He lost his life but he left his lesson…

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To: Those willing to listen

From: Lauren Brill

Charity: NAMI San Francisco

To those willing to listen,

“Please, let out your emotions. Don’t hold them in.”

Those are words from a letter my friend and former Notre Dame football star George Atkinson III wrote a little more than a month ago to children who are struggling.

Today, I am sitting here staring at my computer, trying to write a letter of my own but I have no words. Heartbroken, shocked and devastated are the emotions I am feeling as I, yet again, mourn a friend who is gone before 30.

George played football at Notre Dame as well as in the NFL.

My tears are dripping down my face, as my brain spins in circles, wondering why I texted on Thanksgiving instead of called. How did I not know that his birthday was this past week? And why didn’t I just check in more and ask, “How are you?”

We weren’t dating. We weren’t best friends but we supported each other from afar.

On Monday, I learned on social media that my friend George passed away. He turned 27 on Friday. No cause of death was reported.

I met George at a restaurant called Townhall in Cleveland, Ohio a few years ago while I was working as a local sports reporter for the ABC affiliate there. He played for the Browns and was in town for offseason workouts. That night he was at dinner with a handful of players I knew from the Browns.

After saying hello to some of the guys, George and I spoke for a few minutes. I immediately noticed how kind and respectful he was toward me. When training camp came around, I asked him if he would mind helping me out by doing a one-on-one interview. He agreed but the story never made air because he was cut a few days after we filmed.

My tears are dripping down my face, as my brain spins in circles, wondering why I texted on Thanksgiving instead of called.

We didn’t stay in touch beyond following each other on social media. However, when I started The Unsealed, I reached out to him about writing a letter. Without a clue of what story I wanted him to tell, he agreed. When we got on the phone, right away he told me he wanted to share his experiences with mental health because of how it impacted him and his family.

George lost both his mother and his twin brother last year.

I was shocked and saddened by the struggle he endured, losing his mom and his twin brother, Josh, last year.

However, I was also inspired by the message he so desperately wanted to convey in his letter, which we titled “How I turned my losses into lessons.”

He wanted children to open up about their problems. He wanted to make it clear that there is no weakness in showing emotion. He wanted young people to find healthy outlets and coping mechanisms.

After we published his letter he called me. He picked up the phone the old fashioned way and called me.

He said, “I just wanted to thank you for what you did for me. Sharing my story meant a lot to me and as it turns out, it meant a lot to other people too. I could never have done it without you.”

We spoke for an hour, maybe two hours that night. It was in that conversation, I truly found a new friend and a new inspiration.

When I started to speak at high schools about my story, I admitted to him that I was a little nervous about how the kids would respond to me.

He told me, “Just be yourself. You have a lot to offer.”

And when I shared the uneasiness that comes with starting a business, he said, “It is inspiring what you are doing. The only reason I am reaching out (to kids) and telling my story is because of you.”

His heart was kind but his past was painful. While he struggled, I am also certain he enjoyed many moments of life, especially the time he spent with his two-year-old daughter, who he told me he loved with all his heart.

As I sit here and try to process the fact that he is gone, I feel speechless. But that’s because the lesson in this loss is not in what I have to say but rather in the words George already wrote.

“Please, let out your emotions. Don’t hold them in.”

George may have lost his life, but let’s keep his message alive.

Wishing peace and love for his family,

Lauren Brill

About the sponsor and the charity:

When George wrote his letter he asked for donations to be made NAMI San Francisco, an organization that supports mental health.

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[…] enough, in the email was your letter to your late father, former NBA basketball star Anthony Mason, talking about your struggles after his death. You wrote […]

Sweet Lauren, I agree completely with the promise that Brian asked you to make. Frankly, it is the only way that I know to love; totally, completely, wholly and unconditionally. You deserve nothing less, nor does your future love.

Wow. What a truly moving and powerful story. We often take for granted the small gifts we give each other just by being present. I'm sad for the heartache. I'm glad you stayed and became. Who knows what little girl or boy will be attributing their life's purpose to some kindness you shared. Peace and Sunshine

You’re welcome Lauren looking forward to all the future stories :)

Thank you Tony. I appreciate all your support.

Thank you Tony. I appreciate all your support.

I’m sorry to hear about Brian but he was right you are too beautiful to not receive roses Lauren:)

[…] Here is why you need to stop being nice and start being loud […]

Thanks for this! So what movie set did you get on?

So nice Roger <3

Pat, Your letter touched me in a very profound way. It left me in tears in the middle of my work day. It made me want to share something with you. On a July morning in 2007 a police officer answered a 911 call I had made when my Mother went into cardiac arrest. Between that officer, my best friend and the fire fighters who showed up minutes later they were able to restart her heart, however at the hospital she passed away an hour later. At the end of his shift that officer stopped by my home to check on the situation and cried when I told him the unfortunate news I received only 4 hours prior. He tried to apologize to me. I looked at the anguish in his eyes and asked him directly what for? He described the ways he felt sorry. What I want to leave you with was my reply to him. I told him he had nothing to be sorry for because he answered the call in what was the darkest moment in my life. I told him that he was a hero regardless because it takes a special person to answer calls like that. You are a hero to people Pat. No one can ever take that away from you. I understand the process you're going through as I've been there myself and like you I still struggle with it when no one is looking. You aren't alone in this. I hope your healing process continues on and you can regain the happiness in this beautiful life. You'll always be a hero to those people, because you were there when the call came Best wishes Roger Chamberlain

Ruth, your letter moved me to tears. Once upon a time I was very closed off about the LGBT community but over a course of several years, I turned my fear into understanding and I actively stand with the community for their equal rights because it is the right thing to do.