How My Brother's Death Changed The Way I Live My Life
I'll never forget the paralyzing terror that washed over me when I answered the phone call that changed my life seven years ago today. It's the only moment that I wish I could forget but it's seared vividly into my memory. I was standing next to my bed in my college apartment when I saw an incoming call from my Dad. I knew from the moment the phone reached my ear that something terrible had happened. I said, Dad, four times before he finally responded. His voice wavered as he tried to be strong for me but shattered when he was forced to speak the text. Heartbroken is the only word I can use to describe how he sounded when he told me that my brother Scott had died.
I remember bits and pieces of what happened that day. Imagine the worst day of your life and then multiply that by 100, that's what that first week was like. It didn't feel real. It felt like a nightmare. No one knew what to do. We were broken and helpless. The unimaginable had happened to us and we couldn't do anything about.
The finality of his loss never actually settled. The moments when it does, it's almost like parachuting but your parachute doesn't open and you go hurling towards the earth, eventually crashing hard into the hard surface. It happens less frequently now than it did those first few years, but it still happens. It comes often times out of the blue and often when I'm out in public.
June 23rd will always be the one day of the year that I dread with every fiber of my being. It's really hard to describe what living with my loss is like. My brother was the funniest person I'd ever met. He is (was? Right there, the finality of having to use was is like being stabbed with a knife.) He was the only person who could make me laugh with a single look. My biggest fear is that I will forget what his voice sounded like or that my memories will fade.
I spend a lot of my time thinking about what would have been. It's impossible not to. I think about where he would be if he were still with us today. Whenever I'm feeling particularly grief-stricken and nostalgic, especially on anniversaries or holidays which are exponentially difficult, I think about what my Brother would say to me if he saw me hysterical. The last thing he'd want me to do is to crawl into bed and cry, pining after what could have been. And then he'd probably laugh at me because Scott wasn't one to sit back and cry, he was always on the lookout for the next adventure and the next laugh. He'd want me to push forward and find joy. To smile through my tears and find hope instead of sorrow.
There is no one way to grieve. The way I grieve is very different from my sister, mom, and dad. For a long time, I was spiteful, angry, sad and empty. But eventually, I was grateful for the time I had with Scott, however short it was. I feel so lucky that I had him for as long as I did. Every memory I have with him puts a smile on my face. Scott's death was the worst day of my life and I would give anything to have him back with me today. There's no question about that. But it's impossible to go something so life changing without having a renewed outlook on life. Scott's untimely death taught me to grab my own life by the horns. I wanted to share a few things with you all because as hard as it is to believe, our time with one another really is limited and it's important that we set out every single day to make the most of it.
You cannot play it safe when it comes to your heart. I don't believe in playing games. Invest in your relationships with your friends, your family, and your significant others. It takes hard work and time that so many of us don't have, but it's important. And when you fall in love, run towards it. Don't wait for someone else to call the shots, be a team. It's called falling in love not gently wading into love right? Be the first person to say I love you. Please, please, please be unapologetic with your love. It's a gift! The best gifts are given when you expect nothing in return! Give your love as often as you can. You never know when it may be the last time you get to say it to someone. I am forever grateful that the last thing I said to my brother was I love you. I wish I could say it a thousand more times.
Don't endure, thrive.
If you're in a situation that isn't fulfilling you creatively, intellectually, or if you dread it, stop doing it. Take a leap of faith and figure out what you can do to make every single day a little more than ordinary. If you hate your job and can't change it, find a side passion that gives you life and something to look forward to. Volunteer. Write. Draw. Join a community theater production. Do something for other people. Make the world a better place however you can. Whatever you do, don't do something that's comfortable and easy. Step outside of your comfort zone because that is where the magic lives.
SEE THE WORLD.
How often do we come up with excuses not to travel? Make traveling a priority, even if that means going an hour north, south, east or west. Round up your people and go experience the world together. Make memories because they're all you'll have when all is said and done. For a few years after Scott's passing, I was afraid to do anything. I felt like I needed to stay safe and alive for my parents and my sister. Death loomed around every corner and I was too terrified to take risks or to be carefree. Now I realize that accidents happen. Terrible awful things happen. If you don't take advantage of the time you have, you're doing yourself a disservice. Be safe but don't be afraid to live your life to the fullest. Don't make excuses not to explore the world together.
Don't sweat the small stuff.
We spend so much time preoccupied with stupid sh*t that really has no business in our lives. If someone makes you unhappy, distance yourself from them. Stop trying to please other people. Ask yourself, "What do I want?" every single day. Write it down. Then ask yourself, "Am I happy?" Write that down. Look to the world with wonder. Judge people less. Don't sweat the small stuff. Hold on tightly, let go lightly. Ask questions. And most importantly, stop trying to figure everything out because the second you thing you've figure it all out, life is going to knock you onto your ass. Stay curious, open, and as carefree as possible.
Running is a lot like grief. It never gets easier, you just get stronger and over time, the pain becomes a part of you. Being able to find joy and a sense of purpose in something that was hard, painful and seemingly impossible saved me. When I miss my brother, instead of crawling into bed with a pan of brownies, I throw on some sunglasses and lace up my running shoes. Running helps me slow down and check in. Even though Scott isn't with me physically anymore, I feel like I'm with him when I run. I can talk to him, tell him that I love him, or just look up. It's really easy for me to fall into the rabbit hole if I'm stagnant but the best way to pull myself out is when I'm physically moving forward. And what better way to move forward than to put one foot in front of the other?
Hug your people extra tight today. Call your family, both blood and chosen, and tell them how much you love them. Share a memory and a laugh. And please remember, you never know what someone is going through so try to be kind and patient. Give people the benefit of the doubt. They may be struggling to keep it together, seconds away from falling apart, like I am today.
I miss you so much Scott. What I would give to have you back again. I will never let your memory fade. I can't wait to see you again, it's only a matter of time.