When I was a little over 7 years old I experienced my first life tragedy. Something that would haunt my life from that day forward. In fact the tragedy happened on the 12th May 1987, 26 years ago today at around 8.20am. The facts of the day are clearly remembered by me in part but the fullness of the day was filled in for me by my Grandad some years ago.
The tragedy I speak of is the passing of my baby brother aged 2 3/4. He was a part of my life for relatively such a small space of time and yet has been one of the biggest influences on my life. He was the person who taught me how to love and that you teach people things when you don’t even realise your doing it.
My brother had Downs Syndrome and his death was due to complications of the disease. I was the fortunate one who got to look at him and see my brother, other people looked at him and saw his illness and the problems that would cause for his life. My parents never understood why his passing has had such a huge impact on my life or why I’ve always had a reluctance to move on. Even as I type this I can feel the hot tears welling in my eyes as I think of how much milestone days make me miss him.
I went to his grave this morning and tended the weeds, planted fresh flowers and placed cut flowers in the vases. The sad thing is as far as I’m aware I’m the only one who visits the grave now and I don’t go as often as I should. My grandparents were the primary tenders of the grave but when you reach a certain age frailty and life mean cemetery’s take on a different view for you. My parents don’t mention my brother anymore and as far as I know don’t visit him either. That’s not to say they don’t remember him although they both wondered why I was going today.
Their lives took on different paths to mine after his passing. I became frightened that I would lose the rest of the important people in my life and have since been unable to let people in for fear of getting hurt and the loss it brings. My parents went on to have 2 more children, my sister the year after his passing and my brother 5 years after that. I struggled with my sister’s birth seeing her as something to replace my affections, something which I was not prepared to do. Once we found out about her we stopped talking about him, we had to move forward I was told, we can’t live in the past as it wouldn’t be fair to her.
As a teenager I struggled with my emotions. Your teenage years are no cake walk as it is but add into that a fear of loss and guilt. Guilt for not spending more time thinking about him as you mind becomes filled with more important things like school work. I began to resent my sister as a way of dealing with my guilt. I was made to feel as though I was wrong to miss my brother when I had a sister who I was supposed to love. I ended up being sent to counselling to deal with the issues and the anger. I didn’t find counselling was a particularly helpful exercise in the long run but at the time helped a bit.
It was only in my early twenties that I decided how I would deal with my grief. I allowed myself to feel what I need to feel when I need to feel it. If I want to cry, I cry. If I want to miss him, I miss him. If I want to talk to him, I go and talk to him. But that’s ok, I figure as long as he doesn’t answer me back I’m doing alright! No-one has the right to tell you how to grieve. Life has taught me that grief is a personal thing and as such what works for one person isn’t necessarily right for another.
One thing my brother hated was seeing me cry, he would shout at me and make me laugh. He would be upset to know how much his passing had affected my life but at least he knows that he was loved. The further away his life gets the more it feels like it was a dream and he was something I imagined. I stopped sharing memories with family as they don’t remember the things I do and tell me I made them up, I prefer to believe my memories. Everyone takes different memories with them through their lives, just because someone doesn’t remember something you do doesn’t mean it never happened. After all how could they prove their memory of the fact is better than yours!
The people who come into our lives and leave us are always a part of us whether we want to accept that or not. As a person I’ve always been emotionally open and feel things deeply. I’m the only one in my family like that, everyone else is closed off. My parents weren’t like that until we lost him and the older they get the more closed off they are.
I prefer to smile, laugh and cry when I need to and take whatever bit of enjoyment out of life I can, cause when I’m standing by that graveside looking at his name and age carved into the marble I realise that no-knows how long they have in this world.
You might not know whose life you have touched and how deeply your passing will be felt. We don’t know what lies on the other side for us, I like to believe that one day when my time is up my brother will be there waiting for me and I’ll know there is nothing to fear. For what comes after who knows.
Will anyone tend to my grave 26 years after my passing, evidence would suggest I can’t rely on my family for that. Maybe my reluctance to allow myself to fall in love will ultimately leave me as a name on a darkened headstone in a windy cemetery with weeds for friends, who knows.
I’m not done yet, maybe there is someone out there for me who will miss me when I’m gone as much as I miss my brother. If there is I wish he would hurry up as I’m not getting any younger!