P.S. I Love You. In Memoriam (by David Innes)

Editor’s note: David Innes is many things and happily for the team that is HealthySenseofSelf, he is much more than our webmaster and technical go to guy. He is as passionate about the HySoS Mission and Method as he is about technology, his family, his community, education and social justice issues. His contributions to team discussions are significant as we brainstorm and wrestle with the BIG question: How do we bring the core HySoS message to the world in ways and formats that help as many people as possible? His contributions to what I call the “Really Big Picture” often come in the form of vivid illustrations and storytelling. Last week he posted on Facebook this status update and we his peers, unaware of this personal bit of history were deeply touched by this beautifully written and deeply personal share. I asked if we might reprint it and he graciously agreed. For anyone reading this post, who has lost a loved one tragically and prematurely, we know these are the losses we never really get over. We cope as best we can.

At best, we live with the reality and hopefully live a life honoring the loved one’s memory and doing what we can to help others cope (or escape a similar fate.)  His hope is that in the face of personal tragedy, that one can ultimately transcend the drama and aftermath of the event itself and how others may react, and focus on what really matters: Healing one’s Self so that living in the present can resume. As he so eloquently states:

“When tragedy happens to you and your family, know that real healing cannot begin till it is no longer about the drama of what happened or what the neighbors think, but our ability to get back in touch with our own feelings and fully express them as our Real Self.” ~David Innes


~11pm March 31st

So sometime in the next few hours it’ll have been exactly 30 years since my youngest brother James passed away. He was a wonderful, sweet, intelligent, and inexplicable baby, boy, and young man. He had what I think now would be treated as a variation of Asperger’s Syndrome, but back then he mostly just didn’t fit in to any of the normal categories of kids, or grownups, you meet every day.

He had a horrified fascination with danger. Literal in the sense that it horrified him, literal too in the sense that he would obsess about how bad it would be if he, for instance, got too close to the edge of a cliff or bridge. As he’d creep, terrified and sometimes almost panicky, towards an edge. Or, for instance, he’d go on and on to his high-school welding instructor about how bad it would be … “I’d never do it but!!!” .. if he used a torch to cut into the oxygen or acetylene tanks. (Demonstrating — “but it wasn’t lit, it wasn’t lit!!!” — got him yanked from the program mighty quick!)

He was evidently obsessed with how dangerous guns were too. And late on the night of March 31, 1980, while he was living with friends of my parents in Florida, he found their rifle.

It’s not clear to me, and maybe not anyone else, whether he did it by accident (“wow, it sure would be bad if I put this near my head and pushed the trigger”) or on purpose (he’d been quite unhappy and, I learned recently, had been prescribed but hadn’t yet received a prescription for antidepressants.) But die he did.

Like I say, he was a very troubled boy and I’m sure he would have been as troubled a man. We all worried about him constantly — he had that genius-level knack after all of going straight for the most scary, outrageous, dangerous subject, too often to the faces of the most scary, outrageous, and dangerous people for blocks around, and asking them most infuriating, awkward, and embarrassing questions. I can’t imagine he’d have had much luck finding work, I kind of doubt he’d have been able to have a healthy romantic/domestic relationship. I don’t think I was the only one who worried he might end up in jail even.

But I don’t think any of us expected his life to end so incredibly, tragically, suddenly. Certainly not by his own hand!

Mom said as she was driving down to Florida to be with his remains she kept thinking about him, and about his life, and crying so hard she could barely see the road. She said at one point, though, she started laughing — bitterly but genuinely and incredibly lovingly — and said out loud “James, you didn’t have to kill yourself, there were so many people who would have gladly done it for you.”

When I got the call from our father I somehow knew it was about James. I remember Dad saying “he’s gone.” And as it soaked in I remember thinking, out of the blue, “at least he’s safe now.” And then I made my arrangements to get back home, with far more intelligence and organization than usually possesses me, and once everything was ready I went for a long walk and cried my heart out. As I still cry for him from time to time.

Anyway, this isn’t the point of my post but dear God in heaven I wish till my heart aches that there’d been one more f****ing gun lock in the world than there happened to be 30 years ago. Nor have I been the only one in the years since.

We’re not sure of the exact moment the gun went off, but it would have been any time now.

My dad’s friend found him the next morning. It was a small gun, I guess, with a low caliber. Though he was unconscious he was still breathing. The wound was such that the EMTs said it wasn’t uncommon to pull through. But as ever James managed. He passed away sometime on the morning of April 1.

There’s nothing so final as death. Before death almost everything can be worked out. Before death there’s always a possibility for an alternative. For a second chance. For redemption. For forgiveness. For one last “I love you.” For one last moment of clarity and grace.

Afterwards there’s time only for regret. And remembering.

He’s been gone now ten years longer than he was here. Like my other brother and, I’m sure, my sister and dad I still dream about him.

It’s good to know he’s safe wherever he may be. And he could be so annoying I don’t know if I’d be able to stand being with him for more than five minutes at a time. But oh do I still miss him.

And here’s, I guess, what I really want to say: if you love them let them know. It might not change what happens but if it should come to the worst it could at least change how you remember them. Or, since it’s always a possibility, how they remember you.

After she died I found this photo of James in her apartment. I don’t know if Facebook will show more than a thumbnail but it shows him with a dulcimer — not sure if he was playing or just fixing it. But that photo brought the connection a little closer to me. Loved that guy.

Rockabye sweet baby James.

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