“Kelli?” I looked up through my tears. Pastor Steve was summoning me up to speak at my brother’s funeral.
My big brother and only sibling, Justin Arthur Wall, was the kindest soul I have ever known. His gorgeous smile hid the pain behind his beautiful dark brown eyes. When he laughed, it was contagious. If you were in his life, he was your fierce protector. Next to his kind soul, that was one of my favorite attributes of my brother. Blind loyalty. Though that got him in trouble occasionally, Justin wouldn’t have had it any other way.
When I think back to my childhood, I see the two of us: riding our bikes, climbing trees, playing hide and seek, power-wheeling down the hill, looking for crawfish in the stream we were supposed to stay out of. We were inseparable. Our friendship grew into sports, countless car rides (the radio blaring), Reds and Bengals games. Now, those moments are memories I hold tightly in my heart.
My brother suffered from depression and alcoholism. He fought his demons the best he knew how, choosing more than once to go to rehab. We spent Christmas one year with him at Hazelden, an addiction treatment center, while the employees circled the room to make sure none of the gifts I had brought were “contraband.” Every time he left rehab, there was renewed hope: that this would be the time everything would move forward in the right direction.
Through countless highs and lows over the course of many years, Justin bravely continued to fight his demons, always in search of happiness. On August 28, 2012, he could no longer fight the pain he was in, and died by suicide.
When I received the news, I feel to my knees. My heart broke into a million irreparable pieces. My big brother was gone.
What could I have done differently? Where could I have found him help? Why didn’t I do more? Most dishearteningly, I wondered where the support was for this disease in our communities, our government, and our healthcare system. Compared to other health issues, the amount of time and money invested for suicide prevention falls dramatically short.
As I looked out to the faces at my brother’s funeral to family, friends and Justin’s 2 young sons, through my tear stained notes, I ended with this story:
Two days in a row after Justin passed, a hummingbird flew down and fluttered his wings in front of my dad. We also had a visit from a beautiful bluebird, which perched on my nephew’s swing set in the backyard. On the day of my brother’s funeral, a little rabbit sat very still by our back deck. After watching him for a few minutes, my mom stepped out on to the deck. My dad and I followed her. Within moments, the hummingbird flew down, fluttered a few inches in front of our faces, and then flew away. The rabbit followed behind.
Pastor Steve let us know that the hummingbird is a sign of happiness and the bluebird is a sign of peace. My brother had finally found his happiness and was at peace. In true Justin style, he wanted to do his best to protect our hearts and make sure we knew he was in a better place.