Wednesday, April 4, 2012

In Loving Memory

I usually refrain from going into my personal life very much on this blog, but this will have to be an exception.
My younger brother Adam died last week at the age of 25. Please indulge me while I take some space and time to tell you about how he lived, the lives he touched and the people who loved him.

There are no lessons to take from the death of my brother. No health warnings to go on a crusade about (he probably should have stopped smoking and drinking so much beer, but neither of those things killed him), no drunk or distracted driver to get angry at, no causes to raise money or awareness for, no colored ribbon to wear (except the one for organ donation; which you should do some research on, and then sign up online). He had an unexplained ulcer in his colon that perforated, and then, three days after the surgery to fix his colon, unexplained internal bleeding. We've had plenty of family and friends send us to different websites about different disorders, with descriptions of similar things that have happened to other people, but we can't test any of these theories so I am not very interested in reading about them and raising any more what-ifs.

There is no reason that a happy, healthy, awesome 25 year old should die so suddenly, and I have no lessons to learn from his death, but, after seeing the overwhelming response of so many people at his wake (where we drank the bar out of beer), his visitation (where the line extended around the building of the funeral home and out the back door and lasted for 7 hours), and his funeral service (where the church was packed), I know there must be lessons to learn from the way he lived. So, in the spirit of celebrating his life, here is a list of awesome things about my brother Adam.

He was generous. He didn't have a lot of savings, but would never let me buy my own drinks when I came home for a visit, and was just as likely to buy a drink for a friend or coworker. When my nephew was born, he had the idea that he and I should open up a savings account for him so that Aunt Jesse and Uncle Adam could pay for college when the time came, and ever since he put me to shame. I would show up on Christmas with a check for $50 to make a deposit, and he'd have a $250 check. His apartment, his truck, his money and his time were all available to his friends at a moments notice if he could help them in any way.

He was independent. As much as he loved his friends, he had the confidence to go out to eat, or go to a bar, or  even go out exploring an unfamiliar city on his own. As long as he had a book, and could find a cup of coffee or a beer, he was happy. Whenever we would go out together, I would discover that all the waitresses, and bartenders and diner regulars knew him, and liked him, and were delighted to meet Adam's sister and let me know what a cool guy he was. He didn't need the safety net of a friend to join him on his adventures. If he wanted to go somewhere, he went, with a confidence that he would find friends along the way, or if not, have an awesome time people-watching and reading his book.

Speaking of books, he was a reader in a way few people I know could match. When we were going through his apartment last week, I found multiple lists of books. If it was someone else I would assume the lists were "books I should read..." but with Adam, a list of 10-15 books could just as easily have been "books I read this month." He devoured fiction and non fiction, classic literature and newer best sellers. And as much as he loved reading, he loved sharing the books he loved. One Christmas he asked me for a copy of his favorite book (one I knew he already owned) because he had given away his copy to someone who needed to read it. A year later, he purchased another copy at a used book store we were in, because he had given away the other one too. He loved to own the books he loved, not to build a collection, but so that he could share that love with people he met.

Adam loved to debate, which drove me crazy at times, but was also awesome. Debates with Adam were great, because while he had very strong opinions, all the arguments were based in logic and facts and reason. Of course Adam wanted to win the debate, but he wanted to win it fairly, by having the best points, and the most information. He listened to the person he was talking to, took in their ideas and (most impressively) gladly acknowledged when they made a good point. He liked to be right, but I think he enjoyed debates most when they made him question and reevaluate his own beliefs. His opinions were flexible, always changing, growing and incorporating new information and experiences. More than anyone I know, he could have a long heated debate with someone who believed the exact opposite as he did, and maintain a sense of friendship and mutual respect the entire way through.

He was incredibly passionate. Either it was the greatest thing in the whole world ever, or he didn't care. he enthusiasm and excitement was contagious. He could go on for days about a delicious steak or seafood dinner. He would eagerly ask you to listen to his new favorite band. He would talk about the football draft for weeks before and after. He would call me in the middle of a baseball game to ask "did you see that catch?" It was hard to be around him, and not get excited about whatever he was excited about. He was not one to sit around and watch TV or play video games, or surf around online lazily. Adam wanted to be doing something, to be engaged, to be active, to be experiencing, and exploring and talking and sharing. If he was going to do something, it would not be mediocre or halfway. In no way did Adam drift through life; he experienced it, he took in the sites and sounds. He talked to the people, he enjoyed every bite of his food, he watched every play of the game, he never skimmed a page of a book. Playing softball, he never zoned out in the outfield; instead he stood every pitch in the ready position, waiting for the chance to make the play if the ball came his way.

Adam was a hard worker. Hard work is something that my parents taught us to value very highly and while we all took that lesson to heart, I think Adam lived it more than Brian or I ever could. His coworkers told us about how, when he would go out to the parking lot to take a cigarette break at work, he would always take a huge bag of trash out with him because he was heading to the dumpsters anyway. He would also keep the phone and his pad of paper with him, and often came in from break "break" with a few to-go orders to hand off to the kitchen. He didn't cut corners, and went above and beyond whenever he got the chance.

One of the most admirable things Adam ever did, was get through college. His first year of college he was taking classes with the aim of becoming a vet. Over the course of that year, he decided he didn't want to be a vet, he hated his classes, and he all but failed out. He took a year off from there to figure out what he wanted to do, took some classes at the local commuter school, came up with plans to move to Atlanta, or Phoenix, or Jamaica, to be a carpenter or a postman. As he was making all these plans he was also discovering his love of reading. One day he called me out of the blue to tell me he had decided to go back to college to get an English degree. He re-applied to Mizzou and was turned down. Instead of accepting that news he called the school to ask what he could do to change the "no" to a "yes" and was told that he would need to get special permission from the dean of the English department. "Okay," Adam answered, "how do I get a meeting with him." On the day of the meeting he work up bright and early, put on a suit, and drove to Columbia to convince the dean of the English department that they should look past his poor grades that first year at the school and give him a chance to prove himself now that he had discovered this passion for books. They agreed to give him the chance and he got to work. He took extra classes every semester and every summer, worked his way up to a good GPA (which was hard since his GPA included his grades from the classes he had failed his first year), and graduated only one semester behind his classmates who hadn't taken a year off.

I am so proud of the life that my brother lived, and wish I had taken more time to tell him while I had the chance. This, I suppose, is the next best thing. I don't have any lessons to offer you from his death. But I wanted as many people as possible to know how amazing he was while he was here. Debate with humor and goodwill, work hard, allow yourself to get excited about the things you love, read, give generously and never be afraid to be yourself.


  1. This is such an amazing tribute, Jesse. I am so honored to have known Adam and be inspired by him.

  2. Very beautiful, Jesse. Eloquent, thoughtful, truthful, heartfelt, and in a way perfect. I've been keeping you and your family in my thoughts. I learned some valuable lessons reading this, so I am sure you've made your brother proud.

  3. Thank you Jesse, that was wonderful to read. Adam was indeed someone special and I'm really going to miss him, but at the same time try to live a little more adventurously as he did.
    Love to you all!!
    Aunt Leslie

  4. Thanks for sharing Jesse. This is a really awesome tribute to Adam.

  5. Jesse that was such a beautiful portrayal of Adam's personality. I will never forget when Dana and I went to visit Adam at work and there was a line out the front door. Adam found us, took our order, bought our food, and got it to us in no time. We felt like VIP! It was so generous and good-hearted of him. We will always keep him in our hearts! -Laura Seite

  6. That was one of the most beautiful things I have ever read. Thank you so much for sharing. Your brother was a sweetheart.