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I've struggled with this all day long, and even into the night... I've been angry today, which is also a part of this journey... and as I sat at my computer editing today, the thoughts crept back in and I found myself slipping back into a tunnel vision frame of mind. That same frame of mind that I worked SO hard this last week to get out of... I could feel myself sinking back into it. It scared me. It took my breath away. I started to feel like I couldn't breathe, that this was starting to become all consuming for me again.

A "Never Forget Josh Schacht" Facebook page was made, not by me, but by two of his other family members (two cousins) and two pastors (a man and a wife) of his church.

When I saw that the page was created initially after we lost him, I thought about what a great idea it was... we can all share photos and stories of him.

I never posted on it. I just watched from afar. I listened to what people said and wrote about him, looked at the photos they shared... some from a few years ago, some that were taken a little more recently, even some from a few of his really long standing friends of ten years.

On October 16th I decided that I would post on the page. It was the same post I made on my personal Facebook page from October 16th. It just stated how I missed him, how I would have sat with him through any struggle, a few things about when we were kids; it talked about how I missed my brother, and that I was sorry. I shared a couple of photos from when we were kids... I thought that others might like to see what he looked like as a child, a kid, and a teenager. I clicked post after I was done writing only to find out an admin had to approve my post.

Okay, no big deal.

Two days later, my post still wasn't approved. Weird. I thought that the admins probably didn't check Facebook very often. I messaged two of the three admins. No response from anyone. My messages weren't even being read, one of whom I was actually friends with on Facebook.

I realized that I could comment on other people's post within the group. I asked if anyone else needed an admin to approve their posts. They stated no. They had no problems posting to this tribute page. No admin had to approve their posts. I asked if someone could reach out to the admins and see if my post could be shared to the page as well, that maybe it had just been overlooked.

Then came the comments... I was accused of deleting his personal Facebook page and "taking photos of him from his friends and family". I didn't delete his Facebook page, nor deactivate it. That wasn't my doing. Do I know who did it, yes. Were the reasons for deactivating the Facebook page valid, absolutely.

I was told, "We all are his family, we all are grieving and it was ripped from us... family isn't just blood. You might not have clicked that button of delete... but we all would love to see his smile to get us through this too. We all were there when others weren't."

Wow. "We all were there when others weren't."

Those words stung.

It was like I sudddenly wasn't someone who lived in the complete disfunction of my brothers battle with depression, anxiety, and suicidal attempts for the last 34 years. I felt like I was being told as if I didn't even know him. It was a slap in the face. It was unexpected. It was hurtful... to the core.

Did Josh and I have disfunction? Yes. A whole heck of a lot of it. And this person was right... I wasn't always there. I wasn't always there because I was one of the few people Josh shit on... A LOT. I was a "safe place" for him that he could beat up on emotionally, abuse emotionally, and would still love him no matter what... because he was my brother, because we were blood. I came back for more every single time... out of love, and compassion, and hope that I could fix him if I tried even harder. Even when I knew what he was doing to me wasn't out of a place of love, I still came back.

So no, I wasn't always there. And if it makes people in that group feel better to blame someone... fine. I can take that blame. I can carry that, if that makes it easier for them to grieve.

In a way, I'm glad that some people only saw the good side of Josh... it makes their grieving process less complicated. I'm even jealous if I'm being honest. I'm jealous of the fact that they can remember only the good parts of him and aren't clouded by the hard memories too, the hurtful words, the long nights of talking in circles until you're just told you're the one that is crazy. I'm jealous of the fact that they don't have to deal with the anger, confusion, overwhelming fear, or have to pick up the pieces of what was left after he took his life. They get to just grieve and remember the good times. I wish my grief was like theirs, less complicated.

Then the Facebook private messages came next. I tried to explain how hurt I was. In my mind I just kept thinking, "How come everyone else gets to share and grieve and I don't?". I felt bullied. And in their Facebook page rules, one of them was "Be kind and courteous." I laughed. I found that part comical. I also found it funny that these were pastors of a church who were passing judgement on me, my Facebook post, and reported me to Facebook as "bullying and inappropriate commenting". I couldn't believe that people who teach and speak the word of God at church and walk closely with Christ could be this cruel to someone, a family member nonetheless, that just wanted to grieve too.

This particular person did apologize. He had lost someone else that week, it was in the middle of his "busy" season and he said the words to hurt me because he was hurting too. I get that. I told him I accepted his apology, but in reality, I didn't.

Do I trust him? No.

Are we friends? No.

Do I like him? No.

Eventually it came full circle and this persons true colors showed last week. He was lying and hiding a piece of equipment from my brother's wife because he was told, by Josh himself, that Josh didn't buy it with business money and it wasn't a business asset. Insert eye roll here. Come to find out, it was listed as a business asset. I just wanted to send a spiteful message and remind these people that just because Josh said something to them doesn't mean it was truth. Josh may have said that this piece of equipment wasn't business property, but that was a lie. But before I get too far down this particular rabbit hole of the equipment hiding story, I have to stop, because that's another story for a different day and distracts from my point here.

Long story short, the admins of this page deemed my post inappropriate and that it might offend others. I was banned from the Facebook page until October 23rd and wasn't allowed to comment or post. I left the group. I decided they didn't matter. It didn't make what they did and said hurt any less, but leaving the group helped me to step away from the negativity and try and focus on my own healing.

This is the anger portion of complicated grief though. I'm angry that not everyone saw Josh's true colors. I'm angry that the ones who did see Josh's true colors and lived through hell and back with him are the only ones who were painted into this nightmare of a picture for others to see. We look like the crazy ones. This is the thing about mental illness... when someone who is mentally ill is in so deep that they can no longer see the difference between reality and fantasy, they start to paint a picture of how bad the people are who knew them at the core to people who only knew them on the surface level. That's the complicated, messy part of mental illness, depression, borderline personality disorder, and suicide. These are the ugly truths that no one talks about.

I can try and explain these feelings of anger and hurt to people, but unless you're real-life living suicide grief, you won't understand it. It's no fault of your own, and I'm glad that you don't know how I feel. I wouldn't wish this type of torment on anyone. I've been told just about everything to make me feel better about it though...

"You're stronger than this."

"Listening to what they say isn't worth it."

"These people don't matter."

"You have to let this go and move on." "Just remember that not everyone was a part of Josh's life at the same time."

"Don't let them get to you. It doesn't matter."

The thing is... it DOES matter. It matters to ME. It hurt ME. I know that people say these things to help make me feel better, but it doesn't. These words make me angry. They make me feel like my feelings aren't valid. I need people to say, "I know that this hurts and your feelings are shattered, and it's ok to feel that way. But please know you won't be stuck in this place forever, this is temporary." Because it IS ok to feel this way. My feelings ARE valid. This is part of the cycle, yes, but just because it's part of the cycle doesn't mean it hurts any less.

Long story short. Words are powerful.

You never know how they'll affect people. When I initially starting writing this, I was writing it as a Facebook post... because I was hurt, my feelings were running high, and I wanted these people to hear how their words and actions have caused me pain. Now that I'm not so angry I ask myself, "Does this matter?". The answer is no. It doesn't matter. People can tell me that until they're blue in the face but when I'm in the middle of the anger stage in the grief cycle, I can't hear them. What I can hear, though, is compassion and empathy... I can hear, "Yes, you're hurting, and I'll sit here with you and hold you while you cry and shout and sit with you through this until the cycle slips into the next stage of grief, no matter if that's a couple minutes or a few hours."

Anger can transition to spitefulness in suicide grief. See, it's this slippery slope and the minute you think you're gaining ground, you slide back a few steps.

If you're a suicide loss survivor and you're reading this... you are not alone. Your feelings are valid. It's ok to not be ok. It's ok to be hurt, angry, fearful, overwhelmed, sad, devastated, and confused all at once. It's ok to feel these things and I'll sit with you until you slip into the next cycle of grief, no matter how long it takes us, we'll do it together.


The After Sierra.

I left town last week. I went on a grief trip.

I packed my bags after my session was done last Saturday evening and rolled out of town on Sunday morning. I knew I was headed to the Outer Banks in North Carolina, but I didn’t really know what I’d do once I got there. Would I sit on the beach the whole time? Would I kayak my days away? Would I blow money at the spa with the hopes that a massage might relax me a bit?

I didn’t really know... I just kind of went with it the whole trip. I tried to keep my head above water in the constant ebb and flow of the ever-changing ocean of grief + suicide.

I ended up driving my Dodge Ram truck on the beaches of Corolla, North Carolina. I parked my truck, dropped my tail-gate and sat and watched the waves roll in; one crashing on top of another, over and over again. I laughed out loud at the significance of me standing in the surf, watching the waves hit each other, only to compare my own grief cycle to the never-ending ocean tides. It’s funny how we read analogies for grief, and then we actually seek them out when we don’t know what else to do, and we don’t even realize we’re doing this. However, I did find comfort in knowing that the ocean never stops, but we eventually become stronger swimmers and surfers. It’s just the beginning part that’s really tricky.

I walked the sand dunes in search of wild horses... and I even found some, although, they were much less wild than I anticipated. I guess I had fighting stallions in my mind or something... but all these horse bums wanted to do was stick their head in the bushes, eat some shrubs, and swish their tails. Still beautiful, nonetheless, just a lot less exciting than I thought it was going to be.

I never did go to the spa like I thought I might. I just kept coming back to the fact that I would have to lay still while someone tried to work out some of the stress and tension that I’m constantly carrying in my neck and back right now, and just the thought of the stillness just about sent me over the edge. Maybe down the road, when I get home, and can settle into my normal life a little bit more and create some sort of normal routine I can visit a spa and get a massage. Right now it’s easier to keep my mind busy and not let it wander too far off the path.

Certain parts of the trip really helped to heal the tiny cracks in my heart. The surface ones, not the deep ruts that have been left wide open. But maybe grief is like the debt snowball... you have to start and repair the little cracks first, and then roll that momentum into the larger cracks, holes and ruts once you’ve gotten a little experience, once you’ve become a little more familiar with who this new person is, and a little less confused as to why you can’t find the old person.

I had a few set-backs during the trip too; it wasn’t all rainbows and sunshine. There were still black-holes, I just tripped up on them less often than I did when I’m back at home, in my real life. One major set-back deserves a post all of it’s own, simply because I know now that it’s a part of the grief + suicide cycle, but at that time and in that moment, it was real, raw, and I was angry. Really angry. But like I said, that’s a post for another time, definitely one that needs to be told though. I rounded out the trip with a stop to see our good friends and their four kids. It was like coming home after you’ve been gone far too long... I was welcomed with open arms, the tightest hugs, and the innocence of all their beautiful, blue-eyed children. Part of me worried about all the tears that might flow in front of them, how embarrassing it might be. But after I made it through the initial hellos and hugs, I realized that this was a safe place for me to feel exactly how I needed to feel; to be ok with it and let the feelings come and go.

Seeing the world through the eyes of their kids was also a great distraction for me. As a photographer, I’m really good at experiencing life through someone else’s eyes, especially young children who so openly let me in to their hearts and minds without any question. I sat on the beach and watched their youngest, Ruby, walk to the ocean to fill up her watering can, and walk back to dump it on the sand as she talked out loud, letting her innocent thoughts ramble and fall out of her mouth without a care in the world. I found myself a bit jealous... jealous that I can’t let words just fall off of my tongue, out-loud, but instead I tuck them away in a blog, or a book so that no one else hears them or sees them. Why is it like that for us, as adults? When are we told to stop saying what we feel and mean, and to keep our thoughts to ourselves? Maybe if we start telling ourselves that it’s ok to say what you mean and feel, as long as we’re not hurtful to others and can choose our words carefully, then that would help a lot of people with mental health issues. What if we stopped silencing people about their feelings and started telling people that it is OK to think, feel, and be vulnerable? Would the world be a better place? I have to think that maybe it would.

I made it back home. I gained clarity, which is what I was searching for the most out of this trip. I wanted to be able to wrap my head around and grasp what has happened to me. I was able to start to heal those tiny surface cracks, and I’m hoping that the little bit of momentum that I gained from this trip will help me to continue to heal some of the bigger, deep ruts that have been left in my heart. Grief and travel go hand in hand. This trip made me stop and re-evaluate my life... where am I going? Who do I want on this journey with me? Are the people that I’m surrounding myself the best fit for me? I questioned it all... every bit and piece of this new me. I was even able to find a few pieces of the old me too, and I was able to reach out and snag them, and tuck them back in their places, where they belong.

I think that I may take a trip every year, from now on, on the anniversary of his suicide date. I know that that day will probably never get easier, even as the years pass. It’ll still knock the wind out of my sail, and it will still be carved in the trunk of my tree, marking a piece of who I am and was, both the before and the after. I know that I’ll learn to be okay with having a before and after Sierra, and that’s it’s also ok to NOT be ok with it right now.


The After Sierra.

Updated: Oct 12, 2020

Hi. This is the after Sierra speaking. I'd love for you to have met the before Sierra, but sadly, she doesn't exist anymore. There's only the after.

The before Sierra would have a light-hearted, photography-filled, niece and nephew post overload, dog-friendly, funny stories about her husband filled, and genuine love for life kind of blog. And maybe I'll get back to that girl someday, it just feels like it won't be anytime soon. If I'm being honest... right now, it feels like I'll truly never get there; back to that point of happiness in my life.

My brother took his life on September 12, 2020. It's been thirty days as of today. Thirty long, sad, infuriating, confusing, and question-filled days. Sometimes I still can't even believe it. Sometimes it still steals the breath right out of my lungs. Knocks the wind right out of my sail.

So, this is the after Sierra. I guess this is where I say it's nice to meet you, or I'm glad that you're here, but in reality, maybe I'm just making this blog for myself. A journal through my grief, if you will. Maybe this is my way of reaching out to help other people who are dealing with this really shitty situation. I don't even know, to be honest. I just know that it feels good to type it out, so I guess I'll keep doing that.

There is grieving the loss of a loved one that has died from an illness, dementia, or old age, and then there's death from suicide. Death from someone who took their own life. In my mind, the two deaths aren't even comparable. Not to say that one or the other is less or more important, they're just not the same thing. At all.

This process seems so fucking overwhelming. It seems so long, tedious, and friggin' hard that I kind of want to just give up already. It's like a huge mountain has been placed right in front of me and I have none of the right equipment to climb it. No backpack, no hiking shoes, no carabiners or rope... just the clothes on my back, a half-empty plastic water bottle from the gas-station and some fucking flip-flops. And how in the hell am I supposed to climb a mountain in flip-flops? They're not even technically shoes. THAT'S what it kind of feels like, only harder.

I've been going to see a therapist. I'm sure she's great at, like, couples counseling, or helping a lost dog find his way... but I don't feel like she's getting me anywhere with this grief process. All I hear is, "What are your goals for today's session?". And I'm just over here thinking, "Ummm, to not feel like I'm going to die, to not think about death and suicide 24/7, or to have my normal life back for one day," but instead, I just cry, shrug my shoulders and say, "I don't really know." I feel like I'm even failing therapy. Jesus.

I'd love to say that I've made some sort of progress on this journey in the last thirty days, but that would be a lie. The only "progress" I've made is talking my husband into buying new living-room furniture, keeping Starbucks in business with my daily orders of mocha iced coffee, and purchasing a kayak (well, technically two kayaks... one for my husband too.), and keeping my dogs fed and watered. The only time I feel like I'm making any type of progress is when I'm paddling in my kayak. I can clear my head, think things through a little more clearly, and not be bothered by anyone, or anything but the water. I like the way it makes my shoulders and arms feel; tired, but in a good way. Not the tired like my brain and heart feel right now.

I guess I should also tell you all that I'm a full-time photographer who has a thriving business. A business that I've busted my ass to build. God, I've put so much sweat and tears into building this business and becoming the best in my craft that I can possibly be. I can't throw it all away over the death of my brother... but I feel like I can BARELY pick up my fucking camera right now.

It's autumn, and it's "busy-season" and families want photos with the beautiful fall colors. Little do they know that shooting a family session makes me die a little more inside right now, if that's even really possible. It's like taking my loss and shoving my face down into the ground, right in the mud. It's not my clients fault; they don't even know that's how I feel. And THEY aren't doing it, it's just my mind being foggy; it's just the nature of the beast, I guess. Photographing siblings is unbearable for me right now. I'm doing it, but I hate it, and I cry afterwards... and I hate crying.

I feel like I have clients breathing down my neck. I know that they want to see their photos, but I need a minute to process. I'm literally only shooting right now because I can't reschedule anyone because I'm that booked out. It's a blessing and a curse; kind of like being a creative or an artist when you're trying to grieve. You just can't make true art when your mind and heart aren't in the right space... and people with regular nine-to-fives who aren't creatives don't understand that. So, add in all the extra pressure of everyone wanting their photos and wanting them right now... it makes me feel like I'm failing at everything in life basically. Everything I've built and worked so hard for.

I just want my clients to have compassion for me during this time, to let me sit, have a moment and try my best to process what the hell is happening in my life. I pour so much of my heart and soul into each and every session that I feel like if they truly knew that, if they truly knew how much I loved photography, my clients, and the art, in and of itself, then they would let me have my moment. They would know that they may have to wait extra for their photos, but it would be worth it... once my heart has healed a tiny bit then I can get back to editing and making beautiful art.

But that's suicide in a nut-shell for you. People don't understand it. They think it's like a normal death of a loved one and you should be "getting over it" or "getting back to normal life" in the next thirty days. It's just not like that though. There's questions. God, there's SO many fucking questions. Here's just a few of them that go through my mind every fifteen minutes or so...

Why did he kill himself?

Was he crying when he shot himself?

Did he feel any pain?

Was the suicide note he left for everyone to see on Facebook really how he felt?

Did he love me?

Was I the best sister I could have been?

Did I do this to him?

Was this planned for exactly September 12, 2020?

Or did he just think, "Fuck it, today's the day."?

Did something trigger him hours before he ended his life?

Was this just one last stab to hurt our family?

Didn't he think that his two, beautiful daughters needed a Daddy?

Did he think that we truly would be better off without him?

Was he alive for a minute or two after?

Did he die instantly?

Those are on repeat in my head. ALL. DAY. LONG.

That and the words he wrote in his letter... "...Sierra... you coulda loved me better. You could have made different choices. I was your family."

And guess what... there are NO answers to your questions. You just get to sit with these thoughts in a vicious cycle and no one can answer them for you. Not a single one.

I'll leave it at this for today because now I feel like I'm at an angry point again and I have to move past it and work through it before I can explain who he was, as my brother, as a person... so I can speak kindness, truth and about how much I really did love him to all of you. I owe him that.


the after Sierra.

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