Four days ago, on February 28th, it was the eighth anniversary of my oldest brother’s death. The date comes around every single year and my life crumbles. I could write an entire post about the three days I spent in the hospital with my brother watching his body deteriorate and give up, but I think it’s more important to write what I learned in the weeks surrounding that.
I went back to school less than 24 hours after my brother passed away. For one thing, what else was I going to do? Sitting around was not going to help anyone, so I figured I’d just go back and see all of my friends. I will never forget being in the second floor bathroom after stepping out of a class for a moment and a girl came up to me and asked, “How is your brother doing?” She meant nothing but the best and I so truly am humbled that she asked. Instead of responding maybe how I was supposed to, I said, “Oh, he’s fine, thanks.” She mumbled something about how she was glad and then I finally said the words out loud–“Actually he passed away yesterday.” I don’t remember how the rest of the conversation went. All I know is that it felt completely normal to say that he was doing fine. I didn’t want to invite questions. I didn’t want to open up to anyone. It wouldn’t have helped if I responded correctly the first time.
It was that conversation that taught me a few things about losing someone: It is truly indescribable to realize that someone’s life defines your own. I don’t mean this in any sense of independence, but I mean that Andrew’s life, and specifically Andrew’s living, made me a person with two brothers. Andrew’s death made me a person with one brother. Such a simplistic category of “Number of Siblings” that we all fit into throughout our lives, but my category changed. I also fit into a new category of “Girl Whose Brother Died”. I realize no one actually thinks of me this way after knowing me, but if the subject ever comes up, I know that’s the first thing they’re going to remember for awhile.
There are two days a year that are incredibly important to me that don’t necessarily phase anyone else. Anyone who has lost someone can tell you the birthday and “death”day of someone they lost are two dates that will never go unnoticed. Is their birthday still one to celebrate? Should we celebrate the time we had with them? Is their “death”day one to mourn? Should we celebrate that they are no longer in pain? My new categories become “Person Who Hates Two Days of the Year No Matter What” and “Girl Who Doesn’t Know How To Feel”.
I do not pretend to know the depth of pain that so many others in the world have known, but I do claim to know the vast and all-encompassing pain of losing a loved one. If you know someone who has lost someone they love, give them a hug. Ask them if they’re okay. Don’t feel weird saying “I’m sorry”. They know. They don’t want you to know the hurt they’re going through. They don’t want you to make things better. It’s not in your power to make things better. It is in your power to learn from them and to listen, I mean really listen, and find out what they need.
There are so many categories that are a better fit for me as a whole. I fit into the category of “Girl Who Likes Football” and “Singer With A Crazy Low Alto” and those categories are just as important. This year, I got some new categories and they distracted me from the sad categories I’m reminded of twice a year–I became part of the “Employed Millennials” category and I also became part of the “Figuring Life Out” category. One day, maybe, I’ll learn that none of my categories are sad. They’re all important to me and they all define me. And yet another day, maybe, I’ll find out that my category is mine alone–it makes up every part of me and only me and maybe someone will want to join my category. Until then, I’m learning and I’m loving the people I have left and I’m missing the people who are gone. Especially today.