16 years ago. Today.
The day that someone close to you dies is a day you will never forget. You will remember the song that played on the radio as you raced the back roads from South Lyon to U of M. Primitive Radio Gods, Standing Outside a Broken Phone Booth with Money in My Hands.
You will remember being beneath the bright lights in the waiting room, but you will not remember getting there. You will remember the friends gathered, crying in shock and know that their pain is nothing like yours. Until one day, 7 years later, one of your best friends dies two days before the anniversary of your brother’s death and then you will know the heart aches in many ways and loss is the heaviest of these.
You will remember seeing your parents fall apart before you and decide to be the strong one. You will remember seeing your 15 year old brother lying on a gurney and want to know exactly how he got here and why isn’t he breathing? You will remember spending the night in the ICU family waiting room and calling friends and family through the night to pray for your brother. Pray that he will wake up. And you will remember the white room with a big table that you, your other two brothers and parents will be called in to sit around and listen to the news that your brother is brain dead. Then you will remember walking down the hallway earlier, with light shining from the windows and feeling his spirit with you. Giving you strength to carry this new weight for the people in your life that might not be able to carry it right now. Like your mom. Or your dad. Or your brothers. And you will know that he was not there in his body for hours before they told you his brain was no longer working.
You will remember the doctor taking you into a small room shortly after your mom arrived to the hospital and asking about organ donation. Too soon. And someday you will learn that your brother’s eyes were donated and now help a blind man see. After your brother is buried you will go with a few close to him and paint a mural in his honor on the wall of the bridge that he jumped off of and drowned. Bridge jumping, a summer past time. No more. Later you learn the bridge is fenced off so kids can’t cool off in the same way your brother tried to do, that July 2nd, 16 years ago.
And you will always remember. Because he will always be your brother. And you will wish you had more photos of him when he was 15. So you will take photos of everyone if your life. Over and over again. And you will tell them you love them. Over and over again. Because that last moment you saw your brother alive, you did not tell him. Until he came to visit you in your dreams. Only then did you find peace.
Joshua Buck Riley
June 9, 1981 – July 2, 1996
Thank you for returning to me in my dreams for visits from time to time. Even 16 years later. Bittersweet blessings.