It’s been almost two months since I’ve been back from Iceland, and while I have few excuses for not posting my pictures sooner, I’ve been hesitant to write about what happened because it hurts. It was the trip of a lifetime, which I’d hoped would be the case when I booked my ticket. But it came with some serious misery.

About three days before my trip, I found out a very dear friend to me, a brother that I’d grown up with since childhood, was going in for a heart transplant. I didn’t even consider canceling my flights. James can’t die, I thought. He was born with a defective heart and had been through 22 years and countless surgeries only to come out on top.

3 years ago was the first time I’d witnessed how sick he truly was, though he hid it well growing up. I remember being alarmed seeing him hooked up to loud, beeping machines and a hideous feeding tube taped to his face and making its way down his throat. I cried more than I ever have in my life. I’d never seen anyone so sick, so fragile-looking–and my day job is working with seniors. He went back to work in a busy restaurant a few months later. He’d only stopped working this year when he got too sick.

I last saw him in mid-July about a month before I left for Iceland. He refused to stay still, which made me laugh then and puts a smile on my face now. Good God, I miss him. He never stopped fighting.

In Iceland, I checked my phone anytime I had WiFi, hopping on Facebook to see his parents’ very thorough updates on his status. He’d gotten his new heart, but was having some complications. They were going to have to get him another heart. Okay, no problem. James can make it.

A few days after his first surgery, the Universe granted him a second heart. I was excited for him. James could fight his way through anything. After all, he was almost dead when I saw him three years ago, lying in a cold hospital room. We had to put gowns and booties on before we could see him. He made it through that, he could make it through this.

I didn’t even think we could lose him. Not when he needed a second heart. Not when pieces of his body were dying. But that’s what happened.

James died on August 20th, 2017 after fighting for almost 22 years. He was one of my oldest friends, and when he left a piece of me died, too.

Before he died he made sure his friends around him knew they were loved, something we should all do a little more often. He taught me to never give up, to fight for my dreams, and to take as many pictures as I can—because life is fleeting, and death is certain.

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