Today is my brother’s birthday. This date also marks the one year anniversary of the last time that I ever saw him, because he died just a few days later. I don’t discuss his death or my grief often, only referencing it a couple times since starting this blog in January. There are numerous reasons I choose not to write of it, including because blogging is an outlet and an escape from thinking about it. I primarily post about my love of wax and reviews, not much room for lamenting in sadness and grief, but the predominant reason I don’t like to discuss it is this: my feelings about his death are indescribable. What do you say when the saddest possible thing you can imagine happening to your family, actually happens? What do you do then?
I’ve alluded to the fact that I wasn’t looking forward to fall so much. The truth is that October used to be my favorite month, it was his favorite too. Participating in the Fall Fun series has helped me shift my focus, find simple pleasures to enjoy, and lessen the dread of this week a little bit. I couldn’t just let his birthday pass by without acknowledging it, however. My brother is certainly foremost in my thoughts on this day. The prompt for today’s post is Fall in nature and it seemed a fitting topic to bring up his life and death during this resplendent time of year.
Since that day:
My approach to dealing with my grief has changed and progressed, with time. Those first few days afterward…difficult to describe but I remember every moment. It wasn’t all a blur nor did it feel surreal, it felt hyperreal. I expended so much energy and concentration getting from one moment to the next, addressing one significant task or another that I’ve probably never been more fully present in my life. It was the following weeks and months of the strangely mild winter that were nightmarish. I just did whatever I could to survive that dark time.
I attended a workshop this week on protecting oneself from a violent intruder scenario, an unfortunate reality of working in public service. One statistic shared by the trainers that stood out to me: rescuers/first-responders begin exhibiting symptoms of PTSD around eight months after an incident. I’d say that I stayed pretty stoic for about 9-10 months, but by late July/early August, my resolve began to crumble. Not that I have anything close to PTSD, but that I’m experiencing intense emotions more often. While shelving books, driving around town, even sitting down to dinner with friends, I occasionally get overcome with sadness. It’s less of an open wound and more of a heavy heart. Partly due to unresolved family circumstances as a result of his death, partly to not wanting to let the emotions in and face them, I pushed them down for many months. Thankfully, the circumstances have mostly been resolved.
I’m still working it all out and am well aware of the “stages of grief” one is supposed to experience. All I can say about that is, they really aren’t a linear path so that you can just get off when you’re done and I can experience all within a single day.
What I’m grateful for:
My younger brother and I didn’t have an idyllic relationship. Best friends and confidantes as children, we spent years apart as adults, finding our way back to friendship a few brief years before he passed away. For this, I am grateful. He liked to compare himself with Schulz’s Charlie Brown, if that was so, then I was Lucy to his Charlie. It is with that relationship that I feel at peace.
I’m grateful that I saw him on his last birthday. So grateful for every moment, be they few and far between, that I get to spend with my precious niece, who’s growing into a young adult so quickly it sometimes makes my heart want to burst. I have such gratitude for the previous summer we spent having such a good time together, taking day trips, planning, scheming and dreaming. I wouldn’t change the full day spent with him and his daughter at their favorite little amusement park for anything in the world. It was just the three of us. I remember the summer ending last Labor Day and appreciating it then too, the feeling of a summer well-spent. We all acknowledged how nice it was and tried holding on to that feeling as if we knew it couldn’t last. I am grateful for those bittersweet memories. And very thankful for my friends and loved ones.
This is the trail I take to walk my dog and go jogging; in the past I’d bring my niece to ride her bike, my brother always enjoyed spending time with her there. I think of him every single time I visit this place, but they are often happy thoughts as well as sad. What is it about being in nature that provides peace? I believe nature has restorative powers. It allows me to break free and get out of my head, so to speak. Face any emotions I need to while filling my lungs with fresh air, the sunlight warming my skin. One of my favorite times to walk this path is when the seasons are changing. I always look for the first signs of it in the sun-dappled shadows upon the earth, the lushness of the arched foliage, the briskness of the breezes and the tinge of blended colors in the sky. In a short while this pathway will be ablaze with brilliant fall color and I will pause, appreciate it, think of him again and breathe.
Later tonight, after we’ve returned home from work, my family will visit the cemetery to release balloons in honor of his birthday. It will be a brief celebration of life as the sun sets forever on this fall day.