The first I had heard about Lake Como was during my time with an old friend from college while in Rome. We were sitting around catching up and she asked what my plans were for Italy. Naturally, I had none. Knowing that I love the outdoors and anything that resembles a mountain, she mentioned Lake Como and how she and her husband loved it there. I was intrigued immediately. I did one of those silent promises to myself that we all do when we know we really want something. And that was it. I forgot about Como during the rest of my time in Rome, Naples and Florence. Until, I unexpectedly reached out to a friend who was coming to Spain. He mentioned that he and his girlfriend would be stopping in Lake Como for a night and I knew I was meant to go. So I did.
During dinner, we fell into a deep conversation about what it means to live life to the fullest. The basis of the conversation is that we all have our motivations in life that push us to live life as completely as we can. We all have our stories and experiences that give us the push to dig a little deeper and find the perspective we need keep ourselves happy. But how do we continue to find the motivation that will push us into the deepest part of ourselves to understand what truly drives our happiness when those experiences aren’t enough? How do we find it within ourselves to bring out the life we want?
After dinner that night I started reflecting on the path I have been walking and the things I have experienced that pushed me to dig a little deeper. For me, my most recent chapter was one that pushed me to some of the darkest depths I have ever experienced. After ending a 9 year relationship with the guy I thought I was going to marry and watching multiple loved ones pass away while our relationship fell apart was enough to push me into a place so dark I couldn’t recognize the world I was living in. One of those loved ones we said goodbye to in that chapter was my brother. His death was one of the most painful experiences I have ever been through and, with good reason, led me to ask a lot of questions about life. This painful experience of losing my brother has also, ironically, been one of the biggest blessings in my own search for happiness. For me, watching my brother fight for his life every minute of everyday pushed me to a depth of understanding at such a young age that I am so deeply grateful for. And when he died, it pushed me to a level deeper than I had ever imagined. Something I hated every bit of at first. Now I am so unbelievably blessed that I was pushed to that level.
My brother was born extremely sick. He suffered from multiple life threatening diseases that caused him to be confined to a wheelchair since birth. On top of being being confined to a wheelchair, he couldn’t hear, see and was paralyzed on his left side. He was fed through a tube feeding and he never knew what it meant to eat real food, to walk outside in the grass or live a life without pain. Things we all take for granted everyday. Yet, with all of that, Ben fought harder to live from moment to moment than anyone I have ever come across. Each breath he took was a breath we weren’t meant to have with him according to the doctors. And with each breath, he proved them wrong.
Needless to say, this led to a very unconventional childhood for my siblings and I. By the time I was five, I knew what a tube feeding was, how to change it, how to change diapers and how to communicate with someone who couldn’t hear or see. Things I thought were completely normal until I started going to school. School led me to meet other kids and other kids showed me what a “normal” family looked like. Mine was far from it. Growing up with a sick brother intensifies everything. We were all too familiar with the inside of a hospital, we saw other kids that suffered like Ben did, and at certain times, we took care of these kids ourselves. A lot of intensity behind whether someone was going to live or not. Something that is deeply impactful for a child growing up.
I first realized that I was going to lose my brother when I was in middle school. By that point, we had already said goodbye to a lot of the other sick kids that were like Ben and it was very clear that at some point, it would be our turn to say goodbye. At that point, it wasn’t something I ever wanted to think about, yet I was forced to, because it was our reality.
In situations like this, people tend to focus on the sick kid and the parents. How heartbreaking it is that this kid will not be able to live a normal life. How hard it must be on the parents to tend to this sick kid all while having their dreams of a healthy, thriving child ripped from them. Something people tend to miss though is the perspective of growing up with that sick kid as a brother. How does his life threatening illness affect his siblings? What does this do to the kids who are, in every sense of the word, normal? The ones that have the ability to see, walk and communicate effectively? The ones who have these abilities that most of us take for granted? How does that affect them subconsciously?
Growing up with my brother took the spotlight off us as kids and put an unwanted spotlight on the state of our family. People looked in on our family and saw what they perceived as heartbreak. You could see it in their face when they met our brother. People hurt when they saw how sick someone could be and how hard life could truly be. What this spotlight did for us though, is glue us together with one of the deepest bonds a family can have. A bond on how precious life can be. Growing up with the spotlight on our brother led my siblings and I into a state of observation. We were there to watch and learn from my brother. Watch and learn from his determination to live. Watch and learn from the reactions of outsiders. Watch and learn from our parents on what unconditional love truly means. We were there to form a deep understanding of the true meaning of life through him.
My recent experiences with losing loved ones by the form of illness, death or the ending of relationships has shown me something. It has shown me that people who truly know what it means to live life to the fullest are the ones that have been through the deepest hell and have found a way back from it. I didn’t ask to be challenged by life to watch my brother struggle. If I had it my way, he would be sitting right next me living a life as full as mine. My brother didn’t ask to fight everyday. Yet, he did so with a smile on his face. Because somehow he knew, that to have the chance to simply live in some form or another is the deepest blessing itself. You see, life hands you the cards you are dealt to teach you something. The heartbreaks and tragedies are there to push you into the deepest level of darkness capable, so you can come back from it. So you can come back from it with the strongest sense of understanding and deepest level of appreciation.
So when you find yourself numb in your life, when you find yourself hating that job you are in. When you find yourself in a relationship that ended years ago or wondering how did I get to the point that I am at now? When you find yourself sad more times out of the day than you are happy. Do something about it. Find a way to change it. Because you can. You have every ability to create the life you have always wanted. Stop focusing on the heartbreak itself and start looking to the possibilities you can create from it. If my brother, someone who had almost nothing to live for, can hold on to life so tightly for 26 years, then we can stand up and start making the changes we need to in order to create our own happiness. Find a way to dig a little deeper to find that shift in perspective because you can. Not because you have to.