This month will be six years since my family and I lost my older brother, LB.  July 3rd is the day he died and July 6th is the day we said our goodbyes to him at his funeral, but in between those dates, our family also has reason to celebrate. July 5th is my younger brother’s birthday.  Matt has never been a big birthday celebrator, it’s just his personality, but in 2016, I don’t think any of us knew what to do or how to celebrate.  I remember feeling more strongly about celebrating Matt’s birthday than usual because we had all just been so harshly reminded that these moments won’t and don’t last forever.  I don’t want to put words in Matt’s mouth, but I remember how guilty I felt on my birthday, two months later, because why did I still have a life to celebrate and not LB?  

I cannot imagine how Matt must have felt that year, or how Matt might still feel, every single year when the calendar flips to July and those dates stare back at him.  On July 3rd, he’s painfully reminded that he lost his big brother and his best friend and on July 5th he is expected to celebrate his own life.  The extreme emotionality of it is never lost on me and although I text him “Happy Birthday!!!” as soon as I wake up, and FaceTime him when my family is home together, I know there’s nothing anyone can say or do to make him understand it’s ok to celebrate his life and it’s ok to let others celebrate him… even though two days before, all of us, in our own way, spent the day remembering and feeling the loss of LB a little bit more than we do every other day. 

He has told me he doesn’t see a point in celebrating his birthday because it’s just another day.  I realize he has the right to feel that way but it doesn’t mean I have to feel that way.  It doesn’t mean our parents have to feel that way. And I will speak now for myself, and my parents, by saying we don’t feel that way. 

Matt, on July 5th, 1984 you gave me the best gift: a younger sibling to pick on, tease mercilessly, and blame things on. Ok ok, you did more than that- you made me a middle child- thanks a lot. In all seriousness, you made me an older sister to the best younger brother I could have ever asked for.  You’re absolutely hysterical (sometimes a little gross, too), you love dogs and the NY Mets as much as I do, you’re quirky (not quite as quirky as Dad but you’re getting there), you gave me another sister when you married JoJo, you’re terrible at decoding vanity license plates which has become a fun game to play with you, you’ll forever be my favorite Outback and Taco Bell eating companion, but most importantly, I know that if I ever needed something or someone, without hesitation you will be there for me.  I hope you know that works both ways and if you don’t, I’m telling you, and a lot of other people right now, that if you ever need anything, call your big sis… or maybe text me first because the family joke about me never answering my phone is completely true (but I promise I am trying to be better).

I know how painful life is after we lose someone- we all know that too well, but I also know that after we lose someone, we are all still here.  Nothing may ever relieve that pain and nothing may ever fill the hole our loved ones have left, but it doesn’t mean we can’t celebrate each other or allow others to celebrate us, our lives, and the love we have for each other.  If you want to help me celebrate my brother Matt and his birthday this year, send me an email (jen@copefoundation.org) with a message for him and I promise I will send every single one to him. 

As for July 3rd, I will likely find myself at Citi Field, watching the Mets play, remembering all the times my whole family went to Mets games, the times LB and I went together, and the times Matt and I went together.  I think it’s the best way I can honor the memory of LB and celebrate my family as it exists in life today.  On July 5th, I’ll wake up and send Matt a birthday text, Face Time with him later in the day, and hopefully bombard him with a bunch of messages from my COPE family to show him how much he is celebrated and to remind him that nobody will ever come up with more ways to annoy him than his big sister.