This one is hard for me to write. But it’s been a long time coming. Part of me never wants to share any of this, part of me recognizes that every time I DO share, it helps people.
So here we go.
10 years ago this month my brother was shot and killed in a police standoff in South Portland, Maine. He’d recently been diagnosed manic bipolar and he was struggling, big time. How his life ended was not what anyone who knew him would have expected.
He was a stand up kind of guy.
Running two businesses he’d started himself while working full time as the CFO for a large medical practice. On the outside he looked like he had it all. But on the inside he struggled with his demons, and they eventually won.
I found out about his death on a Monday morning, August 28th, 2008.
He’d had a rough weekend, and the night before I’d called him to check up. He didn’t recognize who I was, kept asking “who sent you”. My brother and I were close, and I was worried.
I hung up the phone with him and immediately called my parents. I knew he’d been prescribed some heavy medications for his recent diagnosis and after a visit with him just the prior week, I’d been made fully aware of the fact he’d become a full blown alcoholic. I figured he was combining the two and it had him all messed up.
After I talked with my parents we called the police to ask them to check on him. I was in San Diego, he was back in Maine, and my parents lived an hour south. We needed someone to get to him asap. For whatever reason when the police arrived they surrounded his house in SWAT. And so began a standoff that went long into the night.
I will never forget that Monday morning as long as I live.
I was getting ready for school- first day of fall semester in college. I had a message to call my parents at my grandmother’s house. It never dawned on me that anything bad could have happened.
I had a flip phone back then-a silver and blue LG- and with one hand on the phone and another struggling to put in a contact, my mom answered. She immediately handed the phone to my father- who said “well the worst has happened. They shot Mike”
I crumbled to the floor (still with a contact on the end of one finger- I remember this detail so completely), and my dad told me later I let out a huge wail. I flew home that day.
The next two weeks were by far the worst two weeks I have ever lived. Those days are foggy for me, I have blips of memories of his funeral, seeing friends, and the feeling that none of it was real.
Then I had to come back to San Diego, and live a life forever changed.
I had to come back and learn to deal with one of the worst things that can happen to us as humans- the loss of another.
You see I had to choose to continue to live, and then even more so, I knew to survive it I had to choose to find the blessings, the good things, that came out of his death.
Does that sound harsh to you? Cold? Too optimistic and upbeat?
The truth is I think about my brother every single day. I miss him- every single day. As I write this, tears are streaming down my face.
But I had a choice to make about his death. I could be angry, resentful, and allow it to a burden forever, or I could find the positives from it- because I can’t go back and change it- I can only go forward.
Losing my brother has taught me, without a doubt- it is not the bad things in life that define us, it is what we do with the bad things.
After my brother’s death, the State of Maine passed a law that any time the police are called to the home of a mentally unstable person, a person trained to handle psycological issues must be present. Hopefully my brother’s death and this law will help to save others from a similar tragedy.
Because of losing someone this close, I have been able to support others through their own losses. This is huge for me- being able to help people, to share that they will get through it, that there is light on the other side.
I would not wish grief on anyone- it is the coldest, darkest, saddest place the human heart can go- and it weighs on your shoulders like a thousand pound vest.
I remember people expecting me to be happy, and all I wanted to do was climb into a hole and disappear. The worst part is while you’re in it, it never goes away- and sometimes when you behave out of sorts, you almost don’t recognize yourself.
But the greatest gift that came from losing my brother, the biggest lesson I learned- emotional resiliency. The reason I am sharing today.
Recognizing I have a choice in how I handle what happens in life. My brother’s death didn’t happen TO me- it happened. I had no choice in him dying, but I had a choice in how I handled his loss.
I had a choice in what I did with it- and I chose to find the blessings in it, to learn from it, to help it make me a better human.
There are millions of stories like mine- people who’ve had major loss, injury, death, and have chosen to rise above.
I believe that every single person has the capacity, the strength, and the ability to take their lot in life and make the most of it.
I believe we have a choice to be the victim or to be the survivor. I believe that you can find a silver lining, a blessing, in every single bad thing, if you choose to look.
But it takes courage, resiliency, and a desire to move past the hurt and the pain.
This is my story.