The Art of Surviving


v. continue to live or exist, especially in spite of danger or hardship.


I'm feeling compelled to talk about something today - I'm asked often how I survive; how I continue to be happy and stay optimistic despite the curves life has thrown at me. I don't always have an answer. Mostly, I shrug my shoulders and let it go. But recently, I've found my answer is actually quite simple; I smile.

I have a laundry list of people I've lost in my short life. My grandmother, two uncles, an aunt, my mother, my brother, family friends, a mentor, a friend, a coworker. It's not easy. It's never been easy, and it never will be easy.

If one is continually surviving the worst that life can bring, one eventually ceases to be controlled by a fear of what life can bring.
— James Baldwin

Survival is an art. There's no one way to it. It must be tailored specifically to fit your person; individual and unique. In my experience, I've found that you have to be your own reason to smile, and you have to remember that, one day, somehow, you won't feel this way. There will be days, moments, you think you won't survive, but you will. The truth hurts, and the truth is that no one can save you, from anything, but you. Everyone else is too busy trying to save themselves.

Two years ago, I lost my little brother. He was taller than me, almost identical to me, dumber than me, but also smarter than I'll ever be. I thought I'd never survive it when we lost our mother eleven years ago. I did; I have. Then I lost Matthew, and most days I can barely keep my head above the water.

Exhaled too soon, to think it’d be my last with you.
— Forget Paris, Close Your Eyes.

The last time I saw my brother was January 2, 2016. We had gone out to lunch for our Memere's 90th birthday, then out to a belated dinner for my 24th. I tried to get him to do a shot of Fireball with me, forgetting he wouldn't be 21 for another six months.

The last time I had contact with him was February 27, 2016. We exchanged photos on Snapchat. Mine, of myself and an actor wearing Dragon Ball Z scouters captioned, "This is Osric Chau and I!!". His, a dark picture of his face and middle finger captioned, "This is my middle finger."

He died on February 29, 2016.

You never think the last time is the last time. You think there will be more. You think you have forever, but you don’t.
— Grey's Anatomy

I didn't know it then, but I've come to realize that Matthew was the only reason I survived losing our mother at fourteen years old. He was eleven at the time. I can't say if I was this for him, but he was my lifeline, the closest living connection I had to our mom. We survived together, by looking at pictures of her scattered around our house, and by listening to stories told by her friends as we sat around the fire-pit in our front yard. We survived by burying ourselves in school work and hanging out with our friends. By making pancakes at 2 AM and knocking on the wall that separated out bedrooms before we went to sleep. By crying ourselves to sleep and not mentioning it in the morning. We grew up. We got angry, we got lost, but the one thing I remember most, is that we smiled. We smiled a lot, and we survived.

It's harder for me to survive these days. I keep smiling. I remember everything I can; the sound of my mom singing along to Big Empty in an almost whisper, and the squeaking Matt's deciduous teeth made when he ground them together. Watching figure skating with my grandmother on her giant couch that was too close to the TV, and the way my uncle used to jokingly turn the radio off in the middle of a song while I was singing along. The way my aunt used to insist I call her "Auntie", and the joy it brought my uncle to call me "Allie Cat". How my coworker would text me every day to ask how I was, even though she was fighting for her life, and that the first swear word I ever said was in front of one of my dad's closest friends. Sitting in my mom's hospital room, wetting her lips with a sponge every few minutes and making futile plans to go to Pittsburgh together, and Matthew clearing his schedule to have brunch with me a few weeks after I had brain surgery, both of us making empty promises to get together more often. Sometimes it hurts to remember, but more often than not, it makes me smile, and that is what keeps me breathing.

The reality is, you will grieve forever. You will not get over the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it. You will heal, and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again, but you will never be the same again.
— Elizabeth Kubler-Ross

People like to tell me I'm strong. I like to take it as a compliment. The way I see it is, if I didn't smile, if I didn't remember, then I wouldn't be the strong person they like to see. If I didn't smile, I wouldn't be able to make it through the day. If I didn't smile, I wouldn't be able to see the similarities between Matthew, our mom, and I. So I'll smile, until I can't smile anymore, and I'll remember, until the day I can't.


Loss is hard. Being strong is hard. Remembering is hard. Surviving is hard. But it is possible.