It’s been so long since I have written in this space. In some ways, it’s been so long since I’ve written at all.
On the morning of August 28, I said goodbye to my three friends from high school who had come to spend the weekend with me. The night before, we had ventured to downtown where we ate incredible food and danced at a concert and overall, experienced a very memorable night.
My heart was full.
Not too long after they left, my phone rang. It was one of those calls you are not expecting and one of those calls you are never prepared to receive.
The second I answered I. knew something was wrong.
All I could hear was crying.
“Brad is dead,” my sister shouted between sobs. “He’s dead.” She went on to say other things as my body did what bodies do when words are uttered that the mind and soul and spirit can’t grasp or reconcile or make sense of.
I fell to the ground as an avalanche of grief rolled off me and into the space all around.
My daughter ran down the stairs and covered me with her body. She didn’t know what was happening, but she cried tears, too.
Grief is contagious like that.
Wasn’t I just dancing last night? What about that meal? All of the joy so near to all of the heartache. A few hours separated what felt like a lifetime.
On the morning of August 28, Major Bradley Dunlap died by suicide.
Those words are hard to type. They feel very raw and vulnerable and even though three months and a few days have passed, they still feel surreal.
A part of me wants to delete all of this.
How do you hold space for so much? How do you find words for thoughts and feelings that you wish you didn’t have to have?
Grief is complicated. It’s different for all of us. There seem to be extra layers when someone you love takes their life.
You know it’s not your fault.
You know you aren’t responsible.
You know there’s nothing you could have done.
But you wonder and you question and you wrestle.
If only I had reached out. If only I had called. If only I had sent a text. If only I had listened better. There were clues the last time we talked – why didn’t I follow up? Why didn’t I pay better attention?
I know. I know. I know.
It’s not my fault. But still……….the brain is funny like that.
So here I am, finally writing about the thing I didn’t want to write about and trying to figure out how to best honor my cousin and how to share his life in the best possible way – and all I want to do is hit delete. To make it all go away.
But somewhere inside I know it is time. This won’t be the last post I write about Brad, but it will be the first. I will commit to that.
There are so many stories to tell. Stories of growing up a few houses down from each other. Stories of swimming in the pond and playing pinball in grandma and grandpa’s basement. Stories of speed rollerskating meets and the countless times when I babysat and he would try to get away with all the things you try to get away with when your cousin is your babysitter. Stories of the crazy red spinning toy in his basement that we would try to get going as fast as we could until someone would nearly fall off. Stories of celebrating holidays and visits out to Colorado and his dog, Lucy, and his bird, Bilbo and how fast he was on roller skates and how good he was at sports – man, was he fast. And his one dimple that was so apparent when he would smile and filling up the hot tub with water that would get cold really fast, but we didn’t care.
So many stories. So many memories.
Some of the most precious parts of my childhood are wrapped up in our time together.
And although Brad has not been a part of my daily life for many years – the spot he holds in my heart is reserved for those you grow up with. For nearly all of my young life, until Brad and his family moved to Colorado when I was in college, we lived just a few doors down from each other. We were not only cousins but also neighbors and friends and even competed in the same sport. I was five years older. He was my baby cousin. No matter how old we grew or the years and distance that separated us – when we came together, it was always like no time had passed.
His laugh. His smile. His loud and boisterous voice. His bear hug.
His authenticity. His willingness to talk openly about his depression and his PTSD and the things he experienced overseas and the fact that no matter what anyone told him – he felt so responsible for the lives he loved that were lost. That he didn’t quite know how to be here anymore. It was easier to be there – overseas, with the people who understood.
The last time I talked to him, he told me about this.
And I told him I was worried. And he promised he wouldn’t do anything.
And I never followed up. I believed him.
And that’s hard to say.
Like I said, I fully know I am in no way responsible – but when someone you love leaves the world, sometimes you just wish you would have tried a little harder.
But I know he knows how loved he was by all of us. I know he is resting with the Lord. I know he feels peace.
I know that with all of my being.
And that gives my peace.
There is so much more to say about Major Bradley Dunlap, but this is all I have in me for now.
May you Rest In Peace, Brad. You are loved beyond measure. You will be forever missed by those who love you.