I’ve held off on writing my last words or making a speech in front of everyone about my brother, because I still cannot believe this is real. But it has finally hit me just how real this all is. That I will never laugh with him or see him again. But I’ve felt the need to share these words. How do you go on to write about the greatest person you have ever known, and get it right? As he would say, “Here comes the Novel!”
I think it’s fair to say Jeff was one of the most unique human beings we have ever had the chance to know. His sense of humor, loyalty, huge heart, protectiveness, patience, and craziness is what attracted so many people to his life. He was probably the only one calm enough to deal with half of his family and friends. As he would say,
“This is my family?”
“These are my friends?”
He was always the voice of reason, diffusing any situation with love and laughter. For those that know the real Jeff, you know he was one of the most selfless individuals. He would drop anything to be there for someone he cared about, no matter if the circumstances were in his favor or not. He always told me I did too much for those who didn’t appreciate me, but to never lose that about myself because that is what made me special - to always know my worth. He was someone who always had the right intentions and knew what he wanted in life and who he wanted to be. He was naturally smart and socially inept, always the biggest heart, a dreamer with a deep crazy soul and an undeniable love for music. I have always admired the person he was.
The energy he had was one of a kind. He was someone who was always ready to go, whether it was a random road trip, concert or cooking a random feast with me for no reason but we loved food. At one point he made #WineTastingWednesday an official day of the week for us. I would walk into a table set with plates of tomato, mozzarella and balsamic glaze and his favorite cheeses. He would be sitting at the table waiting for everyone, dressed in his button down and tie just to make us laugh and want to join. He also may be the only one who would say yes to me kicking open his door at 11:30 am with my robe on in a blizzard and tell him we are going to Taco Bell for a feast. Then have to shovel my car out of a snowbank because we should have never left the house.
Some people thought it was weird how Jeff and I were so close, but I never took a moment for granted because I feared this day might come. I cannot sit here and say the past 10 years were easy. There is so much heartache in a family that deals with someone battling addiction. You blame them. They blame you. You blame each other. Not one solution works the same for any individual struggling with addiction or family who is affected by it. There is so much said and done that will scar you for life. Many relationships have suffered. People choose what kind of family they want to be around. The people that sit around and rant about whether it’s a disease or not clearly haven’t experienced it firsthand. Nobody wants this life. It happens to the best of us; so many with a college education, a great job and a family who cares deeply about them. Addiction does NOT discriminate. To witness that struggle, you always think it’s just one more time, one more shot, one more drink, one more pill, one more night. You think it cannot happen to you. But it could be that one last decision that sets you over the edge. Before you know it, it’s been years.
To see Jeff at his worst, and to know the end was far from his worst. THAT is what is heartbreaking. To see someone who had everything going for them and more to live for than most of us go down this road, is the WORST pain. To see them on the street going through the trash, or eating ketchup packets on New Year’s eve while the rest of us are drinking champagne celebrating with the ones we love. THAT is pain. To see him sleeping in shelters or on the street because no detox has space for him and he isn’t allowed home, THAT is pain. To know that you are one of the last people that has not stopped believing in him, is PAIN. Those few people who were there for him know THAT pain. To have your own life in shambles to protect his, THAT is pain. To have people walk out of your life because they don’t want to be around it or a family like this, THAT is pain. To see him get sober when Alycia, the love of his life, passed in a car accident because he wanted to attend her funeral was truly a blessing. When Jeff’s close friends and family took him back into their lives and showed him what it was to live again, something changed in his mind. Something changed when he realized he had something to live for. THIS is what helps people. THIS is what gives them hope. It is NOT the answer, but it does give them hope. For some that is all they need.
To see that person come back and be himself again was one of the happiest times of my life. I am blessed to have met the people in Jeff’s life over the years and will forever cherish them, as they have become my best friends now too. Our friends became friends. These are some of my best memories. I never thought I would see the day of planning his 30th birthday, and know it was one of his best memories these past few years.
But depression is a scary thing. It was hard to convince Jeff how loved he was, that people do mess up, and this is a long road; that we have faith in him. But despite it all, he never lost that soul of his. There were few times Jeff would let people ever see his sorrow. His sadness.
Even visiting him in the hospital after a recent overdose, Jeff gave me that smart ass grin of his as I walked in; we just laughed, and I said, “What the heck are we doing here?!?! This isn’t you. You are past this!” We joked and made light of where we were, that this was just an accident, and there were people far worse off; but I was very worried. I knew Jeff was very depressed. Many people think that narcan is a miracle drug, but people don’t realize after you receive this, you are more susceptible to another overdose, and what if you are alone? Jeff said he was depressed and made a mistake. I expressed how upset I was, and we needed to make a plan. That we are not going down this road. I thought THIS was one of the worst days of my life. You never think it’s going to happen to you. And depression is not fixed in a day. There is no way I could have prepared myself for what was about to happen the following week. To be woken up with those words. To know I missed that last phone call.
If there is one thing I have ever tried to tell people after dealing with this for over 10 years, is to not say hurtful things out of anger. To never leave angry. You never know what your last words will be and how they will affect someone. You never know what that person is going through until you are in their shoes. And now it has never held more true. Jeff believed the same and always said wasting time being mad or hurtful and having that much pride is a horrible thing. Living a life of regret and guilt over your own words is NEVER worth it. Jeff always said if it was any other health issue he would be treated with respect. You just never know if you are that last person of the day to push someone over the edge. We need to have more compassion. Those struggling with addiction are people just like you and I, and this should never be forgotten. You can still love someone without enabling them. Don’t even think for a second that they choose this life. My brother did not chose this life.
Jeff was — and is — one of the greatest people you will ever meet in your life. As I am one of those who spent their day to day life with Jeff, this was a horrific loss. To walk in the house knowing he won’t be coming in shortly after me. To not have the one person I know was just always there for me and truly cared about me–I’m not sure you could ever describe this kind of pain. I have always said no one lived life more than Jeff. 31 years of his life is more than most people will ever live, but as the words come out of my mouth I am in tears because he was that young and is gone. My only regret in life is that my future family and kids will never meet Jeff, but I will always teach them to live a life as full and loving as Jeff did. I’m pretty sure there is no one on this earth like me and Jeff, and maybe it’s better there’s just one of us now. You always said 2 lanes never made a right. Until we meet again.