It was two years ago around this time at night that my brother Matthew, three years younger than me, succumbed to his disease of addiction.
It wasn’t the first time he had ever relapsed. It wasn’t even the first time in his life he had overdosed, but it would be the last time he would ever have to feel the shame of losing control to substance abuse. The signs were there from the beginning of his opioid addiction, yet there was not one of us for whom the news of his death was not earth-shattering.
When remembering my brother, I’m always tempted to try to only remember the goodness in him, the way he brought such joy to the children in his life, the way he would defend so fervently anyone whom he loved, the way he became self-aware of his nature in the end. But the truth is that Matthew was always something of an outlier in our family of eleven.
Even from an early age, Matthew was quick to anger. He was brash, rude, loud and his rage would often put him in situations where a door stopped only by my foot would protect me from my kitchen knife- wielding little brother. To this day I wonder what would have actually happened had he overpowered my foot.
As a child, he was a habitual liar and a thief. Even in situations where there really wasn’t any reason to not tell the truth and there would be no one to believe his lie, he would still do it. Especially after he stole something. I specifically remember early on when he stole $20 from our brother Daniel and then got caught red handed with 2000 count Tootie Frooties at a penny a piece from the book store at the local Bible College. He wasn’t ever a really good liar early on, and it gave him a bad reputation in our family as untrustworthy, which he never did grow out of until the end.
Some would say it was only a matter of course that he would fall into the trap of drug abuse later in life. His grades in High School dropped and he kept getting in trouble at about every turn. He became obsessed with girls, especially ones that were willing to believe him when he lied.
And yet, even reminding myself of all of these truths about him, I can’t help thinking about what could have been.
Matthew was in the process of pulling himself out of a hole that none of my family members or myself could even imagine being in. He wanted to be redeemed.
In the 27 years of his life, he had never been more aware of who he was than the time leading up to his death. He told our brother Joe and sister in law Colleen that he knew he was only one relapse away from dying. After his death, reading his step work journals from one of the several times he went to rehab, it was evident that he knew what his problems were, and that he wanted to change.
Growing up, and especially when he was in his deepest trouble as a young adult, he gave my parents more stress and worry than anyone can rightfully manage. He knew the truth of it in the end, and to say that he was apologetic is a clear understatement. He knew that my parents never gave up on him, and in the end it was this fact that made him fight so hard to become the man who he wanted to be, the man that many of my siblings and his friends choose to remember him as.
But we cannot forget who he was. Knowing the person he used to be highlights the amount of effort and suffering he endured to strive to become something greater than his troubled past. What trials he faced to correct course at the eleventh hour of his life cannot be measured by those by whom he is survived. But that doesn’t mean we should forget it. Remembering only the pleasant things about him tells us only part of his story. He would want all of it to be told.
In the last year of his life, when things were looking up, Matthew came over to my house. We had a chat about his views on God, and how he saw God as greater than what could really be defined by man. It was almost surreal to hear him talk that way. In my fondest imagination of this talk, I like to think that he was already one foot in heaven and he was seeing the machinations and the wonderment of creation as it truly is. I like to believe that before he died, he saw some glimpse of the glory of what awaited him in the great beyond.
To some, my brother was a hero. He bravely fought against a sickness that has already claimed so many like him. To others, a friend or a brother. No matter what he was to anyone who remembers him, he deserved a better end than what he got.
That’s why Matthew is my inspiration for writing. In a different time and place of my creation, I can give him that better ending.
Although the road will be long if I am to do his memory justice, I will do my very best. To anyone reading this who is interested, I apologize for how far away this will be. But I committed to do it, and I will do it and that this story won’t be forever stuck in my thought backlog.
Matt, if you’re able to hear me, know that I haven’t forgotten you. I love you, and I wish that we could have spent more time together. In the end, you rose above all of character flaws of your childhood, and none of us blame you for leaving us when you did. You’re somewhere greater now. See you there in a while.