Expecting a “Brother” After Losing One

**I would like to preface this post by apologizing for how long it’s been since my last post. In addition to the busyness of life, I’ve just been discouraged in general with some aspects of my life due to criticism from people who I thought cared about me. Recently though, I remembered that I don’t write this for them. I write this for me, and for anyone who would like some insight on my personal grief journey. If that is not you, then there is no need for you to continue reading. If that is you, then I’m glad you’re here.

In a little more than a month, we will be welcoming a new baby boy into our family, Theodore Erik Toy (first name is from President Roosevelt, middle name is from his Uncle, my deceased brother). Theo’s due date is March 16, but due to medical reasons, he will likely arrive during the last week of February or the first week of March. These months bring constant reminders of Erik. We lost him on February 9, 2016, two days before my birthday, and one month before his 28th birthday on March 8. Because Erik and I were only 13 months apart, we shared a lot, including birthday parties, schools, and friends. So the time between February 11 and March 8 brings about even more memories.

Beyond the significance of Theo’s impending arrival date, the words “brother” and “little brother” have become daily words in our home as we prepare my 3.5 year old daughter for his arrival, too. “Brother” is a word that has had so much power over me over the past two years that it almost automatically invokes an emotional response, no matter the context. Prepping my daughter for her brother makes me mourn my own all over again. It makes me mourn the loss of her time as an only child, which is something I so longed for when I was younger. Though now that I have become an “only child”, I’d give anything to give that title back. I worry about the dynamic their relationship will have and how my own loss will shape their lives. I hope that I am able to use my experience to shape their relationship in a positive way but also give them the freedom to shape their own relationship as well. Obviously everyone expecting a child has worries and doubts and feelings of inadequacy. But, my grief and trauma certainly complicates things especially considering the new dynamic entering our lives.

Overall, I hope that my family and I will be able to temper our expectations of this new “brother” entering our lives and that we will allow him to follow his own path and destiny. I am so thankful to have been able to find a Doula, or birth assistant, who is also pregnant with her first son, and who has also lost a brother, to be by my side when we bring Theo into this world. I am so thankful for this baby growing inside me and for my daughter’s growing enthusiasm and excitement. I am so thankful for the support and love that surrounds me and lifts me up. I’m thankful, I’m scared as hell, and I really wish my brother was here. But, baby Theo, you are already so so loved, and we can’t wait to meet you!


Healing Through Advocacy 

I haven’t written in a while. I have spent the last few months completely overwhelmed. But, last week, I was finally able to find myself and my voice again.

On April 5, I made the four hour drive to Tallahassee to participate in the Florida State Capital Day hosted by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. I had been looking forward to this event for months, but I was also extremely nervous about it. The only other times I have been to Tallahassee is with my brother, Erik. Erik went to and graduated from Florida State University. I remember his graduation day well. Not only did this place live close to his heart, and therefore close to mine, I was getting ready to tell my story in a very important arena, a political one. Would I be able to keep my composure as I spoke to local legislators about something so emotional? Would every corner I turned on the streets of Tallahassee remind me of Erik? Could I handle it?

When I arrived, before even checking into my hotel, I stopped at FSU. I wanted to acknowledge this place that played such a huge role in Erik’s life. (I hope to go on to FSU to get my Master’s degree to honor this relationship as well.) I left some ashes beside, and took a few moments to think about the excitement that surrounded him on this campus when I would visit. I honestly couldn’t think of a better spot in Tallahassee to leave a piece of him behind (and major thanks to David, one of Erik’s best friends for the location idea).  With this campus visit, I shed the only tears I would shed this whole trip.

The next morning, dressed in Erik’s shirt, I headed towards the Florida State Capital Building, ready to spread the word on the importance of suicide prevention. Many people were taken aback when I told them I was only 14 months out from my loss and already participating in the advocacy program. But, I was more ready than I knew.

With the AFSP, we had four big “asks”:

  • Banning of conversion therapy, which treats homosexuality as a mental illness even though it is not and shouldn’t be treated as one
  • An increase to $25million in the budget for mental health spending (Florida is currently ranked 50th for their per capita spending for mental health)
  • An increase in budget for University Counseling Centers (suicide is the second leading cause of death for college age students)
  • Inclusion of disorders like PTSD in worker’s compensation coverage for first responders (who are more likely to die by suicide than on the job)

More info can be found here!

My first meeting ended up being with a Legal Aid for a State Representative (in the House of Representatives). I was paired with a veteran and we were both able to share our stories and explain the importance of our asks. While we were disappointed we didn’t get to meet with the representative, we were pleased with our meeting.

Then, I met with representative Mike De Rosa who has already sponsored several mental health bills. Tara, someone who I consider to be a great new friend was with me. I can’t express enough how much her support has meant to me. We brought bills to his attention that he was unaware of, and he told us that we had his full support on all of our asks. After my individual meetings, I helped deliver literature to senators and representatives across the capital building.

I overheard a statistic that all of the Florida AFSP walks combined do not make $1 million a year (yet). But, in this one day, we could have upped the budget for mental health to $25 million! That is just huge. How rewarding to be able to speak to someone who can directly do something to make changes. I am more motivated than ever now that I finally feel confident and have found my voice. I know my statistics. I know my story. I know what’s at stake and I know I need to keep fighting. Here’s to many more opportunities for advocacy and to being one of the many soldiers fighting against suicide!

Facing Anger After Acceptance

Most of us know the stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. That being said, most of us also realize that everyone faces their grief journey differently. Some of us live in depression for years. Some of us skip bargaining. To those of us whom are newer to grief, we think that once we hit acceptance we are in the clear. Unfortunately, after suffering a huge loss, we can never fully put it behind us.

Anger is my least favorite stage of grief because of all the guilt that comes with it. Especially now. Now, I have accepted my brother’s suicide. I have done my research. As much as I can apply logic to the scenario, I have. I now recognize that my brother probably suffered from schizophrenia during the last year of his life. I know for sure that he used drugs to cope with whatever symptoms he was experiencing. I know that when my brother died, he had been awake for nine days straight. I know that the decision that my brother made was not one that he made with a sound mind. A decision that ended his life and shook the very foundation of so many others was not his own decision, at least it wasn’t his decision alone. To me, these are facts. Facts and rationalizations I have made over the course of the past year.


That being said, as the first anniversary of his death is approaching, anger is building inside of me again. It started about a month away from his anniversary. I was saying goodbye to my mom, and she said “I want to see you again around Erik’s anniversary.” Something that shouldn’t upset me, right? Except for that two days after the anniversary of his death is my 30th Birthday. She didn’t mean anything by it. But it made me angry. It made me angry that February, a month that used to hold so much excitement, will forever contain a dark cloud over it. I got mad that my birthday will never be the same again. Do I think he intended for his actions to have this consequence? Absolutely not. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t feel angry.

However, what I have learned about anger, especially in this last year, is that it is okay to feel angry. It is okay to feel denial. It’s okay to bargain. It’s okay to be depressed. Sure, it feels better when you are feeling acceptance. But nothing is guaranteed, and you won’t live in acceptance. Through every ebb and flow in your grief journey, it is important to be gentle and forgiving on yourself. It is important to allow yourself to feel. Most importantly, it is necessary to ask for help and support when you need it.

Be gentle on yourself.

Saying Farewell to 2016

Thanks to social media, 2016 will be a year that we talk about for many years to come. That being said, I believe that this mindset is worth examining, too! 2016 is the year that I lost my brother. If I were to tally up sad, stressful, or traumatic events for every year, 2016 would in fact, be the “worst” year in my life also. But, is this a fair assessment?? Many friends of mine are approaching or even surpassing 30, when life changes are common. We bought a new home towards the end of 2015, and the needed repairs still drowned us in 2016. We are older, and so are the people that we love. With an average life expectancy of less than 80 years, I believe that loss is expected now. Does that make it easier to accept? Absolutely not. Did I ever think at 29 years old I would be coping with the traumatic loss of my younger brother? Absolutely not. But, is 2016 to blame for all of the bad that we have recently experienced? Absolutely not!

Yes, 2016 is the year I lost my brother.2016 is the year that my debt rose above what I ever wanted it to be. It’s the year my favorite car died. It’s the year I watched my extended family slowly crumble apart while trying so hard to hold it together after losing Erik. But, 2016 is also the year that I finally found my path, my voice, and my purpose. 2016 is the year that I re-enrolled in college (and maintained a straight-A streak, too)! 2016 is the year that my now two-year-old learned to run, dance, jump, and hold conversations. 2016 is the year that I learned who my real friends and family are, for better or worse. 2016 is the year I got back in the saddle and rode a horse again. 2016 is the year I got off my ass, met an amazing nutrition counselor, and lost 25 lbs (and counting!). If I leave all of the bad things that happened in 2016 out of the equation, 2016 was -dare I even say it?- one of the best years of my life, too.

Don’t get me wrong. I, too, love the idea of a New Year. The path that I have been set on this year is setting me up for a great 2017. A New Year brings hope that you can change and start over. You can leave behind the bad and the hurt, and carry on with just the good. You can chose resolutions to carry with you throughout the New Year that will hopefully lead to a better life for you.

The ONLY problem I have with this notion is, why are you waiting? Why not let things go sooner? Why not set new goals sooner? If losing my brother has taught me anything, it is that the time we have on Earth is limited. Why wait to live a better and happier life? Why wait to seize the day? Why not live every day like it is New Year’s Day? It is, after all, a new day. Every day is a new opportunity to turn it all around. While I acknowledge that my whole life has been about progress, not perfection, that is what I will set out to do. Seize every day that I can. Let go of what I can, when I can. Do better, when I can. Really, I think that’s all that any of us can do. If you’re unsure of what to do with yourself in the upcoming year, then I would just encourage you to grow. Grow when things are easy. Grow when things are hard. Grow so that when you reflect upon your day, you can hold your head high. Here’s wishing you all the best in the coming year!



Facing Unexpected Triggers

You may have heard the term “trigger”, or “trigger warning”, especially if you spend a lot of time on social media. It may even seem silly or childish or even weak to see that a few words or images can “trigger” someone into a bad emotional space. I don’t think that anyone really understands triggers until they go through something traumatic and in turn, experience triggers for themselves. Obviously, trauma is not something I would wish on anyone, but unfortunately it is something that most will experience in their lives. The loss of a child, having a medically fragile child, or a traumatic death (like suicide) or traumatic experience are common traumas that would result in an individual being triggered. When you open Facebook, you can almost expect to be triggered, especially depending on the groups you may follow. Even better, some posts come with “trigger warnings” at the top, and if you’re having a rough day, you know to keep scrolling. Unfortunately, life does not come with trigger warnings.


The most common natural trigger I experience is music. Sometimes, a song takes me to a place where I have a memory of my brother. Sometimes, the lyrics speak to me, or him, or my life since losing him. This weekend, I listened to music for 3 hours straight doing yard work, with a plethora of songs from my teenage years coming up on the playlist- let’s just say I was ready to cry. I did not have a single moment of sadness or grief until the last song came on. “I Wish You Were Here”, by Incubus started to play and I was a sobbing mess.

Then, I sit down to watch one of my favorite holiday movies, “It’s a Wonderful Life”. I am not sure how it did not occur to me that the entire movie was about a wonderful man who was deciding whether he should his life or not when suddenly an angel intervened and talked him down from the ledge. Now, I know I will have to be in the right frame of mind to watch that movie again.

There is no real tried and true way to face these triggers, at least not for me, at least not yet. One of the most important pieces of advice that I have received on my grief journey was from a social worker I was seeing. She told me, “When you need to cry, cry. Don’t hold it in. Let it out. Just, cry.” So, I do. Sometimes, I cry in the car. Sometimes, I cry in the shower. Sometimes, I encounter triggers, and I don’t need to cry at all. The point is, you can avoid some things. You can avoid walking down certain streets. You can skip certain songs when it is not a good time to face your emotions. But, sometimes, no matter how much you protect yourself, you will encounter triggers. I think that is why it has been helpful to face triggers when I feel like I can. If I am in a safe place physically, or in a good mindset emotionally, I like to face my triggers. I like to try when I can. I like to listen to James Taylor sing Fire and Rain and scream it at the top of my lungs. It is clear that I cannot run from everything, and I cannot run forever. So, if I feel like I can face it today, I face it. If I don’t, I avoid it as much as I can until I am left to encounter it again.

the Guilt of Post-Traumatic Growth

I had not heard of the term “Post-Traumatic Growth” until I attended a Suicide Loss Survivor Support Group (a little more on the subject can be found here:https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/what-doesnt-kill-us/201402/posttraumatic-growth). But, once I heard it, I immediately wanted to achieve it. At that point, though, I was already on my way. Before losing my brother to suicide, I was pretty content with my life, but for the most part I had plateaued. By 28, I had just about everything I could want. I had a great little family, with a wonderful husband and amazing daughter. My dream of having horses in my back yard had come true a few months before I lost my brother. I was on a path to living a content, mediocre life.post-traumatic-growth

After the traumatic loss of my brother, though, would that life be enough? Within weeks, maybe even days, I knew it would not be enough. How could I sit back and let life happen instead of taking charge and really living my best life? In a way, I felt like I had to live for two people now. Myself, and my brother. And, I knew that this life would not have been enough for him. I quickly decided to go back to school, which is something Erik and I had always talked about. At the age of 29, I started work to get my Associate’s degree, and eventually I hope to become a social worker. By the time I am 30, I will have my Associate’s and will go on to a University. I have started practicing mindfulness and working on my character flaws. I am exercising, seeing a nutritionist, and losing weight. I am a work in progress, but I am working diligently to get better every single day.


Unfortunately, with this growth comes other struggles. There are feelings of guilt, sadness, stress, and so much more. Where would I be today without suffering the traumatic loss of my brother? Could I say, then, that I am thankful for the trauma because of how much personal growth I have experienced? Could I be thankful for what I have personally gained from his loss at the expense of his life? I do not think that that could be my resounding emotion, but sometimes I feel it slipping through and it turns my whole life and purpose into a conundrum. Could anything good come from suicide? If it could, how could I, as someone who has become a huge advocate for suicide prevention, admit it? I would like to think that eventually I would have grown on my own with a different catalyst or no catalyst at all, but I will never know what could have happened.

What about everyone else? I see the people around me who were also affected by this trauma struggling to move forward or even stay afloat. Was it fair for me to excel? Should I step back and drown with them? Should I grab their hands and keep as many afloat as I could? How could I leave them behind? Then I realized that they all know how to swim. Everyone struggling was capable of swimming and growing their life as well.


Eventually, I learned to support people who asked for it, and offer support when I could. As far as the guilt goes, I am still working on it. I know that if given the opportunity, I will help anyone that I can in any struggles that they want to share with me. I know that if I drown, I cannot help anyone. I hope that if anyone is feeling conflicted about growing in the wake of a trauma or tragedy that they take a moment to realize just how important self-care if. It may feel selfish at times. But, you cannot give if you are empty. You can be successful and grow and realize that everyone on this earth is walking their own path. Those paths may cross and you may help one another, but ultimately you only have control over your path.

The Year of Firsts

It has been 9 and a half months since I lost my brother. On February 10, the day after his angel-versary , I will officially be able to put the “year of firsts” behind me. I lost my brother two days before my 29th birthday. Needless to say, my birthday has been the worst holiday to celebrate without him so far.

I had a big build up to Thanksgiving though. From what I can remember, my brother only ever missed one Thanksgiving. He was working and needed to stay working so that he could be home for Christmas that year instead. I was upset, but I understood. Aside from that, he went where I went. Whether it was my mom’s house or my paternal grandmother’s house or my aunt’s house 3 hours away, wherever I went, he would come. Looking back now, I can appreciate his willingness to support me. Unfortunately, I didn’t see it then.

Last Thanksgiving was actually worse than this Thanksgiving. My brother, Erik, and I fought. We argued and bickered. I was silent and in tears through dinner. The Erik I once knew wasn’t there anymore. Someone else remained. Someone scattered, confused, passionate yet disinterested, self-righteous yet obviously unsure. I didn’t like this new brother. I didn’t like being faced with the distance that had grown between us over the years. It was tough!

If I could do it all over again, I would have embraced his quirks. I would have focused on the jokes and the memories. I would have let his harsh words roll of my back. Instead, I’m left with the memory of a terrible last Thanksgiving.

This year, I had to run away a little bit. My in-laws graciously treated us to a vacation in Siesta Key, about two hours away. I am not intending to brag- because even if I had cried a big, ugly cry, I still would have been happy with the day. But, I only shed a tear when I got the sweetest message from my nutritionist (or life coach, as I call her :)). A smart, blonde, supermodel of a woman told me that I inspired her. I still question it! How can I be teaching someone who is a huge role model to so many, including myself?? But I learned to take the complement all the way down to my core, and I let myself feel it, and I cried.

(Just goes to show how powerful words can be!)

I had read to prepare for triggers. I did. I also read to start new traditions. I did that too. I released a sprinkle of Erik’s ashes into the Gulf of Mexico. (He is still teaching me how to “let go”.) I expected to cry then, too. But I didn’t. I felt a release, and I felt him there with me.

Overall, the distractions were a great aid in helping me survive Thanksgiving with love in my heart. I only have two more big events to go and then I can put the “year of firsts” behind me ❤

When someone asked if it was ok to share…

When I first received the news of my brother’s suicide, I wasn’t sure what to say to others. Just months before I lost a friend to a suspected suicide- but this was never confirmed. For anonymity purposes, let’s call this friend “John”. John’s family and closer friends were silent “out of respect”, they said. I don’t know John’s official cause of death, and I probably never will. But, I would imagine that it was accidental or intentional suicide.

John actually had a background with drug addiction, just as my brother Erik did. John had a much longer history with it though. He had tried rehab across the country and had ended up homeless countless times. He had asked a lot of us for money over the years. I, along with many others, sent it to him- he told me that thanks to me, he would be able to get lunch that day.

When I first learned that my brother had moved on from more “mild” drugs and onto using methamphetamine, I reached out to two old friends. One of them helped get people into rehab for a living and was a recovering addict herself, and the other one was John. Drugs were so out of my wheelhouse that I just did not know what to say to my brother and how to help him. So, I asked John- “what should I say to him? what would you have wanted to hear?” Ultimately, he told me to treat my brother “with love and compassion”. Ultimately, though, he expressed the importance of rehab to me, which my brother never ended up attending. Regardless, when John passed, no one said how. To me, it seemed like there was shame surrounding the loss, and so that’s what we guess- suicide.

I try not to place blame in the loss of my brother. Something that helped me a lot was understanding that it took a “perfect storm” of bad situations to bring him to that place, and no one person or incident is responsible. I know this to be true. But, one of my wishes is that John’s family would have spoken out. I watched Erik walk a similar path to John. If I had known how his final days went or with certainty how he was lost, maybe I would have been able to see more red flags. I will never know if it would have made a difference, but I believe that there is a chance that it could have.

So, a few days ago, when someone asked me if it was “ok to share” parts of my brother’s story, it made me think of John. I understand that some families have a hard time accepting suicide. I even realize that results may have been inclusive. I even have family members that questioned my brother’s suicide for months- suspecting foul play from the other addicts in his home with him. But, ultimately, I want to be an open book for suicide and suicide loss. If one thing that I share can save just one person, then I have served my purpose. If, in fact, John was lost to suicide, then imagine the crushing stigma his family must have felt to not want to share.

On February 9, 2016, the day we lost my brother, I also did not know what to say. If I shared the truth, would it hurt my mom? Would it hurt my family? I only took about 24 hours, and then I think my mom might’ve even taken the lead. But after one day, I knew what the right thing to do was. I shared. I shared everything I knew. I shared every observation I had. I even shared details for anyone who asked. I do not know what will and wont help people. But, what I do know, is that sharing is going to help someone, and it certainly helps me.


When I first lost my brother to suicide, I was lost too. But I was determined to dive right in. That’s just what I do- I take action. I had to “fix” whatever I could even if there was really nothing that I could fix. If being a new mom in the new millennium taught me anything, it was to run to the computer to find all of the coping mechanisms that I could. I found Facebook groups. I found amazing organizations like the American Foundation for Suicide Awareness (AFSP). I found clinical studies. In the wake of this loss, I seemingly found everything that I could possibly need, aside from my brother back by my side, of course.
In this new technological whirlwind of trying to make sense of it all and put the pieces of my broken life and family back together, I found the term “suicide survivor” was one that kept coming up. Was I a suicide survivor? The term brought about imagery of failed suicide attempts and those with mental health issues who were in recovery. But, how could that describe me? Even the trusty Internet was undecided.

I mean, the very definition of “survivor” is certainly one I could relate to. I have always considered resiliency a great strength of mine (and I don’t mean to sound like I’m bragging- I probably have like 5 qualities that I really like). I later attended a “Survivor of Suicide Loss” workshop that the AFSP offered. There is a new shift to adjust the phrasing to “survivor of suicide LOSS”, and it reignited my interest in the old confusing term. I was certainly left here, surviving, after one of the biggest losses I will ever experience. Some days just barely surviving. But every day moving forward.

On February 9th, when I received the call from the detective in Texas, I felt like the lone survivor. That day, as I made phone calls to my mom, my dad, my grandmother, my brother’s best friend, I felt like like a lone child, standing in the rubble and aftermath of a terrible disaster. As time went on, I realized that although my path is different from anyone else’s path, I was not alone. I had friends and family by my side. There are people who I haven’t even met yet that have walked similar paths. But, I now know that although at times it is lonely, I am not alone.

My brother, Erik, and I looked very similar. We were only 13 months apart. Cut my hair and slap a beard on me and we would look like twins. Sometimes, I think our resemblance drove people away in the days following his death. Especially the people who missed him the most. Which were, unfortunately, the people who I felt I needed the most. If I had a huge loss, after my husband, I would go to my parents, or my grandma. But, how can I ask for them to take care of me, when they needed to be taken care of themselves? How could I ask them to help me through a loss that they were going through themselves. I can’t. But, there were still days where I wanted to scream “I AM STILL HERE!”- like they didn’t know. Like they didn’t realize that they can learn from their mistakes. They can come out of this Hell better and stronger than they were before. When my dad says “I should have called Erik more often”, and I want to yell “YOU CAN CALL ME MORE!” Well. I don’t have answers for those feelings of anger and resentment. As selfish as it sounds, I haven’t escaped them yet.  But, one day I will move past it. One day I will accept that I can only control myself. Until then, though, I will be here, still surviving.