My brother broke his neck fifteen years ago today.
A big anniversary, I suppose. Though every day is a reminder that, in many respects, our lives shattered.
There have been days, regular, seemingly random days, when the pain from July 4th, 1998 becomes intolerable. When I feel like I’m drowning along with my brother. When I cannot produce anything but shallow breaths pumping through my body, the slightest tinges of air. When I feel like the pain coursing through me could collapse everything I’ve built from that day on.
I hate, have hated, and will likely always hate the 4th of July. Independence Day brings the reminder that my quadriplegic brother’s life is anything but free.
Jeff is alive.
Jeff is still with us. My family, forever changed, is still intact.
My brother is still here.
He exists with us in a way we never expected, and I have never fully appreciated. But he is alive and smart and kind.
I remind anyone that knows the story of July 4th that he is by far the better child—he is far more intelligent, introspective, and brave than I could ever be.
And he is here.
I was at an event a few weeks ago when I found out James Gandolfini died. While everyone immediately began reminiscing about his richly deserved, epically lauded magnificence in The Sopranos, I thought of something else.
I remembered his documentary “Alive Day Memories,” a simple, spare, searing film where he spoke to returning soldiers about how they created a new life after suffering catastrophic injuries in battle.
Perhaps, today can be less of a funereal experience, as it has for the last fourteen years. Perhaps today is the day I thank Jeff for being alive. My parents for their sacrifices. Their friends for grace.
Today is Jeff’s Alive Day.
Thank god for that.