It’s been seven days since you’re gone. There are moments where I feel as if I accepted it, but most of the time it’s still hard to believe. For some reason the mornings are tough, and nights are tougher. I’ve been crying since I found out but I’m doing my best to be strong for mom. She’s hurting badly, but she’s one of the strongest people I know, so she’s been keeping it together.
The last time you and I spoke was February 1st. You told me that you were moving out of sober living and that you were excited to get your own place. I hated the idea of you leaving after only eight months, but I knew there was no stopping you. You were set on it and I told you that I was proud of you, and to keep climbing. This was the best I’ve seen you look in 20 years. I had some doubts and concerns, but I wanted to give you the chance to reinvent yourself in Florida. You loved it down there, everything about it. You loved your job, the weather, your coworkers and were oddly fascinated with palm trees and mangos. Almost every time we spoke you talked about those damn mangos.
I find myself trying to figure out what triggered you to relapse. You truly seemed so different this time. You seemed happy, for the first time in two decades! You were finally doing some of the work that we’ve been begging you to do for years, and things felt as if they were shifting for the better. But I understand that being clean for eight months is only a tiny piece of a 20 year addiction, and that it wasn’t over. It was going to take a lot more work. And that work couldn’t stop for an entire lifetime.
Mom, Gab, Gigi and I were so excited to come down and visit you for your birthday in January. I’m so pissed that Gab and I got sick two days before and had to cancel. We rescheduled the trip for Mom’s birthday in March and I have to be honest, Mike, it kills me that that trip isn’t going to happen now. I find myself wondering if this would have happened if we came down in January. I’m not blaming myself, but damn it’s frustrating. I wish I could have seen you in person one last time, and had the family experience that we’ve all been craving for decades.
I’ve been thinking back to when this all started. Cocaine was your drug of choice and it started to get out of hand around 2003. In the winter of 2004 you knew you needed to go to rehab but signed yourself out after a few short hours. That drove me crazy! But you were going to do what you wanted to. The ensuing years were dark for all of us. Dad refused to believe that his son was a drug addict, mom was devastated, and I hurt so deeply that I got angry. So fucking angry. This was so out of my control, but I did everything I could to try and control it. These were painful and frustrating years for me. I remember all our talks, walks, drives and fights. I remember you doing really dark shit to get money for what you needed. You stole from us, burned, lied and manipulated so many people to get what you needed. I was mad back then, so fucking mad. But I’m not mad anymore, Mike.
Things got worse throughout the years and your cocaine problem turned into a cocaine, pain killer and Xanax problem. This combination brought out a monster that I couldn’t even recognize. You could hardly speak. You could hardly walk. And I was sure that you weren’t going to make it through back then. It killed me…it killed all of us.
Things got so bad that mom had to move out in 2012. You were torturing her nearly every second of every day. She couldn’t see you like this anymore, so Dad and I encouraged her to leave. Once she moved out it broke dad even more. He had no idea how to handle all of this, so he held it in. After I moved out in February of 2013 Dad started to fall. When John and I took him to the hospital in October of that year he never walked again, and since he needed care he never came home and you had the house to yourself. Things then got to a new level of bad for you, and we all knew it.
Somewhere around 2014-2015 we were all relieved when you decided to go to rehab. After a short 30 day stay you refused to continue with treatment elsewhere and that drove me crazy. But you wouldn’t listen and were going to do what you wanted to. Family took you in, you relapsed hard after some time and hurt people. You devastated people. You caused unimaginable pain, anger, confusion and rage in our family. And rightfully so. The monster that you turned into when you were on that shit was an evil that no one expected to see. An evil that didn’t care or even know what kind of devastation it was causing. This was especially scary and confusing for those who never witnessed this monster before. It was something that took over you and no one could really comprehend it, especially because those of us who loved you so much knew the real you. And this evil was far from the real you. Just know that I know that.
Dad left the facility he was in although he needed full time care, and when you moved in with him I knew it would only make things worse for you. The subsequent years were dark for you both and it killed mom and I. We witnessed both of you getting worse in your own sicknesses and we couldn’t do anything to help. We tried so fucking hard but neither of you would let us. We had some relief when you chose to go to rehab. We were happy and somewhat hopeful that you’d stay clean. But even after a 6 month stay in rehab, you relapsed and after some time did another 6 months in treatment. But your sobriety didn’t last very long once you got out. These demons had their hooks in you, and although we saw how badly you wanted to break free, you couldn’t. But I know you were trying, you just didn’t know any other way to deal with the pain you were in.
When dad died in November of 2020 we were worried about you. We knew what that reality could have led to for you. We were right, and this was the worst we’ve ever seen you. Pain killers turned to heroin which made your concoction of drugs even more deadly. I even tried to have you arrested multiple times to try and get you help. Nothing worked. But in June of 2021 you decided to finally make a change when you hit rock bottom. You agreed to get on a plane and go to Florida for treatment. With the help of some great friends we were able to get you into treatment the next day. Mom and I were more hopeful than ever because this was a huge step for you. Over the next few months we finally got to see the Michael we knew. You were more sincere and vulnerable than I’ve ever seen you. You were even asked to be a guest speaker at meetings. I was proud of you, Mike.
We spoke a lot when you were away. We laughed and talked about the different choices and possibilities you now had in your new life. I’m going to cherish these conversations forever, because I know they were real. There was no more bullshit. I was finally talking to my big brother, even though your maturity level was that of a 19 year old. Man it felt good to talk to you. I can still hear your laugh and it will stay with me for my lifetime.
While writing you this letter I’m looking back on our life. The drugs consumed 20 years of time, but I could remember the decades before like they were yesterday. I always wanted to be with you and your friends and you’d always be annoyed. I wanted to be just like you, Mike. I looked up to you and loved my big brother. My memories of following you to Ed Webber Park, playing hockey with you and your friends in our back yard, family trips to Wildwood, watching Rangers games together and trips to Giants Stadium are incredibly vivid. When I got my license you had your car washed and lent it to me for the day. You were a good brother and I admired you. I keep wondering where things changed for you, how they changed and what was the real cause of the pain you were in. Did something happen along the way? Did the drugs cause your sadness? Were you just stuck? These are questions that we’ll never have the real answers to, but I guess that’s not what matters. Not now. Not anymore.
Yesterday mom and I went to pick out your urn and arrange your services. That reality hit me hard. I looked at mom and we fought the tears back. We couldn’t believe that we were actually doing this for you. It just doesn’t feel right. We went back to Aunt Pat’s to put together your picture boards for your service and this overwhelming feeling of sadness and emptiness came over me. I know it was hard for everyone else, too. This, unfortunately, is the cold hard reality that we all now face. I understand it, but it’s still hard to believe. A part of me is gone with you. It’s a feeling that I don’t quite understand yet. I just know that I’m going to miss you more than anyone could ever comprehend.
I’m sad, frustrated and somewhat confused. Even after nearly 20 years of anticipating that call it’s still a shock. If I’m being honest, I didn’t see this coming. I had no idea you relapsed. When mom called me crying I knew right away. It’s so strange because that whole day I had this weird feeling, almost expecting a terrible call from her. Her words that night can’t seem to stop replaying in my head. I hear them over and over again. It hurts, Mike. It hurts deeply.
As I struggle to look forward into the future and what life without you is going to look like, I find myself understanding that unfortunately, we are not the first family who has dealt with this nor will we be the last. I believe that we are all put here with a specific purpose, and maybe your purpose on this earth was to be the spark in our lives to ignite the fire to help others heal. Other families are hurting, and perhaps your life here was meant to create an understanding for those in need of healing their pain. I don’t know, maybe that’s a little woo-woo, but what I can promise you is that you did not die in vain. Your life meant more than what lies on the surface and you have my word that other lives will change for the better because you lived.
When I think of the meaning of life I believe that is part of the answer – for the lives of others to be better because you lived. And they will, Mike. They already have. It may seem odd to hear but my life is better because you were my brother. We suffered, yes. But through that suffering I developed a strength and understanding along with a fire to help others. That’s what started TTS and that is what will drive me to take the next leap. You will continue to be my driving force. You now also taught me about the fragility of life and what really matters while we’re here. Thank you for this gift, Mike.
So, big brother, this is our goodbye. It’s certainly premature and not the way anyone would have ever wanted or imagined. But here we are, you’re gone one month to the day after your 40th birthday. Our hearts are broken, but I know you’re with us in the sun, the wind, the rain and the air. You’re no longer in pain. There’s no more struggle or worry. You are free and I will always love you at the greatest depth of my soul. Just check in on mom and I from time to time, and let dad know that we’re thinking about him. I know you’re both smiling down on us. One day we will all be together again, but until then, I hope you can be at peace. I love you, Mike. Be free.