Friday, September 20, 2013

Let It Be

My brother died thirty one years ago today.

Thirty one years.  It was a lifetime ago, and it was yesterday.

When he died, it blew our family apart.  He wasn't sick so we didn't see it coming, we couldn't prepare for the inevitable.  He literally went to school one day and never came home; we woke up a family of five, and went to bed a family of four.

Grief from loss, I've learned, is lifetime thing. It's not so much that you "get over it" or "put it behind you," but rather that you learn to live with it. Thirty years later I will still absentmindedly pull five plates from the cabinet while setting the table at my parents house.  Scooby Doo still brings a sense of sadness when I see it, because that's what was on television in the immediate  aftermath of the accident, when our lives were full of chaos and confusion.  Writing September 20 on a check or seeing the date on the calendar still gives me pause and I cannot cross a street without obsessively looking both ways multiple times.  I am glad that milk chocolate brown sedans are no longer seen on the road because for years when I was growing up I'd see big brown sedans in parking lots and wonder if that was the car that killed my brother. A child's mind connects with death in unusual ways.

My brother left everything behind too, like people do when they die.  He still had dirty laundry, so two days after the funeral, my mother went to do the laundry and had to wash clothes that would never be worn again.  In her grief, she not only washed them, but dried them, folded them, and put them away in his dresser.  They sat in that old oak dresser for fifteen years, until one day she abruptly decided to clean it out.  I helped her without being asked, and she cried over each little item as she transferred it from dresser to paper sack.  A few things she kept to put into storage, telling me I'd have to toss them out when she was gone. Things like the blue and red striped shirt my brother had written his name on in big, crooked kid letters across the front, and the backpack he was carrying the day of the accident.

You cannot realize how much stuff a six year old has, even if you have a six year old.  You cannot grasp the amount of stuff a little person can accumulate in such a short amount of time until you're left with every last bit of it to find and put away.  Little hands leave things in strange places, and we found toys of his tucked into corners and crevices for years after he'd left us.  Each discovery would bring the loss home again, as the realization that the person who had last touched the item was no longer around.  We still have many of his toys, and my mother often says that if she has a grandson, they will be given to him.

My mother loves The Beatles, and my child hood was filled with music.  When my brother was killed, my mother listened to Let It Be over and over again, and it was played at his funeral.  As the years have gone by, I've learned that we are not unique in our tragedy.  Since his death, I've met so many people who have suffered the loss of a sibling, spouse, or other individual who died long before it was their time, and the most compelling thing I've learned is this: We can choose to be defined by the most horrific tragedy to befall us, or like The Beatles so eloquently put it, we can choose to let it be.  I realize now why my mother listened to that song so much, she was choosing to let it be, even when the horror was still so fresh it turned her stomach and brought tears to her eyes.

 My father recently put this photo up on my Facebook page.  I remember this trip, it was sometime in 1981, about a year before the accident that irrevocably changed our lives.  I remember how much I loved that dress and how much my mother fought with me about how I shouldn't wear socks with sandals, a battle she clearly let me win. What caught my attention the most about the image though is it's strangely prophetic layout.  My youngest brother and I stand in on the bright side of the image, looking out at the camera, both holding cotton candy.  Far to the left, with a tree separating him from us and standing in shadow, is my lost little brother.  He is still and rather than looking out from the image, he's in profile, watching us.  If I didn't tell you he was there, you'd probably never see him, yet there he stands. Clearly he was part of our family, but is now separated forever from us. 

   "There are no goodbyes for us. Wherever you are, you will always be in my heart."
---Mahatma Ghandi
It has been said time heals all wounds.  I do not agree.  The wounds remain.  In time, the mind protecting it's sanity covers them with scar tissue and the pain lessens, but it's never gone." 
- Rose Kennedy
- See more at:
"It has been said time heals all wounds.  I do not agree.  The wounds remain.  In time, the mind protecting it's sanity covers them with scar tissue and the pain lessens, but it's never gone." 
- Rose Kennedy
- See more at:

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