I have this memory in my mind of a young man with spiky, dirty blond hair sipping soda from a straw, as he carries his drink in one hand and a bag of tacos in the other hand and heads upstairs. Normally a memory of someone carrying takeout from Taco Bell up to their room would not be very significant but it’s significant to me because it’s the last time I ever saw my stepbrother Brandon alive.

The next morning when I wake up I hear the words “My son’s not breathing.” It’s my stepfather calling 911. I walk over to Brandon’s room. My stepfather is standing in front of Brandon’s open bedroom door and my mother is too. “Oh my god, Brandon’s dead” she says. I glance in to Brandon’s room and see Brandon lying motionless on the floor. I’ve never seen a dead body in real life before but Brandon looks pretty dead to me. Still, I think that perhaps my mother is wrong. Perhaps Brandon is unconscious and when the paramedics arrive they will revive him.

The paramedics arrive. They strap Brandon on to a stretcher and carry him out of the room. He does not move at all and he shows no signs of life. Still, it is not certain to me that Brandon is dead. I will not know that he is dead until I hear someone say that he is dead. A woman from the police department is talking to my stepfather but she is not saying anything about Brandon being dead. She is talking about the lists of drug deals and drug dealers that were found in Brandon’s room. Finally she says “I’m sorry for your loss” and I know that my stepbrother has died.

My stepfather calls someone on the phone and says “I don’t know how to say this but Brandon is gone.” The person on the other line is confused about what gone means and thinks that perhaps Brandon has run away. When my mother calls my brother she does not beat around the bush. She says “Michael, I have some bad news for you. Brandon is dead.”

As the hours pass on our living room fills up with friends, family, co-workers, neighbors and loved ones. Some people talk about how shocked and devastated they are, while others just sit in stunned silence. My stepfather’s best friend arrives. I’ve never seen him cry but as he hugs my stepfather tears are streaming down his face.

Later that day, my godmother picks me up and takes me out to eat because I need to get away from that house. I need to get away from that atmosphere of sadness,awkwardness, disbelief. The next day my godmother takes me out again because I still need to get away from it all. I talk about how shocked I am that Brandon is dead. I talk about unrelated topics and I tell stupid jokes to try to take my mind off of Brandon.

Funeral arrangements are made for Brandon. My mother tells me that my high school teachers will be coming to the funeral. I don’t understand why they’re coming since I don’t think they know Brandon and the fact that they’re coming makes me kind of uncomfortable. These were the teachers who taught the class for emotionally disturbed kids that I was in. They helped me very much and I love them very much but I don’t want to see them.  I don’t want to see or talk to any of my friends. I have not seen or talked to any of my friends for years, even when they’ve reached out to me. Once I left high school, I did not have the level of support I’d had in high school, I did not have the level of support I needed. Therefore, I did not do very well for myself. I had brief periods of success but eventually things all came crashing down. A few years ago they’d come crashing down in a very bad way.

For years I felt as though I was dead myself. I was still alive and breathing but I did not feel as though I was living a real life. I did not feel as though I was living a life that had any kind of meaning or that was fulfilling in any way. I felt as though I was a walking zombie living a shell of a life. I would not speak to my friends because I was so ashamed of what my life had become. I wanted to share my life with as few people as possible. Eventually, with the help of ECT, things began to improve for me. I certainly was not happy or fulfilled but I was beginning to take some interest in life and do some things with my time besides sit around the house all day. I had started reading books for pleasure again and taking college classes again. Now with an actual death in my life, it felt as though things were completely falling apart again.

Before the funeral started the rabbi gathered a group of people together to work out the logistics of the funeral procession, such as who would carry the coffin. The rabbi concluded the meeting by saying “This is such a tragedy.”

As I waited for the funeral to begin, I glanced around at the other people in attendance. I saw Brandon’s mother. I thought of the death of a child as being the worst tragedy anyone could possibly experience. I wondered how his mother was coping. I wondered how much she had seen and talked to Brandon in the year before his death. I wondered about her grief, guilt, shock and anger. I noticed relatives of Brandon’s that I had not seen in a while and friends of his that I had not seen in a while but who were once regular fixtures at our house.

One of the friends that was there was the friend who was with Brandon the night he died. When asked about what happened, he said he was not aware that Brandon had died. By the time Brandon was found dead, the money and drugs were gone from his room. Some people suspect that Brandon’s friend took the money and drugs. Some people suspect that Brandon’s friend knew more about Brandon’s death than he let on. About a year later Brandon’s friend died too. Some say it was a drug overdose. Others say it was suicide. We will never know what exactly happened but it really doesn’t matter.

Regardless of what may or may not have happened on the days these young men died,both of their deaths are tragedies. Assigning blame will not bring either of them back. Judging them for what they may or may not have done will not achieve anything  positive either. A drug addled brain will cause people to behave in bizarre, erratic ways. Their actions are fueled by an addiction that makes them increasingly desperate, an addiction that they feel compelled to go to greater and greater lengths to satisfy. Their actions are not a reflection of who they are as a person, they are a reflection of an illness they have been overcome by, an illness that has taken over their lives and may very well result in their deaths.

I do not personally know what it’s like to struggle with drug addiction but I do know what it’s like to struggle with mental illness. I would hate for people to judge me for the things I did when I was in the throes of mental illness, the things I did when I reached my lowest points. I do not consider those actions to be the actions of the person who is the real me. I consider them to be the actions of someone who was experiencing an illness that  overwhelmed her, an illness that had become greater than her, that had managed to control and suppress the person she really was. I believe the same thing about my stepbrother and his friends, the same thing about many other people who struggle with drug addiction. I saw the person Brandon really was. The person he was when he was on drugs was not that person.

Shortly before the funeral began my teachers walked up to me. They said it was great to see me but they wished they were seeing me under better circumstances. If I’d seen them a few years earlier I would have hugged them long and hard. I would have talked to them and laughed with them. Now I barely even acknowledged them. I made promises to visit them that I did not plan on fulfilling any time soon and turned away. It wasn’t until several years later that I realized these people had not come to the funeral because of Brandon. They had come to the funeral because of me. Most of the other people at the funeral knew Brandon better than they knew me but even so, funerals really are for the living.

There may have been more than two speakers at the funeral but the only ones I remember are Brandon’s cousin and his mom. I don’t remember much of what they said. I remember his cousin repeating a wisecrack that Brandon had made to her. It was exactly the kind of thing Brandon would say. It was the kind of comment he’d made to me and that I’d heard him make to other people many times. I remember his mom mentioning the term of endearment she had for her son. I remember my stepfather being asked if he would like to speak and him saying no, it would be too difficult. As Brandon’s coffin was lowered in to the ground, I remember my father hugging my stepfather.

I had to miss my first college class of the semester because of the funeral. When my professor asked why I hadn’t been there, I told her I’d had a death in the family. She then asked me if I could bring proof of the death to the next class, an obituary or a copy of the funeral program. I know that it is customary to ask students or employees to provide proof that they have experienced a loss. Yet I couldn’t help but imagine my professor having it in her head that I’d lost a grandparent. I imagined her reading over the obituary I handed her and realizing I had in fact lost a stepbrother who was only 23 years old. I imagined her deciding to excuse my absence, deciding that obituary was sufficient proof for her to make a little red mark in her grade book. I imagined her wondering what had caused my stepbrother’s death. The whole thing felt invasive and wrong. I switched in to a different class.

Brandon’s death was the first time I had experienced the death of someone I knew well. Several years ago my grandmother had died but she lived in Romania and I could count the number of times I’d seen her in my life on one hand. I think I was around 17 years old when she died. I was also 17 years old the other time I experienced the death of a person who was in any way connected with my life. My stepfather walked in to my room, handed me a newspaper and said “I have some bad news for you.” I glanced at the headline. It talked about a girl who had been killed in a car accident. A picture of the girl accompanied the article and the face that was staring back at me was a familiar one. I gasped. “Oh my god, I know that girl!”

I didn’t really know that girl though. I knew of her. I’d never had classes with her and I’d never spoken to her but she was popular and well liked at my school. She seemed like someone who was intelligent and kind. When I’d pass her in the hallway she’d smile at me. When the senior superlatives were awarded she was posthumously awarded the title of renaissance person. The boy who got the title had a  yearbook picture taken specifically to show that he had won that superlative. Since this girl had died before the superlatives were handed out, they had to use her senior portrait. The caption read “Is there anything they can’t do?” I thought to myself “Yeah, unfortunately she can’t survive a car accident.”

In my blog about losing a pet, I wrote about magical thinking. I wrote about the magical thinking that tragedies happen to other people and that if you worry about tragedies happening to you, it will prevent them from actually happening. I wrote as if the deaths of my pets showed me the error of my ways and I never engaged in that kind of thinking again but that’s not true. Even though I logically knew that kind of thinking was very flawed, the emotional part of me still engaged in it. I imagine that’s the case for a lot of people.

Yes, I knew tragedies happened in the world.  I knew that sometimes people died before their time.  Sometimes people in my school that I knew of tangentially  died in tragic accidents and I felt kind of sad when I saw their pictures in the yearbook but that would be the extent of it. In my lifetime I would probably experience the deaths of all my grandparents and one day I would experience the deaths of my parents. Those deaths would be devastating but they would not be unexpected.

Brandon’s death was largely unexpected but in a way it was not unexpected. A few weeks before his death my mother was telling me that she was worried that he would die of a drug overdose. When he did end up dying of a drug overdose, I had this sense that the world had treated us very unfairly. It had decided to bring tragedy to us when we were the kind of people who worried about tragedy.

If tragedy had to happen, it should happen to those fools who thought tragedy could not happen to them. Okay, in a way I was that fool who thought tragedy couldn’t happen to me but I also worried about tragedy happening to me so…magical thinking can be rather bizarre and contradictory. Still, worrying about tragedy should have insulated me from tragedy, stopped tragedy from striking me. We all know it doesn’t work like that though. It doesn’t work like that with our pets and it doesn’t work like that with our human loved ones either.

My mother and I both saw psychologists as we struggled to come to terms with Brandon’s death. I don’t remember exactly what my psychologist said to me but I remember her saying things that were compassionate and wise. The first psychologist my mother saw felt that Brandon’s death was more than she was equipped to deal with so she sent her to another psychologist. My mother spent the first session with that other psychologist talking about all the grief, guilt and anger she felt over Brandon’s death. When she mentioned Brandon in the second session the following week, that psychologist said “What’s going on with Brandon again?” She would have been better off sticking with the first psychologist.

Shortly after Brandon’s death, itchy, painful red rashes appeared on my back and torso. I was diagnosed with shingles, a viral infection people are susceptible to during times of stress. Shortly after I recovered from shingles, I was diagnosed with pneumonia.  I was surprised by how deeply affected I was by Brandon’s death and in a way I felt guilty. Brandon was someone I had known for several years, someone I had lived with and someone whose company I had enjoyed but he was not someone I had ever been close with.  Brandon was not my child, my best friend or my biological brother. I had this sense that I was grieving too deeply for a loss that wasn’t truly mine, appropriating someone else’s loss.

Grief is a very difficult and painful emotion to deal with but humans in all their stupidity find ways to make it even more painful and difficult for themselves. I was doing that to myself with my silly thought patterns. No one ever needs to feel guilty about feeling too much grief.

As the years passed on, we all continued to struggle with Brandon’s death in our own way. We miss him and we are constantly reminded of him. We walk by his bedroom, the room in which he died, every day. The “Please knock before entering” sign is still on the door and his things are still in the room. We rarely enter his bedroom because it is such a powerful and painful reminder of the person he was, the person we lost.

We try to honor his memory. Our town soccer association refused to set up a scholarship in his name because of the manner in which he died. Our state soccer association either does not know or does not care about the manner in which he died and they have set up a scholarship in his honor.

On the state soccer association website the opening paragraph of the description of the scholarship  reads”Brandon played soccer from the age of five until he graduated from High School.  He began by participating in the Rec Program in at age 5 and continued playing on travel and school teams.  His love of soccer grew along with his ability to perform on the field.  The camaraderie and teamwork that are reflected in this wonderful sport were his inspiration.  In 2010 Brandon tragically passed away at the age of 23. His devotion to his friends, effervescence, and intensity on the playing field were earmarks of his personality.”

We struggle with the would haves, could haves and should haves surrounding Brandon’s death. We think about how Brandon’s life might have turned out and how his death might have been prevented if we had behaved differently and made different choices. We think about what he would be doing today if he was still alive.

Dwelling on the past can emotionally destroy you or it can help you by preventing you from making the same mistakes in the future. The sad and painful truth about death is that it’s not a mistake that can be fixed. Even if from that day forward you change your ways and strive to be the best person you can possibly be, your loved one is never coming back. They are gone forever.

When torturing ourselves over what we could have done differently becomes too much for us, we focus on what other people other could have done differently and on what god, fate or whatever force is out there could have done differently. In May 2013, about three years after Brandon died, Governor Chris Christie signed The Good Samaritan Law also known as The Overdose Prevention Act. It states that anyone who calls 911 seeking assistance for themselves or someone else experiencing a drug overdose will be immune from facing charges or convictions regarding their involvement with illegal drugs. As, I said before, we will never know exactly what happened between Brandon and his friend on the night of Brandon’s death but we can’t help but wonder if perhaps Brandon’s would still be alive today if that law had been in effect then and his friend had been aware of it.

Since Brandon’s death, the opioid crisis has continued to grow. Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of accidental death in the U.S. In an effort to address the crisis, efforts are being made to treat drug addiction as an illness that needs to be treated rather than a crime that needs to be punished, to distribute narcan, an opiate antidote to first responders, communities are making an effort to provide drop off boxes where unwanted prescription drugs can be disposed of, no questions asked. Although these actions cannot help Brandon at this point, we are glad they will be helping other people.

September 5, 2016 was the six year anniversary of Brandon’s death. The night before the anniversary of his death, my mom and I went to Taco Bell. We said that the reason we were going was because of the “Taco trucks on every corner” comment that had recently been made by the Trump camp. When we remembered that Taco Bell was Brandon’s last meal it seemed even more appropriate. A friend asked me if going to Taco Bell shortly before Brandon’s death made things worse. I replied that no, it felt like a way of honoring him. In previous years we had commemorated the anniversary of his death by ordering from Chicken Holiday, one of his favorite restaurants.

The next day as we drove to the cemetery Song for Zula played on the radio. The lyrics go like this:

Some say love is a burning thing
That it makes a fiery ring
Oh but I know love as a fading thing
Just as fickle as a feather in a stream
See, honey, I saw love,
You see it came to me
It puts its face up to my face so I could see
Yeah then I saw love disfigure me
Into something I am not recognizing

See the cage, it called. I said, come on in
I will not open myself up this way again
Nor lay my face to the soil, nor my teeth to the sand
I will not lay like this for days now upon end
You will not see me fall, nor see me struggle to stand
To be acknowledged by some touch from his gnarled hands
You see the cage it called. I said, come on in
I will not open myself this way again.

You see the moon is bright in that treetop night
I see the shadows that we cast in the cold clean light
I might fear I go and my heart is white
And we race right out on the desert plains all night
So honey I am now, some broken thing
I do not lay in the dark waiting for day here
Now my heart is gold, my feet are right
And I’m racing out on the desert plains all night

So some say love is a burning thing
That it makes a fiery ring
All that I know love as a caging thing
Just a killer come to call from some awful dream
And all you folks, you come to see
You just to stand there in the glass looking at me
But my heart is wild, and my bones are steel
And I could kill you with my bare hands if I was free

 

Both of us got teary eyed because the song seemed appropriate for the situation. The next song that came on to the radio went like this:

The tires are the things on your car
That make contact with the road
The car is the thing on the road
That takes you back to your abode

The tires are the things on your car
That make contact with the road
Bummed is what you are
When you go out to your car and it’s been towed

I woke up one morning in November
And I realized I love you
It’s not your headlights in front
Your tailpipe, or the skylight above you
It’s the way you cling to the road
When the wind tries to shove you
I’d never go riding away
And come back home without you

 

I turned to my mother and said “What the hell is this?’  She said “I don’t know but it’s a pretty ridiculous song. It sure is a contrast to the last song we heard, which seemed so meaningful and appropriate.” But then we realized that this song was also appropriate. This song was so like Brandon. It was so typical of him to interrupt a serious moment with his ridiculous and yet bizarrely appealing sense of humor.

As my mom and I gathered at Brandon’s grave along with my stepfather and some friends of Brandon, some of the people gathered around the grave shared memories they had of Brandon On previous gatherings that were held in Brandon’s honor I had not shared memories of him but this year I decided I would.

I talked about how when I first met him he had a watch that turned TVs on and off. He would use his watch to turn TVs on and off in his middle school classes. Some teachers were annoyed by it but others found it funny. (Speaking of teachers, I recently read the online guestbook for Brandon’s obituary and I lost it when I got to this post from his 5th grade teacher: “I am so, so sad to hear about Brandon. I can still see his sweet face and those beautiful blue eyes as he sat in my 5th grade classroom. Although I have trouble remembering the names & faces of many of my former students, I never forgot Brandon & often wondered about him. He had such a gentle soul. I regret that our paths had not crossed in recent years.”)

I talked about the family vacation we took to Puerto Rico. Me, Brandon, my brother Michael and I all shared a room. Brandon and Michael each got their own bed while I slept on the floor on a cot. During that vacation I was being cranky and irritable so Brandon decided to start referring to me as the B.O.C.-bitch on cot. I talked about how Brandon’s quirky sense of humor had rubbed off on me. One day while he was playing a video game I remarked “That’s a crappy video game” and he replied “You’re a crappy video game!” I thought it was hilarious and to this day I’m known to reply to a request to clean the table with “You’re a table!” I thought of another funny comment Brandon had made but I decided that considering the audience it would be best not to share that memory.

I have other memories of Brandon that stick out in my mind that I did not share at his grave. I will share those memories now. When I was in college I struggled in some ways with social interaction. When I was around people I felt like I didn’t know what to say to them.  I felt like I was bad at small talk with both casual acquaintances and friends, like I didn’t know how to make people want to be around me or make them feel like I wanted to be around them. My mother mentioned my struggles to Brandon and he volunteered to help me. He said that he could hang out with me and show me how to make small talk with people and how to interact with them in a positive manner.

Brandon was the kind of person who made friends easily. He had a certain charm to him, a certain open and friendly personality that drew others to him like a magnet. I never did end up getting formal social skills lessons from Brandon but if I had he probably would have done a better job than some of the people who were trained and paid to teach those skills to me. I’d like to think that I learned social skills from Brandon just by having him in my family.

Another memory I have of Brandon that sticks out in my head involves an event that occurred shortly before he died. It is a memory that is both upsetting and poignant.  One night as I’m lying in my bed I hear yelling in the hallway. Brandon is very angry about something. He is in my mother’s face screaming a torrent of harsh words at her. My stepfather is trying to get between the two of them and mediate the conflict but that only seems to be making Brandon angrier. My mother is very disturbed by his anger and is reacting defensively. She comes in to my room and grabs me by the arm. She says “We have to get out of here. We have to go to your father’s house. There’s something wrong with Brandon. He’s high on drugs and out of his mind. He’s getting really angry and I’m afraid he’s going to get violent.”

My mom tries to pull me out of the room but I will not go with her. I say “We’ll be okay. Brandon’s just angry now. He isn’t going to hurt us.” I believe what I’m saying. Brandon has become very verbally aggressive and he does appear to be high on drugs but beneath his drug fueled rage I can still see the person he really is and the person I’ve always known him to be, a person who would never do anything to hurt me. Brandon storms in to his room and slams the door. My mothers tells my stepfather that Brandon is not himself anymore, that he’s becoming increasingly aggressive and she’s feeling increasingly unsafe in the house. A few minutes later there’s a knock on my bedroom door. I expect it to be my mom but it’s Brandon. He still appears to be high on drugs but his anger seems to have dissipated. He says ” I lost my temper and caused a scene that upset you. I apologize.”

I said before that the songs my mother and I heard on the radio as we were driving to Brandon’s grave seemed appropriate for the occasion and reminded us of Brandon in some way but if I’m being honest we might have found a way of associating any song that came on the radio during that time with Brandon. However, there is another song that we associated with Brandon long before he died and that became especially poignant to us after his death. That song is Everlong by The Foo Fighters. It goes like this:

Hello
I’ve waited here for you
Everlong
Tonight
I throw myself into
And out of the red
Out of her head she sang

Come down
And waste away with me
Down with me
Slow how
You wanted it to be
I’m over my head
Out of her head she sang

And I wonder
When I sing along with you
If everything could ever feel this real forever
If anything could ever be this good again
The only thing I’ll ever ask of you
You gotta promise not to stop when I say when she sang

Breathe out
So I can breathe you in
Hold you in
And now
I know you’ve always been
Out of your head
Out of my head I sang

And I wonder
When I sing along with you
If everything could ever feel this real forever
If anything could ever be this good again
The only thing I’ll ever ask of you
You gotta promise not to stop when I say when she sang

[Whisper:]
“So Dad would take the Sundays off,
And that’s the only time he could ever get any rest,
And so, because we were loud on Sundays,
He’d make us hold his construction Boots over our head, till we’d sleep
And they were really heavy Boots and I’d used to say dad come on please
And like start crying, cause they’re too heavy.”

And I wonder
If everything could ever feel this real forever
If anything could ever be this good again
The only thing I’ll ever ask of you
You’ve got to promise not to stop when I say when

Brandon loved that song and he played it all the time. These days when I hear that song I experience a tightening feeling in my chest and a shiver runs down my spine. As someone with a strong interest in reading, writing and psychology, I have a tendency to want to find the meaning and symbolism in everything. I wanted to find out the meaning behind that song and I wanted to figure out why it meant so much to Brandon. I wanted to find the ways in which that song symbolized his life and his death.

I looked up information about that song. Some people say it’s about love, others say it’s about drugs. Some people don’t know what to make of it and feel it’s best left open to interpretation. I could form my own interpretation of the ways in which that song applied to Brandon’s life and death, I could try to explain why Brandon was so drawn to that song but I now realize that it’s not really my place to do that.

Brandon is not a fictional character. If his life and death can be thought of as a story, I am not the author of that story. I cannot go back in to the past and turn all the facts of his life and death in to clues and symbols. I cannot neatly tie all those clues and symbols together to form a coherent picture of the tragedy that happened.  I cannot give a reason for why it happened. I do not know why Brandon was drawn to that song, why he was drawn to drugs or why his life turned out the way that it did. Any speculation as to his feelings and motivations would be just that-speculation.

Allow me to say a few things about that song, Brandon’s life and life in general though. According to Songfacts.com Dave Grohl wrote that song during one of the lowest points in his life. That song is said to evoke a feeling so strong that you want it to last forever, even though you know nothing lasts forever. I know that Brandon had some very low points in his life. I know that he must have experienced some intense feelings in his life that he wanted to last forever but that would not last forever.

We all know that life itself doesn’t last forever, no matter how much we want it to. Life really is short, even when you live for 100 years. Even if you expect to live 100 years, your time on earth seems rather limited. Even when you expect your loved ones to live 100 years, your time with them doesn’t seem long enough. A death at any age can be a painful and sobering reminder of our vulnerability and mortality but when that death occurs at age 23, the reminder is especially painful and sobering.

My brother, who recently did a rotation in Psychiatry for medical school told me that there is always an underlying psychological reason behind addiction, a need and desire that the person is seeking to fulfill. I do not know exactly what need or desire Brandon was seeking to fulfill through drug use but I know that it must have evoked some strong feelings in him, feelings that he wished he could hold on to forever. I know that he could not hold on to those feelings forever and I know that his drug use must have also evoked some horrible feelings in him, feelings that he wanted to end as soon as possible.

My brother also told me that at the time of Brandon’s death he was trying to cut back on his drug use. Making the decision to cut back on drug use is a positive step but unfortunately it can also be a dangerous one if it is not done in a controlled setting. As your drug use decreases so does your tolerance for drugs, making you more susceptible to drug overdoses when you do use drugs. Last night I was talking to a friend of mine who struggled with and overcame addiction.  I told him that I was glad he had overcome his addiction and that I wished my stepbrother had done the same.

My friend told me that if people can realize that they don’t need drugs anymore, the outlook is good. I’d like to think that Brandon had reached a point where he was beginning to realize he did not need drugs. The problem is that sometimes when your mind realizes you don’t need drugs, your body has other ideas because you’re physically addicted.

I had some hesitations about writing this blog post. Drug addiction is a sensitive, complicated and controversial issue. I know that no matter how lovingly, sympathetically and compassionately I’ve portrayed Brandon, there are people who will judge him for being a drug addict and a drug dealer. He will be seen as someone who destroyed his life and the lives of others through his horrible decisions. The people who feel the need both to judge and to find meaning in everything, will decide that the meaning of Brandon’s life and death was to serve as as warning to others.

That is not a viewpoint I agree with but it is a viewpoint I can understand. No one can deny that Brandon’s and other drug addicts have caused a lot of pain and suffering to themselves and other people. No one can absolve drug addicts of all responsibility for their actions. Drug addiction, mental illness or any other kind of illness can explain behavior but it does not excuse it.

I won’t pretend that I never felt angry at Brandon, never had any negative thoughts about him or never judged him in any way because I certainly did, both when he was living and after he died. Even today I’m no saint when it comes to compassion and forgiveness for drug addicts and Brandon is certainly no saint in my mind. There was one comment of his in particular that filled me with disgust, disdain and revulsion for years. Every time I thought about him saying that he was proud of all the money he made selling drugs, I cringed. What kind of low life scumbag is proud of the money they make off of destroying peoples’ lives?

Maybe he really was proud of selling drugs but maybe he was just saying that and deep down he was ashamed of it. Maybe it was a defense mechanism. When drugs have so taken over your life that they take up the vast majority of your time and have seriously impaired your ability to succeed at and enjoy other activities such as work, school and hobbies, what else are you going to say you’re proud of?

I read somewhere that the key to having compassion is to realize that no one says to themselves “How can I make myself as miserable as possible?” There are issues and obstacles that they have trouble overcoming and that get in the way of happiness and fulfillment. I would like to think that no one says to themselves “How can I make others as miserable as possible?” either. A friend of mine recently said that people tend to love and take care of others to the extent that they are able to. Drug addiction impaired the extent to which Brandon was able to be loving and caring to others but to the extent that he was able he was loving and caring to others before his drug addiction and during it.

Whatever I may think of drug addicts, drug dealers or anyone who makes questionable decisions and causes great suffering, I will not reduce anyone’s life or death to a warning to be served to others. If existence or the ceasing of existence even has any purpose or meaning, I don’t think anyone exists or ceases to exist in order to serve as someone else’s lesson, whether that be a lesson in what to do or what not to do. That’s not to say that you can’t learn lessons from the lives of others because you certainly can. There is good to be found in everyone and everything. Brandon did many things wrong in his life but he also did many things right.

Brandon is not around to read what I’ve written about him and he is not around to raise any objections to it. I have told a story that it is his and that I wish he was able to tell himself but as our lives were interconnected in ways, I have also told a story that is mine.

Brandon’s life on earth is over but his effect on other peoples’ lives is not. As long as people who remember him still exist, as long as people continue to hear about him, to be directly or indirectly touched by his life and death in some way, he lives on. Much of the effect he continues to have on the lives of others will be painful, harmful,and  negative but some of it will be helpful, positive and meaningful.

Writing this blog has been painful, harmful and negative for me but it has also been helpful, positive and meaningful. This blog may cause pain, harm and negative emotions to others but hopefully it will also achieve something helpful, positive and meaningful. In life as well as in death we are bound to cause much of the former and much of the latter but in the end we can only hope that we achieved more of the latter. I’m sure that’s what Brandon would have hoped for.

 

 

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