On September 8, 2010, my youngest brother T.J. died after falling down the basement stairs of his home, which resulted in a fatal brain hemorrhage one week later. He was forty-one years old, and leaves behind a wife and two children, aged ten and four. Some time ago, T.J. made a decision to become an organ donor, and as this is being written, over fifty parts of his body are saving the lives of others.
T.J. was a truly great man: generous, inspiring, infuriating, hilarious, passionate. He was committed to speaking from the mind, but also the heart and the gut, and he believed that personal shame and social niceties were a sucker’s game. His love for his family was unconditional, his support for us was boundless, and he taught everyone who cared to learn a rare trick: the ability to stare reality in the face with such ferocity that in time, it blinked back. As a sister, I was moved by his commitment to tell the truth, no matter the cost; as a writer, I was awed by it.
T.J.’s death has come as a huge and incomprehensible shock to my family. He was always so much larger than life that I suppose we all thought he would figure out a way to avoid something as mundane as death. When T.J. was ‘on’ (and that was nearly always), his presence could have the force of a tsunami, and many people needed days to recover from a long talk with him. I feel quite sorry for those who didn’t get the opportunity to know him: his personality was extra large, his sense of the absurd was legendary, and I assure you, you couldn’t out-drink him at a party.
Like all of us, my brother was flawed, and he could be challenging. But he was also the sort of man who makes life worth living. There are certain people you seek out when you don’t know if you can get through another month, or week, or moment. My brother Mike is one of those, and I turn to Mike for gentleness, acceptance, maturity and patience. But sometimes what is needed is energy, clarity, focus, and raw animal force. For this I turned to T.J., whom I could always count on to school me that joy matters, love matters, faith matters, I matter, and that everything else is pure bullshit.
Goodbye, my beloved baby brother. I have no idea how I am supposed to make sense of life’s nonsense without you, but I’m going to try. Just promise you’ll visit in my sleep to school me on how it’s done. I'm not sure I can figure it out on my own.