Monday is my brother’s birthday. It would be his 32nd.
Would be. We lost Robert nearly 4 years ago to a particularly aggressive case of testicular cancer. He’s the guy in the black shirt in the picture, staring at my younger brother in frustration that Jimmy was born with the genetics of a frickin’ giant.
I miss him. More than I can possibly explain. Though, I’m not sure we really became friends until we were both going to college at NMSU, Robert was something of a protector, confidant, and friend combined. A man doesn’t lose a relationship like that lightly, but in my case, I suffered wounds. Great, terrible slashes to my mind and heart and soul. But I hid them. I believed I had to be strong for my family, for my God, for myself. And because I never admitted the pain, never exposed the wounds, they festered. They twisted and warped and grew, like gangrene on wounded soldier.
For at least three & a half years, I suffered from a deep depression. There were many reasons, many events that contributed to it, but one of the greatest was Robert’s death.
The depression haunted me. Left me pacing nights away for insomnia. Left me clinging and grasping at friendships and relationships in a dependency that was far from healthy. It undermined any confidence that I had in myself. And the more it grew, the more I shut myself off from everyone around me.
Eventually, I found a bit of courage and started going to counseling. My counselor (ironically, his name is Robert too) and I began addressing a few of my issues, but one rose to the surface quickly. At the beginning of July, I sat in his office and, in a particularly painful emotional outburst, I yelled, through tears, “It’s my fault Robert died!”
That was the moment that I broke. That I started admitting that I was hurt. That I started admitting that I blamed myself for things completely out of my control.
That was the moment that I started letting other people in.
That was the moment that I began to heal.
This weekend, I am tender-hearted. I miss my brother. He was one of the wittiest, smartest, bravest men I’ve ever known. He was my friend, but he was also a source of strength, confidence, and safety in my life. I’m not sure that I’ll ever not miss Robert. I’m not sure I’ll ever want to.
Last year, Robert’s birthday nearly destroyed me. But in the last year, my healing has come through the hands, hugs, words, and prayers of an amazing group of people. Through my church, my friends, and my family. This year, I greet Robert’s birthday both broken and joyful. He is gone, but I no longer blame myself for his death. I no longer live under a cloud of depression. I no longer pace my house through the night. I no longer ache for the sorrow to end.
I once told a friend that we need to celebrate the monuments of progress. Whether those monuments are passing a big test, completing a college thesis, or being able to greet my brother’s birthday with a smile for the man I was privileged to call my brother and friend.
This year, I will celebrate Robert’s birthday. For his sake. And for my own.
This year, I will be thankful for Robert’s life and the example he was. And I will be thankful for the community of friends and family God has gathered around me as I have healed.
And I hope y’all celebrate with me.
If you’d like to hear more about my story and my healing, feel free to click here.