I’d give everything not to be writing about Kai's life in past tense.
I suppose I have Kai to thank for being in this world at all. When he was five, he begged my parents for a little brother. Nine months later I was born (I know, I always found it strange my parents knew the exact date I was conceived, but who was I to argue).
I have many amazing memories growing up together. Kai cruising us around a Connecticut marina in his Zodiac boat. Sailing the waters off the Northeast. My parents giving us $20 in quarters so we could play video games all night while they got drunk (hey, it was the 80’s). Kai breaking my collarbone...twice. Traveling to Germany. Moving to Florida. Kai taking me on my first trip to FSU. Okay in hindsight those collarbone episodes weren’t actually fond memories, but I guess I’ll take them at this point.
Kai was always a free spirit. Whether it was the Brew Crew at Martin County High School or his independence in the Navy, he marched to the beat of only one drummer – his own. He taught me so many things. How to make a mixtape for girlfriends. How to sneak out of the house and back in at night without getting caught. How to deal with a breakup and mend a broken heart. And how to chase life – not just live it.
To know Kai was to love Kai. He was the most generous and genuine person I ever knew, and I wasn’t alone in that thinking. Reading the stories many of his friends shared following his death confirmed the depth of love we all had for Kai. His smile and laughter filled a room. His bear hugs could take your breath away. His warmth and compassion knew no bounds.
The proudest moment of Kai’s life was the day he became a father. His son was his North Star – the thing that kept him grounded in life. He loved him with every ounce of his being. He was so proud of the young man he's become.
No child should lose a parent at 15. My heart is broken for his son, but I promise I will be there for him every day for the rest of my life.
As rich as Kai’s life has been, he struggled over the last several years. Going through a divorce and then losing our father took a toll on him. He battled depression, pain, and most recently addiction.
Sadly you can't tell Kai's story with the word "addiction." As a society we tend to demonize and stigmatize addiction, with no thought or care to the underlying issues and causes that may lead to it. We make it difficult for those who are struggling to reach out for help. We write people off for making bad choices, as if addiction is a choice, and discard their lives without taking a moment to reflect in the mirror at ourselves.
Kai didn't want to face this judgment so he kept his addiction a secret. He was too proud to ask for help. Too "strong" to be vulnerable. I wish every day he wasn't.
We all have our struggles in life. If you're reading this, my guess is you or someone you love may be hurting. Maybe they’re too proud to come to you for help. Maybe they’re hardwired to believe the definition of “strength” is to keep their pain bottled up inside.
I hope Kai's legacy will be one of empathy and caring, because that's what he stood for to so many. If you want to honor that memory, think of those you love who may need help and let them know you love them and are there for them – and then follow up on your words and be there. They may not let you in right away, but you have to show them empathy and keep trying.
I will honor Kai’s memory by making a point to be there for my friends and family, as Kai would. I will honor his memory by living my life with the generosity, thoughtfulness, and care he did. I will honor him by being the best Uncle to his son I can possibly be, reminding him a father’s love never dies, and assuming a father’s pride as he continues to grow into an incredible young man. I will honor him by loving my daughters, fully and completely, as he loved his son.
Kai is no longer with us, but his spirit and memory will be with us forever. I love and miss him, and will never forget him. Rest in peace, sweet Kai.