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Neighborhood Club soccer, Grosse Pointe, Michigan, 1996, age 4

Austen was born almost 26 years ago on September 26, 1991.  I was born in October and always considered Fall to be my favorite season, but since he died in November of 2014, I think I prefer Spring now. I can appreciate the yellows, oranges and reds and the Indian summer days that tease us to forget about jackets and sweaters, but there are too many memories to contend with – his birth, his death and all that occurred in between those 23 years, floating up to the surface of my consciousness. Yes, I am grateful for the memories, even the not-so-good ones, but I still struggle with how Austen struggled during his last 5-6 years, how he put up a valiant fight trying to keep persevering with his life in order to beat the demon that haunted him.  In his ‘Journey Through Sobriety’ at 7 months sober he wrote:

I feel a little better, I talked about my cravings with my friends and got to hang out with them and kick it.  I still am feeling overwhelmed and very anxious.  I don’t know… I can’t risk my addiction.  It creeps up on you.  I can’t ignore it and not treat it for a week.  It doesn’t ever take time off. It’s always watching and waiting with bated breath. Ready to jump on me when it gets the chance.  Austen Berj Brooks, September 19, 2014

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Austen playing for Vardar Soccer Club in Michigan, age 17

Lately, I think about the concepts of destiny and legacy – finding and fulfilling a purpose before we die (fulfilling our individual destiny) and what we leave behind. Austen did not believe that life is predetermined:

Things may happen for a reason but that is just the universe expressing itself with perfect creativity and spontaneity.  That’s just how the universe meanders through the channels of life. One day I’ll be able to fully appreciate what I have here.  Of course I’m not satisfied.  There is so much more to be, do, think, and feel.” Journey Through Sobriety, May 23, 2014

From the day he was born, like all of us, Austen began forming his destiny – being, doing, thinking and feeling.  His sensitive nature and natural inquisitiveness grew into an empathetic intelligence, and his physical energy and persistence grew into athletic prowess.  At a young age, he seemed to have an understanding of the meandering universe and the twists and turns of life.  Here is a poem he wrote in 2009 during his first semester at Indiana University (age 18) already (unbeknownst to us) addicted to drugs:

Don’t ever doubt
Don’t count me out
I will be there
One day I’ll care

I point to south
When I should go north
I look bad now
But hope is not gone

The day must be embraced
Despite problems I have faced
A new day could begin
When the old day comes to an end

And on this new day all will be well
All will be balanced, in heaven and hell
I will be smiling like a limitless child
Looking back at the life I compiled

Precious life giving earth
Why can’t we treat you what you are worth?
And beautiful impossible life
Why do I live you like nothing’s all right?

What an experience is all I can say
I lived it, I woke up every day
I smelled and heard and loved
One day I will remember what was

Life is a gift and I can’t forget it
But life will get to you if you dare let it
What a journey one day I will say
“I never thought it would turn out this way”

Austen Berj Brooks, October 18, 2009

Compiling a life, that’s what we do during our lifetimes, no matter how long or short.  We take the good with the bad, the beauty with the impossible, and we meander through, creating our legacies, fulfilling our destinies, hoping, loving. In memory, forever, of Austen Berj Brooks.


‘Looking Back At The Life I Compiled,’ Chicago Botanic Garden, September 18, 2017, ©2017 Suzanne Sahakian|SuzanneSahakianPhotography




“Looking Back At The Life I Compiled,” by Austen Berj Brooks

“Drifting Through Space and Time,” a poem by Austen Berj Brooks

From early on, Austen used words quite effectively to report on events, negotiate with the tooth fairy, chronicle his thoughts, feelings and perceptions.  During his sophomore year at Indiana University, he took a creative writing class, in which he created and revised this poem, originally titled ‘Drifting,’ as part of a poem workshop.  He told me at the time that he was thinking of changing his major to writing or journalism, but in the end he stayed with psychology and continued to use writing as an effective metaphor for his keen sensibility. Here is the final version of ‘Drifting’:

Drifting Through Space and Time

Peaceful noise on this starlit night,
The computer hums a constant tune.
Weighted shoulders resting at last,
With sinking eyes my mind will wander.
It searches systems for rhythm and sense,
A compass; something, to point me forward,
Toward what I know or proof I gather,
I drift away out to sea.

Memory imposes its will, a crisp
Picture, an arrogant youth.
His innocence quiet yet clearly pervasive,
His followers cautiously ask him for more.
The center of attention, he grabs it so easily,
Effortlessly holding it until tired or bored.
The class clown turned class king,
He wears the crown gladly,
But deep down what is there hidden, unseen at his core?

Once flowed like a river, without second thoughts,
Impulsive, unquestioning, before it was lost.
Before the first crash, before damage was done,
Yet with many more later, familiarity would come.
The machine’s automatic response at this point,
The pleasant technique that it had coined,
An array of beauty for eyes and minds,
Push out regrets and truths about time.
At once it taunts and inspires the same,
As I the actor, know actions can change,
Just one slice is missing, a feast is to come.
The shadows are dancing a slow motion waltz,
But all is quiet and still in this house.
A dream’s just a dream until it is not,
A thought’s just a thought until it’s let out.

Austen Berj Brooks, April 28, 2011


Self-portrait of Austen posted by him on Facebook on
October 19, 2013.

“I like the rain.”


The world may change in every way,
But not the puddles on a rainy day.
The moist smell of grass and beading droplets on leaves
And the collective sigh of the starving trees.
Not the feelings one gets in the pouring rain
Something so real, so pleasant, yet so mundane.
The way each drop could form an ocean
And mix the pieces into a whole.
Through blue beady eyes a life will pass
I push the sun away to let this rain last.

Austen Berj Brooks, 2011


“I like the rain.”

Photo taken by Austen with his iPhone, posted on Instagram on
August 11, 2013.