Everything that matters is still true. I used to use these words as salve when some small thing, in the larger scheme of things, went wrong. This patch of perspective covered it all. I relied on my raft of words to keep me afloat when troubles, real and imagined, threatened to overtake me. A wildly expensive repair bill, minor irritation, major disappointment… uncomfortable feelings didn’t fester too long with my mantra as salve. Nothing else really mattered as long as dear ones were safe, healthy and well.
Then my brother died.
It happened in the wee hours of a September Saturday. Even before I arrived at the dawn darkened course or took my first step of the Singleton 10-miler, Brad was dead.
The weather was deceptively beautiful. It gave nothing away. Everything that mattered was not still true, but the gentle breeze carried no signs. I crossed off each race mile in blissful ignorance.
I have heard others talk about the sudden death of one beloved. They speak of signs. I knew something was wrong, they brag proudly, holding up their angst. It is evidence of their bond, unassailable and true, with the loved one, cruelly lost. I expected to know, too. But I didn’t. Me, the oldest sister who read Brad bedtime stories as boy, welcomed him for summer visits as a teen and admired his kindness as a man.
My brother died as I slept undisturbed then later toed the start line thinking only of the finish – not his life, already ended. I did not feel any shift or change. I did not dream or startle and bolt upright. I had no hint from my heart or bones. I did not know until the calls came.
They started in the check-out line at Sam’s club. Race participants had parked there before the store opened to the usual throngs eager to check Saturday chores off their lists. Until the calls came, I had counted myself among them – an ordinary person doing ordinary things on an ordinary day.
The cashier looked giddy with surprise. Her pitch had landed a “yes.” Sure, I said. I’ll upgrade my membership to Advantage Plus. You’ll save four dollars on your paper towels today, she said, eager to assure me I had made a wise choice. The phone buzzed in my pocket. It stopped and started again immediately, insistently. I pulled it out, five missed calls, and knew… something was wrong. My sister doesn’t ever call on a Saturday morning, and never so many times in a row.
Filling the gas tank, usually a dreaded chore was a welcome task then. I needed time, just a few minutes more with the pretend comfort of willful ignorance. The tank filled too quickly. I had to call back. Stalling hadn’t helped though, my brother was dead.
Brad died on September 24, 2011. He would have been 36 on his birthday, just two days later. Instead of celebrating we mourned. No, we didn’t really. The shock was still so fresh. We didn’t fully understand yet how vacant the space he occupied in our lives would be. We could still torture ourselves by pretending it wasn’t true that he would be separated from us forever.
Now I need new comfort words.
I am without protection from life’s upsets. Something that mattered is no longer true. A dear one, my younger brother, is not safe or healthy or well. My brother is dead, and I am left without my mantra to steady myself on grief’s rocky path.