“Live everyday like it’s your last.”
If another person repeats that trite aphorism to me, in an attempt to soften my brother’s death with a philosophical spin, I think my head will explode. If I lived every day like it was my last, I would not go to work or brush my teeth. I’d spend every day eating raw cookie dough and chicken wings.
Living every day like it’s your last is not a lesson to be learned from the death of a loved one. But, for me, there is a lesson.
My younger brother, Lee, and I grew up in Michigan. Lee may have been the brightest in the family, but, even when he was at a young age, it was clear something was wrong. Lee’s early good grades gave way to sliding marks in school and a disorganized inability to get homework and chores done on time, if at all.
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My brother’s race against the illness that was unfurling in his mind was held in check long enough for him to graduate from college. When he moved to Los Angeles in 1987, he was in his early 20s. Lee’s writing was so impressive, he was offered an opportunity to write and direct a short movie.
He outlined a script, cast some struggling actors, and hired a cameraman. Then, nothing. He could not get himself to finish what he so wanted to do. While the opportunity slipped away, I saw a fork in the road that became the trajectory of my brother’s life.
Warning signs glow white hot
As time passed, other signs began to make themselves known. It started with the paper grocery bags that Lee neatly folded and stacked in piles on his kitchen floor. Then, the waist-high piles of newspapers and magazines. Soon, Lee’s flee market hobby evolved into full-blown hoarding. But what came next was the most dangerous of my brother’s obsessive compulsive disorders and what ultimately cost him his life.
For years, Lee exercised regularly and watched what he ate. His dark features and handsome mug made him a great looking guy, though it was his kind spirit and joy of life that drew people to him everywhere he went.
Slowly, Lee began to gain weight. My parents and I did not care about the aesthetics of his changing shape; the life in his eyes remained constant. But the heavier Lee got, the less his heart was able to pull fluid from his legs and feet, which ballooned to a size that required him to get special slippers that he wore as shoes.
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