Tomorrow is the ten year anniversary of my brother’s death. I don’t remember the date normally – all I know is that it’s in June and six months to the day before my youngest brother was born, so I usually have to text my sister, ask when our youngest brother’s birthday is and count back from there. The day of his death has held much less significance in my life over time, although his birthday and Christmas do evoke all sorts of emotions. My grief has shifted a gear and no longer do I experience the searing pain or the crippling guilt at not saying goodbye properly.
I was 18 when he died and he was two years younger. My mother and grandmother were visiting me at university as I had a big concert going on for friends and family with my a cappella group (yes it was like the Barden Bellas, but the fit ones). Mum and my grandmother came to knock on my door in the morning. My mum came in my room and sat down on the maroon armchair and told me my brother had died. He’d been in hospital, but I never really believed he’d die because he had pulled through more times than I could count over the years. I didn’t say goodbye properly and I never saw his body.
I crumpled into a heap on the carpet. I don’t remember now what happened to my mum and grandmother but they must have left and driven back home. Then, I got myself ready; I had another gig. I held my shit together, sang with the girls, and then as we basked in the sunshine on the quad in a circle with strawberries and Pimms, I broke the news. We all sat and cried together. 16 of us. That was just under three years before I met my wife.
I remember that I used to sob on my wife when I had a griefblast of tears over my brother. They were infrequent – maybe three or four times a year. More often than not, it would be late at night. We’d be in bed. I’d start crying softly, trying to calm myself and steady my breathing but she’d instinctively pick up on my grief. An instinct that only the love of your life has. She’d embrace me in her arms, kiss me softly on my neck or face and, as we grew to know one another over time, and she grew to know more about my brother, she’d cry with me. She grieved with me for the young brother-in-law that she’d never know. Her tears would meet mine and drip onto the pillow, united in grief, albeit two different forms of grief.
Now, here I sit in my bed alone with a laptop, more pillows and cushions than I’ll ever need, and I’m crying. I’m crying tears for two losses – my brother and my wife. I have nobody to hold me. Nobody to cry with me. Nobody to tell me aloud that they love me. here are no lips to meet mine. It fucking hurts. Double grief. Double loss. Double pain. Double bad luck. Sometimes I wonder, ‘why me?’ but then I remember that I’ll never get an answer to this, maybe not even in heaven, and that there’s no point dwelling on it. God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference. I say that prayer every day.
Since my wife died, the grief for my brother has evolved into something new. It has become stronger, I think, although I still don’t think of him every day (read my post about forgetting him here). Although I don’t mark the dates, there still remains a bizarre calendar of the heart which keeps track inside of me. This week and last, I felt a sadness and I couldn’t pinpoint what it was. Then, I realised the date. It was much like the time approaching the 18 month anniversary of my wife’s death when I couldn’t figure out what was going on until I physically looked at a calendar and clocked. Something within me nevertheless acknowledges that it’s that time of year and the grief manifests itself in weird ways. Today, for example, I was super dizzy and nearly keeled over in my stilettos.
I lost both of them. The one person who was made up of the same biology as me (my other siblings are half siblings), and the one woman who saw into my soul. It hurts. It REALLY FUCKING HURTS. Maybe this sounds awful, but if I had to choose which one I wanted back, it would hands down be my wife. I love her so much and she is the only person in the world who will be able to calm me right now. Valium it is instead.
The only consolation is that I know they’ve met now. They’re both together. They’re both at peace. They’re probably both conspiring, watching as I drip snot all over my pajamas and pillows. So, wherever you are little brother and woman, I hope you’re keeping me safe because another premature loss is going to be too much for me to bear. I hurt.
I have one particularly poignant memory from a time that my wife was comforting me. She said that everybody dies two deaths. The first is their physical death, when their heart stops beating. The second is when the last person on earth who knows about them also dies, and all the memories are gone. Nobody will ever forget my brother or wife – they’re alive within us. I’ll carry them both in my heart forever.