Grief’s Journey

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I remember the night I got the call. You know, the kind of call that none of us wants. There had been an accident, and he was gone.
Not a day of my life had gone by without him in my world. The youngest of my 3 older brothers, he was 12 years old when I was born, and he was the quintessential “big brother.” Loving, overprotective, funny, and artistic, he won every thumb war and tickle fight. He looked out for me, wanted the best for me, and brought Technicolor to my little world.
In the days after the call, in the gathering of friends and family, the laughter and the tears, the shock and disbelief, I recall having a strange quietness inside of me. It was a stillness of sorts, as I hugged my sister-in-law and nephews, my siblings and cousins, as I held my mother in her grief. I realized we all were grieving a different person. The boys, in college and on the verge of adulthood, lost their father. My sister-in-law lost her husband of 20+ years, my siblings and cousins lost their best friend.
My mother. Well, my mother lost a sweet-smelling new born baby, a towheaded darling toddler with her own azure eyes, a tender-hearted 6 year old who fell asleep writing to Santa Claus, a scrappy adolescent, a charming yet rebellious teenager who grew into a hard-working, generous man. She lost her youngest son.
And, me? I felt (still) like I had lost a constellation of sorts. Something in my life that had always been true, that made the world, in all its fog and pain and dust, a bit more navigable.
I wasn’t angry with God, but I did question His timing. Jimmie was fairly young, had a wife and two boys who still needed him. If God had to take someone, why not me? I was single at the time and not yet a mother. Not as many people needed me. Mine was not a big life. I wasn’t a constellation.
My brother’s own words comforted me. He had always believed that, “when it’s your time to go, it’s your time to go, and that’s all there is to it.” It’s just that, it seemed impossible that a heart so big and a personality so bright could just disappear. One minute we’re waving good bye in our own special way as I leave on what I think will be my “big adventure” in the Pacific Northwest. The next minute, I have to remind myself to breathe because I’m not sure there’s any oxygen left in the world.
Eventually, the services were over, the visitors had gone, and I was free to grieve in my own way as I resumed my journey over the mountains. It seemed disrespectful to be starting a new life when the life of one I held oh, so dear had ended.
I was surprised in the things that brought me comfort. Pulling off to the side of the road the first time I heard one of his favorite songs on the radio, I cried and screamed, and then I laughed. That almost felt wrong, too. But, I knew he would want me to laugh.
I prayed. But, I didn’t really know how to pray. My heart hurt. My soul hurt. I asked God to please, just help me. Help my family. Help us to survive.
I tried desperately to retrieve that voicemail message that I knew I had deleted 2 days too soon. Every time I picked up the phone to call him, the pain seared as my brain caught up with reality, again. The human in me wanted to know the why. And, of course, the only real answer was that one that the child in each of us despises, “just because.” Of course, that doesn’t really seem like an answer, at first. Then, as it wore me down and won, as reality so often does, this reviled answer and I began to make peace. There are simply some things that we cannot and will never understand. We can only choose to live with them, side by side on the journey.
I read that C.S. Lewis, who lost his wife to cancer, came to the conclusion that the pain we feel in our grief is born of the love and joy we share in life. This pain of mine, then, this “just because” became, eventually, a beloved companion. I could not have the memories without the pain, and the memories are worth it. They are worth every sharp edge, every subtle shadow, every short breath, every tear. They are worth it because my brother was amazing, and he loved me. And, I love him, still.

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7 comments

  1. You made me cry. To know Jim was to love him. He was just bigger than life, and missed by so many. He left a legacy of the Ten Commandments that will make a mark for all time. You know what I mean. Love you Zelma

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