He lost his life but he left his lesson…

To: Those willing to listen

From: Lauren Brill (As told to Lauren Brill)

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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.

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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.

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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
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