wrapped up in all this. Someone with so much talent and passion. Seeing my life affected always trying to protect him or stand up for him. Sleeping in my own car, showering at work. It is no secret I lost a lot of my own life in these years. So after all those years when he finally got sober, it meant the world to us. We were so close because he knew I gave up so much for him and he was grateful for the people who didn’t give up on him. Even in shelters, he would always find his way to a phone so he could check in with me and make sure I was ok. ME?? The most selfless human being I ever knew. He was an amazing human. He knew I’d never enable him but he knew I’d always be there. He knew I would ride around to find him when he didn’t have a phone to give him a bag of food and new socks. He knew I’d pick him up somewhere at 2 am just because he needed someone to talk to. He went through HELL and saw and did things others could NEVER imagine. The same people who wanted to sit back and judge him and he still would give them the shirt off his back. When he did get sober we talked so much about all of this. It was painful for me because a side of me was resentful for what this did to our family, but I was never more proud of someone. His battle ahead to change his life was overwhelming, even for me to think about. The bills that racked up over the 9 years. The medical bills were so outrageous and when he did slip up and want help, it would just add to it. Seeing how much of his life he lost and how far everyone else moved on. Hanging with friends and drinking was once normal, but now it’s a gateway to other things. Things that are easily accessible. It’s like people who smoke when they drink and we are habitual creatures. His teeth needing work after the years of drugs and one surgery can set him back again. But keep judging. As he wrote, “each time I slip, the less you pity.” I saw the people slowly walking away again. I felt my burden getting bigger again.
Let me tell you this. That last time he was in rehab, the people who took the time to bring him cigarettes or write letter should know it meant the world to him just to know he was being thought of – that someone still cared. But I could see the depression worsen that this was all happening again to him. I would walk through his room to the laundry room and see him in the darkness alone in bed. He knew I was angry with him and didn’t want to go through this again. But he knew how much I still stood up for him and the person he was despite my anger and would get out of that bed and come up and sit with me and watch lifetime movies and eat cereal with me for dinner, knowing I wouldn’t turn him away. That I was still here. He barely left home. Our last breakfast out together we sat in the car for 3 hours waiting to get into The Farmers Daughter. We picked out all the concerts we wanted to go to that summer and he talked about how nice it was to be out and treated normal because he felt like he couldn’t without being judged with every move and it was better to stay in alone, away from the negativity and be sober than go out where things would set him back. I didn’t know at the time how much I would understand that a year later. I couldn’t stop the hurtful things people would say to him.
After this, when he did overdose the second time he spent 9 days in a mental hospital without anyone knowing, not even me. I ran right there when I found out and knew, I KNEW this would tear him apart. The first thing he said was who knows I am here. He was crying saying how depressed he was and everyone thought badly of him. Said how the judgments and accusations make him want to use. He kept asking me how much an ambulance costs. How much do I think this stay at the mental hospital would cost. I will just never forget saying lets come up with a plan and we can get through this. To try and not listen to what people say or call him. Saying I wouldn’t go home if he wasn’t going home. I kept saying the third time will be it and this is what happens to people who were sober for a while and what will happen to everyone. I went down the list one by one and predicted what would happen to everyone once he died, to try and scare him. I was selfish and kept saying what will happen to me and he PROMISED me it wasn’t going to happen. I cried the entire way home. We all know what happened after.
Well now I know what will happen to me after he dies. And it is even worse than I thought because he is not here to make it better for once. I now know partly how he felt in the end. How it is impossible to not let the judgments and things said eat away at you when it is coming from every aspect of your life. I am just one person’s life that was affected after his death, so you can only imagine the others. But I can only speak for myself with this.
For anyone else struggling with depression, this is for you. You are not alone. It has been HELL. Living with the memory of that last night and how upset Jeff was has been HELL. Trying to plan his funeral and party in that much pain was HELL. Seeing him DEAD? HELL. I touched him which was cool and creepy and just what he would want me to be doing, but it was still HELL. But when it was all said and done and everyone goes back to their normal lives, I had to go live in HELL. That’s when the real fun starts. I was left by someone at my worst a week after he died. I was not getting texts from Jeff anymore. I was not getting told to bring back wine or he would lock my ass out. I wasn’t getting told to hurry up and get home so we can cook on the grill or go out to watch a game. No one was coming in recording me doing the Insanity workouts and laughing at how dumb I looked. Or getting pissed when they are sleeping on the couch and I turn the treadmill on right behind them. I am not yelling at anyone to get the hell out of the bathroom and stop using my shampoo to shave themselves. I am not helping anyone pick out outfits or ordering stupid stuff together offline. No one to meet in the kitchen every 10 minutes for another bowl of Reeses puffs after mom just bought the box. The food store? FORGET IT. I have anxiety going to it because the joy has been taken out of it. It sounds stupid to others but we always had each other when no one else was around and simple everyday things like eating meals with someone or watching movies was now something I did alone. Music was no longer playing. The everyday songs I wish he would stop playing were no longer playing. I can’t text him and tell him to shut up with the Johnny Cash depressing shit and then hear him blast that song “Torn” by Natalie something and ask me if that’s better. The joy was taken out of most things this year. Holidays with that empty chair. No longer shopping together. No longer riding to events together. Not picking out mom’s Easter flowers together. The happy memories of past holidays aren’t enough to take away the pain of the new ones.
But I still somehow got up. I tried my best. I tried to keep going even though some days were worse than others. But the judgments? Over the past year I’ve realized people have a lot to say. People who miss the past 20 days you were happy, but see a breakdown and feel the need to judge just that. People who do not have to come home to his room. See his toothbrush standing. His guitar waiting to be played and his hats lined up waiting to be put on. Who is going to go through everything? Where does it go? Do you throw it out? Who is worthy of getting things? What things do you want to let go of? Who is going to the RMV to claim him dead? Who is paying the bills now? Who is left with all that debt? Who is going to get rid of his car and see it towed off the driveway? All of the firsts were HELL. Every day is a constant reminder that he is not here anymore. People are not there for that but still feel the need to judge. Tell you what you should be doing. How you should be feeling. What ever happened to just listening? It is a lot, but imagine being that person. You tell them not to let it affect you, but when it’s coming from all angles it eats away at you. Off the top of my head these are just a FEW common things said:
-Get over it (my favorite)
-It’s been months
-You looked so good what happened
-Jesus you look awful go see someone
-You shouldn’t be having a breakdown anymore
-I wish you were who you used to be
-You aren’t sleeping? Just sleep and stop thinking about it
-You are sleeping too much
-You aren’t eating enough
-You are eating too much
-You shouldn’t be drinking. Should she be drinking??
-You should be drinking
-You aren’t drinking because you don’t want to have fun
-You aren’t dancing? You feel guilty having fun. What if I just don’t want to!??!
-You are working out too much. You are working out too little. -You don’t run anymore? Must be because of Jeff
-Did you do drugs with Jeff too? She must have
-You should be out with people
-You should be home
-Go see someone again
-You are handling this bad
-Be positive- NO SHIT
-Be grateful of what you do have.
-You should be at work
-You shouldn’t be at work
-If I am upset, it HAS to be about Jeff.
-I’m sick of hearing it
-She posts on his wall too much. If it makes me happy, why do you care????
-People preaching afterlife on me
-Drunk people’s sober thoughts
-I wish you would see the other side in this! Just let me vent and I will one day.
-I don’t want to tell you about my problems because I feel bad
they don’t seem as bad
-I wish you were dead instead of Jeff
-You are a poor substitute for your brother
-She is history repeating itself
-Live your own life
-Stop doing stuff for Jeff. Time to move on now. WHAT!? This is my life. If me fighting for others in his name is a problem, unfollow me. DON’T go to anything. Some talk about helping and I’m doing it. Sue me. Who else is planning anything? But everyone wants to say things about it.
I have found myself in my room alone most days because of the fear of getting more hurt by people after the year I have had. The combination of things said and done on top of Jeff dying has torn me apart to a level which I did not want to live and had moments I have tried to end it. I have had a therapist mortified by some of the hurtful things. Maybe the people around me should see someone also. I’ve had people continue to use similar drugs around me and be mad at my reaction. I did not have a CHOICE in how this all affected my body. My heart was broken by various things so much this past year that it took a toll on my body. The amount of hair I have lost. Going WEEKS without sleep at times over the year to the point where I would hear things or even fear driving home from work. Months of no sleep affected my body to the point where there were many times I had to receive fluids to get strength. My skin hurt to touch and the amount of times I have thrown up, I’m surprised I can still speak. My eyes are constantly swollen from crying and I swear I’ve aged so much in a year. I denied medications for obvious reasons. That opens up another can of worms. Let me be sad and feel feelings. I will know when I am getting happy again. When I finally did go out, the things I wrote above would be said bringing me back down, no matter how good I felt that day. Someone would comment on how bad I am doing when it’s the first day I didn’t think about ending my life. THAT is what would tear me apart.
Again, call me weak but until you have been there, maybe people should think about the power of listening. Even though you don’t understand. Even though you think you would handle it differently if it was you. Even if you are exhausted by it. To the FEW that have listened and have been there for me this year, you will forever be in my life. You listened to what does help me or may help others and built me back up. You supported me at my worst. You didn’t choose fun or happier people over me, you chose to get me through this so I could be that person again. I know the pain is not and will never be over, but I have made it through this year of firsts. I have gotten up and done my best. Despite all of that pain I still tried to actively fight for others in the name of my brother because I have a fire inside telling me to do so. I hope my story helps anyone who feels alone in their depression. To everyone–Be kind. Listen. You may be the one person who helps someone through. RIP Jeff. You will always be the most amazing person I have ever known and I hope to always make you proud and will keep going for you. You always said I did too much for people and to not change that about myself and maybe it is what will help someone else in this life. I hope you are drinking a beer and laughing at how long this is. I’m having one now for you too Love you always
Tara Lane recently put together a team in Jeff’s name and spoke at Teen Challenge’s Run to End Addiction 5K which was held on May 6. Jeff’s team came in first with 86 members raising almost $6,000. The race money helped in funding an additional 46 (!!) beds recently opened at the Teen Challenge Men’s Treatment Center in Brockton, MA and will go towards helping fund an additional treatment center being built in Brockton. Tara was invited to attend the Additional Beds Ceremony at Teen Challenge and was asked to be on their fundraiser/event committee to help with an upcoming event. It was a bittersweet goal for Tara to be such a large part of adding treatment beds as she remembers so clearly how difficult it was to find an open bed when Jeff was in need of one.
Tara is living the words of her brother Jeff, ‘Don’t talk about it, be about it‘.