I remember it like it was yesterday.
Standing in the kitchen when I got the call, I dropped to my knees and screamed so loud, so long in agony…I’m surprised my lungs didn’t explode.
I remember my son’s arms wrapping around me asking me “What’s wrong mommy, don’t cry.”
Stumbling up the stairs to his best friend’s room, waking him up out of his sleep, stuttering out the words I once hoped I’d never have to say, “he’s gone.”
I remember lying on the floor, profusely crying, as he tried to sweep me up and get me on my feet. I remember screaming into a pillow so that my son couldn’t hear my pain.
All the pain, the tears, the screaming…it still hadn’t set in…my twin brother died that day.
It wasn’t long until my son noticed something wasn’t right. With all of the crying and the phone calls, and the scrambling to fly out, he knew something bigger was going on.
That’s when I heard the words that broke my heart, “mom, what’s wrong with my uncle?”
How do you explain to an eight-year-old that someone he loved so much wasn’t coming home again? How do you explain to a little boy that his “roommate” wouldn’t be his roommate any longer? How do you explain to your child that his uncle was taken from us? The perfect answer is that you don’t.
I waited hours, I contemplated how to draft the perfect response to his question, but I knew no response would help the pain that he was about to endure.
I recalled a conversation I had with him a few months prior, when my brother was in rehab. He had asked me when his uncle was coming home. At that time, I kept it vague, “Your uncle is sick, and he is spending time with the doctors to try to get better.” But now, I have to give him a different response, one that he will understand, I will have to answer his questions and try to mend his broken heart all at the same time.
“Baby, you remember when your uncle was with the doctors and they were trying to make him all better to come back home to us? Well they couldn’t make him better. They tried and they tried but he wasn’t getting better. Your uncle went to heaven.”
At eight years old, I wasn’t expecting the next words to come out of his mouth…” Mom, when will he be back?”
I knew he didn’t understand, but how could you expect a child so young to comprehend something so tragic and unexplainable? We spend years as mothers trying to protect our children from the hate that consumes our world, but I proceeded to explain, “buddy, he isn’t coming back. He is watching over you and he is finally free of pain, he is finally happy.”
The hours started to fade, as I booked a flight, scrambled to pack a bag, and rushed to the airport to be by my family’s side.
My brother had struggled with drug abuse since 2014. It started out simple, he’d smoke weed here and there…but eventually that wasn’t enough. He moved on to trying new, stronger drugs.
I remember walking into his room one night, “Sis, I love you and I’m so sorry”. He was overdosing (for the first time) on PCP. I can remember running to our dad, calling 911, and waiting as the ambulance arrived. I remember going to the hospital and seeing him just coming through, not remembering a single thing. I thought that was the scariest moment I’d ever have in my life…I thought that was the only time I’d ever have to fear losing him.
“It was just a one-time thing, I just wanted to try it. I did too much. it won’t happen again.” An addict’s favorite words… “It won’t happen again.”
I watched as this “it won’t happen again” line became habit, and those habits became his lifestyle. The “one time” turned into hundreds of times. The “just for fun” turned into self-destruction.
It always happens again. From PCP, to opioid abuse, to cocaine, to heroin…it got worse and then it got better, and then it got worse again.
My brother faced a loss, the loss of his very best friend, and as I won’t go into details here because that is not my story to tell, I know that loss destroyed him in the same manner that I have been destroyed with losing him today. I didn’t understand it then, but I understand it to the fullest today.
My brother struggled daily with how to move forward. He’d stop abusing, he’d find a steady job, and then he’d hit a speed bump that would reset the cycle. The emotional roller coaster he was on, we were all on. We watched on the days he shinned through healthy and sober, all the same as we watched him hit rock bottom, destroying himself from the inside out. We tried endlessly to put the pieces back together, to lend a hand whenever and however we could.
Over the years, I learned the hard way - you can’t push an addict to get help, they must want help. No matter what you say, no matter what you do – a drug addict will never see the hope in getting help if they find the most satisfaction in their highs.
It seemed like forever until he finally asked for help.
And when an addict asks for help, you help them… right then and there, because if you don’t the moment will pass by.
He spent weeks, weeks debating if he was making the right choice. He spent days crying on the phone begging to be allowed to leave the rehab center he was placed at. In this moment, he forgot to give himself credit – because though he was dying to escape, he was clean for the longest he had been in years. He was 28 days sober.
But he was only sober for 28 days. He was clean, and then like a flick of a light switch, he wasn't.
Several relapses later, another attempt at rehab, a few more trips by ambulance, and countless nights of worry...the light at the end of the tunnel seemed to get farther and farther away. The timeline and incidents all started to blur, as we all just spent day after day trying to figure out how to save him from himself.
I don’t really know when he relapsed again, this last time. I remember our last Christmas together, Christmas 2018, he was healthy, laughing, and best of all, he was sober. He was in a good, positive place. Somewhere between then, and March 9th, 2019, he wasn’t sober anymore.
The two weeks prior to his passing, he overdosed twice. He didn’t know how to stop; he didn’t know when enough was enough.
His last dose, the dose that took his life, his dealer laced with fentanyl. That, that small bit of fentanyl, is what claimed his life. That is what took him away from his family, his friends, all those that loved him.
March 9th, 2019 had become the worst day of my life.
I remember getting on the plane, trying to find anything that would steal my focus for that hour and ten-minute flight, just so that the other travelers wouldn’t have to hear me cry. I landed. I can visually remember walking towards my mom as she tried so hard to stay standing. Do you know how hard it is? Trying to stay strong when you yourself feel broken, destroyed.
Sitting at the funeral home, trying to plan out the details of his ceremony….it felt like a joke. How do you plan out detail by detail of a funeral for someone that shouldn’t have left you? How do you plan out the details for a 28-year-old, for your best friend, for your twin? From ashes to casket, from memorial cards to slideshow, down to the flowers that would sit up front near him…defining the details for an event we didn’t want to attend, that was unbearable.
I remember walking into the room with our family to identify him. I can still see him laying there, lifeless and cold. I remember saying “it’s not him, he’s not in there anymore.” Physically, I knew it was him, but spiritually, he had moved on. He was no longer wearing that smile I loved so much. I could no longer hear his laugh. And no matter how hard I tried, I couldn‘t feel his arm around me as it always was, as it should have been. This was goodbye.
At his funeral, we were shocked by the amount of people that came out to support us, to show love for him. We spent hours, hug after hug, apology after apology, feeling the depths of his loss by each one of his friends and family members. His loss touched so many people. After hugging what seemed like 300 people, we sat down for the service.
I remember breaking down with a cry so loud that I was embarrassed. Every person in that room could hear me. With my head in my dad’s hands and my mom kneeling down in front of me, comforting me, I knew I was up next for my speech. I knew in that moment I had to collect myself because I owed my brother that speech. So that’s what I did.
“I want to first start out by telling you all that my brother passed due to an accidental overdose. I don’t owe anyone that explanation, but my brother doesn’t deserve for rumors to be going around about how he left us.
When my brother relapsed, I sent him this message, and it only seemed right to share it here:
“I love you more than anything on this planet. I cannot lose you. I need you to get your life together. You do not see how lucky you are to be on this earth. You see children and parents dying all the time because of cancer or car accidents, things out of their control. Don’t you dare risk your life with drugs, I swear to you it’s not worth it. You are young and have so much potential if you stay on the right path. I know this is not easy, I know it is a challenge every single day. I know sometimes life sucks and you feel at a loss, but you aren’t. You have family that loves you, people that want to help you, people that would do anything for you. You are never alone. I need you; you are my shoulder when things are rough, you are my guidance when I’m lost, you are my laughter when I need it…but most of all, you are my very best friend. Please stop doing this to yourself. I love you so much and I need you to get better, I need you to fight harder because you deserve a better life, and because you are supposed to be here, in this life. I promise it will be worth it if you get it together. I will help you, please just don’t leave me. Please don’t ever scare me like that again. You are too blessed; you are too loved. Don’t ever forget that. You are so much more than you think you are, and you don’t even see it. I love you.”
I could stand up here and go on and on about how much I loved my brother, but you all knew that. You all knew he was such a huge part of me, a huge part of my son. He would want this to be a learning lesson for his friends that are also addicts. He would want his passing to save lives, he would want his passing to be a message to those that are struggling.
My brother was an addict, that had just decided Saturday morning that he was going to get some real help, he didn’t want to be like this anymore…. but he had to do it one last time before he started recovery. That’s all it takes is one time. I look around this room, and though I am so grateful to see my brother so loved, I know so many of you are addicts yourself…my words go to you. Please please, get help, talk to someone, stop doing this to yourself. Stop doing this to your family and your friends, because it’s true, when you take the pain away from yourself, you just pass it on to all those that you leave behind. Look at all of us in this room, look at me, all in pain because one person wanted a bit of relief from his pain.
I’m so so mad at you brother. Now I’m here, picking up the pieces of myself, knowing I’ll never ever feel whole again, because one of the best and biggest parts of me will never come home.
I’ve gone through many and many sorry posts and messages, but there’s two that hit hard as hell. Someone said, “you were his favorite person, you were his rock.” Another person said “Your brother and I would always sit and talk about anything, but he always, always talked about his wonderful twin sister and how much you meant to him. I don’t send this to upset you, but rather to let you know how much you meant to him – and for you to know that he considered you his hero.”
But those words aren’t true, because you were my rock, you ARE my hero.
I hope you’re at peace now. I hope you are sitting next to your best friend cracking jokes, but most of all, I hope you are the happiest you’ve ever been. I love you always my twin.”
That was the hardest speech I ever had to prepare, let alone read in front of 300+ family and friends.
It has now been nine months since he left us….
Nine months, and there are still nights I am wiping tears from my sons’ eyes. Nine months, and there are still days I have to pull over on the side of the road to collect myself. Nine months, and it still aches as if we lost him yesterday.
I share this story, not for sympathy or for support, but simply for those that need help. I want my story to speak volumes and prevent future overdoses. If speaking out can only help one family, I’ve done the job I’ve set out to do, I’ve done the job my brother would have wanted me to do.
My brother was, is, the funniest, most outgoing, full of life guy that I know. He found humor in the worst of moments, and always dragged me into that laughter. He’s the type of person you could look to and know that everything would be okay.
My brother was an addict. With years of fighting the same battle, cycling through the same path: recovery, determination, relapse, rock bottom, repeat. I don’t speak on the bad much...why? Because that’s not how anyone should be remembered, and that’s not how I choose to remember. My brother was known for his kind heart, his generosity, his willingness to give all that he had...his addiction didn’t, and never will, define him.
BUT, his addiction did claim him. It took him away, without notice, without so much as a goodbye. I cannot change this. I cannot repair the damage that has been done. But what I can do, is exactly what he’d want me to do...speak on it...to stop even just one person from walking down that path of feeling like recovery is not worth it, of feeling like recovery is not an option, of feeling like recovery is not obtainable.
Recovery, it is so worth it. What my brother didn’t know, that I know he sees now looking down, is that he had an entire army of people believing in him. He had love stretched from one end of that funeral home to the other. He had so so much potential that unfortunately will never see the light. If he knew then the support he had, maybe just maybe he’d still be sitting beside me. If he knew then, maybe just maybe he’d be here to celebrate a birthday with me, to watch his nephew grow up, to enjoy what life truly has to offer with recovery.
My message here is for those that are struggling; for the addicts, for the family and friends of those addicted....TALK. Be a friend, be a parent, be a brother or a sister. Ask for help, lean on your support system. Not a single person is expected to push through life alone. Not a single person should lose a battle with addiction because they didn’t feel like there was an out. Not a single family should have to struggle with losing someone to this battle.
You are not too good to ask for help. You are not so alone to not receive help. ASK. And if you are asked for help, listen – lend a hand – save a life.