Through smiles and tears

I’m alone in my car on my lunch break. I just picked up my favorite smoothie. I was planning on walking around a store to stretch my legs, but I can’t make myself get out.

The song “Drowning” by Chris Young came on the radio on my drive to the shopping center from Juva and it hit me hard today.

Some days, I can listen to songs like this and smile. And other days, I can’t. If you haven’t heard this particular song, the chorus is:

“So I’m gonna pull out pictures, ones with you in them

Laugh and cry a little while reminiscing by myself

I can’t help that all I think about is

How you were taken way too soon

It ain’t the same here without you

I gotta say missin’ you comes in waves

And tonight I’m drowning.”

I didn’t realize that I had started crying, but I had. Immediately, I start beating myself up. “Come on Angela, get yourself together,” I’m saying in my mind. And usually, that does the trick. But today, it didn’t. The tears kept coming. So I did something that I don’t normally do, I let them.

Life is so short and I feel like we make it shorter by always rushing ourselves. Instead of stopping and letting ourselves just feel what we need to feel, we try to rationalize why it isn’t necessary and talk ourselves out of it. More often than not, I catch myself refusing to have a pity party when, actually, the best thing you can do for your mental health, is to just feel it.

So I’m going to do something else that I don’t normally do. I’m going to share my grief with you.

This June will be eight years without my little brother, Coty Lee, physically here. I say that because I believe that he is still with me, spiritually. I feel him. I talk to him. I ask him for strength.


Aside from everything that went down in the hospitals, the last memory I have of my brother perfectly sums up our relationship. And it is a memory that I will always cherish and be grateful for.

I believe it was mid-morning on June 28, 2012. My mom sent me a text saying that she was meeting my Dad and little brother at a restaurant called Oby’s for lunch. “It would be nice to see your face,” she said. It was the summer following my Freshmen year of college and I was sleeping in before my shift at the bookstore.

I got up, got ready, and headed to meet them. It was a normal enough lunch, we were talking and joking. I remember Coty had eaten all of his fruit, but none of his chicken tenders. He kept saying he didn’t like them and my Dad was telling him to eat them anyway. Normal. Average. Typical day.

We finished up and I remember hugging my parents and yelling “good-bye” to Coty as he was a distance in front of us, in his own little world. I had gotten to my Jeep and was unlocking the door when I heard feet running towards me. I turned around right as he barreled into me, tackling me to the pavement. Through laughter, we pulled each other back up to our feet.

He started walking back over to my parents, but stopped, turned back towards me, and said, “Later loser, try not to suck too much”. Which, if you have siblings, you know means “I love you”.

“I love you too,” I yelled. He smiled, turned around, and walked away.

A few hours later I received a phone call from my older brother, Sal, telling me to get to the hospital as soon as I could.

He told me to run.

And I did.

I was on the second level of the bookstore where I was working. I remember running down the stairs, stopping at the front counter to grab my keys, and then out the door. The next time I saw him, he wasn’t conscious. And he never would be again.

Obviously, it is extremely rare that you get to choose what your last words are to someone. If I had gotten that chance to choose, I would have wanted it to go down the same way it did. The same words.


You see, Coty was born the month before I turned 8. He was the chunkiest baby I had ever seen, being nearly 11 pounds at birth. I remember walking into the hospital room to meet him. My Mom was deep into a double quarter pounder with cheese from McDonald’s. Someone was telling her to slow down and a nurse made the comment, “Ya’ll leave that woman alone, don’t you see what she just did?”

I didn’t quite understand what that nurse meant until years later.

He had a head full of black hair. I remember being surprised because I didn’t know that some babies were born with hair. I sat on the couch beside my Mom’s hospital bed, a sibling on either side of me, and my Dad put him in my arms. He looked up at me and then closed his eyes.


Growing up, he always looked up to my older brother, Sal, and wanted to do whatever he was doing. Hunting, playing video games, working on his truck, whatever it was that Sal was doing, he wanted to be involved. He and my younger sister, Dakota, were very close as well. There were only three years between them so they shared friends and spent a lot of time together, especially as they got older.

Our relationship was more of what you would expect between the oldest daughter and the youngest child. He would be mean to me or make fun of me in front of the rest of our family, but then come into my room later on that night and apologize. He would borrow books from me and bring them back to me with a list of questions, or words he didn’t know.

Because of the long hours my parents worked, to support a family of six, I found myself cooking dinner a good bit in middle and high school. He would sit on the counter, between the sink and the stove, his feet kicking the broken dishwasher below him, and talk to me about something he had learned that day. Asking me questions about it. And then get aggravated when I would try to quiz him on his spelling words.

“Just tell Mom we did them earlier,” he would say and then jump right back into our previous conversation.

I was always surprised by his vocabulary. And the topics he wanted to talk about. He was that kid who was smarter than pretty much everyone else, but didn’t want anyone to know. One of my favorites, that I recall word for word, was him saying, “Okay, so I’m working on this Rube Goldberg machine in my room, and I’m trying to decide if I want it to end by hitting my baseball into my glove or if I want to go for something trickier. What do you think? Lame or no?”

I miss those conversations.

I feel like there should have been so many more.


I moved out when I started college in 2011 and I missed a lot of those last few months with him, I was so wrapped up in my own world. But, every Sunday, I would come home. And, every Sunday, he would find something to make fun of me about, immediately following it up with questions.

One day, he literally snatched a soda out of my hand and say, “Hey, you don’t live here anymore so these aren’t free for you. You can give me a dollar for it or you can have some water. So, that geology class you’re in, is that like volcanoes or is that like dinosaurs and fossil fuels?”

Looking back on it, I wouldn’t have our relationship any other way.


And now, it’s time to go back to work, actually a few minutes late, whoops. So, if you made it to the end of this long and rambling post, thank you.

Thank you for letting me tell you about him and how much his love meant to me/means to me.

xxx A

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