Whoever said time heals all wounds never had a brother die four days after his twenty-second birthday. Whoever said you have to get over losing someone clearly has never lost anyone. This month, in twelve days to be exact, it will be twenty-four years since my brother, Robbie, died. I’ve lived longer without him than I lived with him. That is a fact that only gets harder, never easier.
Van Morrison put it best when he wrote a song called Melancholia. I don’t know any of the words other than, “Every single day, it won’t go away. Melancholia.” The month of September is not my friend. Rob’s birthday is on the 26th. The anniversary of his death is the 30th. I have all year to prepare for these thirty terrible days. And I’ve had twenty-four years of practice. You’d think I’d get good at it. I haven’t and I won’t.
Trying to appease the people who say I need to get over losing Robbie and move on, I think about the positives that September brings. My kids go back to school, and back to their friends at a school that I feel loves them almost as much as I do. My mom, grandmother and husband all have birthdays this month. It’s the start of my favorite season- not autumn, but football.
And you know what all that means when I’m having a day like today? Nothing. I don’t love celebrating Kurt’s birthday any less. I was grateful and honored to spend Grammie’s ninety-ninth birthday with her. I enjoyed hanging out with my mom at her birthday dinner. The Broncos are 2-0. My kids’ teachers are kind and their friends are awesome. So I will put all that in the happy pile.
But just out of reach, to the left, is the I-hate-living-without-my-brother pile. He was twenty-two. A rock star. Everybody’s everything. At his funeral one of the founders of NASCAR called him one of the best young drivers that ever was. And then, in the middle of the night, in an instant, he was gone. Just gone.
I remember what I was wearing when my mother and grandmother showed up in my dorm room to take me home. I remember refusing to leave campus because I had a French test. I remember getting to Connecticut and calling my best friend to tell her that I needed her to come home. She was already on the phone with her mom who was telling her what had happened. I remember crying with Sasha. I remember crying so much that I thought I’d never stop.
I’ve been crying for twenty-four years.
What have I learned in these last twenty-four years? Grief doesn’t go away. It certainly doesn’t get better. It just gets different. I probably don’t cry as much as I used to (although right now it doesn’t seem that way). I get through a day here and there without thinking about Rob. I absolutely don’t go a day without missing him. Not crying every day and not having him constantly on my mind is better, right?
It’s really not.
In the “Who Am I” section of my website, I describe the time after my brother died as waking up and feeling like I was breathing water instead of air. While I go for longer stretches of time now being able to breathe, when I do experience that feeling of drowning, it crushes me. That time softens the sharp edges of grief is more like a practical joke than a gift. Just when I get kind of good at going about my life without having my brother’s absence smack the crap out of me on a daily basis, something trips me up. Sometimes it’s a song or seeing one of his friends. And once a year it’s the flipping month of September. Because I’ve had a little respite from the constant beating, it sucks twice as bad, hits me a million times harder, and continues to kick me when I’m down.
Grief is a quick bitch and there’s no outrunning her. So I must sit with my grief. I don’t try to distract myself. I don’t keep myself busy. For these thirty days I wait for my kids to get on the bus, and then I sit alone in an empty house, with my grief. Without my brother. And I feel his absence like a draft. It makes me cold. The kind of cold-in-the-bones chill that I cannot escape.
Sometimes I go back to the two piles- one of happiness. One of sorrow. I know how fortunate I am. I have a good man who’s loved me for the last eighteen years. My children are the light in my life. I have great friends, a job that I love, my mother and grandmother. Still, the happy pile does not lessen the sad pile. It doesn’t take away my grief. It doesn’t discount it. I sit between the two piles and know that they will continue to co-exist, quite possibly, forever.
The best I can do is hold on to the helm and weather this storm named September. I will sit with my grief and love my children. I will miss my brother and enjoy Sundays with football and friends. I will cry for thirty days straight and understand on the thirty-first day, it will begin to get different. Not better, but just different again.
I will mourn life without Robbie and love the life I have.
Thank you for saying what I have been feeling for many years, but was unable to express. You made me heart heal a little.
Good lord- I wish I was as well spoken as you. Thank you for saying what the rest of us feel. Godspeed.
I so appreciate your words. I loss my husband a little over 4 years ago & “things” don’t get better. I have learned to live with the heartache & pain of his loss.
I read your book and I must say, I became a little fascinated with you. I didn’t know you had a website, so I googled your name and it brought me to it. I loved your “about me” section. I felt like I was sitting on your living room floor with you, drinking a bottle of wine and getting to know you. All your information is like that. It’s very clear that you wrote all your own content on your website- rather than your webmaster or whoever.
But, I wanted to tell you that this blog post in particular moved me to tears. I’m very fortunate, both my siblings and my parents are all still with me. So I cannot fathom the pain you must feel at times. But, to read what appears to come so easily for you is an honor.
Beautiful work. Your blog posts are just as well done as your book. Beautiful beautiful work.
Speechless. Just speechless. Thank you for sharing your very personal experiences.
I was telling a friend just Monday-I never gave people enough thought when I heard about a death in their family. I feel sorry and pray for them, but when my younger sister died 2 years ago I felt loss that I don’t think I have ever known. I understand how you feel even after all this time. I remember the day he died and how I couldn’t believe Laurie when she told me. I had recently been in the pit at his race in Delaware. Laughing and talking with your father and everyone. Time stands still and it’s hard to think of the future. He will always be remembered and you will always remember all the good times. After 2 years I still go to call my sister to tell her something and remember I can’t. I still cry at the sight of Halloween candy corn (her favorite). I’m sure you have certain triggers too. Just know that there are others that will always remember him and keep your family in their prayers.
Oh, Susan. I really don’t have the words.
But yours were painfully beautiful.