Dear Brother


Dear Zach,

Though I have missed you, I know you- I know you in ways that were impossible to discover when you were alive. You are no longer framed in the photograph I carried with me on my wedding day. You are the tiny artifacts I find in the seconds of my stresses and struggles- guitar picks, movie tickets, song lyrics and phrases, gorgeous morning runs, the breath and gaps between musical notes. You are strings of prayers hoping for your eternal rest, and YouTube comments thanking you for saved lives and changed perspectives. You are the book the social worker gave Grace and I about the tiny bunny who left his instruments behind for his friends when he left for somewhere better.

Your young soul is too beautiful to contain in a human body, and for that, I respect God.z

And for that, I have forgiven him.

When I am dead, I will embrace you, and you’ll laugh at me because I will probably be old, crinkly, and pathetic looking at first, while you’ll be brimming with the youth you took with you. You’ll say, “What happened to you Al?” And then you’ll punch me in the arm, and you’ll have on that gangly smile. We’ll sit somewhere, maybe an old fraying wooden bench, but there won’t be slivers. You’ll tell me what it has been like to see all the miracles on Earth hop-scotching across oceans and rivers, rippling like rainy puddles on pavement. That’s how I imagine it smells wherever you are, cold rain on hot pavement, after the first thunderstorm—how it feels after a long good cry—  and that’s what it’ll feel like to see you again: a release from the chest, an expression well-spent.

Then, after you’ve told me all of your stories, of all the people in the world who have thanked you for living, of how much you love them, and about all the card games you play with Granny, you’ll show me the pack of wiener dogs you tend to. By this time, our dog Daisy will be dead, so she’ll have found you, and you’ll have found her a place at the head of your herd of dachshunds. She’ll be queen, and she’ll be proud.

Zach, I knew you before your limbs melted into musical instruments, before cancer cemented them together –back when they freely moved footballs across cold October skies, and hit me with sticks (remember that? I was so mad at you.) I knew you before you had to trudge through all the needles, the long-worded medicines with the Xs and Zs, the sweaty, bare-footed concerts, before first loves and bionic legs, before your future turned into an one-inch space we called the present. And I know you now.

I know your spirit, and your spirit knows mine. I love you, brother. And because of you, I am not afraid to meet you again.

Love, Al


23 thoughts on “Dear Brother

  1. Diane

    Love is never-ending..thank you for your beautifully written words&including us on your journey! I have been amazed&inspired by Zach&your family…in a year of my own losses I am hoping to give to others as you to you!

  2. Luise

    that brought tears to my eyes.. I have rarely read something so beautiful, sad, and inspiring at the same time. Although I didn’t know him, Zach is in my heart. I wish you all the best, Allie.
    Love, a 23-year-old girl from Germany.

  3. Melissa patterson duggins

    You really do write so beautifully. I hope your checking into free lancing for newspapers around you. Your so good. The ways that you describe your brothers love around you are exactly the ways I feel about my parents as well as many good friends I have lost. They show up in so many ways around us maybe not every minute, or when we would like them to, but just when we dont expect them to, but needed them to!!! I love that about our closest spirits and souls. That song, or the gentle fleeting touch on the shoulder. I also am not scared to go, as I am so excited to see all of them again some day. So glad that your soul is becoming more at peace with all of this, although, there may still be some days when your heart hurts for the Zach smiles and hugs. Hope all is well with you and your new hubby!

  4. Cindy Smith

    As always, you have touched my heart with your writing. What a beautiful letter to your brother Zach. Blessings on you all.

  5. Kristina Beck

    You, your brother, your family inspire each and every one of is to be better human beings. May your heart and soul always be comforted in knowing all of you have made an impact on the world.
    Up Up Up

  6. Kim Pow

    You write beautifully. This will be so like when I see him again. I think I will be the one punching him in the arm as I hug him for leaving me without warning . Well done xx

    Sent from my iPad

  7. Laura virtue

    Thank you for writing this Alli. My anxiety has been creeping back lately and the c word seems to hang over my head. Ill have to try the inch idea. I’m excited to read your moms book. 1st grade teacher Laura

  8. Chandra Sudtelgte

    You were always a kind and happy person when we were in school together. Following your brothers influence and grace on so many people has brought joy to my heart and tears to my eyes. Your beautiful writing has done the same. I hope that peace and happiness is with you always, how could it not be with such a loving brother watching over you. Stay strong and know that there are millions of people that send love and good will your way.

  9. IH

    Dear Alli,
    As mentioned with each of your entries, you are a strong, brave, courageous, human, genuine soul who has open herself up to many of us in such a candid way over the past many months.
    I’ve found that your writing has changed over this time; still as beautiful, real, and honest as always, but I sense that your mind is less focussed on the awful physical and emotional dealings of cancer itself, and is more zeroed-in on Zach – who is was, who is he, and how he holds such a dear and powerful space in your mind and heart. May your love for him and awe of him and his life (past and present) continue to inspire you and keep you embracing the guidance he continues to cast upon you. May your smiles, laughs, tears, jokes, stories, memories, dreams, songs, and lyrics of every day life, of your family’s life together, and of Zach’s life keep you at peace and full of continued joy.
    Hoping this harsh winter is packing up for you now and that spring, its sunshine, and warmth is headed your way…..and please, please, please – my way too! 🙂
    I know that the anniversary of the release of the My Last Days video is coming up….Did Zach ever watch the video upon its release? Do you think he truly grasped how powerful his thoughts, words, and emotions about his family, life, and those he loved would become to ‘us’ out in this world?

    Thinking of you!

  10. Jen

    You are a such an eloquent writer. I know Zach is so proud of you and he feels close to you even now. The random picks you find and everything else is Zach telling you that he’s okay. I’m sure we have different spiritual beliefs so this is my perspective. Zach is in that peaceful, eternal place, but I do believe he’s watching his loved ones closely and making sure you get the signs you need from him so you can heal. When you don’t see those signs as often, it won’t mean he has forgotten you or isn’t in peace. It just means he knows you don’t feel the gut-wrenching agony one feels when losing a loved one. Your brother’s story and all the other young souls taken too early is truly heartbreaking. It makes me feel incredible shame when I’m in my throws of intense pain when I’m not wanting to breathe another ounce of pain while your happy, sweet soulful brother and all others taken too soon. When I heard Zach’s story, I promised him I would try to live life to the fullest of my abilities. (I know it sounds weird that I talked to your brother..) I’m so sorry, Allie, for you and your family to have had to experience so much pain. I know Zach is so very proud of you. Thank you for blessing us with your writing and I hope to read a book of yours one day.

  11. IH

    Forgive my naivete, but what is the blue squiggly line symbol on the front cover of Fly A Little Higher? It looks like a cursive “w” with a squiggle. I’m sorry…If this happens to be blatantly obvious and I’m way out of the loop. 😉
    Thinking of you!
    Hoping you are well.

  12. Kelly Donahue

    “I know your spirit, and your spirit knows mine.” These words touch my soul, as does your story. Thank you for sharing your story with so many. I’ve only recently learned of your story but it has already impacted my life, and changed me in ways that I’ll be forever thankful for.

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