Life is pleasant. Death is peaceful. It’s the transition that’s troublesome. – Isaac Asimov
Tuesday will be a difficult day. The normal routine of getting Emily to school, going to work, and then dealing with dinner, dishes and homework will still be there. But it won’t be these things that will make the day difficult. Tuesday will be difficult because it will mark the one-year anniversary of my brother’s death.
On October 9, 2011, I was watching a football game while enjoying a glass of wine when my older daughter called to ask if Eric was okay. When Mary Beth questioned Caitlin’s concern, my daughter told her that she read, “Rest in Peace Uncle Eric” on her cousin’s Facebook wall.
After reaching my sister on the telephone, the worse became real. Eric had died an hour earlier.
Since my brother’s death, I have felt more numb than alive. It’s been difficult to find peace. And it feels like a part of me has gone dark.
A journey through grief
I spent that night and the following days on my knees praying, crying and mourning. My brother’s death was sudden, unexplainable and painfully sad. One year later, the cause of his death is still unknown.
The only thing I do know is my 51-year-old brother is gone and he isn’t coming back.
If you have experienced a loss like this one, you may know there’s a process for dealing with grief. I’m not sure if my healing journey is following the typical stages, but I do know it is helping me find peace with Eric’s death:
- Disbelief. I don’t remember much after hearing my sister tell me Eric was dead. I paced the house looking for…something, but I’m not sure what. I ambled into the dining room where I buried my head into one corner of the room and cried harder than I ever had before. I couldn’t believe he was gone.
- Need for control. Plans had to be made. Airline tickets to California, hotel reservations and a car rental had to be arranged. I felt in control doing these things and it felt normal and it was comforting. In the months that followed my brother’s death, I surrounded myself with the predictable, with the routine.
- Guilt. How did I miss the signs he was seriously ill? Why didn’t I help him when he asked? It felt like it did when we were kids and I witnessed the accident that took his leg. One more time, I asked the same question that has haunted me since I was six-years-old: Why Eric and not me?
- Depression. After he died, I was not the same person I used to be. It felt like the fire inside me had died. I didn’t experience life with the same passion. I lost my commitment to hope, faith and kindness.
- Forgiveness. With time’s healing grace, I’m learning to forgive myself. I’m learning to believe it wasn’t my fault Eric lost his leg. I’m learning to believe there wasn’t anything I could have done to save him. And, to be honest, I’m learning to forgive Eric for leaving me.
- Acceptance. Acceptance has been the hardest part of the journey, but acceptance is now finding its way to me.
Making peace with death
One year later, I’m beginning to make peace with my brother’s death. The shock is subsiding, the guilt is retreating, and the depression is diminishing. I feel a spark igniting parts of me that have been dark for too long.
Eric is gone, but his gifts, and his light, will live forever. His genuine optimism; his unconditional love; and his unfaltering ability to see the good in everything, and everyone, will always be remembered.
I’m ready to accept his gifts and start living again.
Eric wouldn’t want me to be angry, depressed or anxious. My brother would want me to be happy. He would want me to find the good in his death and then hang onto that for the rest of my life.
I see the good, Eric. I’m making peace with death even though I have despised what it has taken. But I know you want peace, not despair, to fill up the space between you and me.
So, with your spirit reigniting my soul, know that I still miss you. I miss the telephone calls, the philosophical conversations and I miss hearing your booming laughter. But it’s time now.
The healing has begun. Peace is on its way.
This peace is giving me the courage to say the words I couldn’t find until now.
I’ll see you soon brother.