Today would have been my nephew Jesse’s birthday. We lost him due to still-undetermined medical reasons in his sleep, late last year. The unexplained cause of his death makes it all the more unsettling, unresolved. I’ve had to process a lot of loss over the last few years but Jesse’s death may have been the final straw, bringing me lower than I’ve been in decades. I write to heal, and this is no exception. However, I’m writing this a few days earlier and scheduling it, as my hopes are to be somewhere along the coast with Devin at sunset to wish Jesse a happy birthday by the ocean he loved so much.
The last time Jesse and I spent any real time together down here in Carpinteria was about 3, 4 years ago now. He’d come down with my mom while my brother Sean was in town, and one evening while everyone talked at epic pace in the living room we snuck out to 4th Beach for a walk.
It was an amazing walk, too. The water seemed pearl-esque, a rainbow of colors in the highlights like the sheen of an abalone shell. The air was warm, but with a slight overcast humidity to it. We talked for what seemed like hours about life, and it’s ups and downs. This was just before my life fell out from underneath me, so I played the optimistic older brother that day. As a man in his early twenties, Jesse was struggling with all the things we do at that age, who we’re turning into, the realities of the world outside your parental home, becoming a man in a world that increasingly wants to beat you down.
He was struggling with the realities of a broken civilization that prides image over substance. Not knowing what his true calling was (yet). Wondering if he’d ever meet that special someone that, at the time, it seemed I had in my life. All the hopes and fears he had of the world. I shared my own. It was a beautiful and real and deep conversation, and the last one of it’s kind we were allowed before loss began eating away at our lives.
My last time seeing Jesse alive was last Thanksgiving. He was distant and a bit moody. Although we talked and laughed and caught up, it was obvious that he was burdened with life a bit when little flashes of anger poked through his usual calm, relaxed exterior. We talked about the loss I’d been going through, and his conflicts with it, the ripple effects it’s had on our whole family. He mentioned that my separation and inevitable divorce with Desiree made him feel confused, a bit like the family was falling apart, and it sorta broke my heart. And although we laughed and moved on, that conversation ate at me inside. Particularly because I felt the same.
When I joined my family up north after Jesse passed, it was only then I learned that only a few months prior his best friend Nick had also died, and the loss had literally devastated him. I was literally overwhelmed with regret in not being more connected, shock in the senselessness of it all, anger at not being able to do anything to stop it, to change it, to bring him back.
The circumstances of his death will haunt me- there’s no medical answer for why he stopped living at this point, even after a forensic autopsy. You hear of people dying of grief, of loss, but it seems so far-fetched. Until something like this happens and your heart is literally wrenched into a pretzel by not being able to stop it. To help him. To have him here.
Yet here we find ourselves, grieving. On a day when we really should be celebrating Jesse’s life and not his passing. At sunset I’ll be doing exactly that – watching the sun set on another day, as my son and I smile and share stories of how brightly Jesse shone, before he left us for the stars.
For now, I just need to go cry for a bit.