There was something significant about turning 27, something that I couldn't quite put my finger on. It didn't occur to me as I celebrated with my family in Rayne, or even when I got back home on the evening of my actual birthday.

A week later, on a walk around the block to get out of my head, it finally hit me. Twenty-seven. The age you were. The age you'll always be.

And I started crying. Softly at first, and then uncontrollably, as I thought about the years that have passed without you.

You died when I was 19, an age I know now was too young to truly comprehend what your absence would mean for the rest of my life. It didn't fully dawn on me then that you would never walk down the aisle at my wedding, or scare my children with your ghost stories, or offer up your honest-to-God opinion when I confided in you anything at all. You wouldn't be there when I needed you at 20 or 25 or 30—which, I'd come to learn, would be the years I'd need you most.

You fought tirelessly your entire life, and when you finally let go, I felt relieved that you were no longer suffering. But almost eight years later, the sadness that lingers from your not being here is somehow stronger, heavier than the day I lost you.

I think of your bold authenticity, contagious laughter, tenacious spirit, and no-fucks-given attitude (that I still envy)—and the memories of our dumber moments make me smile through my tears. I remember how you used to make fun of me and stand up for me in the same breath, how at times you were the only person I could trust to have my back.

The truth is, I could've used all of that these past few years. As I grow older, there are just some things I don't want to talk about with anyone else, and were you still here, I know you'd pour me a large glass of wine (or vodka, let's be real), listen intently to every doubt and fear going 'round and 'round in my overactive brain, and then teasingly tell me to stop being so dramatic—because life's too short to sweat the small stuff.

But we'll never have those conversations, and that kills me.

You left this world only a week after you turned 27, your golden birthday. It's strange to think that we're now the same age, and I can't help but wonder—as strong and fearless as you were—why my life will go on when yours was drastically cut short. I feel guilty for that, to be honest. And yet, at 27, I feel inexplicably closer to you now, too. Which in and of itself might be worth the aching loneliness of wondering what if.