"It's a beautiful thing to feel loved for who you are."

I often sit at my desk and question, over and over again, how could we have saved Matthew? He had a brilliant mind, was a kind and compassionate human being, and had so much to offer this world. When he first published his Wordpress “Start the Conversation…Life is Precious” piece the in May of 2015, the day after he graduated from college, there were over 15,000 people who read his story. He had hundreds, if not thousands of people who texted him, called him, messaged him. Some asked if he was ok, some tried to give him advice, some shared their personal struggles, and others questioned his mental state. And some avoided him or stopped talking with him…I don’t blame them…his personality changed out of the blue, and he seemed to become a different person. We didn’t realize it at the time, but this was the beginning to his end.

This was the first time we understood Matthew was in trouble. There was no reasoning with him…he wasn’t the Matthew who we all knew and loved. We still loved him, but we didn’t feel like we knew him anymore. After a few months of parading him around to visit with doctors, specialists, and begging him to see things how we saw it, he woke up. And when he did, he was embarrassed with his behavior and realized he was not thinking clearly during that time. A few months after this, he swung into a depression.

Some called it bipolar, others called it a phase. Some suggested to him that he was acting like this because we used to joke about him being “the golden child”. Although we did call him the golden child, he knew there was no parental pressure for him to be more than he was capable of becoming. We loved him unconditionally. Others tried to look for trauma in his past. He and his siblings had the most idyllic, carefree childhood, and he, nor we, could think of anything that was traumatizing to him. Yes, there were the occasional trips to the doctor for broken bones and stitches, but none of us considered those overly traumatizing. Still others tried to tell us that mental illness often times rears its ugly head in young adults. We were not buying that either. How could such an even keeled kid who never, ever showed any signs of depression or mental illness, all of a sudden have a serious mental illness within two weeks of a concussion?

Sure, in ways it looked like bipolar disorder. The mood swings—every few months high and every few months low. Other times a brain fog so bad that he couldn’t read or write or have a conversation to save his life. And some months in between, we had our old Matthew back. He said his psychologist told him he was an anomaly. Looking back on it, we agree with the psychologist. Matthew was able to hide so much of his behavior most times to most people. Many times, he was even able to hide it from us. Perhaps we were in denial, or we were hopeful, or faithful…he was our son…we knew he was trying so hard to get better. Many people loved him…and we loved him…we were never going to give up on him. Yet, in the end Matthew couldn’t help himself, and we couldn’t help him.

For five and a half years we felt like we were keeping him alive. We treated him like a child sometimes—we were so afraid for him. We did endless amounts of research, and we never realized it until 2013 how bad hits to the head were for young developing brains. How could we be so stupid? Matthew had many hits…and of course, he never told us about 99% of them…he wanted to play the game so he “played the game”. We marched him in front of more doctors, tried crazy diets and treatments…when it comes to the brain, at this point in time, it appears to be the wild west out there.

Towards the end of his life, he wanted it to live it how he wanted to live it. No more doctors…no more “hovering” by his parents. We were hoping and praying that we were the ones who were wrong, and he was right. He just seemed so happy…and so free.

In the 26 ¾ years of his life, Matthew lived, worked and loved harder and more than most others do in an entire lifetime. This still doesn’t make it any easier to live without him…we all miss him every single minute of every single day…he was an integral part of our family, our friends, and our community…it’s not normal or healthy for all that to be abruptly ended. Now we are working on picking up the pieces...which have been scattered throughout this world.

We do believe, if we could have kept him alive, the brain doctors who are working so diligently would have found a cure for him…and this terrible brain disease that stole his mind, and his dignity, and his ability to live his life the way he was supposed to live it…will somehow be no more…

Until then, it’s important to get the word out…Start the Conversation Now…Life is Precious.

If someone is struggling, and we know first-hand the mental health struggles of a brain injury, there is help out there. Please be hopeful…it does not always have to feel this way…one resource in which we wish we would have utilized sooner and more is the Concussion Legacy Foundation. They have a helpline…there are people who care…and there are hundreds, if not thousands of those who are struggling because of brain injuries…no one has to go through this alone…there is hope…never, ever, give up hope.

As Matthew wrote on his computer just a year ago, “It’s a beautiful thing to feel loved for who you are. Sometimes that is all people need in this world to keep them going. So give unconditional love a try.”

-Anne Benedict