How Death Can Inspire a Life

January 3, 2019


It will be 6 years tomorrow.

Six years since my big brother died suddenly.


Death is a bitch.

There’s no negotiating, no promising something, no potential left.


It’s just over.

The clock stops.

Time runs out.


In my deep grief moments, an acquaintance, in her trying-to-be-helpful voice said, “Well, his life and death has to mean something. What do you think it means?”


And I wanted to punch her in the face.


You see, my brother was born a bright, brilliant, bouncing baby boy, first-born, a shock of white hair crowning the bluest eyes that sparkled and crinkled in the corners when he laughed. He was the baby who won photo contests, the pitcher on his little league team, the quarterback on the high school football team.


He was a poet, guitar player, he cut branches of apple blossoms for mom. He went to Michigan State, worked for IBM, and bought the greatest Christmas gifts.


Until the voices started.

Until the hallucinations started.

Until the madness started.


And then his life made absolutely NO SENSE AT ALL.

And neither did any of ours.


So when someone asks, “What do you think his life meant?” all I could think of is, IT WAS BULLSHIT.


It was a dangling of the most beautiful human, full-of-potential, before all our eyes…


…and then it was yanked away and torn to shreds and scattered over weeks and months and years and well into the next generation, with all the guilt, blame, fear, misunderstanding, outrage, and incredible, immense sorrow.  


And my whole family was ruined. Every. Last. One. Of. Us.

That illness, schizophrenia, killed us, but it was never over. It just kept on killing us.


And then we found ways to kill ourselves.


Over and over, we each did it, by alcohol, by drugs, by horrible relationships, by never dealing with things, by food, by denial, we killed ourselves over weeks, and months, and years, and now into the next generation.


So that question, “What do you think his life and death mean?” has really been a tower in the landscape of my life in the last six years.


Because she was right, that woman I wanted to punch in the face. His life has to mean something.


I had a God moment in the midst of my deepest grief. I was sick with a terrible head cold and really didn’t care if I lived or died that day. My head was throbbing, my throat was swollen beyond swallowing, and my eyes looked like two pee holes in the snow from all the crying. Someone suggested I go to the gym and sit in the sauna.


And God came in.


I’ll be the first to admit that God was not on my list of reliable resources. I had spent a fair amount of time screaming at him, punching a pillow with his name on it, and shaking my head whenever anyone said something like, “God has a plan.” By my life experiences, God’s plan was just to f*#% with people.


But as I sat on the wooden bench, sweat pouring, sinuses beginning to release, something came into that room, and I stood up. I looked up with eyes closed, for there was nothing to see, and a voice or maybe it was more a knowing, came over me, and it said clear as any words or understanding I have ever had…




That is it.

That is all I heard, or knew, or understood.




But Live HOW? Wasn’t I already living? Didn’t I grow up, get married, have kids, go to college, have a career? I was living…


…sort of.


While I had done all the things, I hadn’t done all the things ACCORDING TO MY SOUL. I did things based on what others thought I should do. I did things based on the fact that I was a mom to three kids. I did things because my husband had a greater earning potential. I did things because I was supposed to, or I ought to, or I should.


It was not a plea. It was not an invitation. It was a COMMAND.




I’ve made the last six years about discovering how to live WHOLEHEARTEDLY, according to my soul, in a way that I am proud of and can answer for someday, but also in a way that allows me to leave a LEGACY.


I don’t want to die someday and have someone ask, “But what did her life and death mean?”


I want to LIVE with all the meaning of life, my life, my big, messy, inconvenient, laugh-out-loud life that will leave NO QUESTION BEHIND of who I was and what I stood for.


As tomorrow marks the death of my biggest brother, whose life and unfair affliction poisoned all of us in ways we’ll never know, I am going to LIVE, and I invite you to do it too.


This is my WHY.


There is no more worry about what other people think. There is no more trying to be something I’m not. There is no more apologizing for wanting more.


I will wake before dawn because it works for me.

I will read what I like and not what I don’t.

I will exercise my mind as hard as I can stand.

I will run, and jump, and swing, and throw, and fling, and shake, and shimmy, and sway, and shout, and run some more, and climb, and slide, and race you to the other side.

I will eat for fuel.

I will love the animals and the woods and the water and the earth.

I will gather people around who love others and I will let those who don’t find their own way.

I will help others to fulfill their own WHOLEHEARTEDNESS and that will be my job.


Tomorrow, I will undoubtedly cry, but I’ll be able to answer the question, “What did his life and death mean?”


It meant, “LIVE, Julie. Be who you’ve always been. Hold nothing back.”