I apologize for my absence the last few months. When I started Sage Encounters, I had every intention of blogging at least a few times a month and always keeping new, fresh content out there. But, then life happened and it happened HARD.
So, I wanted to give you all an update on everything that’s been going on so far for us in 2018 and hopefully give you some encouragement along the way.
Warning: this is a long, raw and very emotional post.
My husband Matt and I started 2018 very hopeful. We had big goals of making huge progress on our debt snowball; wanted to spend as much time with our family as possible; spend more time getting involved in our church; and do a few house projects along the way. Well, God gave us a reality check. He knew the big life changes that were about to happen that we were blind to.
I grew up in a family of four kids – me being the third. I had always been close with my younger brother, Harper, because we were the babies of the family. I remember when I was in high school and he in middle school, we would regularly spend our after school time on breadstick and slushie runs or playing Halo on Xbox live in the basement (throwback!). But as our two older sisters started going to college and moving out of the house, things started to change with Harper. He started secluding himself more, starting caring less and less about school and the sports he once loved, and didn’t want much to do with his big sis anymore. He had always been more on the shy side, so we just assumed it was a phase for a teenage boy to pass through. I eventually also moved away to college and that’s when big changes happened.
In March 2013 while I was away at college, Harper made his first suicide attempt. He was only 15 years old.
The hearts of our entire family were broken. We had no idea he was struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts. We had no idea how to help him or how to deal with the grief of almost losing our Harper. Mental health and depression has always been such a taboo topic, that none of us knew what to do next. So he spent time in a “stress center” and started counseling and medication. Were these the right steps? Would this help him get better? We had no idea. We did our best to go back to “normal life,” while also focusing more on family time and getting all of us more involved in our church.
Over the next 5 years, Harper’s struggles continued despite the best efforts of family, friends, counselors and so many others to help him process his struggles. He was hospitalized several more times from suicide attempts. From taking dozens of sleeping pills, to cutting himself, to purposefully crashing his car into a concrete barricade going 90 mph.
Every attempt left our hearts broken a little more. Dozens and dozens of people prayed for his healing without ceasing for years. God had spared Harper’s life SO many times when there was no way he logically should have survived what happened to his body. Why could God not heal Harper’s broken heart and spirit also? Didn’t He hear our cries? Didn’t He know how broken the 5 years of struggle left everyone that loved Harper so much? Every attempt felt like another win for the devil. And I didn’t know how much more I could handle. I didn’t know how much more my family could handle.
I think the reason that people are so hush hush about talking about mental health issues and depression is because of the heartbreak that comes to all who love the person struggling. Because there are no words for the fear, agony, and heartbreak you feel from hearing your mother screech your brother’s name at 6 in the morning and knowing that he attempted again. There is nothing that can prepare you for seeing your brother laying in his bed covered in his own blood. Eyes wide and face pale. Barely any life in them. Having to call 911, but adrenaline and fear running so high, you can’t press the right buttons. Having to watch paramedics rush upstairs and wheel your little brother out on a gurney. Not knowing if you will ever see your little brother again.
That scene has haunted me for years now. I didn’t want to talk about it with anyone. I didn’t want to feel my heart break even more. I felt every one of his attempts harden my heart a little more because I just didn’t understand how it could keep happening. How he wasn’t getting better. I didn’t know how else to process the devastation of almost losing my brother so many times. How to handle the weight of watching him struggle with so many dark thoughts every single day. It genuinely terrified me that Harper would take his life before he was in my wedding last June. I thank God that he was there. He was happy that day. He enjoyed time with our family. He smiled again and he had fun. I just wish we could have kept that same happiness from that day inside him forever.
Life continued after mine and Matt’s wedding, but then it happened.
To keep it brief, Harper had reached his breaking point in his struggle with depression and bipolar disorder. On January 19, 2018, he ended his life. At 20 years old with a very extensive mental health history, he was able to walk into a store and purchase a shotgun without question. And he ended his life.
The phone call from my dad at 5:01 that Friday night is the most agonizing pain I have felt in my entire life. I weeped. And I was so numb. How could this happen? After all of the struggles our family has gone through with Harper over the last 5 years, he was gone. And there will always be a piece of my heart missing now.
Ready for where the emotional roller coaster of 2018 starts? One week previous on January 12th, Matt and I found out that I am pregnant. Were we trying to get pregnant? Nope. Were we excited? Of course! My mom’s birthday is on the 22nd of January so we made plans to take her out for her birthday on the 20th to tell her and my dad the exciting news. Obviously, plans changed after the police officer showed up to my parent’s front door on the 19th.
So here I am on Friday, January 19th. 6 weeks pregnant. Just found out my little brother committed suicide. I am desparately fighting morning sickness, barely keeping any food down, and trying to keep this huge news a surprise as while also grieving the loss of Harper with my family.
Ready for more of the roller coaster? That Friday night, my husband and my oldest sister’s husband, Parker, confided in each other about their worry about Hannah and I dealing with this tragedy. Naturally, a husband would worry about their wife in this situation no matter what. But especially so when they are pregnant. Yes. Parker told Matt that my oldest sister Hannah is also pregnant. The boys got the four of us alone together the next day which is where Hannah and I found out about us both being pregnant. The craziest part? Our due dates are six days apart. Six!!
There aren’t words for the grief that we felt that day or that we still feel deep in our hearts. But in that moment, we knew that these two little miracles were gifts from God. He knew we would lose Harper. He knew the pain we would feel. He knew we needed literal bundles of joy for our entire family times two.
We went through the week of the funeral, burial, intense grieving, and being surrounded by so much love and support. But, we still needed to tell our parent’s about the pregnancies. So on Friday January 26th, we decided to give mom a “birthday re-do” because no parent deserves to see their child in a casket on their birthday.
My sister Haley’s boyfriend, Leo, made us a great meal and we got our mom a couple gifts, including a shirt that says “grandma bear” while the girls had shirts on under sweatshirts that said “mama bear” (Hannah and I) and “auntie bear” (Haley). And well, the video can tell the rest of that story…
A lot more has happened already in this crazy 2018, but I think that’s enough for everyone to process at the moment! Thank you to each and every one of you who has grieved with us, then celebrated with us, and prayed for us through it all. We’ve felt it all and really appreciate your support.
Harper Keyton Wittig
October 2, 1997 – January 19, 2018
“And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” -Philippians 4:7