Legacy Stories

A Letter To My Former Self - Lori Mohr

Dear Me, Lori Mohr

Wow- what a journey you have been on since Jim died by suicide on May 10th, 2020.  You experienced immense shock as you absolutely did not see his death coming. If someone were to tell you that Jim would die by suicide, you would have laughed out loud at the absurdity of that happening.  The rock solid, salt of the earth, positive, grateful man who was looking forward to his retirement filled with travel and grandchildren.  You had no idea he was suffering from the effects of CTE.  NO IDEA. You had heard of CTE but you thought only players who played in the NFL got CTE.   Jim didn’t play in the NFL.  He was a standout high school player who played in college for 1 year before a torn anterior cruciate ligament ended his football career forever. You knew he was a great athlete but you never saw him play football as you didn’t meet him until you were 24 years old.  Jim never talked about his football accomplishments as he was humble as the day was long. He would never brag but you knew he was good when you went with him to his high school football coach’s retirement party and Coach Salter kept talking about how Jim Mohr was the best football player and athlete he ever had the pleasure of coaching in all the 30 years of coaching and he coached 5 players who went on to play in the NFL.

You didn’t even know what the letters CTE stood for.  Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. What does encephalopathy mean?  You had to look up the definition of that word and then it took you two weeks before you could pronounce the word with confidence. You thought Jim’s onset of memory loss and confusion, insomnia, anxiety and more severe worrying was a result of being involved in a major business negotiation and a huge landscape remodel project at the ranch.  Oh and let’s add the start of the Covid-19 in March with the world being turned upside down, stock market prices tanking and the uncertainty and craziness of comprehending what was happening.  As a 35 year Financial Advisor, Jim was used to calming concerned clients but this time, it seemed that Jim was deeply concerned and thinking the world was coming to an end, which was so uncharacteristic of his positive and confident demeanor.

Jim kept repeating that he was so confused every time the landscape crew tried to explain your new irrigation system and you were calming him by saying, “of course it’s confusing, there are 21 irrigation stations!”  Jim always appreciated your help with the electronics as you were the one who could figure things out so you didn’t think that was out of the ordinary. Just know that it’s not ordinary.  Memory loss and confusion is not normal.  It is also the most tell tale symptom of CTE so make sure you get to a doctor quickly and tell them you suspect CTE.

You remember the exact moment when you knew something was really wrong with Jim. You both were outside sitting around the fire pit with your glass of wine.  Jim had already had ¾ of a bottle of wine which was so unusual for him because he didn’t drink much alcohol.  You were looking around at the beautiful landscape that Jim had designed and you said to him, “this is so beautiful!  You did such a great job!”  Instead of his normal reaction of wanting to walk the property with gratitude for the scenery, he reacted in a way that breaks your heart every time you think of it.  He had a look of despair on his face.  Jim said, “I don’t know Bird, I think this property might be too much for me to manage. You were thinking, where is this coming from? Where’s the guy who was so excited about this project just a few months ago?  Where’s the guy who knew he was capable of doing anything he wanted?  You reassured him that it was probably remodel fatigue and we were now heading into the “enjoy the fruit of your labor “ stage.  Jim answered by saying again that he thought he had early onset of Alzheimer’s disease.  He had been saying that a lot as of late due to the memory loss and confusion he was experiencing. You knew it wasn’t Alzheimer because you watched your father in law go through it.  You knew that someone who has Alzheimer’s isn’t aware that their memory is compromised.  You asked Jim why he kept saying he thought he had Alzheimer’s.  He told you that he had been driving in the car and he forgot where he was driving to.  He had to pull over because he was in a state of panic that he didn’t know where he was. He shared with you that this wasn’t the first time this had happened and that’s when you got a sinking feeling in your gut something that you couldn’t name was not right…

You said to Jim that you were worried about him.  You were worried about how he wasn’t sleeping , how he had chronic diarrhea, how he was losing weight.  You were worried about his anxiousness about being so confused.  You were worried because Jim wasn’t acting like the happy, confident man that you knew and loved.  You had a friend who benefited greatly from a daily meditation practice and suggested to Jim that we learn some relaxation therapy techniques.  Jim said, “Therapy?” I don’t need therapy!  You got frustrated with him and explained to him that you were trying to help and support him.  You shared with him that you were worried about him and thought it was time to seek a doctor about his symptoms. Make sure you tell Jim that you think he has CTE and it is imperative that we see a doctor.  Most importantly, ask him if he is having suicidal thoughts because he has already purchased a gun and has set the date of his death.

You never got to make the call to the doctor as Jim died by suicide two days later.  On Saturday, as you left to get groceries when Jim said goodbye to you, know that this would be the last time you saw him and be grateful for his beautiful goodbye. 

On a beautiful Saturday in May, you and Jim enjoyed a relaxing morning.  You both were excited to have your son and his fiancé and your daughter and son-in law in town for a visit for Mother’s Day weekend.  As you were heading out to the grocery store in the late afternoon, Jim walked you out to your car, gave you a big hug, said with a big smile that he loved you and wanted to thank-you for how supportive you had been and he couldn’t ask for a better wife.  Jim talked to you that way all the time and you had no clue that this was the last time you would see him.  No clue.  You asked Jim if he wanted the turkey from the deli that he liked and he said yes, get me a ¼ pound.  

When you got home from the grocery store, Jim wasn’t home which was odd because he always communicated if he was going somewhere and he would definitely leave a note. You put the groceries away and was heading to your phone to text him when a text from Jim came in.  Your daughter, Kaitlin was on the text chain and Jim texted saying that he loved me to the moon and back and that when you got home he had something for you in the top drawer of the guest bedroom bureau.  Since it was Mother’s Day weekend, you thought Jim had gotten you a box of chocolates as that was his favorite gift to give you  As you walked down the hallway to the bedroom, you started to get a heavy feeling in your gut that got stronger by the time you were ready to open the drawer.  You saw a note written in Jim’s handwriting along with his credit cards, check book and some cash.  You picked up the note and read, “ Dear Michael, Kaitlin, Patrick and my Bird, As you know for the last few years, I have been suffering from memory loss and confusion as well as  anxiety and depression.  It is getting worse so today I have made the difficult decision to end my life.”  That is as far as you got and you could hear yourself scream ‘No!” No! What do I do? What do I do? You were in a state of panic and you were trying to calm yourself as you wanted to act quickly to try to prevent it.  You couldn’t think straight so you called your daughter to tell her about the note and asked her what to do. She was panicked and in trying to calm her, you said you were calling 911 and would call her back. 

You called 911 and even the dispatcher was having a hard time staying calm when you told him.  He stayed on the line with you until a police officer got to your house.  You were shaking so hard that you couldn’t even open the gate for him.  The police officer told you there were multiple gunshot wounds but your husband is still breathing and they are life flighting him to the hospital in Reno, NV which was 45 minutes away.  Jim had driven himself to the local hospital, parked his car, made sure no one was around to witness his shooting, shot one shot into the air, and the other to his head.  They got to him quickly enough to keep him breathing as he was an organ donor and flew him to Reno for possible organ donation.  Jim left no stone unturned.  He left a note for the police in his car, stating his intention, apologizing for the inconvenience  and to make sure that they tell his wife Lori that he has loved her for over 34 years and how sorry he was to be doing this to her. That was the kind of man Jim Mohr was.  Thoughtful until the end.

Your kids were making their way to be with you.  Kaitlin and Terry were 3 hours away but had gotten in the car right after you called her about the note.  Your son Michael and his fiancée were driving from San Diego and stopping in Los Angeles to pick up your youngest son, Patrick. You finally got the call from the Neurologist saying that there was not brain activity and to come in to say my goodbye and talk organ donation.  Your friends later ask you how you got through this and you said that there is a gift in shock.  It puts you in a dreamlike existence and it numbs you so your brain can handle the trauma of what is happening.  You remember it happening but you feel like it’s not happening to you. When Kaitlin and Terry arrive to you, you all get in the car and drive to Reno.  You call Michael to check in to see how they are doing.   Michael says to you, “Mom, it’s CTE.  Dad has CTE.  Make sure you donate his brain to the CTE study.”  You were thinking, I don’t know if there is anything to donate with a gunshot wound to the head.  Make sure that you donate his brain to the BU/VA CTE study as the diagnosis of Stage 3 CTE will explain all of Jim’s symptoms and why he died by suicide. If it weren’t for a conversation that Jim and Michael had with the person who makes their business suits about CTE months before, you would have never known or thought it was CTE.  You are thankful every day that you sent that brain to BU as the diagnosis of Stage 3 CTE brought peace in knowing what Jim was suffering from.

You had to wait 10 months before that CTE diagnosis came.  You read extensively about CTE and you had a gut instinct it was CTE but when you would read the Legacy Stories written by family members, you would question if Jim had it because some of the symptoms like heavy alcohol use, violent tempers, draining of the finances, and social withdrawal.  Jim didn’t have those symptoms.  He did have memory loss and confusion and he hid his symptoms until he couldn’t hide them anymore.  You were actually mentally preparing yourself for a negative CTE diagnosis. When you did get the diagnosis, you grieved all over again for Jim.  You realized how much he suffered and how strong he was.  You realized how much he was suffering and you came to understand that even though you wish he did not make the decision to end his life, you accepted his decision.  In life, Jim Mohr supported you, your children and so many people in their decisions.  You realized that your loving relationship does not end with physical death and because you loved him so much, you did not want him to suffer any longer.

When Jim died, you knew that dealing with his death was going to be hard but you had no idea how hard it was actually going to be.  How you obsessed for months about how did you miss the signs of his symptoms.  Jim wrote a 6 page letter spelling out all of his symptoms and communicating how difficult it was to live with the anxiety and insomnia.  He knew he was struggling with memory loss but he named it as Alzheimer’s not CTE.  You had no idea that you would wake up in the middle of the night with anxiety and wake up the next morning feeling that incredibly heavy feeling of grief.  Feeling no better than the day before.  You could not even have a funeral for Jim because we were in the thick of lockdowns and restrictions. You couldn’t even have the comfort of the community that loved you and Jim and grieved with you.

You also learned that people still hold a stigma with death by suicide.  You also learned to call it death by suicide and not committed suicide as the word committed has a negative connotation.  You commit murder, you commit a crime, you commit adultery.  When you die of cancer, you don’t say you committed cancer.  You learned to say he died of CTE. You feel people’s suicide shame when you see people that know and loved Jim but will not acknowledge his death. You learned that people still don’t know what CTE is.  When you tell people Jim was diagnosed with CTE, 9 out of 10 people ask, “What’s CTE?”  Seriously!  You learned that his fellow football players don’t really want to talk about or acknowledge CTE. You remember one of Jim’s high school friends who posted this tribute to Jim on his FaceBook when Jim died about how great a player and person he was.  When I told him Jim was diagnosed with CTE, no response. It’s as if CTE is something that tarnishes the beloved game of football and if we don’t talk about it, it isn’t real.  You have learned that it is real and you are starting to feel angry about the lack of awareness and acknowledgement. Every August, you loved to listen to the speeches of the inductees to the Football Hall of Fame.  You have been an invited guest to two inductions and loved attending the ceremonies.  This year as you listen to Payton Manning give his plug on how we need to support the game, you wonder how Payton would feel if he heard your story. You also say a prayer for him and hope that he doesn’t suffer in later years as Jim Mohr did.

You have learned that you are stronger than you knew.  You can do hard things. You can face sad emotions.  You can be open and honest about what happened to Jim.  You can do this because you were lucky to have the love of the most loving and caring man for over 33 years. Together you built an incredible life together, raised three beautiful children and had amazing adventures together.  All your dreams came true with Jim Mohr. It is in this loving energy that you want to help families that are experiencing trauma of the death of a loved one like our family experienced.

A Letter To My Former Self Project

This personal letter was written as part of a research project conducted with colleagues at University of Winchester in the UK. The intent of a “letter to my former self” is to use hindsight to reflect on the personal experience of what family members of those who have CTE have experienced, and with this hindsight, what advice they would give to their former self, and in turn, what advice would they give others who might also go through similar situations.

If you would like to comment in any way on the letter, or share your similar experiences, please visit the Legacy Family Community Facebook Group.

If you would like to write a letter yourself, and contribute further to this project, contact Dr Matt Smith (Matt.Smith@Winchester.ac.uk) for further details.

Suicide Prevention Resources

988 Crisis Line

Nobody should have to go through a crisis alone. Dial 9-8-8 if you or a loved one is in crisis or suicidal.

Suicide Prevention Lifeline
BeThe1To Link Block

We can all play a role in preventing suicide. Learn the five steps to help you #BeThe1To support someone in crisis. 

#BeThe1To Resources

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