My name is Aaron, and I am a cousin of Ian. I first met Ian and his brother, Austin, when I was about 10 or 11 years old. Ian would have been about 7 years old. My parents had gotten divorced, and my Dad, Ian’s Uncle Tom, was introducing his kids to his future wife’s family.
I am very sports-oriented. I am very competitive at times and more aggressive than others. “Aggressive” was never a word I would have used to describe Ian. So it definitely took us longer to get to know each other and we both had to mature for us to have a relationship, even a friendship.
I remember the day a few years ago when, for the first time in my life, I looked at Ian not as a little cousin, but as his own person. It was a hot day in May, and my father had employed the services of Ian and myself to help him mulch his yard. Ian shows up late (of course) and we get started. We just spent the day together and talked. We talked about school, Kent State, girls, his band, his “do it yourself” tattoo that he did with a pencil, parties, and life. I could see how much he had matured and how two people with opposite interests can hang out and just laugh for five hours straight. It was a great day and one that I have never forgotten.
Another significant day for Ian and me was June 19, 2016. For those of you who do not know, this was one of the greatest days in Cleveland sports history. The day that Cleveland had its first major sports championship in 50 years.
I had gone downtown with a couple of buddies to watch the game outside of Quicken Loans Arena. My friends and I found a spot toward the middle of the crowd where we could see one of the big monitors. Someone bumps into me, and I see Ian’s goofy face. Out of all the people there, he was the one to bump into me. We hug and talk for a minute and then he joins back up with his friends, I with mine.
The game happens, and we all know how it goes. As 100,000 strangers are hugging each other and celebrating, I find Ian one more time. In absolute shock and disbelief at what we had just watched, we embraced for what felt like five minutes. We said our goodbyes and both went off into the night (that turned into the morning). One of the greatest days of my life and I got to share it with Ian. It only makes that night more special that we shared it together.
When I found out Ian was addicted to painkillers and had developed this addiction, I almost did not believe it. “How could someone I know and love have this disease?” I admittedly had a very naïve idea of addiction. You start to ask silly questions, “Why doesn’t he just quit? He can just stop, can’t he?” Then I did a little research to try to understand it. We want to understand these things to help, but really, there is no understanding it. There is only being there for that person and being as supportive as possible. And unfortunately, sometimes that doesn’t even help.
I remember over the summer we had a small get-together at my father’s house, and Austin and Ian stopped by. It was the first time I had seen what this disease was doing to Ian. He and I ended up going for a walk. I wanted to talk to him and see how he was doing. He was still denying his condition, saying typical things that addicts believe. “I got this under control.” “I’m kicking this thing.” I didn’t know this at the time, but this was the last time Ian and I had a real heart-to-heart conversation. I am thankful that I was able to hug him and tell him that I loved him. I thank God for that.
His loss has devastated the family. As it would any family. How could God, fate, or whatever you want to call it to take such a bright, talented, thoughtful, joyous person at such a young age? Why him? We want answers, but there are no answers. Just more questions. The common ones for me were, “Could I have done anything different to change the outcome?” or “Could I have said anything to him and would he still be here?” There are no answers and when you realize that, it makes me madder.
I probably think about Ian still at least once a day. A song will come on. A thing at work will come up. A show will come on. Sometimes I will get mad, thinking about why he was taken from us. Sometimes I will get sad knowing his Mom and Dad will never be able to hold him again. Frustrated that there is nothing anyone can do to change the outcome.
There is one more story I have to share. The most recent Ian story. Late September/early October of this year, I was driving home from work around 11:30 p.m., listening to a playlist.
I am driving in the fast lane and hear something in my head say, “Look right.”
As I look right, there is a car a, 20bout to hit me. I swerve into the lane to the left of me, coming about a foot away from the barrier. I lay on my horn and the car sped past me. What the driver didn’t notice was that behind us was a cop car, who turns his lights on and pulls him over. I had turned the music down, trying to calm myself after almost getting into a major accident. After I take a few deep breaths and lower my heart rate, I turn up the volume.
Like the hundreds of times I had made that drive before, I had been listening to my 500-song playlist on shuffle. As I turn the volume up, My Chemical Romance’s “Welcome to the Black Parade” starts playing. We are all aware that MCR was probably Ian’s favorite band, and that was one of his favorite songs. This was the first time I listened to it since Ian’s memorial service. It would come up on the radio or in that playlist, but I just couldn’t listen to it. It would just hurt.
This time I had to leave it on. I had to listen to it because it felt like the timing was no coincidence. Something had told me to “Look right.” As soon as that song came on, I knew it was Ian looking out for me. I listened to that song all the way home, sitting in the parking lot until it was over. Shedding a tear knowing that Ian is still with us. Still looking out for everyone he loved and cared about.
To Ian, I know you are out there and I know you are watching over us. We will always miss you and we love you. To everyone else, please take nothing for granted. Be thankful for every day. Be thankful for everyone. God Bless.
Originally posted December 9, 2019