Although I love Thanksgiving and having our family gathered again this year was a true joy, from about the middle of November I begin to feel my annual dread of December 1. I know, it’s just an ordinary date on the calendar but it is, for me, the date on which I relive the vivid memory of Dec 1, 2001, the day that a tragic, senseless accident claimed the life of my only sibling.
I remember every bit of that day as if it is burned into my brain. I suspect the memory is so clear because, after the phone call, that changed my life forever, I went over that day in my mind so many times. I was reliving the day that was so absolutely normal . . . until it wasn’t. It is like those “where were you when” questions that people ask about major events, like the Challenger explosion or 9/11. Those days of great significance stay with us with such clarity, marking the before and after of our lives.
And this Dec 1 is particularly emotional for me, as it is the 20 year mark. It is 20 years of conversations that didn’t happen, 20 years of lifecycle events in which his absence was a hole that will never be filled, 20 years of missing him every day, 20 years of wishing that things had been different, that his life would not have ended so abruptly and far too soon.
This past weekend I saw my great-niece for the first time in a long time (thank you COVID). She was an infant when I last saw her and now she’s a toddler. She’s the image of her mother, my niece, and she is lively and smiley, delightful and completely delicious. And while her irrepressible personality made me smile, I had to leave the room to wipe my tears. I could not help but think that my brother should be there. He should have been in her life, sharing his boundless love, his warmth and his humor. I could picture him looking at her and beaming and my heart ached with the knowledge that this could never, would never be.
Life is not a straight line. We think we know that one day will lead to the next; that one action will move inevitably to the one that comes after. We think we can define our direction and that things will go that way. Sometimes that’s true but so often it just is not. Grief, too, is not a straight line. Even 20 years later I find that there are moments when I still slip back to the anger (“How could you not be here?”) that I thought I got past so long ago.
I am grateful that I had my brother in my life, grateful for the closeness we shared, grateful that he was there to hold me up through the losses of our parents and difficult life moments, grateful he was there to share so many joys. In a dream I had not long after his death, he said to me “You need to live a good life. You need to do that for both of us.” It would be a better life if he were in it but I hope he knows how hard I try, to honor his life, his legacy, his memory.