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The Complexities Of Time, Space and Grief

Grief can be relentless. Other times it gives you a little more breathing room, only to sneak up on you with a sucker punch. Anniversaries have always been the hardest for me. Thirty years ago today my brother Tom died. I have been grieving for 2/3 of my life. I still think about him every day. This morning I stuffed that grief deep down so I could go about my work day. Though I did create a playlist of his favorite music, to keep me company and to celebrate our shared interests. And I was doing all right. But over my lunch break, I watched the trailer for See You Yesterday. Bam, sucker punch. I had to choke down a sob or two. The movie is about a lot of things - sci-fi commentary on Black Lives Matter, police brutality, time travel. But at its core, it is about a young woman whose older brother dies.

My older brother was the one person in my life I could count on, who looked out for me. We grew up in a toxic environment. Even before he died there had already been so much trauma. Afterward was even bleaker. And memories associated with trauma remain more static than regular ones. Tom was sick in the hospital over a particularly long winter, and Spring was slow to start. Not unlike this year. I’d started sleeping at the hospital as the staff told us it wouldn’t be much longer. That he was fading fast. I knew the facts but stubbornly clung to the absurd hope he would bounce back, somehow. That he would go into remission. I didn’t want to acknowledge how leukemia, chemo and eventually pneumonia had utterly destroyed my beautiful 18-year-old brother. And that morning the sun had finally come out. It was the first hint of actual Spring. After a lousy breakfast in the hospital cafeteria, I went outside. And lingered in the sunshine a little too long, listening to the birds sing. Cheerfully I headed back inside to see if Tom was awake yet. But when I went back up to his room he was gone. Everything about that morning, up to that point, is burned into my brain. The weeks after were just a blur. I clearly remember being at the funeral home to pick out my brother’s casket and carefully selecting which of his favorite clothes he would be buried in. But I barely remember the day of the funeral itself. I mostly remember being dazed. Though the night before, after we held the visitation, I vividly remember a school building - across the street from our house - going up in flames. And no, I’m fairly certain I wasn’t the one who started the fire.

But I don’t want to dwell on how he died. My job as his surviving sibling is to remember our good times together. And to tell my son all about him, and his interests, and his dry sense of humor. And to remind those who knew him that it is more than ok for them to talk about him with me. That I welcome their memories more than anything. Especially when they share stories I wasn’t around for, like some of his classmates and co-workers have over the years.

Woman wearing a raincoat on a cold and wet walk

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