Story of Growth - Matt Bitsko

OTHERS(S) - Relationships

I am pleased and honored to offer this story of growth. I have much respect for Hold the Door and one of its primary founders, Rob Fazio. For these reasons, I offer my brief story below. This is a written update to the story I first presented in the original Hold the Door CD-Rom.

On March 17th, 1991, St. Patties Day, my cousin Greg was killed in an automobile accident. I must convey that Greg was like a brother to me in many ways. My family has always fostered close relationships with our cousins; on that day, I’m sad to say, I’d almost wished they hadn’t.

Late that evening, Greg was driving a car with two other occupants. He and one passenger were killed and the other suffered severe brain damage. Greg was driving while intoxicated and ran a stop sign less than a half mile from his childhood home. He was 22 and a recent graduate of Penn State. I can’t go into my many thoughts and emotions of guilt, anger, and responsibility, but I believe they play, and continue to play, a role in my coping with this process (I can’t believe I just called it a process).

In the spring of 1991, I was a freshman at Randolph-Macon College and was experiencing a wonderful year of fun and exploration. On St. Patrick’s Day of that year, I pitched a no-hitter for Randolph-Macon’s baseball team. As you can see, this will be a story of extreme ups and downs. To be brief, allow me to say that I celebrated that night. It strikes me still to this day that I was probably in the same mental mindset as Greg in those very same moments that night. In hindsight, I suppose I was lucky to be celebrating at a small residential college that did not require any driving – but that gets into chance and circumstance which I’m not willing to consider right now. Please know, however, that these facts have never been lost on me. I awoke, quite hazily, that morning to receive the phone call of his death.

My story from that night to this day revolves around a concept I’ve come to know as time perspective. I reacted to Greg’s death during my college years with an even more “devil may care” and unbridled “you never know” mentality. I would work hard and play hard, with, perhaps, special emphasis on the playing hard motif. Looking back, it is safe to say that I was certainly focusing almost exclusively on the present moment with an almost hedonistic bend to most all of my interactions. As it always does, time marched on. The years since 1991 saw me navigate personal, academic, career, and relationship developments. These events made me consider my past, present, and future. I guess that gets me to the “what did I do” part of this story.

Rob at Hold the Door suggested that I consider how this loss has helped me deal with future adversities, relationships, and, perhaps, a new appreciation for life. I believe I have grown in many wonderful ways as a result of Greg’s death. From the time of his death, I guess I’ve always had the mindset that I wanted to somehow allow this to make me be a better person. As you may understand, this notion brings both guilt and pride. How selfish of me to try to grow from this experience!? However, I didn’t want to consider the alternatives.

So what did I do? I’ve always tried to maintain that present focused “time perspective” (what a sterile term!) that enables me to live in the present moment and always make the most of my relationships. To me, this has often meant staying up way past my “bedtime” to enjoy and build the bonds between friends and family. I drive and fly great distances to keep up those relationships, even though it often borders on insanity. Paradoxically, this present focus gives me constantly renewed faith about my future relationships with these many people. Further, it has helped me look back upon these relationships with satisfaction and contentment.

Essentially, I believe that grieving the death of loved one presents us all with one common question: How will I approach future relationships? Will I run away from them (“shield”) or will I “fuse” myself to others as I attempt to hold on tightly? We all have to answer this question for ourselves. For me, I have tried to cultivate strong relationships since Greg’s death. This may be the choice point for us all. But what, indeed, are the options. Do we knowingly cultivate future strong relationships knowing that ultimately loosing these people will result in much pain, or do we actively (on unconsciously) pursue relationships that are shallow to shield us from the inevitable pain of losing them?

Importantly, I have focused my attention on a relatively small amount of people – my family and close friends. This concept also applies to the wonderful women I met in my mid twenties. Kelly and I got married and are “cultivating” our own beautiful family while maintaining balanced relationships. To this end, I suppose that maintaining sanity and balance in my relationships is where I currently stand and will continue to evaluate.

Thanks for listening. I know writing this has been helpful for me. I hope it has been helpful for you.