I don’t remember you the way a little sister should. When I think of you, I think of sadness… of suffering. When I think of you, I feel regret, helplessness, anger, guilt, and one thousand other emotions that weigh heavily on my heart.
My last memory of you was bringing you cigarettes in rehab. That was the last time I got to see your face. I can still see you so clearly, sitting outside with me under the sun. I was young. Too young. I remember having to beg Mom to take me to visit. I begged because you asked me to. Looking back, I realize that you asked me because I was the only person who would say yes. At 14, I didn’t understand what addiction was. I didn’t understand the way it hurt the ones you love. I just wanted my big brother to be ok. I wanted everyone to stop being mad at you. I was so confused because we were family, and family isn’t supposed to give up on one another. I guess after your 3rd visit to rehab, Mom and Dad did give up…but I didn’t. Maybe that’s why it hurt so bad when you gave up on me.
You were sick. I wanted so badly for you to get better. A part of me believes that it wasn’t your fault, but a different part of me believes that it was. After being medically discharged from the Army, you were one of hundreds of thousands of people prescribed opioid pain medication. Hundreds of thousands of people took the same medicine as you, but you became a statistic, not them. You became one of the 5% that becomes addicted. You’d get clean for short periods of time, but ultimately you always went back to the pills. Once the pills led to harsher drugs, I didn’t even recognize you anymore.
Every time you went to rehab, you promised that it would be different. You promised that you would come home and “be there” for me. The best advice you ever gave me was not to follow in your footsteps. Over 20 years later and I still feel pain in my chest, as tears fill my eyes, as I type that sentence.
I believed you when you said that your last time in rehab was the last time. I suppose in a way it was. I dreamt of the day you were sober and healthy enough to come to my sports games. I imagined telling you all about high school and the advice you’d give me about boys, about life. But those days never came. Instead, you got home from rehab, for the last time, and killed yourself. You never even said goodbye.
I was left with nothing but questions. Questions that, no matter how much time passes, will never be answered. Most haunting, the question of “why”. Why did you leave me? Why wasn’t I important enough to you for you to stay? Why didn’t you, at the very least, tell me goodbye…that you loved me one last time?
Losing you changed the course of my life forever. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I looked for you in every relationship I ever had. I found sick, addicted men and tried to save them at the expense of saving myself. It wasn’t until I entered therapy as an adult that I began to understand just how deeply your loss stayed with me.
I wish I could say that I’ve learned to let go, that I’ve accepted what happened and moved on, but I don’t think that’s the truth. The truth is, I just fucking miss you. The truth is, I’m still so angry at how much it hurts. The truth is, I will carry your suicide with me for the rest of my life and so will your son.
But for all the things your death has taken from me, it has given me a few things too. Your death has given me the will to fight; The determination to keep going, no matter how tired I become. Because of you, I have dedicated my life to helping others, healthily. Because of you, others will live. I only wish that you were here to see it.
I love you. I miss you. And I hope that wherever death brought you, it also brought you peace.
Your little sister