Gaining Purpose After Losing My Brother Travis


Editor’s note: This article was originally written in 2018 for Jesse Was Here. It may have been edited for length and clarity.

July 23, 2006 would be the last day I saw my youngest brother Travis. Six days later he passed away from complications of type 1 diabetes (T1D), hypoglycemia to be specific. This is the story of my ongoing journey through the grieving process.

My brother Travis always had a smile on his face and was the guy everyone loved. He always stood up for those being bullied. He was an avid participant in sports and performed in show choirs and musicals—winning state and national awards. Travis enjoyed music, photography, drawing, playing piano, karaoke, singing at weddings and of course singing to girls in the hallway at Ashwaubenon High School.

I will never forget those words I heard on Sunday July 29, 2006: “Your brother Travis died last night.” For the next three hours I would mutter aloud and in my head, “No, no, no, no.” Over and over again. 

I sat on the stairs, unable to go up and gather my things to make the two hour drive to my parents, whom he was living with preparing for his Senior year at my alma mater UW-Green Bay. The days that followed were full of the traditional grieving processes including wake, funeral, friends bringing food, love and support. It all felt like a blur and then everyone went on with their own lives while we were left without our Travis. 

That was just the beginning of our grieving process. It’s the days, months and years ahead that I’ve struggled with.

Travis’s death irreversibly changed our family dynamic. I am the oldest of four boys. I have two other living brothers, Craig and Tyler. It’s safe to say that every single person in my family has handled his death in different ways. 

We went through the usual “tough holiday seasons.” Life went on, but without Travis. My brother Tyler got married just months after he passed. What was a celebration of Tyler and Kristin, was also a harsh reminder that Travis would never get married, have children or meet all five nephews and nieces that would be born after he passed.

I was Travis’s big brother. I was supposed to take care of him. I spent the next months and even years wishing I could have saved him. I guess I honestly still do today. I hated what his death had done to our family. I spent too much time in my head thinking how different and better things would be with him here. All of that focus on the past and what might have been was eating at me from the inside. 

I was and am suffering from anxiety and depression. Thankfully things would start to change. 

2012 was the beginning of a turning point for me. I attended a fundraiser hosted by my friend Lisa Ruth. There I met several people involved in JDRF Ride To Cure. That night I also met this woman who had lost her son to T1D complications. Little did I know, she and this group of people would give me the love and support I needed to start to see the positives in life. I couldn’t save Travis, but I could help save others through diabetes awareness and fundraising

I began to focus on the positive things that would not have happened without Travis’s death. I’m blessed with two amazing children who “know” their uncle Travis because we keep his memory alive. I’ve completed athletic events I thought were impossible. I have completed four 140.6 mile Ironman Triathlons supporting Riding on Insulin and two 100 mile JDRF Ride To Cure Fundraisers.

I’ve started to liken life to the children’s books “Choose Your Own Adventure.” In these books the reader assumes the role of the protagonist and making choices that determine the main character’s actions and the plot’s outcome. As a kid I would read the books over and over again making different choices to see the different outcomes. All the choices had one thing in common. They had both good and bad outcomes with each decision.

It hasn’t been easy, but I try to focus on the positive outcomes life has brought me as a result of his passing. Thankfully, I have my JDRF peeps to support me. I now try to surround myself with supportive people who understand me and care. I spend less time on the what might have been and spend more time on remembering the good times with Travis and the good things that have occurred as a result. 

One of those is my fiancé Kimberly who, ironically, has type 1 diabetes. Since meeting her, she’s met our JDRF group, gotten an insulin pump and a continuous glucose monitor (CGM). Her A1C has dropped in half. We are getting married in 2019 and our children are getting an amazingly loving mom and a fresh start at life. 

To my brother, “Travis, I would have done anything to save you. I couldn’t, but you’ve given me a chance to save Kimberly and many others. I know she would have loved having you as a brother-in-law. Until we meet again, we will always remember, TRAVIS WAS HERE. I love you Travis.”

For anyone dealing with the loss of a loved one with T1D, please check out our resources and the supportive Jesse Was Here social community

WRITTEN BY Kelly Stelzer, POSTED 07/31/23, UPDATED 07/31/23

This piece was written by Kelly Stelzer for the original Jesse Was Here site and recently transferred to the BT1 website.