After losing a parent, many of us worry about how our lives will change, the new responsibilities we will acquire, and how we will need to become more reliable. These can be some of the most difficult and intimidating thoughts we face after a parent dies, especially if we pressure ourselves instantly become a stronger person in order to support our loved ones.
Damien Proby, a recent graduate of Northwestern University and NFL draft pick, is and has long had to be “that person.” Losing his father at sixteen to a sudden heart attack forced him to grow up quickly and take on many of his father’s responsibilities and obligations. One of these duties was looking after his younger brother, who was only eleven when the boys’ father passed away. Damien and his older brother were sixteen and eighteen at the time and, as he describes it, “men in many standards.” His younger brother had a difficult time understanding and coping with the situation. At the time, Damien made it his mission to help raise his younger brother. Since then, setting an example for his younger brother and keeping alive the standards that his father left behind has been a ubiquitous part of his everyday life.
On the list of difficult things Damien has gone through, raising his brother to the best person he could be comes right after losing his father. It not only took a lot of maturity, but also strong character. Some things that seemed small were in reality the most important and meaningful things he could do for his brother. For instance, Damien was always sure to be home at a certain hour because he wanted his brother to see a man in the house who practiced what he preached, something his father had modeled.
Damien was never especially close with his father, though he was still a critical part of Damien’s upbringing. Little things, like talking while throwing around a football at a barbeque, are the times that Damien misses most. “You can play catch or play a sport with any person, but that one on one activity and getting into someone’s mind on such a personal level is something that cannot be recreated,” he says. Damien definitely did not want his brother to miss out on something so important. Though the journey of supporting his brother through his childhood was difficult, it was also the easiest decision he ever had to make and is his greatest source of pride.
Damien continues to be a role model for his younger brother and many others, including his fellow teammates. Known as the “dad” of the Northwestern football team, he has been elected to the team’s leadership council three times and will be the team’s captain this year.
While his mother and brother will soon watch him at his college commencement ceremony, Damien knows that he will look out into the stands that day and feel a void. He says he thinks about his dad on occasion, but events like graduation are the moments he really feels the loss and wishes that his father was there.
He encourages others to continue to live their lives fully after a parent dies; not to feel remorseful and act like you were directly responsible. As long as you’re doing what you’re supposed to do, he’s all for having as much fun as you can and enjoying life, while doing things that would make your parent proud.