“Death leaves a heartache no one can heal,
Love leaves a memory no one can steal.”
Death has always been something that I have struggled with. I’m not sure exactly why, but it hits me on a level that is so deep, it’s hard for me to understand. I’ve lost grandparents, I’ve lost beloved pets, I’ve lost close friends … but at the beginning of August, our family suffered the unexpected loss of my baby brother.
I’ll never forget the phone call. My phone rang at 4am and it was my mom – any phone call at 4am is generally not a good call. I answered the phone to my mom sobbing uncontrollably before she handed the phone to her pastor, who was there supporting her. He said “I know we have never met and I hate to be the one to tell you this but your brother, Dale, passed away this evening.” My response? “SHUT UP. You’re LYING.” My husband, who was still in bed, said “WHAT?!” and flew into the living room faster than I’ve seen him move before. I don’t remember how I got from where I answered the phone, to the couch to sit down.
I started sobbing as I was listening to the pastor talk, but I don’t remember any of the words that followed. After I hung up, J asked me what happened. Through sobs of disbelief I said “my brother died.” I then had to make a call I dreaded; to my sister. I’ll never forget her response either – or how I had never wished I could fly any more than I did at that moment, so that we could just hug and sob together.
We got on a plane to California and were there that evening. As I laid on the couch in the house I grew up in trying to sleep, memories flooded my mind of our childhood. Playing on the swing set in the backyard, Christmases spent with the family all together, digging tracks in the backyard for our matchbox cars, playing hide-and-seek in the darkness, blanket forts, summer circus performances. All the general shenanigans that siblings get into when the only kids we have to play with are each other… While I have always loved those memories, they have a whole new meaning now.
The next morning, a dear friend drove and picked me up from our dad’s house and took me back home to Big Bear. I remember as we got closer and closer to town my heart raced like a NASCAR vehicle at breakneck speed and my insides trembled so violently, I felt sick to my stomach. My aunt greeted me at the door when I arrived and all I could do was cry and shake from the inside out. It was so surreal being in the home my brother lived in and not have him come out to bother me immediately. Because what more are brothers good for than to annoy the snot out of their older sisters?
If I was wearing my hair in a bun, he loved to either squeeze it or stick his finger in the middle of it. He loved to flap the skin on the back of my arm while gobbling like a turkey. He loved to open the claw clips I wore in my hair after I got it JUST RIGHT. He loved to stick his finger in my mouth when I was yawning. He loved to call me these nicknames that made absolutely NO SENSE to anyone except us … and I would give ANYTHING to hear him say it again.
It has been almost 3 months since we lost him and to be honest, it feels like it’s still not quite real. I STILL find myself reaching for the phone to call him when I see something that reminds me of him or I want to tell him something. And I immediately fall apart. The tears seem to come at the most random times and the pain hits at often the most inopportune moments. But is there ever REALLY a right time for pain to hit?
About a month or so ago, I got the question “how many siblings do you have?” for the first time since he passed. I know the answer and his death doesn’t change the answer, but the pain that accompanied the question hit me so fast and hard, I felt my knees buckle.
As most of my close friends and family know, I’ve struggled with depression and anxiety my entire life. Losing my brother has amplified that to a degree that has absolutely SHOCKED ME. There are days that I can make it through okay and then there are days when I can only manage a second at a time.
I always thought grief was this linear process. There are certain phases, so you passed the first one and CHECK, then the second and CHECK, and so on. But let me tell you, friends, THAT. IS. A. LIE. Grief is this ever-changing, constantly moving, feeling-all-the-processes at once thing. Some moments, I think of the memories and smile. Other moments, I think of the memories and it’s all I can do to not completely fall apart when I realize those memories are just that. Memories. And while I cherish them, I get sad/angry/frustrated/feel cheated that we can’t make any more.
Feeling broken is NOT a feeling I am used to. I’m the strong one. I’m the one that holds it together. I’m the one that doesn’t show emotion. I’m the one being leaned on. But that’s not me right now. And I’m trying to teach myself that that’s okay. It’s okay to fall apart sometimes. It’s okay to cry. It’s okay to not have to apologize for doing all of that.
We are all adjusting to this loss. Some days it feels heavy and real. Some days it feels like it just can’t be real. Some days it feels like the pain will never end. Some days it feels like I’m seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. I do wish I knew which days would be which so I could plan accordingly, but I guess that’s all part of learning to live in our new “normal”.