Death. Loss. Heartbreak.

I had a writing project two weeks ago that had nothing to do with the Big Damn Book I’ve been working on. This was neither a project I desired or particularly enjoyed.

It was my big brother’s eulogy. It centered around him as my hero, my friend, and my brother.

That’s a 7-year-old me, touching my brother’s football helmet when he was a High School Senior. To say I always looked up to him would be a gross understatement.

54 years old, and he passed away due to cardiac failure while having a routine medical procedure on his shoulder which had him under anesthesia. One moment, fine, fun, cheerful, laughing. The next moment gently slipping into sleep, his body relaxed for all of maybe 20 minutes, and then the flurry of activity in the OR through the attempted resuscitation. Emergency IV meds, CPR, Paddles, a faint heartbeat, a flatline, then gone. They tried for about an hour to bring him back. It was his time.

So many things are totally and permanently different when a human you are close to your entire life just – disappears. Your trajectory changes so drastically. There’s emptiness, certainly, and there’s grief. Right now my suffering lies in tiny events during the day – totally unimportant little things that my brain does out of habit.

I go through something and I think to myself, “I should ask Joe” because that’s what instinct always had me doing, then in an instant, the realization hits that I can’t. I’d see a bottle of wine at the store and think, “Oh, I need to tell my brother about that,” only to be reminded a nanosecond later that my thought is alone. He is not anywhere on this or any other planet. There is nowhere I can go to see him, and no phone number I can call to talk to him. All I’ll ever have is memories that will fade over time and a pile of pictures that will never grow with new moments.

There was no final goodbye, there was no last “I love you.”

When I last spoke to him through text, I was here:

Somewhere over Nevada.

And this, our final conversation:

“We will talk when you get back” is a text that is haunting me right now. I wish we could.

I thought I was fine, I really did. The five stages of grief are Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. I’m at Stage 5, and a big part of me is lingering in Stage 4.

Denial hit me like a flash when I first received the phone call from my sister. It was a moment of “This can’t be happening” that was quickly gone. I spent no more than 10 seconds in that stage.

Anger hit next, and hit hard. I was furious. Not at my Sister for making the phone call, not at myself or anyone else, but at the situation.

Receiving a phone call that someone you are close to has passed while you are in a bar about to smash some nachos in the middle of an incredible honeymoon is devastating. It’s a giant soup of emotions – guilt for being there, helplessness, shock.

One of the most joyous moments of my life became hermetically sealed to one of the most devastating. I don’t know how I will ever be able to get past that.

There was no bargaining. I skipped that stage.

There was no immediate depression. I skipped that one, temporarily.

I went straight to Acceptance. A few hours after the news hit my wife and I went down to the Center Bar at the Mirage on the Vegas Strip, and I had a Whiskey Sour in honor of my brother. He always talked about how he liked Elijah Craig Bourbon, and it was all I could hold on to at the time. Stuck in the bustle of a Vegas Casino for nearly two days, with laughter and joy all around, trying to come to grips with what just happened.

And today, it’s just over two weeks out from the day he passed. Depression is a daily fight, tears are coming at the strangest moments. I can still joke and laugh and carry on normally, but at any moment a fleeting memory appears – the way we laughed, a moment we shared, remembering what it felt like to have our arms around each other’s shoulders posing for a picture when he’d come to visit us in NH, and I can’t help but break down.

This shit is hard.

I’m not sleeping well, I’m having moments and dreams about him, and when I hear my heart beat I launch into a panic attack that at any moment it’s just going to stop. Is it supposed to sound that way? Was that a skipped beat? Is it irregular? Is it blocked? Am I an instant away from leaving this planet and creating the same cycle with the people I love?

My heart hurts and I don’t mean in some abstract way, I mean physically. As if someone has reached into my chest and is squeezing it. I know that’s not happening, and the physical pain I’m feeling is simply a broken heart. I’m doing my best right now to trust my instincts, but it’s a fact that I’m now a different person, and my priorities in terms of health and family has shifted.

People everywhere are telling me “I’m Sorry” which is both helping and really not helping. I don’t need the reminder, but I always appreciate the compassion of others. My typical response thus far has been, “Thank you. There’s nothing anyone can do. The sun will rise tomorrow.”

My stock answer to “Are you okay,” is “No.” Because I’m not. But there’s still stuff to do, bills to pay, and dishes to clean. I’m not shut down, I can function and think clearly, I’m just not okay.

And just like that phrase “The sun will rise tomorrow,” which upon reading seems like a lazy answer, there is no neat and tidy way to wrap up the stream of thoughts I’m having and scrawling down on this blog. What else is there to say?

There’s nothing I can do.

The sun will rise tomorrow.


I am a walking, talking contradiction. INFJ, martial artist, father of 3 awesome boys, database nerd, aficionado of great music, coffee snob, tattooed, overflowing with at-times crippling amounts of empathy. Now you know me, which means we can never hang out. Sorry, but not really, I'd find an excuse not to no matter what.

This Post Has 12 Comments

  1. You are to many, what your brother was to you. I can say with certainty that he was proud of all you are. I imagine he also looked up to you as the man you have become over the years. You have positively changed so many lives (mine included) that your brother’s spirit will live on through you with every kick, word written, scolding , and amazing smile you show. I truly hope this helps. Love and respect.

    1. Thank you, Chuck. I appreciate that very much.

  2. My heart, my very soul, aches for you my dear friend because of your double loss. The loss of your brother of course and the fact that, being an Atheist, you have no faith/hope you will ever see him or hear his voice again.

    How can we, (those of us with faith) console you? How can we help you through this, or any sort of staggering, devastating loss? I just don’t know; it’s outside my wheelhouse.

    The only thing I can do with you is be a sounding board for your venting, and I’ll gladly be here to listen my friend and allow you to vent in the ways only IN’s can.

    They say time heals all wounds. I don’t know about that, scars can be painful too in their own way.
    I and my family love you “Uncle Sensei” and we are standing by to offer whatever assistance you need.

    Even if that assistance is just KNOWING we are here, but leaving you to process in your own way.

    1. Chupa,

      I certainly don’t see it as a double loss, and I don’t believe I’m any kind of “ist”. I cringe mightily at the term “athiest” because it too often is associated with “anti-religion” and you know that’s not me. People bless and pray for me in coffee shops (I’m an introvert, of course I attract this sort of thing – I’m also allergic to cats and they love me) and I appreciate it as a gesture of human interaction and show of compassion.

      I realize I exist outside the norm. I don’t have the answers, and I’m totally at peace with that. I’m a questioner and an observer. If someone puts me in a particular box, that’s to help them sort me in their head, but I’m pretty sure whatever the label is, it’s somewhere I don’t belong. Maybe the box says “Agnostic”, I really don’t know and I’m totally cool with not knowing.

      I’m going to live on and move on, it’s just that right now, it sucks, and as someone living in this very moment objectively looking at my reality today, there’s no consolation in the present moment. There is still a lot of joy to be had as life moves on, and I’ll find it, for now, perhaps just understanding that I’m going through a tough time is the best consolation anyone could provide. You are doing that, and you are there for me when I need to talk and/or vent.

      You are, truly, the World’s Greatest Chupa, and I cannot overstate how much appreciation and love I have in my heart for you and your entire family.

  3. David you really don’t know me that well as you were the baby of the very special childhood family to me💙but I know you and your family is such a very special part of my heart and my most cherished childhood memories. When your Mom left my mom a message I heard her and said something is wrong, I heard it in her voice! I texted your sister and she immediately called me back and told me the horrible news! I was in shock and complete disbelief, I just want you to know we are all praying for your family and hope you find the strength to help ease your pain! Stay strong and know that he will always be your angel and in your heart ❤️

    1. Lisa, I’m very familiar with “Ragone” because of how much everyone always talked about you in my family! Thank you for being such great friends to us and thank you for the kind words!

  4. “The sun will rise tomorrow.” Or “The world will keep turning” is a double edged sword. It’s our way of saying the universe will continue on with or without any of us and therefore so will I. There is a lot of truth in this and often a lot of comfort. But their is a tremendous of grief and fear and often guilt in this notion as well. We are all faced with moments where we wish we could pause the earths rotation; maybe even spin the it in the opposite direction and land on a happier time. The laws of physics thus far prevent any of us from doing this but you Can take an emotional pause. Those memories you have won’t fadewith time; they will remain. The best suggestion I can give is to take a moment to yourself, somewhere peaceful and focus on a day where the sun rose on you and your brother and created a lasting memory. Think about every sound and smell and detail until you feel his presence. The process is bittersweet but it allows you to trust your mind. We all fear that as time goes on we will “forget” those who aren’t physically here. This process gives you the comfort and peace of mind that you won’t.
    I hope whatever process you choose whether it be writing or meditation or prayer or simply waiting for time to heal, that you find peace and that your pain eases quickly.

    1. Hi Courtney,

      For me, “The sun will rise tomorrow” isn’t so much centered around grief, but it’s my way of trying to maintain the perspective of having to endure and move on. I’m not one to be crippled by grief – shut the door, draw the shades, don’t leave the house and wallow in depression, etc. I force myself to get out and interact (though it’s not my FAVORITE thing to do, seeing the world does help), and more of a way for me to cope and have perspective.

      Certainly I don’t feel like I’ll ever forget my brother, not in that sense, but as time goes on little details leave, and the strongest remain. If I can remember him chasing me through the house when I was 5, pinning me down, and burping in my face, I can remember some of the great moments as well. And yes he totally did that after eating a cheesesteak with onions, I remember it ALL too well.

      Thank you for the kind words and advice, I truly appreciate it!

  5. When my husband passed I thought my life was over. I had a hole in my heart my daughter and doctor suggested bereavement classes. I finally decided to go. I can’t begin how much it helped that I was sitting with people that felt the same they understood my pain. We cried and spoke together After two years I was able to cope better. Time helps you heal. Don’t be so hard on yourself. Joe would like you to remember the love he had for you

    1. Time will help alleviate some of the shock and pain that I’m experiencing right now, for certain. It was only two weeks ago, and writing is part of my process. I’m not being hard on myself, just working through it all in my own way, by getting some of the thoughts I have – both good and awful – out of my brain and into the written word. When I do that, it frees up the chaos that’s in my head and lets me regain a little focus.

  6. Dear Sensei,
    Since your brother’s passing I’ve been thinking of you and your family a lot. I just can’t imagine the sorrow you are going through. I know there is nothing I can say or do to make you feel better, but just know you are in my thoughts and prayers. So, even though you may not believe in a Higher Being (I read Chupas’ message to you) I do, so I’ll do the praying for you. I’ll request God to grant you strength to get you through this, and to mend your broken heart.

    1. Hi Sam, I definitely didn’t intend to get into a theological discussion, so I’ll just say thank you. I don’t care if someone’s Catholic, Hindu, Jewish, Zoroastrian or a Voodoo Priest throwing bones on the floor, when they say “I’ll pray for you,” I see it as an act of compassion regardless of my own individuality. I appreciate the kind thoughts very much!

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