Daniel in pictures

I will almost never talk about dreams while blogging. This is a very minor exception. I dreamed last night about Daniel, about missing something important, and he asked for help with something. I woke up thinking about the various ways I could help get over the hurdle. I had a hard time getting back to sleep, and then I realized what I hadn’t in the dream: he’s dead. I forgot. For about ten minutes I lay in bed trying to think of ways to help him with something and I forgot that I can’t, that he’s dead.

The family put together pictures of Daniel. My sister scanned them and sent out a CD. I’m going to use a few of them as something of an illustration of who he was and why he was so dearly loved by so many.

This is going to be a bit scattered – please bear with me.

Daniel was incredibly cute as a baby and toddler. I know all little kids are cute, and I’m admittedly rather biased, but I think he was adorable.

He really loved dogs and enjoyed training them. He apparently picked that up from being around the rest of us. It certainly wasn’t formal training, but all of the dogs we grew up with were often in obedience classes at one level or another.

He loved to perform for us. He danced, sang, played on instruments, and made people smile.

He loved the musical Cats by Andrew Lloyd Weber. Our mom made him costumes for Mr. Mistoffelees and Skimbleshanks, and he was extremely proud of them and loved them. He knew every part that each cat played in the performance. When he got to go see a performance, he talked about it for a long time, even on the phone. He wasn’t much for talking on the phone, but for that, he’d make an exception and tell me all about it. He would sit down and watch Cats anytime anyone wanted to, and he had the music memorized.

I think the happiest I remember him was the day he graduated high school.

He enjoyed cooking. He didn’t like talking to people he didn’t know, but he was funny and wonderful once he let you in. He was sometimes a pain, as little brothers are. He was more important to me than I know how to express. He had a wonderful smile. He loved baseball and basketball. He liked to eat, too. Here are a few of my favorite pictures of him:

I miss him more than I know how to handle. He was an integral part of our family. He was deeply loved. He was a complicated, interesting, funny, smart, amazing person, and he is and will always be sorely missed. The pictures only capture pieces of who he was, and I wish I had the words to show you more.

Daniel’s pictures

After Daniel died, everyone sent pictures of him to my sister, who was kind enough to scan them and put them on a CD. We got the CD last week.

It’s hard looking at pictures of him so full of life, knowing that I will never see him again. He was very much the center of the family. We all loved him very much, worked hard with him, helped him as much as he’d let us, and his loss is huge. Every time I look at the pictures, I cry.

On the other hand, it is very good to have pictures of him. I was afraid that I would forget what he looked like in the hardest days after his death, and that would have added another layer of pain to the sorrow. I love having pictures showing him at various stages in life and remembering what he was like at each. I missed much of his adult life, since I made choices to not follow the rest of the family to Arizona, but I called and sent postcards and we visited whenever we could. He was still part of my life and I knew I could still make him laugh.

We’re going to take the pictures we like best and put them in a frame with space for a lot of pictures. We don’t have very many photos in our house, at least not up on the walls, but this is important to both of us. Remembering him, however hard it can be, is grounding. He was my little brother. In many ways, he is the reason I am the person I have become. I am a better person than I would have been without him. I need to remember all of who he was, everything I knew, and remember how much he meant to me.

The hurt will fade eventually, but the joy and strength and other good things about him are too important to let go. Living with the pain of looking at pictures is worth the memory of the amazing person he was.


I spent yesterday morning puttering around the kitchen and the afternoon hanging out with kids. A little tiring, but ok.

In the evening, Xander and I and a teenager who is the daughter of a friend of ours went to Controlled Burn’s Compression, the yearly Fire Arts Festival. We went to see the belly dancers, essentially. Someday I will have enough energy to stay awake until the fire dancers actually go on, but they weren’t on until 9:30 or so, and the night before had been more waking than sleeping, so this time it was just for the belly dancing.

We got there just in time for Hipswitch, which was fun. I enjoy watching them, and maybe next year I’ll be back to dancing with them. Depends on how much energy I have at the time. I got to say hello to people I haven’t seen in a few months, which was good. We sat on the grass while various ballroom-type dancing was going on.

I was surrounded by people. I was there with two people I enjoy. As I sat on the grass, though, I felt dislocated and lost. I didn’t feel like I belonged anywhere, and I was overwhelmingly sad. I had a wave of missing Daniel more than usual, wanting him to slide his fingers between mine as he had since he was tiny, to go for a walk and tell him all the strange and wonderful things I’ve seen. I wanted to make him laugh again.

In the heat, in the midst of people, watching people dance and talk and wander and eat and drink, I was very, very alone.

By Xander’s request, the teenager came up next to me and stuck a piece of grass in my ear. It’s very hard to be lost, unhappy, and wrapped up in my own head when someone is sticking grass in my ear. It made me laugh and jolted me out of the long minutes of sadness.

We watched a belly dancing group in from another area. They were technically good, but they didn’t seem to be having fun. Not one of them smiled. The response from the audience was half-hearted. Yes, it was pretty, but it was a remote kind of prettiness, nothing anyone could connect to. It seemed somewhat disappointing.

Asha World Dancers came on, and the audience perked up. They were having fun, being silly, playing, telling a story, and the audience was coming along with them. The energy was totally different. People were laughing and paying attention, and the dancing was very good. When they finished and went offstage, the applause was louder and more energetic. The audience had fun. The first set of technically good dancers had come across as somewhat remote, professional, doing their job but not loving it. They felt like artists putting on a very careful show of their talents. Asha was technically good, too, but they seemed to be having fun, despite the heat. They drew the audience with them and made us laugh. That’s performance on top of artistry, and it’s a lot more fun to watch.

We went to dinner after watching the dancers. I didn’t have the energy to be around that many people for much longer. The food was good and we relaxed. I got very sad at one point, which still happens often. I try hard to control it, but sometimes there is no controlling the emotions, and I am learning to just let them wash over me. I’m not very good at that yet.

There are good moments and bad moments in every day. The bad are still really hard to deal with, but there are good ones even on the worst days. I am allowed to cry, to be sad, to feel lost and disconnected. At the same time, when someone pulls me back into the present, I am allowed to be happy and silly and goofy. It’s a balance I haven’t learned to walk yet. One step at a time, one foot in front of the other, learning to balance this new kind of life with a big hole in it, is not easy, but family and friends are helping me through.

Sometimes a moment is all I need to bring me back to realizing that there is good in the world or just that a teenager needs to have grass stuck in her ear, too.

Pieces of joy

I’ve been reading a lot lately. Some of it is fluff – silly sci-fi and fantasy, letting myself ignore the world for a while. Some of it is books about dealing with grief. Most of them are anecdotal, stories about people dealing with grief or, in some cases, really not dealing with it. One was a look at the physical side of grief, which was basically 100 ways to take care of yourself. That was rather nice, since the physical side of grief (not sleeping, random cramping, muscle and joint pain, headaches, loss of appetite, and that’s just a partial list) is not talked about much. It was basically a book about how to take care of yourself while you are grieving. I didn’t agree with all of it, but it helped a bit.

Another book I read was The Other Side of Sadness: What the New Science of Bereavement Tells Us About Life After Loss. This helped me more than the anecdotal books did. The authors actually studied how people handle great losses and discovered that, for the most part, people are resilient. Until about six months after a loss, it’s hard to tell how someone will handle it long term, but humans get through things. A lot of what it said helped because I felt like what I am going through was strange, too much emotion, that it wouldn’t let up, but at the same time normal life is settling back in, and I feel almost like I’m betraying my brother’s memory by being able to move forward.

My friends have been helping me a lot, too. When I am overwhelmed by fury, they tell me they’ve been there. It’s a normal reaction. When I can’t do more than one thing at a time, when I feel like I can’t keep up with the world, they tell me it gets better, eventually. The pain of loss doesn’t go away, but it eases, though it will take time.

I saw one therapist and we did not fit at all. I have another appointment this week with someone else; hopefully she will be able to help more, give me tools to help get through this. I don’t have any issue with experiencing the pain and dealing with what I need to deal with, but I don’t know how to handle feeling like I’m in deep water, toes just touching the sand, and waves keep knocking me down.

I’ve also been trying to keep up with the people I usually follow, reading their blogs and laughing at silly Twitter posts. I read something on Stop Motion Verbosity recently which made me think about what I write and how I write. “When a lot of what you read, when many of your friends, put so much negativity out there it is easy to feel that the world is a much darker place than it is….There’s good things happening all the time, even through the really shitty times, and the best way to get through those shitty times is to recognize the good. And yes the good times are often smaller and far more fleeting, that’s the nature of the good bits, frankly. It’s a great sandwich, a smile on the street, a tiny memory when a song you love plays – those are all great moments of happiness that need to be cherished and recognized.”

I’m dealing with some hard things right now. I will not pretend otherwise, and I’ve never seen the world as all roses and sugarplums. There are good things, though. Last night Xander made BBQ sauce from scratch and grilled shrimp and pineapple on skewers for dinner. He cooked down some of the sauce and put it on rice. It was exceptionally good. The shrimp came out a little bit smoky tasting, the pineapple’s sweetness was emphasized more by cooking, and the BBQ sauce was very good. We sat, ate, and talked, relaxed despite the heat, and it was a good evening.

A few days ago, I was puttering around on the computer and Nyx was in the office with me. She stood at the door and opened it by pushing against it with her nose. Then she closed it partway. Then she opened it again. I sat and watched her do this for about ten minutes until she shut the door a little too hard and couldn’t open it again. I thought it was quite funny.

Yesterday morning I got up early and weeded the strawberry patch, weed whacked the front yard and the courtyard, took a shower, and we ran some errands and went to see a movie. When we got back, I cleaned house, and it felt good to be tired. I got rid of a chair that has been falling apart for months, and I enjoyed physically pulling it apart, breaking it into manageable pieces.

I am de-cluttering. I feel the need for more organization, more space, more clarity. I am donating books that I won’t read again, giving some of them away, letting go of things I don’t need. It isn’t a bad thing.

There is still grief. Sometimes it slams into me like a freight train and I have to find somewhere to sit and fall apart for a while. Sometimes a song will stick in my head and I will miss my little brother terribly, just wanting to be able to see him again, to give him a hug. Sometimes I think about my smart, witty, funny grandmother who adored teasing Xander and I find myself mourning the loss of that person. When we saw her, she seemed a little afraid of him, uncomfortable, not sure why he was there. I miss the person she used to be.

With all of this, though, as overwhelming as it can be, and as painful as it is, there is still reason for laughter. There are still good things. I’m sore today from pulling weeds and making the house a little nicer. It’s a good kind of sore.

Spider Robinson, one of my favorite authors (Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon is one of those books I have several copies of, one to re-read, one because I’ve had it for years and it’s falling apart, and one to loan out), said, and was quoted in the blog post I mentioned earlier, “Shared pain is lessened, shared joy is increased.”

Here’s joy in the midst of a hard time. I am trying to pay more attention to joy even while I’m dealing with the hard parts and working through them. I hope you find a little bit of joy today, too, no matter how hard the rest of life can be.