I grew up with two brothers. Then, a year ago today, my Ben brother died. He had been very sick for a year. Well, he had been mostly very sick for a year. But I already wrote 900 words about that and they weren’t very fun to read, so I just deleted them. Instead, today I am writing a continuation of what I said at his Celebration of Life ceremony, and sharing some things that I have learned from him after his death.
- I will always have two brothers. One time, three months after Ben died, I was out at a nice restaurant in Chicago with Marty, our friend Jean, and a couple of her relatives. One of them, a real hoot with whom I fell in love that night, was asking about me and my life, so naturally asked about my family. “How many siblings do you have?”That’s when the tears started coming out. Just real public crying at a dinner table. Now, to be fair, I also was superduper sick, could barely talk, and was a bit miserable, but regardless I’d been having a great time. That question just caught me off guard. I managed to squeak out to Marty through my tears, real embarrassed, “I don’t know how to answer that anymore.” Marty gently told me that I say two, that the answer will always be two.I will always have two brothers.
- Take more selfies with the people you love. This might seem super dumb, but the truth is that I am here in Colombia without my photo collection and almost all the pictures I have of Ben on my phone are cancer pictures. Pictures that we took when I skipped work to hang out with him in his hospital room and that we would post on Facebook as if to say, “Hey! Ben has cancer and has been in the hospital for four days, but he’s doing okay! Look at this smile!”I love all of these pictures. I truly felt so happy that I could be there with Ben while he was getting his butt kicked by a disease and the drugs that were supposed to be killing that disease. I felt grateful to have a job that allowed that. But more than anything, I enjoyed that time because I was, for a long time, blissfully ignorant that death was a possibility, so it was just like Bonus Brother Time (BBT).It ended up not being Bonus Brother Time, it was the opposite of Bonus Brother Time. It was more like Only Brother Time Forever and Ever and Never Quite the Best Time Either Because Brother’s Always Sick & Tired and Doesn’t Have the Same Quick Wit & Mind That Really Shaped A Lot Of Who He Was To His Family & Friends. Now I know that pictures, even selfies, with people you love are important to remember the truly good times as well as the good times that were colored rose (at least, if you’re like me and have a terrible memory and therefore LOVE that pictures give you an opportunity to see the memory).
- Life is a real mystery. There’s no way to ever know how something is going to turn out, so you just kind of have to follow your heart or your mind or whatever sounds best to you at the time, and wait to see what happens. There’s no point in “what ifs,” because you’ll never know. Actually, credit for this wisdom should maybe go to our Barry brother, since he’s the one who vocalized it to me.
- Loss, and feeling that loss, will hit you at unexpected times. See number one above. Also peek in my shower a couple times a week and you’ll catch me silently sobbing. Or take a seat in one of my English classes and look at me when everyone is doing work – you’ll find me with tears in my eyes, but I’ll smile at you, thanking you for shaking the sadness and emptiness that I was feeling in that moment.
- Silliness. Always. I mean, just look at the faces of those girls. Ben was miserable, but he had us all – especially my niece Adalynn – in stitches with his Kristoff (from Frozen) voice. If you can eke out just a little bit of silliness, it will probably make things okay. Even if it doesn’t make you feel better, you may be able to bring true joy to the ones you love.
There are days when I feel like I have more pain and sadness in me than I did a year ago. And I don’t think that will ever go away. But neither will he (despite all of my uncertainty about that).