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Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Don't you forget about me: The blog I needed to write one day about my late brother.

I usually have a splashy saying at the top of my blog entries, but this is one that I just think I will dive right into.  Eventually, if we live long enough, we will face a loss so deep, so profound that it cut us to the bone.  It will be a loss that haunts us, a loss so profound that it changes the trajectory of our lives.  A loss so painful that there is no way we can quite cry our way through it.  In a way, it is the loss of soul so close to us, that we are never truly the same after it.

UPATED (11/9/18)
(Brother facing childhood sexual abuse as well? If I did, likely he did.)

What makes it worse is when this loss by all accounts appears senseless.  Suicide is what I speak of.  Anyone who truly knows me knows that I am speaking of my late brother Bill.  I figured one day after my parents were both gone, I'd write this.  Not that I was afraid of this getting back to them so much as just the timing wasn't right.  Anyway, I've written and read eulogies three times in my life, but the hardest one to write was about my brother.  To me, a eulogy is a few highlights of a person's life, mostly kind words, just a few words to say and to give them a decent send off, but not enough words to tell whom they really are,

I am winging this and I don't know how it will proceed, but I guess the best way to write sometimes is just to let the words come out.  Here goes Bill.

A little bit about him.  Bill was a kind soul.  I didn't really realize how kind a soul he was until later in his life.  Bill was a very sensitive soul.  He loved kids and even my daughter to this day remembers him.  She was nearing only four years old and hadn't seen him too often, but she remembers him.   She remembers the day that he put together her tea cart.  She had met Bill before and I'm sure thought positively of him, but in one brief afternoon around Christmas 2010, he reached deep into her soul and they formed a bond that has lasted the test of time.  She felt in my brother the love he had available.  He struggled to love himself, he struggled to find someone who would treat him the way he deserved, he sometimes struggled to appreciate those who did love him and he struggled to find trust in his dysfunctional family of origin.  But one place he didn't struggle was connecting with children.   Sometimes people are very bright, but are clueless as to how to connect with kids.  But, that wasn't Bill.  He knew how to reach kids where they are, not where he was, but where they are.  I am decent at that, but he schooled me in that.  :-)   Hence, it wasn't too surprising when he found himself eventually gravitating towards working with kids in the Hazelwood School District.

He excelled in math and other logic based subject matter, but at the same time, he appreciated the simple things too.  In no particular order, here are some of the thinks he liked: he enjoyed hanging out with friends, dressing nicely, collecting and listening to music (a set that was uniquely him), collecting unique clocks and he loved baseball.  He pondered political, social and faith issues, even if he struggled with the answers.  He liked things and entertainment, but most of all, he cherished personal relationships.  He was complex in many ways, but he was simple in others.

How do I know him?  I will describe in a few ways below.

- I knew him as a troubled kid growing up in a troubled family:

  He was always a very sensitive kid in a family that generally didn't get him.  I'm not going to go into great detail and I'm not trying to speak ill of the anyone in particular, but there were a few negative things that I will share that influenced him
  • We grew up in a very dysfunctional family of origin.  Before I elaborate, I will say this: at the time you see your family dysfunction as uniquely uncomfortable/embarrassing, but as I have found out over time, family dysfunction is more common than we know.  Some are just better at concealing it and it varies in degrees in families, but I digress.  My dad had a rough childhood and had an anger streak.  What effect that had later?  Dad was an alcoholic and let's just say he wasn't always nice to my mom, even to the point of getting physical.  
  • My dad grew up in the foster care system and ultimately was a product of a strict no-nonsense old German foster parents.  It was a system by which what the dad says was law and you didn't ever challenge or question. Anyway, what my dad learned was the old school 'deal with it' type of attitude and felt opening up, expressing feelings and counseling and the like were a sign of weakness.  In dealing with his own kids, he 'appeared' to have little understanding or interest in really understanding them.  As long as they appeared to be doing well in school and didn't cause him grief, having to deal with the school or embarrassment all was well.  Sadly, he was the type that be more likely to demean or criticize his kids rather than praise them.  I dunno, maybe it was 'toughen them up' attitude that he'd learn from his foster dad.  But, in a way, it was I don't want to hear from the school about problems.  So, that meant if someone picks on you, you don't fight back as that would get the school involved and therefore he would have to deal with it.  So, in a way, it was a lose-lose.  You deal, but I don't want your dealing to cause me any trouble.  Now, I truly believed he cared about his kids, but wasn't really given the best tools to project it.  I've come to understand that often times people make mistakes not on purpose, but instead on ignorance.  If you didn't hear your parents outwardly express love to you as a kid, you will be less likely implicitly understand to do that.  
  • We had 5 siblings, one working parent for much of my childhood and that parent blew money on alcohol.  That obviously didn't leave much for the kids.  So, we were sent to school looking poor/poorer than classmates.  In other words, targets for ridicule.
  • Our house looked torn up/out of order at times as a function of the dysfunction and it made it harder to bring people over.  Some of that was of having eight people stuffed into a small space. Some of that was having rambunctious kids full of energy and some of it was monetary neglect. 
  •  I suspect that he was molested by a 'family friend' as I was.  He said there was a lot that he didn't remember and that itself upset him.  He actually caught onto the molestation before I put it together.  He was instrumental in pushing the 'family friend' away.  In other words, he protected me and my younger brother.
With these things working against him, I think he, like others, were at risk for problems later. In short, he was a troubled kid/person.  None of this worked in his favor when trying to make friends in school or for that matter being understood.  I will come back to his teen years and adult years a little later in this blog.

- I knew him as (at least somewhat) kindred spirit.  He was
  • Very sensitive and I believe intuitive.
  • One who wanted to do the right thing.  
  • One who was inclined to believed in God (or wanted to).  Were were baptized at the same time, when he was a Sophomore in high school.
  • One who took up running--both of us did Cross Country and Track in high school.
  • Struggled for acceptance at times.
  • Could be intense, but also had zany moments and could relate to kids.
  • Liked to try new things and mostly did, but sometimes was afraid to.
  • Questioned things, didn't buy the prevailing 'conservative' view, but didn't automatically buy the 'progressive' view either.
  • Had eclectic tastes in music.
  • Wasn't able to just ignore the hurt/pain/suffering in the world.  
  • Sometimes had a hard time letting things roll off his back.
  • Could be his own worst critic.
  • Was socially awkward early on and took into his adulthood to start to come into his own.
      For whatever reason, God blessed me with an ability to take more blows and recover I think.   
      I often wonder the following--we diverted in our 20s.  I got breaks, where he didn't necessarily get them.  Had the situation been reversed...

- I knew him as a kind and gentle soul:
  • He would often help others out before he helped himself out.
  • He loved kids and was able to reach them and make them feel important.
  • He might get upset or even a bit angry, but he'd never actually hurt anybody.  If anything, he'd be more likely to wonder if he did anything to cause it.  Even if he did know that he was wronged by another, he was likely to blame himself for putting himself in that position.
  • He was socially conscience.  When he wasn't stressed worrying about thing in his own life, he felt/pondered. Unfairness in society and the world.

- He was a troubled teen and troubled adult.

  • Given a dysfunctional family of origin and troubled circumstances, he was socially awkward.  At church he identified he seemed to get along best with the grown-ups.  He never felt accepted by the teens.  At school, he never really felt well accepted.  He struggled with making friends.  
  • Our parents divorced during his sophomore year and I suspect while he hated the dysfunction, the divorce probably hurt him more than he let on.  He tended to relate better with my late mom.
  • Near the end of his sophomore year, the pressures of a broken, dysfunctional family, failure in making effective connections, including dating, the sense that given the dysfunctional family environment he'd never have a chance, a dad was likely to be critical and not give credit, the general sense that he was a 'failure' and who knows what else drove him to take a whole bottle of Tylenol at the end of his sophomore year.  After he had his stomach pumped, he was put in in-patient at a local facility that deals with troubled youths and suicide risks.  I believe ultimately the message he sent was never fully appreciated by our parents, especially my dad.  Nor was it fully appreciated by the rest of the family.  It was almost like lets just sweep this under the rug and get him back home.
    • My dad thought it was the divorce and his having a rough cross country season, but that was never it.  It was always more than that.
  • Ultimately, he 'recovered' (at least to some extent) from the blows of his early childhood and teenage years.  He started at a Florissant Valley Community College and as soon as he could, he left for what is now called MU.  I believe he met his closest, dearest and most enduring friends there.  I had the pleasure of meeting Collette, Dan and Joe from his MU years and I think on some level, besides myself, were the family he never had.  This isn't meant as a slight to Heather, Nicole or Brian, or others I may not be thinking about at the moment, but I digress.  Anyway, he graduated with a Bachelor's Degree in Math.  He struggled to find a job that suited his talents and eventually found himself working with kids in the Hazelwood School District.  Though he loved kids, I'm sure he felt like a failure not directly using his degree.  
  • My brother was a very genuine, authentic person, but by worldly standards probably some would have said not 'successful' and I believe this wore on him.  This wore on him reaching out to people and this wore on him in how he felt he was perceived.  When you don't feel successful, unfortunately, it has a way of bringing you down and he wasn't able to rebound or recover from that.
    • Unfortunately, some possible mates aren't able to look pass 'wavering confidence'  and look at the soul underneath.  This in turn, can lower confidence, which can be a vicious cycle.
    • Dating can seem very cruel, the 'losers' seem to be rewarded for being jerks, while the nice guys seem to be ignored or just treated as an if all else fails option.
    • A genuine, kind and authentic person often is taken advantage of by those who don't share those values.
    • For worse or better, dating is harder these days. With people not being as connected by church, school, family, neighborhood as they used to, its hard to know where to turn.  I found my wife through and I'm fine with that.  But, I have struggled at times in my adulthood in dating.  Sometimes, the usual places just cut it and if your 'scene' and/or your group of friends don't yield anyone (or anyone healthy) for you, where do you turn.
  • Ultimately, after being repeatedly being taken advantage of, he became discouraged and this discouragement bled into his work.  I won't go into detail, but the one job he really did like-working with kids in the Hazelwood School District--was taken away from him for what I believe are political/budget reasons.  I lost a job before where cuts had to be made and I was the new person, without any standing on the team and therefore was an 'easy target' to get cut.  I believe my brother was subject to that.  He treated people right, but he wasn't a favorite and wasn't union either.  Therefore, when the perfect political came along to get rid of him and cut the budget came along, they took it.  He ultimately won his unemployment claim as they couldn't justify denying him it based on their petty politics, but the experience had left him discouraged and despondent.  I tried to get him to see that he was better than the d*mn petty politics, but you know, sometimes you can't reach someone when they are hurting.  He felt like the whole experience tarred him on his resume.
  • He had another part time job and ultimately, I think the weight of being taken advantage of repeatedly, being subject to politics in employment and losing his job because of it, not being where he wanted with regard to relationships or just overall "successful" just weighted him down.  He lost his part time job and I hate to say it, but looking back it was a matter of time as expenses and options, the weight of feeling like a failure, and not feeling loved or like people cared (when I know it was different) got the best of him.
As my brother moved along in his life, he 'disappear' for weeks at a time.  That is to say, he wouldn't answer calls or reach out when he needed to.  One time, I ambushed him at his place as I was concerned about him and he reassured me things were fine.   Unfortunately, I was in a very spot in my marriage at the time and I was facing having to find a new job myself as my company moved its operations mostly to Utah, so I wasn't fully attuned and being that he'd disappeared for weeks at a time before 'resurfacing', I wasn't 100% there the way I could have been.  Anyway, downward drift started at the end of 2010 and continued into April and then June of 2011.

One morning in mid to late June of 2011, he texted me something which got my attention in a worrisome way.  I called him the next morning and left a message that if he didn't me back in about 5-10 minutes that I'd send the police out his way.  I don't remember what it was, but obviously that's beside the point.  So, he called back shortly thereafter to reassure me that he was just venting.  But, obviously, I had suspected otherwise.  So, in dealing with my own financial/job issues and failing marriage, I was obviously distracted and could not devote as much attention as I could have to his deteriorating will.  I say this not to blame myself--as I know nothing that I could have done would have changed the trajectory of his life--but just as a recounting.  I know I was there for him to the extent that I could be given my own life issues and I know I could tell him it was partly sunny outside and he would have replied, no it's very cloudy.  Anyway, long story short I got a text from him around July 7th or 8th, 2011 saying something that included, "I feel like I'm dying".  But, based on his prior texts and prior statements, it appeared to be life sucks, I feel like I am dying inside, I hate life type situation.  As I indicated previously, it was a very trying and distracted time for me, so I didn't put two and two together, especially since he reassured me on multiple occasions that he had venting in such situations.  Unfortunately later that July, I got a call from my mom stating that he was found lifeless in his apartment.  I called the police to verify, you know my mom, God rest her soul, was an excitable sort and had been known to jump to the worst case scenario.  Besides, you know when you get a call like that, you don't just say okay wow sorry to hear.  You do what you can to verify.  Unfortunately, the police verified that.  I had felt guilty that I hadn't checked on him sooner, but you know, but hindsight is 20/20.

The year that followed for me was let's just say was a living hell.  I got enough strength to pull myself together, do him a eulogy and make sure he was remembered respectfully as well, but as anyone who loses a close family member to suicide realizes it, especially if you don't get to see them in a casket, it is a surreal experience where you struggle for closure.   At times, you know it brings you down to a bad spot, especially if you are going through you own troubled (divorce, bankruptcy, unemployment,...).   Knowing him and knowing how bad he was hurting and being very down myself, I feel like but for the grace of God and a change of circumstances....  But, I digress.

I wasn't there when it all ended for him and they couldn't definitely call it a suicide, but based on what I knew about him, the direction things were going, his deteriorating frame of mind, a note that he left--which usually I suspect people leave clues in their words--I think if he didn't 'actively' try to end his life he took prescription and medicine together and really didn't care what happened afterwards.  Did he know that he was going to die?  Can't say for certain what his exact mindset was on the day he apparently mixed drugs and alcohol.  Maybe it was I don't care anymore.  Maybe it was, I am just going to do this as I am tired of the pain?  Who can say?   But based on my understanding of my brother and my own moments that followed, I can say the following--bear in mind this is my own understanding of it:

  • Losing the will to live and not taking care of yourself is a passive form of suicide.
  • I believe someone who is pondering it, may reach out, but their own sense of humiliation and shame might get in the way.  That's why you get unclear or mixed messages.  It's not like they happily or loudly announce, "I'm going to end my life today".
  • Think of the path to suicide as a series of steps to the basement.  From what I see, most people wouldn't leap down all the steps at once.  Instead like walking down the steps it is a series of blows that take a person closer to the full way down.  Sometimes the final step is a final blow.  Sometimes it is just the weight of all the blows finally crushing them and they "snap".
  • I believe people don't actively wake up and say, "I'm done" and end it like that.  I think it is a tortured struggle between doing what they know is not right and fear of the thereafter vs. staying in a painful life situation--physically, emotionally and/or mentally.  
  • Even when actively ending their life, I believe some people are still conflicted--overdose vs. suicide by gun for example.
  • If you are positive someone is considering it, DO NOT let them tell you tell you that everything is fine, no matter how they reassure you, especially if they have a long history of depression.
  • Above all, always let them know you are there for them and be willing to be resented by them for doing an intervention.

When I decided to write this, I was at Disneyworld in Florida and it was 2am in the morning and I watched The Breakfast Club and heard this song and it clicked: It's time to write about him.  Something told me while you know you've moved forward and adjusted to his passing, that I needed to tell his story for a few reasons.  
  1. To help those who knew him better understand things.
  2.  To give him the respectful treatment of more than a few paragraphs at a eulogy. 
  3.  To help those who are struggling in there own life identify and related.
  4.  To let him know wherever his spirit is, that he is not forgotten.
I am honored and blessed to have known William Richard Shepard as my brother and to have had the honor of sharing that earthly bond with him for 42+ years.   I believe the world is a better place in at least a small way with his having been in it.  If it be God's will, I hope to see him again one day in the way, way distant future.  As much as I hated it, I feel blessed that God entrusted me to give him his final words, his final resting place and his story to be told.  God bless you Bill.

I hope these word prove beneficial to others.

-- Rich

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