My dearest brother, today, you SHOULD be 42. But you are not here to turn 42. That fact never gets easier to believe or write or say or think. The shocking sadness of that first year or two has subsided into a dull, relentless ache that sits on my chest and doesn't demand much in the way of grief. Sometimes it feels as though it will never truly sink in for me that you are not here. How is it possible? Fuck, you'd be so disappointed in yourself and the universe for letting you slip away so young and sharp and full of countless items left to check off your ever-growing "To Do" list. Like me, you'd feel fucking cheated and indignant at the world for stealing so many years from you.
The other night, I began thinking about how many regrets you'd have had you known your life would be cut short. I've thought a great deal about regret over the years and I have always tried to live my life such that, when my end comes, I have precious few true regrets about how I lived, loved, learned and treated other people. Still, as much as I've thought about regret in my life, I've never considered it more than I have since you died. What regrets did you have? What would you have changed, in haste, if you'd known your days were numbered? What would you have told me? What would you have written down or recorded for those of us who love you to find?
One thing that brings me peace in thinking of you is how proud and happy you were to have been able to be a confidante and counselor to me over the last year of your life. After years of frequent leaning on Yael and me for guidance and support, you had entered a period of stability and maturity in your life that allowed you to be there for us -- a welcome flip of the playbook, as you put it. You talked with me for hours, offering advice and support, and I know you felt proud that your guidance was trusted and helpful. Just two months before you died, the last time I saw you, you confided in me about some issues that had arisen in your life. In retrospect, I realize you may have admitted these things to me in the hopes that I could help or guide you, though I don't know if you'd have accepted help. I don't know if you actually needed help, nor whether you'd have realized it if you did. You wanted my advice about your girlfriend and your job, throwing in a confession about your having recently "dabbled" in some pills to help with your anxiety. You told me it was a minor sidestep off your chosen "clean" path and that you weren't willing to jeopardize your health, job or relationships to fall back into the inviting haze of self-medication, however much it beckoned you.
Amir, you were one of the most intelligent, funniest, brightest, sharpest human beings I have ever known. Those things mean nothing when it comes to susceptibility to anxiety, self-doubt, unease, overthinking and self-medicating. In fact, your brilliant mind and unique outlook on the world likely contributed to your inability to quiet the racing thoughts in your head when you needed to. Why isn't that a skill taught in school? Wouldn't the ability to quiet your mind and its relentlessly-swirling chatter be more valuable in terms of life skills than fucking algebra or chemistry? Why not teach children and teens the much-needed skill of calming their anxiety via meditation or journal-writing or deep breathing or even exercise? As someone who often falls victim to racing thoughts and endless brain chatter, I'd certainly have benefited from training in self-calming methods that don't rely on drugs or alcohol. I would wager there are few people who wouldn't benefit from such training.
Yet, there's still a horrible stigma around mental-health issues, no matter how slight, including the common misconception that it's a personality or character flaw. I have decided I need to make an effort to help people suffering from mental illness or addiction in any way I can. You'd be intrigued by my occasional toying with the idea of becoming a therapist or counselor, but you'd also relate to my uncertainty and agree that it may not be the best path for me. You would also likely support my longing to help people in other, smaller capacities, which I'm focusing on now. I have a unique and rich perspective on relating to people struggling with mental-health issues, including addiction. I can empathize with their battles and I believe that empathy, along with compassion, will get me farther than years of schooling and training to be a certified counselor. I know you would encourage me and support me in my efforts, limited as they are for now.
Back to you, brother. It's your birthday today and you should be here. You are so terribly missed. You might not have believed it had you known just how many people miss your presence in this world. Your absence is voluble every single day. I often wonder what words of wisdom you would impart to me? How would you guide me? What hilarious emails and texts would you send me daily to keep me laughing? How would you be celebrating your birthday? How much contempt and scorn would you muster for the absurdity of our political landscape?
On your birthday, I will listen to music you loved, read things that spoke to you or made you laugh, talk about you and celebrate you, as I do on so many days that are not April 7.