“Grief is the tax we pay on loving people.” ~ Thomas Lynch
Every March, grief visits me.
My brother—my only sibling—died on the Spring Equinox in 1999. Each year, as the anniversary of his death approaches, I spin into the past, following the calendar as it traces the days towards his death.
For me, Saint Patrick’s Day isn’t just a day to make sure you’re wearing green—it’s the last holiday my brother was alive for.
Because it’s been nearly 17 years now since my brother died, I have healed immensely from the shattering of losing him. I’ve come miles from those first metallic moments of hearing the news, and the pools of grief that followed. Time and tears built new layers of muscle around my broken heart. Over months and years, I put together a life—one more honest and whole-hearted than I might’ve had I not been torn apart by his death. I still think of my brother most days, but my life now is so different than it was 17 years ago. It’s a life filled with people who’ve mostly never met him.
It’s a good life.
But it’s not the same life I’d have if he’d lived. And sometimes I’m reminded of this.
The other day, my daughter asked, “Do I have any aunties?”
“Of course you do!” I told her. I named my husband’s sister and sister-in-law. Despite all the years since my brother’s death, my daughter’s sweet-voiced question triggered my sadness. Would she ask next if she had any uncles, too? My kids should have known their Uncle Will. He should’ve lived long enough to have kids, cousins for my own. My daughter’s innocent inquiry reminded me of the phantom family that I will never have, the featureless nieces and nephews. While time softens the pain, it also reveals more of what has been lost. When my brother died, I lost not just him but the future I thought we’d have. I lost the dream of thousands of moments spent together, cousins for my babies, more grandchildren for our parents, someone to sift through childhood memories with.
While early grief can be all-consuming, long-held loss visits when it wants to. Sometimes in trickles, other times, in gushes.
Yesterday I took a walk, excited to feel the warm air on my arms. I was hoping the walk would tame my busy mind.
But it’s spring, and my brother’s loss is close.
I miss you, I whispered to him.
To the mottled sky, to whatever part of my brother might linger in the air, in the treetops, in the straddle between winter and spring when he left.
I miss him now, when I’ve lived nearly twice as long as he did. And I will miss him if I live to be a very old woman. Today, it’s not a smothering grief. It’s a gentle squeeze of pain and longing. It holds wishes that things could’ve turned out differently. It’s a companionable grief, but one that will never end.
When we lose someone we love, someone we don’t think we could live without, we don’t get over it. If we face our loss, if we soak in it for a while, it can tenderize us. It can connect us to all the loss throughout time and space, the bridge of sadness that comes with loving and losing. It can make our hearts both strong and tender, wise and weathered.
But like the love braided into it, grief isn’t something we get over. It’s something we get through, and through, and through.
Author: Lynn Shattuck
Editor: Renée Picard
Image: Ivan Karasev/Unsplash