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  • Jess Brown

Zach’s Story

“We’re just not accustomed to the broadness of grief and we’re a VERY GRIEF-ILLITERATE SOCIETY that hasn’t really delved into this language. There is the death of our loved one. But a divorce is the death of that marriage. A breakup is the death of that relationship. A job loss is the death of that income, that work environment, those people you were seeing in that setting. So, they all are a death of something. And we are dealing with the death of the world as we know it,” David Kessler grief visionary and author of Finding Meaning.

I am the oldest of seven Brown grandchildren. That’s one sibling, three Wyoming and two Georgia cousins. I love them dearly. I exhibit all the neuroticism of a first born. Luckily 720 days after my arrival I was joined by a hero of mine, a baby brother, SFC Zachary Morgan Brown. I had to check that math three times but coincidentally, I had a best friend born leap year 1984 so I know that date existed. Also, big thing to know from the get-go, I don’t believe in coincidences. My parents were living in Seattle while Zach and I’s father was pursuing a career in Aeronautics Finance. They met in high school in a small agriculture Colorado town so Morgan was the name of the county my Mom and Dad were from. An homage to their roots living a nomadic life. 

Only 720 days was I without my brother. His voice filled the most voluminous spaces, even as a toddler, if he had a platform, he filled it. Zach couldn’t be diluted. And that’s why now in the after, 631 days as I am writing this on January 29, 2024, it is so eerily quiet, like being the only guest at Disney World alone. Zach’s last seven months on this plane were a 60-car pile-up ice storm on the freeway chaotic and I longed for the quiet that I was guaranteed was coming with Zach heading to rehab at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, but we were unaware how thin a thread his soul was clinging to.

The 1990s saw the merger of two defense company giants, propelling our dad’s career. With that by 8th grade, I had been in five schools and lived in every continental time zone, sans Central. Zach and I became skilled at adapting to different surroundings and often we were the only constant in each other’s lives. Two years can be a difficult age difference. We were very competitive, if Zach had an A in 4th grade Mrs. Burton’s Social Studies class, I’d remind him that I left with a 98%. If one of us had made the travel team, one had to go for club soccer or AAU basketball. We often pushed each other to be better if we weren’t punching each other’s biceps in the back seat.

We buried our dad in 1997 quick and unexpectedly and we metaphorically buried my mom in that same casket, as her health and substance abuse never allowed the women who gave us our first hammer and nails for a tree fort vanished. When adversity happens people must form their own individual escape plan, despite us being a dynamic duo we had to forge ahead independently. I hopped on a plane back Maryland and that leap year friend’s family and 100% bartended myself through college as Zach stamped his ticket in the United States military.

You see I don’t know if I told him enough how proud I was of him. He was a hero. Hero to so many. While I was bartending and getting more people hooked on the sauce, he was protecting our freedom. While he was in Iraq, I was repeating Organic Chemistry because I failed at juggling it all. While he was in Afghanistan, I again moved myself across the country to Colorado because it was easier to run away from my problems. No one ever told me that the person you hugged goodbye for war was never coming back. You see life has a way of changing us and we either grow with the trauma or the secrets and pain we push down destroys us. 

SFC Zachary Morgan Brown and I were raised by the Golden Rule. He believed in a life of service. He believed in giving our kids a life better than we had. What that means for me now is torch passing. He is at peace and laid down his sword but now I must follow the Ghost Writer bread crumbs of who I can share our stories with because every single one of us deserves…. HOPE!


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