Grief is a slippery thing.
It meanders and lingers and sucker punches and answers to no one. And, somehow, it loves, too. I haven’t known how to write or talk about my brother’s death in a public way, or even if I should. It’s been something like five weeks now, and I’ve kept things mostly close to the chest; some non-articulated idea that this grief should be exclusively mine, should be all about me—stupid but true—and that his memory, my memories, our memories; everything needs shielding, protection: A buffer from the dumb and deaf out there, just leave me alone, please don’t leave me…
And then a friend calls and says something wise: that there’s no right or wrong way to do it, the grieving thing. So you’re off the hook, okay? Death just is, the same way that life just is. And people just are, and everything else just is, too. There’s no shortcut, no control panel. There’s no hack or workaround or hidden door or system or code or any other way over or under or through. All of it just is. All of it. So just be.
Time is doing its thing, pulling the freshness of him off into history. This has been the hardest part. I find myself wanting to make demands, to muscle it all to a stop, to scream JUST HANG ON A FUCKING SECOND THIS GUY WAS MY BROTHER. He was a man who lived and breathed and loved and taught, he was a real person, a real soul on a real journey on this planet, and he had his demons like we all have our demons, and his time is not to be forgotten. He teased me, he took care of me, he drove me around and taught me about girls and came to see my plays and introduced me to Metallica. He made mistakes, yes, and he made amends, yes, and he fought with people and got pissed and got sick and got well and joked and made a real fucking effort at life, made a real motherfucking effort to do right by people. He was a good dude, a good man, a warrior in his own way, a human being who lived with fullness, who did the best he could with what he knew. He was here, he was ALIVE.
… and then he wasn’t. But he was here, just yesterday, yesterday. Then, just three days ago. Then five days. Then a week. Then two weeks. Then a month. Then…
His Facebook profile photo was and still is of him and us — the three of brothers. Me, Derek, James. We’re sitting at a table at a Wokcano in Woodland Hills. We’re smiling, together on a warm August night last year. I remember we stopped to get ice cream afterward. We walked to my car and he told me one of the brake lights was out. “Hate to be the bearer of bad news,” he said. I still have to get that fixed.
I suppose the gift of death is perspective. It’s a sour joy to acknowledge the terminal nature of life, to suddenly see it for the only thing it really is, all lit up against that big black backdrop of finality. An awful contrast: on and off and all technicolor in between.
It just is.
People often talk of legacy when a loved one dies. It’s an effort to distill the sprawling complexity of a person into little lessons, stories, photos, anecdotes, funny moments. Stuff for the road. A way to both forget and not forget, to remember and not remember. I resist, but it all happens anyway.
Just be. There’s no right or wrong way to do this. It just is.
I want to end with these words, because making them public feels dangerous, and bold, and true:
I love you, Derek. I miss you. Thank you for being my big brother. I wish so much had been different, that it wasn’t like this. But I will always remember the little things. They were huge for me.
See you on the flip side.
Photo credit: Author. “Somewhere over The Gulf of Mexico”, 2017.