An Open Letter to my Siblings as we Grieve

An Open Letter to my Siblings as we Grieve

"Everybody has a chapter they don't read out loud"

This will not be easy…

Many people asked me prior to the death of my dad if I ever thought about how it would be when he actually passed away. I am not going to lie, I did, and maybe you did too. But nothing could have even begun to prepare me what I am feeling, thinking and experiencing right now. I always had an idea on how I would take care of myself. But at the end of the day, I always was more worried about you guys. There has not been a day where dad hasn’t crossed my mind in one way or another and I can only assume you guys have experienced the same thing. Nothing is more frustrating and heartbreaking than having the urge to call dad and tell him about my day or just to see how he is doing. In a weird sense, each day becomes both a little easier as well as harder. Just know that the three of us will one day make it out of this brutal battlefield as one.

…but it also will not be impossible

Following the news of dad’s passing, did you begin to think how the hell you were going to make it out of this crazy journey? Trust me, I did too! Look at us now, weeks have gone by and we have continued to handle this in our own ways. Moment by moment, day by day, we have managed to move forward. Does that mean it has been easy? Far from it. But at the end of the day, through the drive of ourselves, each other, and the ones around us, we have completed the unfeasible. This roller coaster ride is far from over, just promise me you will hang on tight, okay? We can do this.

Don’t ever be scared to show your true emotion

Trust me, if it is any trait that the three of us received from dad it is that we all are horrible at talking about and showing our true emotion. I know it can be uncomfortable or even weird to express what we truly are feeling. But don’t allow that to be the reason you continue to hold back what has built up inside of you. Crazy enough, I have showed by emotions in the craziest ways since dad’s death; finding sick humor in non-humorous scenarios, crying in class, crying in public (restaurants, malls, bathrooms, coffee shops) the list could go on. If you need to cry, cry. If you need to laugh, laugh. Have the urge to scream, do it! I promise you, the satisfaction of spilling out your emotions is indescribable. Find someone you trust and know that you can reach out to them at any time. You are surrounded by so much support—take advantage of it!

Everything happens for a reason

Such a cliché saying, right? But at the same time, it is incredibly true. I don’t know about you, but I have continued to think about ‘why.’ Why dad? Why anyone? Why us? Why didn’t he survive? Why now? Why ever? It is frustrating to think that answers to all of this questions have continued to be unknown. Yet, I always find comfort in the idea that one day, all the answers will arise. Until then, just remember that dad forever is cancer free and in the best place this world has to offer.

Know that we will always have each other

Just when you think that you don’t have anyone who truly understands what you are going through, feeling and dealing with, remember you have us. As we all continue to live our day to day lives in different places, in different phases and surrounded by different people, that never will take away the fact that the three of us will forever be siblings. I love you guys.

Dad will forever be looking down on us

Right when you believe that dad isn’t with you, think again. During times of success, failure, happiness, sadness, anger, frustration, good and the bad, he is never too far away. Whether it be when you receive an awesome grade in school, a promotion in work, graduation, weddings, etc., dad will always be there. Let’s continue to make dad proud, hand in hand, together.

Cover Image Credit: Taylor Stossel

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4 reasons how Drake's New Album May Help Us Fight Mental Illness

Increasing Evidence Points to Music as a Potential Solution to the Mental Health Problem.


Okay, You caught me!

I am NOT just talking about everybody's favorite actor-turned-rapper— or second, if you've seen Childish Gambino's "This is America" music video. Unfortunately, current research hasn't explored specific genres and artists. However, studies HAVE provided significant evidence in possibilities for music to treat mental health disorders. Now, before you say something that your parents would not be proud of, ask yourself if you can really blame me for wanting to get your attention. This is an urgent matter concerning each one of us. If we all face the truth, we could very well reach one step closer to solving one of society's biggest problems: Mental Health.

The Problem:

As our nation continues to bleed from tragedies like the horrific shooting that shattered the lives of 70 families whose loved ones just wanted to watch the "Dark Knight Rises" during its first hours of release, as well as the traumatic loss of seventeen misfortunate innocents to the complications of mental health disorders in the dear city of Parkland— a city mere hours from our very own community— it's impossible to deny the existence of mental illness. As many of us can already vouch, mental illness is much more common than what most would think: over 19 million adults in America suffer from a mental health disorder. Picture that: a population slightly less than that of Florida is plagued by hopelessness, isolation, and utter despair.

Disease in the form of depression holds millions of people prisoner, as anxieties instill crippling desperation and too many struggles with finding peace. This can be you. It could be your brother, your sister, your mother, your father, your cousin, your aunt, your uncle, your friend, your roommate, your fraternity brother, your sorority sister, your lab partner, or just your classmate that sits in the corner of the lecture hall with a head buried into a notebook that camouflages all emotion.

I hope we— the UCF community— understand the gravity of the problem, but it's clear that some still see mental illness as a disease that affects only a handful of "misfits" who "terrorize" our streets, while the numbers reveal more to the issue. In fact, 1 in 5 Americans suffers from a mental health disorder. The problem is so serious that suicide has risen to become the second-leading cause of death among 20 to 24-year-olds. While many continue to ask for more antidepressants and even the occasional "proper spanking," recent studies indicate increases in occurrence, such as one in depression from 5.9% in 2012 to 8.2% in 2015. So, clearly, none of that is working.

The Evidence:

If we really want to create a world where our children are free from the chains of mental illness, we need to think outside the box. Doctors and scientists won't really talk about this since it's still a growing field of research, but music has strong potential. We don't have any options at the moment, which means we need to change our mindset about music and to continue to explore its medicinal benefits. If you're still skeptical because of the title, then please consider these 4 pieces of solid evidence backed by scientific research:

1. Music has been proven to improve disorders like Parkinson's Disease.

Researchers sponsored by the National Institute of Health— the country's largest research agency— saw an improvement in the daily function of patients with Parkinson's Disease. This makes patients shake uncontrollably, which often prevents them from complete functionality. The disease is caused by a shortage of dopamine— a chemical your neurons, or brain cells, release; since music treats this shortage, there's an obvious ability to increase dopamine levels. As numerous studies connect dopamine shortages to mental illnesses like depression, addiction, and ADHD, someone could possibly use music's proven ability to increase dopamine levels to treat said problems.

2. Listening to the music has the potential to activate your brain's "reward center."

In 2013, Valorie Salimpoor and fellow researchers conducted a study that connected subjects' pleasure towards music to a specific part of the brain. This key structure, the nucleus accumbens, is the body's "reward center," which means all of you have experienced its magical powers. In fact, any time the brain detects a rewarding sensation— drinking ice-cold water after a five-mile run in sunny, humid Florida, eating that Taco Bell chalupa after a long happy hour at Knight's Library, and even consuming recreational drugs— this structure releases more of that fantastic dopamine. So, with further research into specifics, doctors may soon be prescribing your daily dose of tunes for your own health.

3. Listening to Music may be more effective than prescription anti-anxiety medication.

In 2013, Mona Lisa Chanda and Daniel J. Levitin— two accomplished doctors in psychology— reviewed a study wherein patients waiting to undergo surgery were given either anti-anxiety medications or music to listen to. The study took into account cortisol levels, which are used daily by healthcare professionals to gauge patient levels. This "stress hormone" was actually found to be lower in patients who listened to classical music rather those who took the recommended dose of prescription drugs. Sit there and think about that for a second: these patients actually felt more relaxed with something as simple as MUSIC than with chemicals that are made specifically to force patients into relaxation before surgery. Why pop a Xanax when you can just listen to Beethoven?

4. Music may release the chemicals that help you naturally relax and feel love.

Further studies continue to justify music's place in the medical world as results demonstrate increases in substances such as prolactin— a hormone that produces a relaxing sensation— as well as oxytocin— the substance that promotes warmth and happiness during a hug between mother and child. So this study basically showed us that music has the potential to actually make you feel the way you did when Mom or Dad would embrace you with the warmest hug you've ever felt.

The Future:

The evidence I present you with today is ultimately just a collection of individual situations where specific people found specific results. There are a lot of variables when it comes to any research study; therefore, data is never truly certain. We should take these findings as strong suggestions to a possible solution, but we must remember the possibility of failure in our search.

The neurochemistry behind the music and its medicinal properties is just beginning to unfold before the scientific community. In fact, extremely qualified scientists from the National Institute of Health— the organization that basically runs any important medical study in the United States— continue to remind us of the subject's youth with the constant use of "potential" behind any and all of their findings. Therefore, it's our responsibility as a community to look into this— not just that of the scientists at the National Institute of Health.

We're all surrounded by music. It's at the bars. It's in our ears during all-night sessions at the UCF library. It's keeping us awake through East Colonial traffic at 7:00 AM while hordes of students focus on their cell phone screens instead of the paved roads ahead. It's in the shoes we wear, the actions we take, and the words we say. IF YOU'RE READING THIS: it's accessible to you. So, don't be shy, and try to play with your Spotify account, or even just on YouTube, and gauge the power of music. As more and more of us see the light, we can promote the movement and carry on as more research comes out to support us.

Drop the bars, drop those addictive pills that destroy your body slowly, and pick up your headphones and press PLAY.

Just relax, close your eyes, smile, and live.

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To my sister's boyfriend who became part of the family as he leaves for college

We love you.


When most people think of the overprotective big sibling, they picture the stereotypical shotgun-slinging big brother, sitting on the porch on prom night, daring his little sister's date to bring her home a second late. But that's not always the case.

As the oldest, watching your younger siblings enter the dating world is... interesting, to say the least. We all want nothing but the best for them, right? And that means holding their significant other to incredibly high standards, and for good reason.

But when it came to my sister's new boyfriend, only one thing really mattered to me: does he make her laugh?

Laughter is the best medicine, after all. Luckily for me, my sister and her boyfriend, he passed the test.

And with that, my family welcomed him with open arms. I mean, a successful kid with a good head on his shoulders, who has plans for his future AND a solid sense of humor? How could we not love him?

But now he's getting ready to leave... for college, that is.

To the boy who holds my sister's heart, here is my advice as you experience the biggest change of your life: live, love and laugh as much as you can, harder than you ever have before. You have the next three months to make as many memories with my sister as you possibly can, so take every opportunity that you can. Even if it seems minuscule or cheesy, do it, because no act of love is ever too small.

Once these three months fly by, which they will trust me, you'll be faced with the enormous reality of college. You will feel every single emotion possible; fear, pride, excitement, etc. But as you take that first step into the next chapter of your life and every step thereafter, my family and I will be cheering you on, with my sister's cheers always a little bit louder than everyone else's.

You're going to face some obstacles along the way, that's life. How you chose to handle them is up to you.

And even though some days it may feel like you're a million miles away, you're not, and that is both a blessing and a curse. A curse because my overprotective momma bear side will come out if you ever hurt my sister, and a blessing because you will always be welcomed home with open arms.

Rule number 2857 in the Oldest Sibling Handbook: don't boost your younger sibling's ego. But alas, here we are, so let me just say this. She sure did pick a great guy. We cannot wait to witness all you accomplish in college and beyond. So spend your summer wisely, kick some ass in college and treat my sister right... or I'll kick your ass.

Now go get 'em, tiger.

Cover Image Credit:

Rebecca Werez

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