For many, addiction is what happens to other people. As the opioid and prescription drug abuse epidemic grows, “other people” are increasingly your neighbors, your co-workers, and your family. This is my story.

A letter to my brother on the first birthday after his passing.

Dear Kai,

Today would have been your 46th birthday. It’s been eight months since you left us. Some days it feels like it was just yesterday, others feel like you’ve been gone for years.

You’ve missed so much during that short time. Your son turned 16 and is becoming an incredible young man that would fill you with pride. He’s kind, considerate, thoughtful, and smart. You did a tremendous job raising him, showing him the love and support Dad showed us. I have no doubt he’ll blossom into an incredible person thanks to that.

He misses you. We all do.

You’ll be excited to know you’re an Uncle again! Maya joined our family two months ago. She’s gorgeous, happy, and healthy — just like her big sister Eve. Dad would have spoiled them rotten, like Opi spoiled us.

It hurts they’ll never know your warm embrace, your deep belly laugh, or the undeniable kindness you were known for. I’ll make sure they see lots of pictures, and the stories are passed down to them.

When you left us, I had so many questions. I knew you struggled with pain, and that led you to seek relief from prescription pills. What I didn’t know at the time was that your journey was shared by millions of Americans. Getting injured, being prescribed opioids for pain, getting hooked because you just want the pain to go away — and dying. Your situation worsened because you couldn’t afford healthcare and had to find relief on the street.

I didn’t know Opioids re-wire your brain chemistry to make it nearly impossible to quit on your own. I didn’t know pharmaceutical companies, in an attempt to make drugs like Opana less lethal, actually made them more lethal. I see the news stories every day. I read the statistics. I try to learn because I want to understand what happened to you. Why we lost you. Why you’re gone too soon.

I read the stories unfold every day on the news. I don’t see a “man in West Virginia”, detached from the world I live in. I see you. I don’t see a “middle age mom of four from Rhode Island”. I see you. I don’t see “Prince”. I see you. I don’t see statistics. I see you.

The toll of this epidemic will now forever be deeply personal. I’m a part of this story. These are all brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, and mothers and fathers we are losing. I get that now.

When you left us. I tried turning to writing to help process my feelings. I tried finding a way to convey what it felt like to lose your Brother. How to articulate the permanent dance with grief that follows loss.

The best I could come up with was a notion of 99% fine.

Everything is fine, until it isn’t.
Grief comes suddenly, silently, completely. Washes over you. Stops you in your tracks. A hairpin trigger with no care for emotional well being. It selfishly consumes your present. Devouring your normal and leaving in its wake a renaissance of emotion and pain.
Grief doesn’t give a damn about your progress, your plan, or your “finding ways to move on”. Grief has its own plan, its own schedule, and you’re on its clock.
You will move forward. You’ll pick up the pieces. You’ll be brave. Grief doesn’t care.
Your heart will mend. You daily routines re-established. Yet your normalcy will never completely return to “normal”. Your life will go on. Your life will never be the same.
You’re 99% fine.

I miss you. I love you. I know in time, your birthday will mean celebrating your life rather than mourning your death. You will always be my Big