Even though he was nine years older, my brother Ryan and I were best friends. He enlisted in the Army when I was 13. I remember that he gave me a little wave from the bus as he rode off to boot camp. I cried all the way home.
In May of 2015, we received a call from Ryan’s wife. She told us that Ryan had been killed on base. I was devastated, and my anxiety made his death that much more difficult to deal with. I didn’t go to school for a week and became angry, often fighting with my dad. Ryan had always been the family peacemaker, and I missed having him there to make things better. My doctor ended up increasing the dosage of my anxiety medication. That relaxed me enough to be able to go back to school, but it didn’t make dealing with my brother’s death any easier.
Over the next year, I slowly took steps to deal with the grief and depression, such as exercising and talking to my teacher when I was feeling down. I also saw my first Field of Honor, where hundreds of flags are put on display to pay tribute to those who served our country. It was mesmerizing, and it gave me the idea to organize my own Field of Honor to memorialize Ryan and other military members while also raising money for charity.
The project was a lot of work. I had to get permission from the mayor and spread the word so that people would purchase flags to display, but it was worth the effort. We raised over $5,000 for a local food pantry.
On the last day that the flags were up, I made a speech during a short ceremony. Afterward, people came up to me with tears in their eyes, saying that my brother would have been proud.
I still miss Ryan every day, but being able to honor him while helping others lifted my spirits. And you know what? He would have been proud of me.”