Photo by  Leon Contreras

In addition to writing my own books, I also help other people write theirs. Over the years, I’ve noticed this uncanny synchronicity recur time and time again wherein I find myself deeply immersed in a project that turns out to be directly applicable to where I’m at in life in that moment. The weirdest part about it is that I don’t choose these books because they are applicable to my life at the time we begin the project. It’s more that life takes an unexpected turn in the midst of the book-writing process and I find myself living in the middle of that book.

Of course, not all of my books turn out this way, but enough of them have at this point that it’s become a noticeable pattern.

Right now, I’m working on a book with a really incredible medium. This chick is the real deal. Ironically, I heard about her long before we started working together, but I just didn’t connect the dots until we were in the thick of it.

Within just a few minutes of our first meeting, she cut me off and said, “Your brother has passed, yes?” This woman then continued on to channel him ridiculously specifically. She didn’t just know things you could Google about him, she knew his essence. I’m down with mediums, but I also know there are a lot of fakers out there. I’ve only run into a couple who have this depth and specificity of connection, who can offer the sort of information that leaves no room for even a shadow of doubt. This woman is one of those two people.

At that very first meeting she told me, “You’re working on this book for a reason, and Nick is helping us.” This might sound like a throwaway comment but, to me, it made perfect sense. When Nick was spending a lot of time in rehab back in the early aughts—before spirituality and all things woo-woo were a part of the pop-culture lexicon like they are today—he was leading his fellow addicts in reading and discussion groups about Sylvia Browne. Imagine a spiky-haired teenager with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth lecturing 40- and 50-something-year-old bikers about Spirit and the Other Side and you will have an idea of how outrageous this scenario was. Part of Nick’s magic was that he could pull this sort of shit off and people loved him for it. The two of us also talked about this stuff all of the time—the universe, life, death, and what it all meant. We weren’t really into small talk. And thank god for that, because my conversations about this stuff with Nick are easily some of the best conversations I’ve ever had with another human being.

As it turns out, the conversation is still going.

As the medium and I continued writing the book, Nick would pop in and out. While I loved and found great comfort in that fact, nothing too outrageous happened.

Fast-forward several months and a little more life happened. I found out that someone very close to me who I love dearly is sick. Although the circumstances are different from Nick’s, I found myself in a similar situation—like I was carrying a lot of the responsibility for his well-being, while simultaneously having no real control over the outcome. I began to struggle a little bit more every day, until I was finally consumed by the sort of thudding grief that I only remembered logistically. It’s like the difference between remembering child birth is painful and then feeling child birth all over again. It was so painful that I became confused. Nick is gone, but this person is not. Why am I hurting so incredibly deeply?

Finally, it hit me like a lightening bolt. “Holy shit. I am doing the exact same thing all over again.” And I can’t do this over again. Grieving is painful enough. Add a sense of failed responsibility to that and it becomes almost overwhelming. In fact, it wasn’t until I had this realization that I really started to understand how much this feeling of responsibility for Nick still weighed on me, nearly a decade after his death.

On a Tuesday night, I went to group therapy and had a breakdown/breakthrough with all of this.

The next day, I was working on the medium’s book, which, by then, I was no longer interviewing her for, but actually writing. That day, I happened to begin working on the chapter about death by suicide and overdose. I had remembered that my brother came through during that particular conversation, but I didn’t remember the specifics of what he said. Quite frankly, it hadn’t seemed that important or memorable at the time the interview had occurred many weeks earlier. In fact, I felt pretty downright blasé about that particular appearance of his. Of all the times he had popped up throughout the course of writing the book, that one was the least memorable to me.

As I flipped through the transcripts, I could hardly believe my eyes. The conversation was nothing like I remembered it to be, precisely because what was now relevant to me hadn’t been at the time.

In the transcripts, I read myself pushing back on the medium about a particular point she had made. She waited a beat and then responded, “Okay. Your brother died of an overdose, right?”

“Yup,” I confirmed.

She then began to explain that, prior to each of our meetings, she took notes to prepare. All of those notes were written as “they.” “If you notice,” she told me, “during this conversation I have been speaking as ‘I.’ That’s because this information is Nick coming through. ‘I fucked up.’ ‘I take responsibility.’ Yes, other people need to hear this, but he’s coming through because you need to hear this.”

At this point in the transcripts, you can tell that I’ve pretty much tuned out, and the medium is getting frustrated that I’m not hearing her. She continued:

"... I felt it from the day that he popped in. He was taking responsibility [for his death]. You need to release yourself from feeling of any sort of responsibility, or any type of burden, or any type of the coulda, shoulda, woulda stuff.”

As I read through the transcripts, I felt as if a weight I hadn’t even realized I had been carrying around suddenly dropped off of me in a matter of seconds. I have had my fair share of profound moments of belief in the universe, in our connectedness, in something more. But this moment right here? It was one of the biggies. It changed everything. So many things had to come together at once for me to have this precise moment of really hearing. Of truly understanding.

And, most of all, I believe it may very well have prevented me from having to take a brush-up course on a very painful lesson that I refused to learn fully the first time around: We are not responsible for other people. No matter how much we love them. We are not responsible. It has allowed me to be present for my loved one in a way I wasn’t able to when I was emotionally and mentally churning over a false sense of responsibility. Now I can just be right here, right now, in the moment. I can support him to the best of my ability with the understanding that, no matter what happens, that’s all I can really do in the end. I can be free to do the only thing I can do—to love him. There is relief in that but, moreover, there is release. I feel free in a way that I haven’t in many, many years. Who would’ve guessed?