Three American flags, one of which was flown over Afghanistan by soldiers I do not know. At least one Virginia state flag. A dozen or so framed sketches, paintings, diplomas, plaques, and a retired high school football jersey. Stacks of newspapers and magazine articles, mostly from 2007. And, several hundred sympathy cards from all over the world.
I spent this past weekend at my mother’s house and with the help of my sister we put all of the above items and much more into what we called “Jarrett Boxes”. It’s been over six and half years since my brother was killed at VA Tech, yet my family has yet to figure out what to do with all the sympathy and memorial items we received. Nearly every room of the house has some sort of gift from a complete stranger or dear friend wanting to comfort us in the darkest days of our lives.
Somedays my grief seems stronger than God. On those days I feel that it controls my destiny and through a paralyzing power devoids me of purpose and will. Gratefully, love wins often helping me to carry on.
I’ve come to live with my grief, as I imagine people manage debilitating diseases. I do not believe it will ever go away completely, but I trust that I can find ways to life with it. (In fact, writing this letter to you is helping me recover from a weekend spent sorting things into Jarrett Boxes.)
A few of the others who lost a loved one on April 16, 2007 have been inspired to take up a cause. Somedays I wish I was the sort of person who could take up a cause. Maybe it could help me answer some of the millions of questions I have about my brother’s untimely death. And, I wonder if tying positive actions to a source that I could easily blame might lessen my pain. Not to mention, I’ve heard a rumor that if I can prevent the same act from happening to another person, then my brother’s death will not be in vain.
But, I am not that sort of person. At least not now.
My inertia doesn’t mean I lack believes. I strongly believe that each of us has a set of basic responsibilities to the people around us, especially those who need support, nurturing, and avenues to good health. We are all in this together, and when we fail to be accountable for one another life always loses.
While many of the April 16 survivors have taken up the gun control issue, I have a hard time relating. I’ve always been sick to my stomach at the thought of guns, and the images I have of what happened to my brother that day make it impossible for me to truly want anything other than a gun-free world.
And, also, a gun is simply a tool. A gunshot wound is listed on my brother’s autopsy report as the cause of his death, but that is not the entire truth. My brother was killed by people who failed to be responsible. By people who let fear and cultural pressures guide their decisions, instead of truth and courage.
Mental health is a topic that needs to be brought to the table. I’ve seen many people who let their ignorance of mental health and inaccurate social views dictate the type support to an individual struggling mentally or emotionally. The system is corrupt with fear, ignorance, and irresponsibility, and it has failed us both and our beloved boys.
Thank you for being the sort of person who can take up a cause. My heart falls to the bottom of my stomach as I try to imagine all that you must do to be able to take up this cause during your darkest days.
The only true pain-reliever I have found to make any headway on the pain of grief is love. May you and your family have moments to immerse yourselves in love for each other and your for love for Gus. Talk about good memories and seek out stories from his friends. And, may the world embrace you tightly.
Sister of Jarrett Lane