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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Monday, Oct. 20, 2014

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The author (left) with his late brother.
The author (left) with his late brother.

My pain, your problems

July 5 marked the two-year anniversary of my brother’s death. Two years I’ve spent without my best friend by my side watching TV and eating fast food. It’s awful, but I’ll always think of it as the turning point in my life and the tragedy that made me who I am today.

I’m fine nowadays. Fine enough, at least.

I have a steady job with a good salary, a nice apartment, great friends, and a wonderful girlfriend. Except for the massive brother-shaped elephant in the room that arises every single time I’m asked about my siblings, my pain doesn’t usually show itself in social situations.

However, it seems I’ve lost almost every bit of empathy for other people’s problems. So, there’s that. I think of it like this: my arm got chopped off and everyone around me is bummed about a paper cut on their fingers. I sympathize, but I don’t care.

Take, for example, a close friend who recently broke up with his girlfriend. He and I have spent hours together talking about his pain. His broken heart, his hurt feelings, his desire for comfort. I understood and I told him everything would be OK – I wanted to care, but I couldn’t. Life after the death of a loved one is a life that’s permanently tainted. I try not to be pessimistic about it; in fact, I still find joys in many activities. I love the beach, I love my friends, I love my girlfriend, but my view on the world has zoomed out.

I used to live in a world where I found myself pruning the leaves of a broken branch, and now all around me is a lush forest of noise. I cannot – will not – get wrapped up in small problems anymore. It’s unfair, too. There are people out there whose pain is worse than mine. Pain I’ll never understand and pain they’ll never understand. They think the worst thing on earth is to be dumped and I know that it simply isn’t. I’m selfish with my pain and I’m aware of it – in fact, I’m trying my hardest to not come off as an unfeeling robot; I know there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel and people lose sight of this.

When I tell people that things will get better, I really mean it. I wish it didn’t take a horrific death to put things in perspective, but I consider it a blessing deep, deep undercover. It allowed me to let the little things go. I remember my life before and after. I used to obsess. I used to yell and scream and cry at tiny, little situations like girls and work and friends. Then, after July 5, I learned what real problems consisted of.

I do care about your problems, but I’m begging you all to put it in perspective and let the small things be small. Worse things can happen and they will happen – and you’ll be so full of remorse when you realize you’ve wasted your time fretting over small things instead of paying attention to the bigger themes in life.

My pain isn’t more important than your pain, it’s just more concentrated.

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