When I close my eyes and think of my cousin Brad, the memories flood quickly. He had wild and curly blonde hair, bright blue eyes, tan skin, and a smile that lit up every room he entered. He loved sunshine, wakeboarding, his high school sweetheart, playing tennis, and, most of all, spending quality time with family and friends.
I’ll never forget the day my mom, sister, and I showed up at our new home in Citrus County, FL. I was 12 years old at the time, and as the moving truck pulled into the driveway, there he was—riding his bike and patiently waiting to greet us with his famous smile. Brad immediately took us on a tour and introduced us to all of the neighborhood kids.
My mother was a flight attendant, and my parents were divorced, so my sister and I often stayed with my aunt, uncle, and cousins when Mom traveled. As a result, Brad quickly became one of my best friends. We were the same age, and people affectionately started calling us “the twins” throughout school. Voted “Most Laid-Back” in our senior class, Brad was definitely considered one of the popular kids. Girls wanted to date him, and guys wanted to be just like him.
One time in middle school, Brad and his younger brother, Jeff, decided it would be a good idea for the three of us to sit cross-legged on a skateboard while catapulting down a steep hill. I was in the front and ended up crashing, knee first. As I cried, Brad put his arm around me and asked if I was OK. He then sat with me until my tears were dry. Brad was caring and compassionate like that. He always looked out for others … but he rarely talked about his own problems.
A year after we graduated from high school, on the morning of July 20, 1998, I was awakened suddenly when my father flipped on the light in my room. I knew immediately something was wrong.
“Brad killed himself,” he told me.
The moment seemed to last forever. My eyes locked on the digital clock in the bedroom, and I just stared at the numbers, in shock. From that moment on, my life would never be the same.
The funeral was held on my birthday, and the days, weeks and months that followed are blurry now. I kept hoping and praying it was all a bad dream. I so desperately wanted to wake up from the nightmare, but I couldn’t—at least not for a very long time. I didn’t celebrate my birthday for 10 years after that. I was diagnosed with depression in 2005, and I almost took my own life on two occasions.
Today, however, I am happy to report that I’m healthy, joyful, and inspired to make a difference in this world. It’s been a long journey, and the future is bright. I’m 33 years old now, and I’m grateful to celebrate the day I was born.
Life will present us with challenges, and losing Brad was my biggest one. But we always have choices. We can choose from a place of love, or we can choose from a place of fear. Fear shows up in many ways, such as anger, resentment, betrayal and jealousy. But regardless of the situation, if we approach it with love, the world seems a little brighter.
Over time, I began to rely on love instead of fear. I learned to be playful and outrageous. I learned the value of living a life with no regrets.
My advice to you: realize your passion—that thing that keeps you up at night, which shows up in your dreams, where you lose sense of time and become completely absorbed in the experience. Once you find it, don’t let anyone hold you back from it. Choose it, with love and without fear. For me, it’s hoop dancing, and I’m honored to share this performance with you. It’s dedicated to Brad.
We may not always understand how important we really are to the people who love us. Try anyway.
As a writer, group fitness instructor, and performance artist, Abby is passionate about inspiring others to live healthy, happy lives. Her company, Hoola Monsters, specializes in hand-made fitness hoops, hoop dance classes, and performances. Abby also serves on the Board of Directors for the Tampa Bay Chapter of the National Foundation for Suicide Prevention. She is currently working on her first book, and her goal is to provide insight and understanding about depression and communicate a message of inspiration and love to those who suffer.