A few years after my mother passed away, I decided it was not healthy to “recognize” the anniversary of her passing. You can’t really call it a celebration, but “honoring” and grieving over my mom’s death on the same day in January held me back. Deciding to celebrate her birthday instead was a very healing decision. I still note the day she died on my calendar, but over time, it’s simply become a date. I’ve tried to do the same thing with my brother’s death.
My brother died on November 15…and his funeral was on November 18…exactly three years ago today. It’s been hard to pass up his “death anniversary” this year because of another death that occurred around this time of year. John F. Kennedy. Obviously, the day JFK was shot changed this country, and that’s why we see so much coverage, especially on this 50th anniversary of his death. Having all the media and the entire country recall the death of one person can’t help but spill over and cause me to think a bit more about my brother’s death than I’d like. Well, not about his death, but about the void left behind.
My mother’s death devastated me. I’ve not admitted it before, but I had to take anti-depressants after her death to try to cope. It turned out the treatment was far more damaging and I had to end up dealing with things on my own, resulting in the realization I mentioned before…to focus on her life and not her death. Jeff’s death has affected me in a far different manner. His illness leading to his death was far more painful. His death was more of a message to me.
I guess we all expect parents to die before us, but most of us never want our mommy or daddy to go away. (Yes, I have referred to her as “mommy” more so after she died). It hurts when they’re gone, but it’s the natural progression of things. But when a sibling dies, a piece of our own soul dies as well.
Jeff’s illness scared me on so many levels. Having a sibling die forces one to face one’s own mortality. We’re from the same generation, which means death can come knocking on my door at any time. I’ll say it again…it scared me.
My brother and I weren’t incredibly close. We weren’t the types to call daily or to keep in touch with every aspect of our lives. We were seven years apart in age and that’s an eternity when you’re growing up…and it takes a lot of adulthood to start closing that gap. We were JUST at that closure when he left. That hurt. It’s not his fault…but I felt that a life-long bond that had just formed was brutally ripped apart. I’ll say it again…it hurt.
And then there was the realization that despite not being stereotypically close, we were indeed close. So many times after he passed, I thought of calling him to ask about a family member, or to call him to discuss the latest WVU game. When I would geocache and come across a little adventure I’d want to share, I would start to email him. But he was gone. I never knew how much of me was shared with my brother. And now that was gone.
Every person has a unique relationship with his or her sibling. My relationship with Jeff is far different that yours with your sibling. My reaction to his death is different than yours will be…or was.
I’ve mentioned here before that Jeff’s death became an inspiration and that I started this blog and campaign in his honor. That’s true. But I also started it out of fear. I had to know if I was at risk of a similar melanoma diagnosis. I started it from the hurt because a bond between us was torn, and I hoped the campaign would somehow mend that. I started it to keep my brother here, at least his memory. While I receive compliments and assurance from others that I’m carrying out that mission successfully…and that he would be proud, I have so wished that I could hear that from Jeff.
I’m not an overly religious man. I’m perhaps more spiritual than anything. I also try not to be sappy. But on Saturday, November 15 at about three years to the minute of his death, I was walking along the beach with my daughter. It was a cloudy, gray day. I looked out over the ocean and I saw a sight that gave me that assurance that Jeff was indeed aware…and was still here in spirit. I saw a rainbow within the clouds. (The photo I took doesn’t do it justice…the colors I saw were so vivid and bright) Yeah, I know it’s a natural phenomenon related to ice crystals and light refraction…I’ve seen it many times before. But for some reason, this sighting reassured me. This sight said…everything. This was Jeff.
I’ve felt scared, hurt and empty. Now I feel assured and recharged. November 15 will always be a date to mark the day my brother died. But it’ll also be merely another day on the calendar…another day t o live.