I have a dog named Grace.

She’s actually my family’s dog, and is a big chocolate lab around 9 years old. She loves McDonald’s French fries and resting her head on your lap. She’s a master fishing companion and a master cuddler when you’re sad.

She was my brother’s dog originally, but family took her in in 2015 — the year my brother took his own life.

I’ve written about my brother in the past, but each September, Suicide Prevention Month, rolls around and I’m reminded of my realities, and writing about it helps ease the pain a little more.

I could tell you about how hard it has been and how my life has been changed forever, but it’s one of those things where you can read my story and feel a bit of empathy, but unless you have actually experienced losing a close loved one to suicide, you’ll never really be able to understand what it’s like.

Let me try to explain.

Grace is the last piece of my brother I have left. Because of the way he died, everything of his had to be taken away. I have a few salvaged T-shirts that he barely wore and some of his paintings. But because of the way he died, I wasn’t able to go in and save his most special pieces, the items that truly remind me of him and are proof of the life he lived.

That is Grace.

It has been five years since he died. I’ve watched Grace get old, the gray hairs under her chin starting to form and her inability to climb stairs increase. My family has spent hundreds upon hundreds of dollars on various types of medicine, because we know, no matter how unspoken, once Grace is gone, Seb is gone.

Grace and Seb used to do everything together. They were inseparable. They were best friends. Seeing her is almost like seeing a ghost of Seb, almost like a missing piece.

And I’m scared for the day she’s going to have to go to, too.

I’ve realized that the older Grace gets, the more the memory of my brother slips away. I can’t remember what he smells like and I can’t remember the feeling of my tiny body clinging on to his 6-foot body. If I try hard enough, I can see his skin texture and hear the way he laughed. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night because a forgotten memory shakes me awake.

But it’s not enough.

It will never be enough.

So what’s gonna happen when Grace inevitably dies, too.

I didn’t get to say goodbye to my brother.

I think a lot of people think suicide ideation can immediately be fixed if you just reach out to your friends. If you just take this one pill. If you go on walks or go outside.

But it’s not that simple.

My brother did all of that. He loved fishing and he had friends that cared about him and he was on medication and my mom checked on him 30 minutes before he killed himself.

There are always going to be could haves, should haves and would haves. But at the end of the day, suicide rates are not going to go down unless we change our mental health care system. Unless we educate on what suicide really means and how it really feels.

I don’t know how to end this story. I guess in some ways, my story isn’t even over yet. But I’m sure next September I’ll be back to share my story. If there’s anything I can do, at least I can do that.

Until then, Grace and I will sit in Seb’s memory garden. We will watch the leaves change and the snow fall and then the sun come back up again.

Until the memories completely fade.

Aris Sherwood is a Castleton University junior and one of the editors of the Castleton Spartan student newspaper.

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