I believe that death does not make a difference, a notion I forced upon myself as a way to maintain my sanity after finding my 23-year-old brother dead. Slowly, this belief began to strengthen until it was no longer a simple notion to comfort me in a time of need but a major principle by which I lived my life.
In his life, my brother did make a difference. Anthony lectured me if I left the water running while brushing my teeth. He entered public restrooms, wiped his hands with paper towels, rinsed them with water, then poured soap on them and left, just to make people laugh. He jokingly called this process “backwards hand-washing.” He befriended the most socially outcast people and made them feel accepted.
Anthony had a $14,000 stipend and free tuition waiting for him at graduate school, a handsome face and generous heart waiting for the right woman’s discovery, and most of all, family and friends waiting for the schizophrenia to leave so the man we knew and loved could return. Instead, schizophrenia took his life.
After Anthony’s death, I thought of my friends who had moved away and lost contact with me. Although I couldn’t see them, I knew they were affecting the world around them and so somehow affecting me as well. I had also lost contact, in the physical sense, with my brother. Anthony could no longer give me noogies with a sad smile on his face nor could I give him foot rubs to temporarily distract him from his inner pain, yet he was still present in my life.
During Anthony’s eulogy, I requested that people go running, eat ice cream, make a goofy phone-call, help an outcast, or solve a math problem in his memory. Family and friends faithfully began performing these tasks. I even received a miniature Christmas tree with running shoe and ice-cream cone ornaments. These small acts held much larger meaning: through these deeds, Anthony lived.
Every action I took became somehow connected to my brother. I began reciting a silent prayer: “My hands are your hands, your hands are my hands, and now I have the work of two.”
I still make sure not to waste water when brushing my teeth. I make sure not to hold grudges against people because I don’t know how their minds and hearts may be suffering. I still visit the residents of the fourth facility Anthony was moved to during his psychotic episodes, just as he had done twice a week after his release.
However, I refuse to visit my brother’s grave because I know my brother is not dead; he simply has moved away. He still affects the world once around him, and he makes me who I now am. So what difference does death make?
I believe that death does not make a difference – and that belief makes all the difference – for me in this world, and my brother in the next.
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