Whoever said “Time heals all wounds” had obviously never met my brother.
It’s been over a year and I’m still learning how to do this crazy life thing without my best friend and little brother. Whenever something good or bad happens I always want to run next door to his room, text or call call him just to hear some uplifting words or hear his reaction.
The best way to summarize this whole situation is with 3 words, “It takes time.”
There are five stages of grief. In the last 19 months I’ve fluctuated constantly, sometimes on a daily basis between all five.
This stage seems to come most frequently. When I first got the news I refused to believe it. I was confused and tried to block out all the things I was being told. At one point I called his phone multiple times just to try and prove everyone wrong when he answered.
And the weeks passed. Denial would come in the form of waking up and forgetting that anything had ever happened and having to relive the situation all over.
More recently denial has been simple; whenever I feel myself getting sad I tell myself that my brother is on a long beautiful vacation, and I’ll see him someday soon.
Anger was simple. I felt an anger that I had never felt before. I was angry with anybody and anything involved.
“Why did this have to happen to my brother when there are terrible people committing heinous crimes and walking around freely??” “Why didn’t they help him?” “ How can they claim to be his ‘friends’ but nobody can seem to explain what really happened?” “Why did they invite him to such a place? “What if he had been somewhere else with other people?” “WHY, God?”
It was the type of anger where all you can do is cry and feel defeated because you know that there is nothing that you can do within your power to change the outcome of the situation. Anger because you don’t have answers.
For months I felt like a time bomb that could explode at any moment. People around me would use certain trigger words and phrases like “drown”, or “I’m dead” and it took everything in me to refrain from 1) bursting into tears and 2) giving them a verbal tongue lashing about their poor selection of words.
Bargaining came in the form of me constantly begging during my morning and nightly prayers. “Please God, I will never sin again, I will always be kind, I will never stray from you again, if you just let this all be a dream.”
But every morning following those evening prayers I would wake up and the outcome would still be the same. I was stuck with this new reality and there was nothing I could do about it. Even when I saw my brother for the last time I thought, “well maybe if I just hug him or hold his hand he’ll wake up and make a joke.”
I got to a point in my depression where I selfishly thought that dying would be much better than living because at least then I would be able to hang out with my brother. Dying was the perfect option. Feeling nothing was better than hurting every minute of every day.
If I died I wouldn’t have to be in constant pain. There would be no bills to worry about, no people to deal with, and most importantly, I wouldn’t struggle with telling myself every morning “just make it through the day.”
It was then that I also got to a point where I questioned my faith. There were many days where I would just be sitting in my room for hours crying and wanting to feel something other than pain and crying out to God, “If you are a merciful and good God why would you allow me to feel this kind of pain? why would you kill my brother?”
3 weeks after my brother’s accident I went back to school and resumed my adult responsibilities the best I knew how. The same week that I resumed class and work, I also celebrated my 21st birthday.
The morning of my birthday I rummaged through some old letters on my desk and found the birthday card my brother had sent me for my 20th birthday. I sat there staring at it, rereading it, and just pictured him singing “Happy Birthday” and a warm hug from him. It wasn’t right. I told myself that I wasn’t allowed to enjoy that day or any other holiday for that matter.
Initially I didn’t make any plans and had no expectations for my birthday, but with the help of an amazing teammate, Tunya, and even better friend I had the best birthday given the circumstances. Although I found myself doing what some would consider enjoyable I still found myself wanting to cry and thinking “I wish my brother was here so I could be happy again, I shouldn’t be having fun without him.”
During summer session I would sit in class struggling to take notes because I could barely see through my tears. Many days I just wanted to be left alone, in the darkness, to just grieve in peace without being asked ‘when are you going to go back to “normal?’” or being interrogated about the whole situation and having to relive the emotions from when I first found out.
I often found myself laying wide awake at night pacing up and down in my room. And when I was fortunate enough to get a few minutes of sleep I found myself quickly woken by a nightmare.
The hardest days were the ones when I woke up unable to discern between reality and dreams and found myself reliving the horror midway through dialing his phone number, sending a text, or logging on to any social media outlet and seeing the numerous “I’m sorry for your loss” posts.
As always, time went on and I adapted to school and this new life. Just when I thought I was making small progress, I was inundated with thoughts of the future. I realized that my brother would not be there for many milestones.
-My brother will never see me graduate from college
-My brother will never see me get married.
-I won’t be able to celebrate any more birthdays with my brother
-My children will never get to meet their Uncle Vince
Graduation seemed to be the hardest to come to terms with because it was the most meaningful and was happening in the very near future. Graduation was also just 4 days shy of Vince’s accident, so I knew my emotions would be running high.
The afternoon before graduation I found myself sitting in Rooker Hall with 2 of my teammates reflecting on the last few years and our plans for the future. I expressed to them my disappointment that my brother would not be there the following evening witnessing my commencement ceremony. My teammate Sarah said to me “Just because he’s not here doesn’t mean he didn’t get the invite. He’s going to have the best seat in the stadium.”
It was then that I knew that it was ok to move on with my life and no longer feel guilty for having fun or achieving wonderful things without my brother because he was always there with me, in my heart.
There were and still are so many unanswered questions. The lack of closure is what kept me up at night or kept me from focusing in class.
For a long time I thought that having an answer or just having someone to blame would make me feel better. It came to a point where I had to silence my thoughts and say, “ok Lord, I don’t understand at all what you’re doing but I trust you.”
I also had to tell myself two things:
that all those questions didn’t matter
even if I had the answers to all my questions would it put my heart and mind at ease? Honestly, probably not.
We live in a death fearing society. I think it is foolish for any of us to deny death or think that we are immune from death.
One thing that I have learned in the last 19 months, although cliche, is that life is short and anything can happen at any time, whether you are ready or not. I have learned to take things at face value and always embrace people with constant, unconditional, and selfless love. I had no desire to learn how to live without my brother, but I had to because life continues whether you’re ready or not.
You can learn how to live without someone, even your best friend. It won’t be easy, and it’s going to take some time, a long time honestly, but you can do it. Just remember that small progress is still progress. Never let anyone tell you how long you should grieve for, it’s a process and it takes time.
One thing that settles my heart is knowing that however many remaining years I have to spend on this Earth without my brother pales in comparison to an eternity in God’s kingdom. Until then I just have to remind myself he is on a beautiful long vacation.
I can’t wait for the day we can pretend we have our own cooking show again, or he can jump out from behind the tree in the front yard and spray me with his water gun when I’m running, or Saturday morning cleaning and taking breaks to have a sing or dance off. But most importantly I can’t wait for the day Vince can give me a long hug.
A wise man told me this year “Quality of life is not measured by quantity of life.” Vince taught me so much and did so much in just 19 years. He was the kid that loved to run drills in the backyard and put in the extra work even in the off season. He was also the kid that loved to volunteer with Hands on Atlanta on the weekends to build homes for families in need.
God gave me 19 years with my best friend and I will cherish them until I take my last breath on this earth because they were the best. We used to do EVERYTHING together. We had so many jokes we basically spoke a different language. Some nights we would stay up all night just being goofy and talking about the most random things.
This whole situation is so surreal. The only thing Vince hated more than tomatoes and brussel sprouts was seeing me cry and wallow in sadness.
I still don’t understand why this all happened but I do know that God has used this situation to soften my heart. I am learning to love and serve the Lord the way my brother did.
My brother would not only want me to be happy but he would want to be helping others and spreading Christ’s love. Time doesn’t heal all wounds, but with time you learn how to cope and be at peace, not in pieces.
My brother was my best friend, and he will always and forever be my best friend.