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Can’t see in the dark

I don’t know how to write. I’ve tried to write this several times and I end up with meaningless words on a page. I miss my brother. I wasn’t a huge part of his life in recent years. He knew I cared about him, and he sometimes liked the postcards I sent every week, but we weren’t hugely close.

Still.

For the moment, it’s baby steps to get through the void.

We were planning a trip to see family soon. I wanted to see him and my older brother again, to talk to them, to get a picture of the two of them, to get a hug from him. We were good at hugs, fierce ones, ones that made you feel like you belonged in someone’s heart. We had a lot of silly special things, and all of them make me cry right now. I can’t give him any more hugs. Somehow hugging an urn with his ashes just isn’t the same. I can’t help making stupid jokes, making myself laugh even when I’m crying. I can’t get through the dark without laughing.

It is dark. I mean, it’s night as I’m writing this, so that’s a given. Even during the day, though, even when it’s brighter than I want it to be, I don’t feel like it’s light. I feel like everything is grey, dry, desiccated, lifeless. I put on my public face and everyone thinks I’m fine, and then I come home and curl up and wait for it to get better.

I put some books on hold in the library, ways to get through grief. I bought another that might help with the physical issues, since I am still physically hurting a lot. I want to do something incredibly stupid. I want to go hit someone, start a fight, make something make an impact, but I know on some level it won’t help. I go back to what I know. I will study, work through it, talk, cry my eyes out. Once in a while I’ll get tipsy and let out some of the anger that won’t come with my barricades as high as they are now. I know I should be able to get through this.

Should. I’m not sure.

I saw my family when we went to Arizona. I’m glad I got to see them – it’s hard not being completely sure everyone is actually getting through this. My sister was too busy to come by, as is often the case. We missed her presence. Maybe next time. My brother’s caretaker spent some time talking with me about Daniel, and that helped. Having memories to share is important.

We saw my husband’s family, too. They were loving and welcoming and helped me talk through some of the pain. They even liked Nyx, who, while she was trying to be good, still couldn’t resist a running cat at one point and took off like a rocket. It was pretty funny, and the cat was fine, if spooked. We went hiking in the heat. I am definitely not a desert rat – I was exhausted and sweating.

My brother was the heart of my family, and that heart has been torn out and extinguished. We don’t seem to know how to handle it. I’m not sure anyone really wants to move forward without him in some ways. I know I don’t. Thinking about him always made me smile. I knew I could make him laugh even from another state, even just passing messages to him, and it made life better to know that chortle was there. It isn’t now.

I don’t have the same loss as the family that was with him or his caretaker who loved him, too. I was not an integral part of his life. At the same time, my grief is still real, palpable, physical, painful, dreadful. I don’t sleep well. I wake up crying some nights, waking to the dog trying to climb into bed next to me to help me calm down. I wake up to pain. My heart skips beats. My stomach and back cramp, my legs hurt, my feet send stabs of pain first thing in the morning. Any old injuries ache.

I am supposed to be strong. I am supposed to get through this. I am supposed to be able to weather the storm and be able to come out better on the other side. At the moment, there is no other side. Now I am walking in the dark, bumping into pain whenever I move. I can’t find joy. Laughter, sometimes, but not those sparks of pure delight that I’ve always been able to find before. There is a pall over my world.

I’m looking for a therapist. I may go to a support group meeting for people who have had a sibling die, as long as it isn’t god-focused. I don’t think I can handle another person telling me that there is reason in this, that god has a plan, because if that plan involves killing off one of the best people in my life, then I really hope that particular god rots in the worst imaginable hell. See? Just a tad bit angry some of the time.

I know that no one knows what to say. It isn’t something you come across on a regular basis. Grandparents die. Parents die, eventually. Siblings, though, shouldn’t. Parents should not have to deal with the death of a child. Should, however, is not something that matters. This happened. My brother is dead. I don’t know how I can get through this. I have had one good night’s sleep in almost a month, now, and I’m exhausted. I’m sad and angry and listless and lost.

I can’t make this better. I can’t make Daniel not dead anymore. I can’t stop crying at weird times. I can’t sleep. I can’t stop hurting.

So I walk. One step at a time, I move forward. I’ll start swimming again, because I can push through water and it helps the pain. I’ll walk Nyx, and maybe we’ll run a little. I’ll grieve and try to let myself exist without judgement. I’ll read books and try to learn how other people have come through this overwhelming loss. I will try to stop telling myself what I should do, how I should be able to get through this, and just be. I’m not good at not overthinking everything, but I don’t think I have a choice here.

I have always been able to make it through, even if I’m slow at it. I can’t think fast or move fast right now. I am pinned by lead weights, walking through sand. There is no right way to go, no way to fix this, no way to remove the pain. Maybe in a few months I will be able to sleep again. That would be good. Maybe I will stop hurting. That would be good, too. Maybe I will have energy and curiosity and joy in my life, eventually. For now, I just have to not stop existing. I’ll wake up tomorrow and do what I have to do, and maybe I’ll take a nap. Maybe I’ll watch silly TV. Maybe I’ll find something that serves as a rope for me to hold for that next step.

I don’t know. I can’t see in the dark.

Working through

This has been a hard year, and I’m not sure what to do other than write.

First was infertility. We lost something then. Not a child, but the hope of one. We lost ideas and dreams and things we thought would be true. We grieved over it in some ways as if we had lost something more tangible. We’d tried for years, and suddenly there was a hole where all of our expectations got sucked in. It is hard to understand unless you have been through it, so many people could not understand why it was such a big deal. I am still fighting the feeling that I am not truly a woman if I don’t have a child. I know it is illogical, but it permeates our culture. Women with children have more status than women without. However unfair that may be, it’s true on some level. I get asked by women I’ve just met how many children I have, or when we are expecting to have kids, and when I say, “We can’t,” there is an often not-so-subtle movement away. The circle closes and they talk about their children and I am not welcome. That’s not true of everyone, especially those who know how much I’ve worked with children through my life, but it has happened.

I was working on healing, working on accepting the new way of thinking and approaching life, and the next piece happened. My grandmother, at almost 93 years old, stopped remembering people and places. She stopped being herself, in some ways. It felt to me like that hole from infertility got another part dug out, widening it a bit. I had always wanted to have a picture of four generations of my family: grandma, mom, me, and a baby. The baby was not going to happen, and now grandma was slipping, too. Another piece of grief, although for me this was kind of anticipatory grief because I had to face the likelihood that she would not live a whole lot longer. She might; I don’t know. I hope, if she does, she is enjoying life. It was another blow, but we were coping.

June 9, my younger brother died completely unexpectedly. He was 28 and had no health problems that would explain the blood clot that killed him. I still don’t really have words for what that did to me. It took the grief from infertility, the grief about my grandmother, wrapped it up in a physically painful grief, and dropped a bomb on me that opened up a chasm.

I have never had such a physical response to grief before. Food has always been a comfort when things got bad. Now food is necessary, but not enjoyed, and I often have to be reminded to eat. I don’t taste much, and my stomach hurts all the time. My back hurts, too, and sometimes my feet, and sometimes my head. The first three days my chest cramped up regularly. I have never had such physical pain related to mental anguish. I am tired all the time, too. I’ve been sleeping 10-12 hours a night just to be able to get up in the morning, but I’m not sure I am resting very well. I’m exhausted. I get through by focusing on one thing, one step, the next thing, on making sure I eat and drink enough, on sometimes just breathing deeply.

I don’t know how to talk about this. I talk around it a lot. I cry a lot. I talk to Xander, who is possibly the only reason I have gotten through this. He has been amazing. I spend a lot of time with Nyx. She has been very attentive and snuggly since this happened.

I have a really big hole inside me, surrounding me, engulfing me, and I don’t know how to heal. I know that all of this is normal, but it’s harder than I knew it could be. I’ve lost a lot this year, and every once in a while, when I’m just holding still, I feel like I’ve been hit by a truck. I want to crawl into a hole and pull it in after me, but I know that won’t help. The world keeps going. I can grieve, but I can’t disappear.

Having work to do helps. Having some purpose, the feeling that I’m doing something useful, is good for me. Dealing with people right now is hard, and by the end of the day I’m wrapped up in pain again, but I’m mostly making it through the days. Weekends are spent on the couch, reading or watching TV. I don’t have much interest in going out.

We went for a walk down to the farmer’s market yesterday. That was the first day I’ve been able to do anything even close to exercise since Daniel’s death without getting exhausted or cramping up within five minutes. It was a good, long walk. We got food for the week and picked up nectarines to eat on the way home, and mine actually tasted good.

It’s not better, though. I still can’t work through my little brother being a pile of ashes, never seeing him again. I had nightmares the first few nights, and one of them was just a voice, saying over and over, “There are supposed to be new lives in a family before the children start dying.” I was standing in the dark, listening to a voice. That was all. I woke up crying because it was true and I couldn’t make it better. There were others, much worse, but that one, I think, shows how all of this wraps up together in my head right now. On some level I can’t believe that I won’t see him again. He was the focus of our family from the time he was born. I knew that at some point I was very likely to be at least partially responsible for him again. We had talked about how to work him into our lives if it became necessary, and we knew we could handle it.

Daniel was incredibly important to me. It’s very hard for me to use past tense. I keep slipping. I woke up with him when he had night terrors. I could tickle him from across the room and bug him from hundreds of miles away. I could make him laugh, and he could do the same for me. We had nicknames for each other that other people didn’t necessarily understand. He gave really good hugs. We loved to sing together and we’d crack each other up when we sang certain songs because I’d be silly on purpose and he’d add to it.

There’s so much more to him, though. There was. I can’t explain who he was as a person because I don’t have enough words, or the right words. I am floundering. Our family was centered around him. He gave us focus and meaning. I would not be who I am without him, and I don’t think the rest of my family would, either. He changed how I look at the world. He made me more compassionate, more willing to look for the good in people instead of stopping at the differences. He showed me how frustrating it can be to know where the goal is but not quite be able to reach it, and also how angry it can make people if someone tries to help when the person wants to get there themselves.

I don’t know if I’m making much sense. I needed to write. I’m sure I will write more again, but I’m not going to be on any consistent schedule for a while. We’re going to go see family soon, and I don’t know how to write about that, either.

The world is a lesser place without him.

Shattered

I won’t be saying much for a while. My younger brother Daniel died last night, unexpectedly. He was 28. I feel melodramatic saying this, but I never knew before that a broken heart actually physically hurts.

I wish there were more to say. I wish it hadn’t happened. The time that being an atheist is hardest is when I need someone to yell at, to blame, but it isn’t anyone’s fault. I don’t believe in fate, I don’t believe in people being sent to this world to teach us anything, and I don’t believe that he’s better off dead. He was a very important piece of my life, even though I didn’t see him much lately, and I will miss him terribly.