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I have a confession: I'm a lousy excuse for an optimist. Despite my general "glass half full" approach to life, sometimes I have a hard time bright-siding things, and occasionally, I lose track of the upside entirely. Where did I put that silver lining again? Damned if I know!

It's normal, I realize, to experience the lows along with the highs, and as someone who has struggled with both clinical and seasonal depression in the past, I've got a reasonable sense of self-awareness and pretty decent set of coping skills when it comes to riding out the something-more-than-sadness that occasionally arrives, uninvited. Sometimes I can feel the gray fog creeping up on its little cat feet; other times it seems to blow in out of nowhere, deliver a little gut punch, and sit back to watch me try to regain my equilibrium.

Last night was a a gut-punch kind of night. I'd felt a little sad and distracted for a few days, not really recognizing why. And then suddenly, somewhere between calling my Dad to check up on him and trying to remember if I'd given the cat his nightly post-work treat, I realized what was up. A quick glance at the calendar confirmed what I already knew: it was the anniversary of my brother's death. Not just any anniversary, either; it was twenty years to the day.

TWENTY YEARS. I still can't wrap my head around it. He was my older brother, but I'm almost 15 years older than he'll ever be now; that just seems weird to me and always will. His death left a big hole in my life, once that I didn't cope with very well, not for years. I'm hardly the first person to lose a sibling, and he wasn't even the first person close to me who had died, but his death--from complications of AIDS--seemed wrong, like some kind of cosmic mistake, a bad joke. I worked in the field, after all; I had the best treatments and doctors at my fingertips, could pull strings to gain access to experimental drugs, knew as much about his illness as his doctors. Didn't matter.

My brother had a big personality, a lot of confidence, and one of those memorable, knee-slapping laughs. He fought his way through a few years of serious illness that would crush the spirit of most people. But he didn't lose his spark, not until the very end, at least. For most of his ordeal, he was almost annoyingly optimistic about the cards he'd been dealt. He was a guy who could bright-side with the best of 'em (Dogs shredded the kitchen cabinets? Remodeling opportunity!), and it was the realization that he---of all people---wouldn't want me to dwell, or wallow, or grieve endlessly once he was gone that helped me come back from my bad place.

If he could look for the silver lining, what was my excuse?

And so I took a page out of his life script and learned how to make the best of a bad situation, to expect good things instead of fearing the worst. Like him, I try to see the good in difficult people and the locate the upsides to things that seem to be constructed entirely of downsides and drawbacks. He showed me how to spot the sometimes elusive silver lining in the little black clouds that sometimes gather over our heads.

Am I successful? Not always. As my friend Common Sense Mainer pointed out to me earlier, it's okay to feel your feelings, and sometimes those aren't good ones. But a lot of the time, yeah, I do okay with my look-for-the-silver-lining approach, and it's one that has gotten me through plenty of pretty awful situations, some very daunting challenges, and more scary life changes and choices than I can count.

That was my brother's last gift to me: a silver lining I can keep with me always.  

                               
                               

                               

                               

Who's Your Little Buddy?
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Originally posted to Vacationland on Wed Jan 16, 2013 at 03:21 PM PST.

Also republished by Personal Storytellers.

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