Growing up, the three of us brothers always woke up when it was still dark outside on Christmas morning. We would creep upstairs from our bedrooms in the basement to peek at the presents that had magically appeared under the tree overnight. We laughed with glee at the empty plate of cookies we had left out for Santa the night before. The three of us would sit anxiously on the couch for as long as we could, staring at the presents and sitting on our hands so as not to run over and open any before our parents were awake. Finally, one or all three of us would cave and shake our parents awake so the shredding of paper and untying of bows could commence.
Even when we were teenagers in high school, as we were that fateful Christmas, it was the one day of the year that we willingly got up early. Any weekend or other chance to sleep in we took full advantage of, but on Christmas, we still got up before dawn. We may have grown, and knew the secret of Santa, but we were still excited little kids at heart.
This Christmas was no different – for two of us, at least. Brandon woke up first in the dark and crept to Brady’s room to wake him. The two of them then went to Ben’s room to wake him up too.
We shook him and shook him, but he wouldn’t move. Brandon yelled for him to wake up, not caring that it would disturb our parents sleeping upstairs. When even that didn’t wake him, we panicked. We flipped the lights on and saw that Ben’s lips and fingernails were blue, and he wasn’t breathing.
Brady called 911 while Brandon ran upstairs yelling for his parents to wake up. Perhaps the most heartbreaking moment of this day was when our mom came out of our parents’ bedroom in her bathrobe, grinning ear to ear while rubbing the sleep from her eyes, thinking that Brandon was yelling with excitement about presents on Christmas morning.
When Brandon told our mom that Ben wasn’t breathing, the smile immediately fell, and she panicked, too. She ran downstairs to give him CPR while we waited for the ambulance.
Ben was pronounced dead upon the ambulance’s arrival. There was nothing the medics could do. He had overdosed on heroin in the night and died in his sleep.
It was the single worst day of everyone in our family’s lives.