So, my older brother died.
That seems like a really tactless way to put it. I could say “he passed” or “he’s no longer with us,” but that seems euphemistic and to avoid looking at what happened in the face. I have tried several times to write this post, and I’ve struggled with it – both in terms of putting into words how I’m feeling and in writing the post itself. It hurts. The emotions are still very raw.
The picture to the right is of the three of us – my older brother, myself when I was about 4 or so, and my younger brother. I had it as my profile picture on Facebook for a bit, but had to change it, because it hurt to look at the photo.
You see, a few days after Christmas, my sister-in-law let me know that he was missing. The next day, they filed a missing person’s report (I live in the southern midwest, my niece and sister-in-law are in California).
The past month has been a bit of a blur…both in terms of the sad feelings I have and just in terms of sleepless nights with a toddler and a newborn. I’ve been dipping my toes into the getting back to work water, but it’s been hard.
I’m digressing. This is the problem with this emotion that I’m feeling. I keep trying to get away from it,and I keep getting distracted with other things. The other night, I had a dream that I’d wanted to show him something, but then in the dream, I’d remembered he’d passed away.
So what happened, was that he went missing on Christmas Eve. I guess my sister-in-law and niece kept thinking he’d just turn back up, and that’s why it took them a few days to report that he was missing. I don’t know if he’d taken off like this before. I don’t really know that, because once I was an adult, we weren’t really all that close – different life paths and all. I had a reporter trying to ask me for a quote about the kind of person Rick was when he died. I can’t answer that question very well, because truth be told, the almost 14 years between us meant that I didn’t know him as well as I should have known a brother. We grew up in different households too – he was raised by my grandparents, not my parents. So there was that.
As a kid, I always looked up to him. I wanted to go to concerts with him, because concerts seemed cool. My mom wouldn’t let me because of something called “pot” and things called “drugs.” I had no clue what that stuff was when I was 4; I just wanted to be where he was. I promise you, this is all related.
So sometime around Mid-January, my niece called me. She was upset. I knew what she was going to say. I just didn’t know the context. Evidently he died on Christmas Eve. He was wet and out of his mind when people saw him collapse. It was natural causes, but the news reported he had methamphetamine in his system. He was 51 years old. I don’t really know how to wrap my mind around everything.
When he’d visit us, as a kid, I’d bust out my flute, or my math book, or my latest ballet routine. I wanted to impress him because I thought he was so cool. It’s not cool to die with meth in your system. I’m angry with him for drugs; but I understand the kind of pain he was masking by self medicating.
I can’t remember a time in my life where my sister-in-law wasn’t part of it. I know that they started dating at some point. I know that they’ve had ups and downs. I know that she’s hurting beyond words. I don’t know what to say to her. I don’t have words. My ill-timed awkward habit of making jokes is out of place, and her need for someone to hold her hand through grief is great. I can’t be that person right now, because it’s all I can do to function from one day to the next for my kids, for my husband, for my self.
The thing they don’t tell you about grief is that it’s a circular process. It’s not just like denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. Some days, I still feel shock, like when I had the dream. Other days, I burst out in an angry waterfall of tears. Some days it’s hard to do anything other than hold my kids tight, give them love, and hope that they all three feel the mad amount of love I have for them, and that they never feel the need to self medicate. My younger brother is an alcoholic. He spent his 30th birthday in the ICU being diagnosed with liver cirrhosis. Yes, I run a blog titled “Wining Wife.” Yes, I think it’s super important to be healthy. Yes, I think that having a cocktail once every month or so or a glass or two of wine a week is fine. Having two bottles of vodka a night…is probably not a great idea. I’m glad that he’s given up drinking. I was very very close to him – despite fighting with him all the time – during our childhood. Both my brothers gave up school in high school. My older brother eventually got his GED. I have an MA in philosophy. Life directions… Life is never smooth; it’s never “neat.” There are always hills and valleys to navigate – sometimes at the same time – like the birth of a very much wanted and planned baby coupled with the death of the sibling.
I joined some Facebook grief groups. Because I honestly don’t have the tools to deal with this. I know how grief works. I’ve studied it in my intro to psychology classes. But when it happens to you, it’s kind of like someone took a giant frying pan of sad and slapped you in the face with it, then immediately poured ice over the wound to numb everything. Or, maybe that’s just me.
And I think that’s why I’m struggling the most. It’s because it’s not clear. I still feel joy when I hold Little Man and go with Little Miss to her gymnastics classes and dance classes. I can hold my husband’s hand at a restaurant and appreciate both the extremely delicious meal we’re enjoying and the fact that I won the gift certificate allowing us to enjoy the meal. I can still smile in pictures, not only because it’s a picture, but because, even through the grief, I don’t believe that the people we love ever truly leave us. I think they live on in our memories of them.
I’m sad for the relationship we didn’t have as adults. But relationships require the efforts of two people…and while there were a few attempts, lack of time, different lifestyles, and location kept us from being close. I’m glad he got to see my oldest run in a cross-country meet, and I’m glad that my oldest did get to meet him. And I know it will take time to heal. And I guess that’s where I’ve been for the past few weeks. Just kind of processing everything and riding the waves of the various emotions I feel right now.
My niece was born three days after my thirteenth birthday. Boy was I excited to be an aunt. Well, and sometimes my thirteen-year-old self would pretend that she was my own little one when I’d go with my dad to the store to pick out some outfits for her, when I’d change her diapers, when I’d prepare a bottle for her and hold her close, when I’d bathe her, when I’d help my dad feed her baby food because my mom was sick and my sister-in-law needed a break. And it was all a joy to me. And I was always thrilled to see her and play wiht her…because I’ve always loved children and I’ve always wanted children. My niece will always have a part of my brother with her, in her blood, in her soul. I can’t imagine how much pain she is in right now. I wish I could hug her. But grief is a journey you wade through on your own. Sure, you can have people around you, they can hold you up and hug you, but the emotion is something that each of us experiences. It’s something that is uniquely my own; her own; my sister-in-law’s own; my mother’s own…grief is.
And so, I keep moving, one day, one hour at a time.
I keep on moving through the murky waters called “grief.”