It's been a little over a month since my brother, Tim, died suddenly at his apartment in suburban Chicago. I miss him like crazy and still can't believe he's gone. While anything I write about him as a person or the process of losing him in my life is going to be partial and risks diminishing the experience, I think it's important to share my reflections in the hopes that you may find them useful in your own life.
Life is incredibly short and death incredibly final.
Like I said above, I can't believe he's gone. I saw his name in the favorites on my phone a few weeks ago, and my heart leapt at the possibility that I could just hit that button and hear his voice. Technology seems so magical at times that I believed for a split second that it could still connect me with Tim despite any distance that exists between us. Then reality set in and the magic of the phone faded. No technology can bridge the gap that exists between us now. I'm left to find other ways to connect with Tim without him being here.
So I go to the gym and remember the times we worked out together, or I look at my little girl and remember how he'd laugh with joy when he saw her doing something new, like crawling up the stairs. If living your life is like writing pages in a book, Tim's book is finished. He will write no more pages. And more than anything that's what makes me the saddest.
When he died I realized that life is measured in breaths. We each take our first breath on the day we are born (I'm much more enthusiastic about birthdays now) and we each will take our last breath on the day we die. For Tim, it struck me so powerfully that what matters most is that we are here. Whatever we do between our first breath and our last pales in significance to the fact that we exist, period.
My brother didn't have any huge achievements to his name. And still hundreds of people attended his memorial service in Mount Prospect, where we grew up. His greatest achievements were how he made people feel special. People came who only knew him from their time together in summer camp; colleagues, roommates, and classmates from years past shared their gratitude at having counted Tim as a friend. I don't think he realized how big of an impact his presence had on so many people. Which was another realization.
You are so loved by so many people.
There's a certain camaraderie between those of us walking the face of the Earth. Tim passing away brought into focus the absolute miracle of life. When you are walking on the surface of this planet, and your body is warm, your heart is beating and your lungs are breathing, you are part of a very special group of people: the ones who are here right now. We are the ones living life in this moment, and none of us is guaranteed our position in that precious group in the next moment.
No matter how bad you think your situation may be, you are here. And that means everything to the people around you. Losing Tim was like losing a part of my own self. I didn't know how integral my brother was to my own sense of self until I had to go through life without him. Now, instead of being someone who has two younger brothers, I'm someone who has one younger brother and another who has passed away. It's literally a shift in identity for me, a sad and poignant shift. And yet, I'm comforted by the fact that so many others share that same situation with me.
You are not alone.
I was surprised by how many of the people who reached out to offer condolences shared stories of also losing siblings. And while it didn't ease the pain, I was comforted to know I wasn't alone. In the middle of a tragedy it can feel like you are the only one experiencing it as the weight of the loss can feel utterly crushing. And yet, knowing that people I loved had gone through similar things and were able to continue with life was comforting.
In fact, the comfort of friends and family throughout the process was one of its only positive moments. It brought new light to the verse from the Beatitudes where Jesus said, "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted." I realized that the comfort he spoke about wasn't some otherworldly comfort we would magically feel from within. It was literally the love and support and friendship from those around us.
The fact that so many friends and family were willing to drop everything to be there for us in our time of need speaks to the goodness of the human spirit. We are there for each other when we need it. I am a firm member of the "people are good" camp. And the experience of being comforted from all directions in my time of grief was a beautiful example of that in action.
I hope this inspires you to appreciate the miracle of this moment in a deeper way and to be grateful for everyone in your life. They love you and need you more than you can imagine. I'll leave you with the words of Lonnie Lynn, aka Common, when he said about his late father, "though I can’t touch him, I can still feel him." Love you forever, little bro.