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My Brother’s Short Life: Pain into Purpose

My name is Keyan, and I am a 17-year-old living in Bali, Indonesia. My 19-year-old brother, Haydn, passed away from a very rare brain cancer in May 2020, and I’m struggling to deal with his death.

 

After almost 10 months of grueling cancer treatments in hospitals in Toronto and New York, his passing absolutely devastated my family and I. Since then, the past two years have been filled with many highs and lows. Through it all, the phrase “Pain into purpose” has resonated with me. What does it mean? 

 

This brief phrase has become the blueprint for the way I strive to live the rest of my life. 

 

Just like everyone who experiences profound loss, I feel colossal amounts of pain, guilt, and heartache. Sometimes it can seem like too much to bear. Turning my anguish into active projects has been my best way of healing. After Haydn’s death, I tried therapy, medication, meditation, art, etc. Although I know these things have helped others, frankly none of them helped me much. Only the physical action of creating something and the thrill of launching what I created has made a difference. That’s why I want to share “Pain into purpose” with you all – because it has helped me heal.

 

Three months after Haydn’s passing, I was driving with my mum from Ottawa to Toronto. This trip was really difficult for us because of the memories of Haydn suffering through cancer treatments in Toronto hospitals. On the way there, we stopped for a walking break, and I stepped out of the car and saw a pebble on the ground. On it were painted the words, “You Matter.” In that moment I remembered this quote from Albert Schweitzer: Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous.”

 

I saw this as a gift, and a sign that impelled me to start something new. 

 

On returning to Ottawa, I started YouMatterYouth.org – basically a clothing line, designed for youth, with “You Matter” printed on T-shirts, hoodies, phone cases, and stickers. Sadly, this didn’t go very well, and we still have several boxes of merchandise in my friends’ houses around the world! It wasn’t easy to sell merchandise during COVID, when many schools were closed and learning had mostly moved online. I lost money – well, really my parents’ money – on my first business venture, and felt very disheartened because any sales for YouMatterYouth were meant to raise money for mental health in young people. 

 

However, the project did help me realize that the only way I could justify Haydn’s short life was to live mine more fully. Working on something in honor of somebody who has left this world – whether great or small – can divert negative thoughts into positive actions. It almost brings them back to Earth when we do things in their name, and makes us feel like they are with us again. 

 

My brother Haydn, an active Baha’i, had no fear of death. Before he passed away he wrote a letter to assure me that even after his soul graduated from this physical world, he would be by my side helping me. I don’t fully understand that, but I do feel that the world is more mysterious than we imagine, and that spiritual connections, which we reinforce through prayer and trying to nourish our spirits, can really help us deal with our tests and difficulties. The Baha’i teachings have given me that advice, especially in this insightful quotation from Abdu’l-Baha:

 

In prayer there is a mingling of station, a mingling of condition. Pray for them as they pray for you! When you do not know it, and are in a receptive attitude, they are able to make suggestions to you, if you are in difficulty.

 

In October 2020, my parents and I left Canada to move to Bali, Indonesia. Despite the major change in the scenery, my brother’s passing still haunted me. I struggled at school here, and went through some painful and dark times. 

 

But in the summer of 2021, I decided to create a jewelry business in Haydn’s name, designing and making jewelry with artisans in Bali. The pieces we make at Haych Jewelry, mostly out of recycled silver and bamboo, are inspired by Haydn’s love for simple designs, architecture, and jewelry. I don’t know if this is really my purpose, but I am taking one step at a time to find my purpose and let it motivate me. I know that I have to be active and moving to do that, and that dwelling on the past, pitying myself, and sitting in sadness is not an option, because it only leads to more sadness. 

 

Nineteen is a short life. It seems unfair that my brother died so young, and doesn’t seem right. However, I’ve discovered that the only way I feel comfortable living with Haydn’s death is to live my own life with greater purpose. Losing Haydn was a severe test for me, as if I have been asked to climb Mt. Everest, and this statement from the Baha’i International Community has helped me cope, even though it was written on the rather different topic of eliminating racism: “To continue the disease analogy, the more unpleasant the symptom, the more powerful our motivation to combat the disease.”

 

Suffering is a mystery, and it seems that the scriptures of the world’s religions, including the Baha’i writings, don’t try to cover this up. Instead they tell us to use our suffering to be more useful and to make our own unique contribution to the world. As Abdu’l-Baha wrote: “Moreover, these afflictions shall be the cause of great advancement.”

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Բահայի Հայաստան