1000 days is a long time. You could walk coast-to-coast across the U.S. multiple times. You could spend a weekend in every country in the world. You could write a book, bring a child into the world, and train for a marathon, and you would still have time left over.
For more than 1000 days I have mourned the loss of my brother, Gilad Nissim.
March 26, 2013 was the last time I saw my friend. March 27th came and Gil, a freshman sitting in his dorm room, called his Dad complaining of a headache. After his conversation, Gil took the elevator down from his residence hall to grab lunch, took three steps outside of his building, and collapsed on the ground.
Gil was taken to the hospital where it was determined he suffered from an aneurism and was in a coma. Gil was in good health, but we soon learned he suffered from a condition called Arteriovenous Malformation, or AVM. He had a blood clot in his brain. A tangled mess of nerves in his skull, assumed to have been there since he was a child, just waiting to go off like a neurological time bomb.
Gil spent the next few months in the Maryland hospital before being transported to Israel where his family was located, and they would be able to try some experimental treatments. In November it was determined the son and brother we all came to know was not going to return to us, and he was taken off life support. He passed away on November 13, 2013.
I will never forget my Chapter President, Ben Caffey, calling us in for an emergency meeting that next Sunday afternoon. Ben, standing at the front of the room, was forced to shoulder the heavy burden of telling his chapter our 19-year-old brother would never awake from his coma. The kid who never ceased to put a smile on our faces, whether it was being the first to volunteer for an event, or having the uncanny ability of friend-zoning himself with every girl he met… he was gone.
There is something eerie about the death of someone younger than yourself. It brings into question a lot of truths you may have never been forced to consider. We grow up watching our grandparents, aunts, uncles, and sometimes even our parents pass. Unfortunately, all this conditioning does not quite prepare you for the untimely death of not only a teenager, but a teenager who was among the best of us. A physics major who applied for internships that PhD’s barely qualify for. But that was Gil: so bold in his actions that his genius could never be questioned with totality.
Gil’s death brought about a great deal of grief and I was forced to cope with the far-too-early loss of my friend. Coping comes in the most unique ways – for me it was restlessness. I needed to put my efforts into something meaningful for Gil, so we began work on a candlelight vigil.
As Greeks, we are day in and day out, pit against each other in competition. We compete in recruitment, athletics, philanthropy, community service, and socially and are constantly measuring our own success based on the results of others. In an instant, all of that pettiness faded away.
I met with Matt Lenno, our Director of Fraternity and Sorority Life, and he began giving me some information about how we could start putting something together for Gil. I sat in rooms with the
Panhellenic President, IFC President, and leaders from every fraternity on campus; each of them extending their own assisting hand to our memorial event. They each came forward with a donation for candles, offering aspects of their own fraternity’s ritual towards the loss of not just my Theta Chi brother, but a member of a larger brotherhood –of all Greeks.
On a bone-chilling November evening, while swirling winds threatened to blow out the 1000+ candles that were lit, a community of caring and mutual respect was cultivated. Our Sacred Purpose is to take care of our brothers and our community. That night our community took care of us.
In the 3 years since Gil’s death, it does not feel any easier, but it does feels more hopeful. Not because I hope to see him again in life, but because I saw the 1000+ people who showed up for his vigil, and I see them honoring him still to this day. It is a quick look at the bracelet I’ve worn on my wrist in his memory each day, or those who make a Facebook post on his wall telling his family we remember him. Gil’s impact will continue through those who remember him.
It is impossible to understand why Gil died. It still feels tragic and wasteful. At the age of 23, how to understand death is still a mystery to me. The only thing I can do is attempt to understand Gil’s life.
I can understand what Gil did each day that made people fall in love with the good in him.
I can work every day to live it in a way that Gil would be proud of.
I miss you, Gil – thank you for being my brother and sharing your good with the world.
Kevin Kutner, Field Executive