As I walked out of a cafe last month I came across a sandwich board that read, “You still haven’t met all the people who are going to love you”. Typically, I would not think much of this sign but this day was different. It was April 28th and on this day nine years ago, I received a phone call that I will never forget. I shook my head and thought, “I guess the world would not let me forget about my brother today“.
Nine years prior to walking by that sign I was working at a gym on the outskirts of Easton, Pennsylvania. I had a small break in between appointments so I did what most do to pass the time: I pulled out my phone to see what was going on in the world. As I opened the phone I noticed that I had a missed call and voicemail from my mother. I listened to the message which didn’t say much other than asking me to call her back. The tone of her voice was different and my mind immediately suspected something was amiss. Our instincts in situations like these are often right and a flurry of thoughts ran through my head. At this moment my next appointment arrived. I mumbled a few words under my breath and went out to the gym floor.
I only had two appointments left in the day so I decided I would wait to make the call. Maybe it was my way of unconsciously delaying the inevitable but after the first appointment I couldn’t resist. I pulled my phone out and made the call. My mom answered and said “He is gone Chris. Ryan is gone”.
The news sent a shockwave through my body that I have never felt prior and have never felt since. My body went numb. It was like the feeling one gets when they hit their funny bone on something, except in this case, the numbness ran through my entire body. I got in my car and immediately drove to my parents house. We were all devastated. As a brother, I lost my first friend. I lost the guy that I spent more time with than anyone else. I lost the guy I played with, cried with, fought with, won with, lost with, and so much more. For my parents, they lost the son that gave them the gift of being a parent and so much more. We all lost a piece of our heart that day but in the case of my parents, they lost a whole lot more.
A friend of mine once asked for advice on dealing with losing a loved one. My mind went blank and I began to think. I said, “you know, the world doesn’t stop for you when you are grieving.“ For a few days or weeks, the condolences and well wishes come in which is nice but eventually that all slows down and life goes on. The world slowly forgets what happened but you never do. Some days are good and some days are bad. Some weeks you don’t think about the person at all, and other weeks that is all that you think about. Sometimes you laugh at the memories that you have had with them and other times you cry because you miss them.
As I was writing this I thought about the great speech given by basketball coach Jim Valvano on the brink of death at the 1993 ESPY’s. During this incredible moment he said, “If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that’s a full day. That’s a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week, you’re going to have something special”. As the speech continues, Jimmy goes on to say that, “Cancer can take away all of my physical abilities. It cannot touch my mind, it cannot touch my heart, and it cannot touch my soul.”
I think about that last sentence often as I try to navigate life without my brother. Death can take someone from you but it is important to not let it take more. It is a devastating event that has the potential to destroy your world. DON’T LET IT. Losing someone close puts you in a state of hurt that you never imagined but it cannot take your memories, it cannot take the moments you’ve shared or the feelings you’ve had and it cannot take your spirit. The world needs you to be your best. Take the time to grieve but remember, you can get through this. I promise you.