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.