This weekend is the 4 year anniversary of my little brothers death.
He died suddenly – aged 24. It was truly shocking and devastating.
At the time I found writing about it cathartic. But as the intensity of the initial grief subsided so did my willingness to share the deep chest pulling hole that you feel when you think about the person you love who should be here but isn’t.
Especially if you have returned to the everydayness of every day living.
Every year around this time and around January (his birthday) it comes up again.
I look at how I have progressed. How have I changed? How do I keep him alive in my own way?
This year I have been dreaming about Ethan a lot. I am pretty sure it is more than previous years, several times a month I wake up with a glimpse of a moment we just had. Or I remember it later in the day or week when something happens that seems familiar. In my dreams I remember little things that I never paid much attention to when he was alive.
When I dream about him, I know that it is special. Even when I am asleep, I know to savor those moments.
His death has changed me. A discernible shift in the way I am. With the grief of losing someone you often hear that people realise that life is short.
It’s true. It happens. Life is short.
Armed with this new appreciation for the frailty of life, John and I booked our tickets, got rid of our possessions and went out to see the world.
One thing I have found through grief is a whole new understanding of compassion. Which perfectly suits the work we have been doing in impoverished places and with disadvantaged people.
Over the last 2.5 years we have met people and collected their stories. Stories from the 25 projects we have filmed and also hundreds of people who we just met along the way.
It’s this exquisite thing… we meet people and it just happens, they feel compelled to tell us their story and we feel compelled to listen. Even when we don’t speak the same language, the humanness of stories transcends language.
The Bolivian woman who was enslaved for 15 years, working morning until night, 7 days a week only being paid enough to buy rice.
Our Colombian friend who lived homeless and alone in the streets from the age of 10.
The family in Guatemala whose father injured himself at work, throwing the family into a severe poverty and hunger.
The ex-prostitute in Nicaragua who told us about the violence and abuse that she suffered at the hands of her clients.
The Afghani medical student who had to flee his home at 14. He travelled for months by himself to claim refugee status. He has never seen his family again.
The Irish chef whose baby was stillborn. The depression destroyed his relationship, and he ended up a drug addict on the streets on Dublin.
The Brazilian woman whose husband died soon after they married, she now is dedicated to teaching art to underprivileged children.
Each one of these stories is something special. To be treasured. I feel like they were given to us, and that we are privileged to have been given them. Many times there is a victory over the past. Many times there is not.
I still think about him several times a day, every day, and from time to time I feel really, really sad that Ethan is gone. But more often, I experience him in this huge capacity I now have for compassion for the people we meet.
For the struggles and triumphs they have and for my ability and willingness to do something about it sometimes, even if it is just to listen to their story, carry it in my heart and treasure it for what it is.