I miss my big brother’s Sunday calls.
I want to tell him Bob Dylan won the Noble Prize in Literature. My brother Jim brought Dylan records home from college when I was 14. I want to tell him Clinton will win this endless upsetting election. He was sure Hillary Clinton was the woman for the job.
I want to tell him I’m OK without him, but that’s not quite true.
Jim died in April. It’s only been six months, but his death feels too distant. I feel a little numb. Something is off.
Grief went underground. I hear it rustling in the dark. It’s hard to grip what I’ve lost. Unlike my husband’s death, Jim’s death didn’t change my daily life. We hadn’t lived together since I was in college. Memories of him don’t permeate my home.
With only a few mutual friends and with his family at a distance, I rarely share stories about him. Unlike the strong community of support I had with my husband, this time I’m on my own.
I don’t want to lose who I was in Jim’s eyes. He saw me as capable, interesting, even wise. I felt protected by his presence on the earth.
I go days without thinking about him, even though I want to remember him and feel our closeness. Life presents an opportunity.
This week, I’ll take a two-hour drive to read a five-minute article at the launch party for The Healing Muse. I’ll also spend time with two dear friends, my only friends who knew Jim well. Despite the distance, I need to go.
In mid-April, after weeks in the hospital, Jim seemed stronger. He waited to be released to rehab, so it was a good time for me to take a quick trip home. Along with paying bills and feeding birds, I polished an article I’d written for The Healing Muse. I hoped to place my third article in three years in this journal from SUNY Upstate Medical University’s Center for Bioethics & Humanities. Jim read an early draft and gave permission to submit.
After hitting the send button, I got a call that Jim hadn’t gone to rehab after all. Instead, he had pneumonia again. I drove back to Cambridge to be with him. He died of cancer complications a few days later. As he asked and as I hoped, I was with him and his family for his last breath.
Before reading my article, I’ll remember the support we gave each other and dedicate the reading to Jim. It’s a way to honor this quiet grief.
After my husband died in 2008, Jim called often. We saw each other more than we had since we were kids, and even more after Jim got sick.
“I’m sorry,” I said when I wept with grief.
“Don’t be sorry,” Jim said. “It’s natural to cry.” He was a man who rarely wept, but he never suggested I should get it together or move on. Not once.
Jim’s long illness made us close. The love I took for granted felt more precious. “I’ll always support you,” he said many times, but I didn’t know what they would look after his death.
When I read the article, his article, I’ll feel both grief and love. If unshed tears surface, I’ll try not to be ashamed. Instead, I’ll remember Jim.
It hurts to be the last one standing, but here I am. It’s up to me to keep our connection alive. I’ll look at old photos. I’ll tell and write more stories. I’ll remember with ritual and flowers. I can turn toward this quiet ache of sorrow and let love rise from my hurting heart.
In this way, I’ll reach out for my big brother’s hand.
How do you stay connected with those who have died? Or have you decided the memories are too painful? For other articles about relationship with my brother, see Soul Care in Hard Times or The Thief: When Cancer Returned (published in The Healing Muse, 2015).