…there comes a time when, long after loss has been well-lived…, a small melody of love always returns.” Dreamwork with Toko-Pa
For the seventh year, I gathered candles and evergreens for a Solstice Ritual. My son, daughter-in-law, and I built an altar and shared what we hoped to release and create for 2017. We lit candles and told stories about David’s dad and my husband Vic. We laughed and wept.
When David and Liz left a few days later, I descended into gloom. Exploring the feeling, I remembered I hadn’t lit a Solstice candle for my brother Jim who died in April. I hadn’t put his photo on the altar or shared a story. Instead, grief stayed buried in my belly.
How could I exclude Jim?
In the months before Jim’s death, I spent days in his hospital room. Our conversations were deep and honest. I knew he was dying, but no one else in his nuclear family, including him, could face that possibility.
After his death, his family got on with life and avoided “drama.” They didn’t share tears or stories. My mom had handled grief this way when my dad died, so I knew the routine.
But that’s not my style, is it? Haven’t I learned to turn toward grief and find comfort there? Hasn’t sorrow led me to deep connection with those I miss?
In May, soon after Jim’s death, I felt him slipping away from my thoughts, so I asked friends to join me for a quiet ritual to honor and remember him. In July, I spoke at his memorial service and let my feelings show. After that, I rarely focused on his absence except on Sunday mornings, our usual time to talk on the phone.
After the holidays this year, I searched for hidden love in old family photos. I found Jim as a smiling big brother in 1945. Jim who supported me when our dad died in 1959 and when I was in college. I also noticed long periods of time when there were no photos of him.
Between 1968 and 2000, I rarely saw my brother. He focused on career while I focused on inner life and family. When he had a family crisis around 2000, I showed up, even though he said I shouldn’t come. I’m glad I ignored him.
When Vic was diagnosed with cancer in 2006, Jim called frequently and tried to help. When I wrote Leaning into Love, my accomplished brother celebrated his little sister’s book and book award as though I’d won the Noble Prize.
When Jim was diagnosed with cancer in 2013, I spent as much time as I could with him. He lived eight hours away, but I drove there often. I was tired, but never sorry.
There may be other hidden reasons this grief slides underground, but a few are obvious. I’m exhausted with caring for my husband’s mother. I’m also challenged by Meniere’s Disease symptoms which worsen when I’m stressed.
How many times have I told a griever that it’s never too late to work with sadness and build connections? Now I tell myself: It’s not too late.
On New Year’s Eve, I found a favorite photo from 1965 and re-arranged the Solstice article. I leaned my brother and me against a small statue of Divine Mother. I lit candles and wept for Jim and the part of me that’s worn down by grief and care-giving.
Knowing Jim would forgive me, I forgave myself.
If you’ve read my blog this year, you know I’ve wrestled with grief over my brother’s death. Do old photos help you work with confusing feelings? Or do they bring more memories than you care to face? For other posts about sibling grief, see Waiting for Another Dance or Soul Care in Hard Times.