Finding Purpose Through Death

By Joeel A. Rivera, M.Ed.

We all have loved ones that come into our lives to help us grow, and sometimes when they leave us the lessons become even more powerful. Many people find it hard to look through the pain of loss to reveal the blessings that often lie within the curse. Don’t get me wrong, I still miss my brother and all the experiences that I would have wanted to share with him, even if I see the greater purpose that he has inspired in my life through his death. As an expression of gratitude, I share this letter to my beloved brother, Daniel.


I write this with tears, but these tears are different than the ones that I carried for many years. I can now say that I truly understand your last words before your death. It seems like yesterday we were sitting across from each other in your room, practicing how to read each other’s minds. People thought we were twins because of our resemblance and the way that we communicated and understood each other without words. It seemed that from an early age you understood life, as if you were an old soul, knowledgeable and compassionate about making the world a better place.

We always found ways to encourage each other through the challenging times.

Even when I had given up on my belief in myself after failing my first year in college, you encouraged me and reminded me of my potential.

That night of July 1st 1999, when you were 17 and I 19, we sat on the roots of several-hundred-year-old Ceiba trees at two o’clock in the morning, probably as many people had before us. We were in a deep discussion about life. You looked at me as if you were talking to my soul. You explained that you had a deep feeling that you would die young and you knew that you would make a larger impact through your death than through life. I questioned you, but you could not explain the feeling. We sat there in silence as we both started to weep, as if mourning the inevitable.

Two days later I was awoken by the sentence that still takes my breath away to think about. “Wake up, Daniel has been in a car accident.” I desperately asked if you were okay, just to find silence. However, I continued to probe and received the answer that in my heart I already knew. Why you? I asked, wishing that it was me instead. My emotions and my body sat still in time, not knowing what to think or feel. I remember coming back home from your funeral as it started to rain. As if by instinct, I started to run in the rain, just like we had so many times as children. It almost felt as if through the rain you were washing away my tears.

Those words lingered in my mind, “I will have a bigger impact through death.” You never explained the pain. I was lost, desperate, overcome with the grief of losing my brother, my best friend, my guide. I developed severe high blood pressure, was sleeping two hours a day, developed ulcers, and lost over 25 pounds.

Several months later I reached my breaking point after getting in a car accident that nearly took my life. I remember being on my knees at home screaming, talking to you, desperate for answers. That night I saw you in my dream—you looked at me with the same look that you gave me that night under the tree. Through tears of your own you explained that you were okay and that you were paving the way for me and that you no longer wanted me to suffer. I woke up with a sense of peace and purpose. This sense drove me to go back to school and finish my Bachelors with a 3.8, my Masters with a 3.9, and my Ph.D. with a 4.0. It drove me to open a counseling center for youth to honor your name, as I had promised the day after that dream. Through your death I have mentored, motivated, and shifted thousands of youth, individuals, and families, and will continue to share the light that you blessed me with.

Ten years after your passing, in a state of sleep, I had a dream that was so vivid that it seemed real. I saw myself living many different lives and in each one of them I would die a traumatic death. At the end of the last one it was as if my spirit was lifted and I experienced your presence, your light. I explained that I didn’t see how I could live these experiences again because each time I come back more confused—it had created a fog in my being. You stated that in the next life you would come back with me and die an early death to shift me and change my path so that I would not have to go through the cycle again. I asked why you would do that, and you answered that I had done the same for you. And, that it is exactly what you did. At the point of my life when you passed away, I was reckless and confused and through your death you shifted me from dying an early, or a traumatic, death. It is as if you had a contract with my soul.

As my brother, my best friend, and soul mate I thank you for all the wonderful moments that you gave me in my development. I thank you because the tears that I shed now are of joy and gratitude for your sacrifice. I finally understand your words, “I will make a larger impact through death.” I know that the greatest thing that I can do for you is make the impact in the world that you so desired. As I promised so many years ago, through my life your name and spirit will continue live and be shared, Daniel Rivera.

Love you eternally!

Joeel A Rivera

The pain and hurt in life are not there to hold you back, they are there to inspire your greatness. By embracing the lessons and finding meaning and hope within them, you inspire others to do the same.

Joeel A Rivera, M.Ed., is a firestarter, entrepreneur, and motivational speaker. From an early age, Joeel faced adversity, including immigrating to the United States, failing his freshman year of college, losing his brother, and being in a nearly fatal car accident. These experiences inspired him to return to college, where he earned a Master’s Degree in Education and is currently completing his dissertation for his Ph.D. in Psychology, with an emphasis on happiness. Joeel opened a non-profit teen center in honor of his brother and developed curriculums for the Juvenile Justice System. In almost a decade, Joeel has reached over ten thousand people as an educator, entrepreneur, speaker, and consultant. Visit

This article is a chapter from the book Transform Your Life! written by 60 real-life heroes and experts and available at,, and all ebook formats.


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