Secondhand Heartbreak: My Friend's Loss Taught Me What Matters Most In Life

by Nicole Estrella

Recently, the person I care about most in the world experienced an unspeakable tragedy: A terrible accident took her younger brother.

Bryan was handsome and bright and had an infectious sense of humor. He was so charming that few people knew of his demons, and sadly, like so many before him, he lost his life too soon — at age 25 — to addiction.

In the days following her brother’s death, I watched my dearest friend struggle to survive the storm wreaking havoc inside of her.

I stayed by her side for 10 straight days. As she went through the motions of mourning, I tried to come to terms with being helpless in her recovery.

For days, I offered her water and watched her sleep. I found myself following her to the bathroom.

I suffocated her with attachment because I feared losing her to sadness. I could barely stand to look her in the eye, and I still couldn't let her out of my sight.

I had never before been so concerned with someone else’s welfare. Raised as an only child, I am often demanding, needy and selfish.

I've spent my life catering to my own wants and needs. I had little experience with selflessness, but in those 10 days, I learned.

For the first time, I knew what it felt like to truly wish you could sacrifice your own happiness for someone else's.

Suddenly caring so little about myself, I was left to appreciate all the other things I hadn't paid attention to. It changed my view on everything.

I don’t wish to pretend I've come to understand any of life’s great mysteries. I don’t know what mends a broken heart, I’m not sure why bad things happen to good people and I’ll never know why the sky is blue.

I do know, however, that as I witness my friend’s pain, I'm realizing what truly matters. Here is what I know:

Kindness Matters

When the news today is flooded with stories of crashes, fires, poverty and misfortune, small acts of kindness are our only defense.

Hardships and pain are inevitable, but exchanges of kindness allow us to endure them. Smile at strangers, hold doors and use your manners.

Everyone you encounter struggles in one way or another; sometimes, the smallest of gestures can pacify a person's troubles.

Religion Matters

I refer to no church, no God and no practice, in particular. I do, however, subscribe to the general act of believing.

Bad things will always happen. Love will be lost, people will die and, at times, it can all seem to be too much.

Without the belief in something greater than ourselves, we are left to bear this burden alone.

We all need the faith that there is someone or something out there watching over us.

We need the comfort of knowing we are never alone through our toughest of times.

Family Matters

Be it the family into which you were born or the family you chose, these are the people who enrich the time you have on earth.

Your family members are the ones you laugh and cry with; they hold you together when things fall apart, and they lead you home when you are lost.

Your family keeps you safe and warm, and they will always be there for you. Cherish them.

Honesty Matters

Being truthful is one of the bravest things any of us can do. To be honest about who we are and what we want isn’t easy.

Too often, we fear embarrassment or rejection; we worry others won’t accept or understand us.

It takes courage to be vulnerable and show our true colors, but ultimately, character is all we take with us.

Be honest about what you stand for. Be true to who you are, how you feel and abandon the thought of fitting in or following suit.

Be forthcoming with your thoughts and proud of your actions. Be open to the truth because it will inspire others to do the same.

Love Matters

I dare to make the argument that love, in fact, may be all that matters. Through their grief, my friend and her family were offered so much love, it nearly took my breath away.

The condolences, flowers and endless trays of food were all expressions of love. Friends and family traveled from all over to offer support, and I'm certain these visits were what got them through the first few days.

Turns out, The Beatles were right: Love is all we need. Love grants us the courage and strength to withstand the blows.

It tucks us in at night and brings the sun up in the morning. It succeeds sickness, loneliness and loss. It costs nothing and does not discriminate.

Haunting and hopeful, love endures all. As it is the only thing worth living or dying for, it is love that matters most.

While experiencing my friend’s heartbreak was a difficult time, I wouldn't take it back for anything in the world.

It was scary and uncomfortable, but being there with her in those desperate moments changed my life. Those moments changed who I am, and for that, I am eternally grateful.

Lastly, to this sweet friend of mine: It is okay to be afraid. I know you are worried this has changed you and you're afraid you've lost that special light that’s always made you who you are.

I need you to know that light is not gone.

It is shining now, brighter than it ever has before. You will be different, yes, but you will be stronger.

And, should you ever tire of being strong; should your light ever have trouble shining through, I urge you to look beyond the pain and remember what matters.