Hello Cyber Space.
The bitch is back and writing about grief. If you don’t want to hear about it, you better click the X in the corner.
I tried to make this blog about new life. I intended, a year ago, to transition this into a space where all life experiences were processed and shared. Instead, I found that life happens too fast to write everything down, I can’t make sense of all, and that if I’m going to share my entire personal life online, I should just become an influencer and get paid for it. (I in no way want to be an influencer.) What I most naturally write about is grief, my experience with loss and the highs and lows that have come with it. It’s something I think about constantly. So, it is something I will continue writing about until someone offers me a book deal on a different topic. As of today, that’s not the case. Today, I am frustrated with the literary need to define grief, something so unfixed, in a consistent manner.
Most books systematize grief in seven chapters, as so:
- Shock and denial
- Pain and guilt
- Anger and bargaining
- The upward turn
- Reconstruction and working through
- Acceptance and hope
Screw these chapter books. Though, their chapter titles bare truth and accurately describe the emotions that come with grief; grief is not a chapter book. Grief is not 7 chapters within life, grief is the undercurrent of all lives that know loss.
If grief were a chapter book, I would be done by now. I would have read all the chapters, felt all the emotions, then placed the book on my shelf to never read again. The last thing I want is to forget. The last thing I want is for the story to end. I never want to lose a connection with the main character. So, I will write my own. Forever. Today, my grief story goes a little something like this…
Degrees of Loss
Herein lies the problem: within language, grief looks the same.
Each loss is different. Each grief presents itself in different ways. Even those grieving the same life will never ache the same way. One can empathize. One can relate. Yet, no two losses are uniform. I lost my older brother. My sisters lost a younger brother, an older brother closer in age, and a stepbrother. There is comfort knowing we are not alone. But we are all grieving a different loss.
Brother is an umbrella term, as are all family titles. The names bare different weight with different definitions for every person. My definition of sister is synonymous with pest, clothes thief, biggest supporter, etc. (Sister has a lot of terms for me. I have a lot of sisters.) Brother is something special entirely. In my youth, my brother was my idol. He was the one I wanted to be just like. The one I had to be near to truly learn and laugh. Then, he became a father figure when my dad was unable to do so himself. I went to university, and he became my very best friend while still playing these other roles simultaneously. When I think ‘brother’ I don’t just think male human birthed by the same parents. I think hero, confident, advisor, menace, best friend, and so much more. ‘Brother’ is a simple term for the hundred Ike shaped holes left behind.
Grief is a walk alone. You walk solo down your own path, filled with its own mountains and valleys, at your own pace. I can understand those experiencing their own grief, even those experiencing a loss I don’t relate to. I know how deeply grievers suffer, both quietly and aloud. I know to excuse missed plans or unread texts. I know to check in, even without reply. I know that certain dates and special situations will endlessly hurt. I know that no one can make them feel better, but one can help them feel not alone.
Not Quite Angry
I allow myself frustration, but never anger. I was never once angry with Ike in the 22 years he was my living brother. I wasn’t angry when he’d lock me in my room and remove the intercom phone. I wasn’t angry all the times he hacked my Facebook when I was trying to give off a sense of cool online. I wasn’t even angry when he would steal my keys from my room while I slept, move my car two blocks away, put the keys back, then laugh at me while I ran around the neighborhood trying to find my car. I was never angry because I wanted to be in on the joke. Anger pushes you away. I want to stay close. I can’t be angry he’s gone because I refuse to push his memory away. I’ve gotten close to anger. But I could never quite get there.
That is not to say grief does not bring anger. For me, it never brings anger to the deceased. My grief brings anger to the living. There have been times when no one noticed my sadness until it became anger. I have lashed out at my parents, my friends, my sister, for things I wouldn’t have if I wasn’t walking around with a hole in my heart. Underneath that anger was never true exasperation. Underneath outward anger hides a heart in hurt.
Anxiety the Asshole
Wildly forgotten in all writings on grief.
New experiences without Ike inevitably bring new grief. The thought of new grief brings anxiety.
My sister married the love of her life 3 months ago. For over a year, I had immense anxiety leading up to the day. I could feel the weight of grief get heavier as the date grew closer. It got harder and harder to get out of bed. I barely left my room when the grief cloud was around me. I would re-watch videos of Ike, re-read cards he’d sent me, and text his phone long paragraphs of how I felt at a given time (shoutout to Mercedes—the kind woman who now owns the number). I understood how deeply it would hurt without Ike there. I knew how badly every life event since has hurt without him there. I watched my sister’s grief break her down more and more the closer the date got. This grief is anxiety of deep grief to come.
August 9th and December 30th always take my breath away. How absolutely silly, calendar dates having control over one’s emotions. To most people, these are simple numbers representing mundane days. To some, these could be happy occasions, an anniversary or a birthday. To me, these are a reminder of what was here and what is now gone. I stress over these days each time they draw near. I conjure tears every time I dwell on them long enough. How can I make sure everyone around me is okay? How can I be okay? How can Ike be celebrated and remembered for more than premature death?
A little piece of my heart breaks thinking Ike will never know the man I’ll marry, if I ever do. I have been unable to fully love someone the way I did pre-heart-destruction because I’m afraid of more grief, and anxiety keeps a high, barbed-wire fence around my heart. I have been unable to open-up to a love interest on the topic of grief because I assume they’ll never understand. Therefore, I seem to go through relationships like a knife through warm butter: fast, recklessly, and without regard for heart health. I’ve experienced the deepest pain I could have imagined. I’ve lost the person I loved the most in the entire world. It’s like I’m prepared for loss and expect it. I prepare for it. I leave so I’m not the one left. The old cliché proves true: it’s not you; it’s me.
I study my parents now. I investigate their appearance each time we’re reunited, searching for inevitable marks of deterioration that indicate I’ll lose them too. Quite a depressing thought? Perhaps. But I prefer to be prepared for my next major loss. They’re currently still them. My dad is still a baby boomer from Oklahoma with too many new balances and too much knowledge for his own good. My mom is still like Kris Jenner except she sleeps a lot more and hasn’t made me a billionaire. Conversations still include my mom’s sailor tongue and my dad’s poetic meanderings. But they’re older and grayer than ever before. They will only get older and grayer.
Anxiety also presents itself in the form of what ifs. What would Ike think of me now? What if he dislikes who I’ve become? What if I forget the little details that made him him? What if all he’s taught me goes to waste? What if no one ever gets me like he did? (Fuck me, if that’s true and the medium I paid too much to give me an over the phone reading is right.) What if death is black? What if he isn’t looking out from me in another realm? What if he really is gone forever?
Anxiety to do without. Anxiety of more grief. Anxiety of being trapped by the what ifs. I met anxiety a few months after I met grief. And wow. The guy is an asshole.
A redefining of ‘fake it ‘til you make it.’
I’ve forced myself to believe that Ike is always with me. When making decisions, I play through a conversation I would have with him if he were here. When going through daily life, I think what would Ike do? and act accordingly. Get out of bed sleepy head… I have convinced myself, wherever he is, he is watching me and pushing me to be a better person. If I drop a piece of trash on the street, I drive myself crazy until I pick it up because I can feel him judging me.
On good days, I know it was a convoluted blessing that Ike was the one who passed. If I had lost anyone else, I would have been okay. It sure would have hurt, but I would have been fine because I still had Ike. Ike is the only person who I’ve ever felt has absolutely understood me. He knew what I was thinking with a simple glance, and vice versa. He was the only person I every wholeheartedly relied on. Because of all this, Ike was the only person I could lose that would require me to fully grow to live without. There must be some plan in action. This must have happened for a reason.
When Ike died, a piece of me died. I’ve realized, over time, that a piece of him stayed alive in me too. I can feel this piece when I’m talking about or listening to the Beatles, having political debates, or prank calling people for pure entertainment. I can hear him singing Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl) even if it’s an undertone to a loud bar. I can feel Ike with me, like sunshine on my shoulders, whenever I’m stepping outside my comfort zone and embarking on a new adventure. I convince myself I will keep feeling him alive within me through new things. This is a single reason to keep going.
Ike was a success in all things except the cruel lottery of male hair loss. He was the most admirable person I have ever known. I try to live my life in a way that I would be proud telling him about it. I must make him proud. I must do what I know he would: carry on. I must keep him alive in all things I do.
I force optimism down my throat like a pill to a pet. Some fighting, but I’ll take it.
My personal chapter at present.
Lately, I’ve found a mischievous sense of entertainment by not telling people that I’ve lost a brother. I recite my family tree like he’s still living. “I have a half-sister who’s a good bit older, a brother six years older, a sister 5 years older, and two stepsisters I got for Christmas a couple years ago.”
Oversharing used to be my specialty. At a time, I needed to say Ike was dead, out loud and to others, so I could continue to process it. I needed to talk about my dead brother to keep his memory alive. Now, I see his death as a secret, one I keep private until unavoidable or as a point of relation/connection to people I can sense are good. I do this because it means to some person, I’m not someone who has lost a brother. I’m not someone who has been scorned by loss. In some world, the world they create about me, Ike hasn’t died quite yet.
An elaborate blessing: Through experiencing deep pain comes an unmatched understanding of deep joy.
In the months after I lost my brother, I experienced the darkest period of my life. I was living in a stalemate of letting go of the past and growing through the pain because I didn’t want to feel better. I wasn’t ready. I spent months feeling physically injured by emotional pain. How could I ever be happy without Ike here?
The pain wasn’t just gone one morning. The ache slowly moved over and made room for other emotions to occupy the space. I started to acknowledge how much love was around me. I remembered how good it felt to genuinely laugh. How grateful I was for the friends and family looking out for me. How lucky I was to have everything I still had. Like Sylvia Plath, I became acutely aware of everything I’d taken for granted.
Time with loved ones no longer goes overlooked. Articulating appreciation is a part of my weekly schedule. Laughing, learning, and loving is a privilege. It is treated as so. I try not to hold anything too tightly because I know that everything is temporary. If someone is no longer teaching, serving, exciting me, or helping me grow, I let them go and make room for what could be. I don’t have to sit where I’m unhappy, and the only one keeping me unhappy is myself.
Shifting focus from resume qualities to obituary qualities, I strive to impact the people around me as positively as my brother did. Like my sister, Carter, most eloquently said, “I live for what Ike depicted life to be. Laugh, adapt, take care of your people, don’t be afraid of difference. These are the qualities we have to prolong.” How will I be remembered? How can I positively impact those around me? Me, I want to be like sunshine. I want to brighten up the lives of those I love.
Looking back on the last few years, my hard times and my pain were lessons that became my strength, my blessings, my awareness.
I’m 25, two and a half years of grief under my belt, and the clock reads 12:53 AM. August 9th. Ike would be 32 today. Would he be teaching? Coaching? Working on his PHD? Would he have found a girlfriend *cough* *finally*? Would he be completely bald by now? Would he tell me I’m crazy for living in Los Angeles? How many times would he have come to visit by now? Which of my friends would he currently have a crush on? Would he roll his eyes when I told him I’m a full-time, professional creative? I assume he’d say, “cool, but you should really get a job with health insurance.” Assumptions and spiritual beliefs are comforting, but, at the end of the day, it’s the wondering and not knowing what hurts the most.
It’s been three of Ike’s birthdays without him here and lately I’ve been missing him like he’s just away for a brief period— with an underlying sentiment that I’ll see him again. (Here is when the relentless optimism mode kicks in in the middle of the endless longing.) I still write to him every day in little notes on my phone or scribbles in my journal. I have one-sided conversations to the pin of him I have hanging in my bathroom. (We peace sign to each other at the conclusion.) I call his phone even though I know he won’t answer, and I know that Mercedes probably has my number saved as ‘crazy grieving sister who has too much time and too many emotions’—or something like that. I will never stop missing him and trying to honor him in my own way. What an incredible guy. What a huge loss to the world. I wish he was still alive, but I know he lives on in alternate ways. I love Ike, to the very depths of the word. I miss him, constantly. I know he is still with me. I’m okay, today. Tomorrow could be different.
You do not lose someone once. You lose them in pieces throughout your entire life. Sometimes, it’s a tiny ping of grief at a random realization like he’ll never get to judge the movie I worked on or meet a friend I know he would love. Sometimes, it’s a smile I assume we’re sharing when I see something like a color in the sky that I tell myself he’s behind. When in Texas, it’s an eye roll at a conversation I know he would be the sense behind. Every so often, I let myself grieve every. tiny. thing. This can ONLY happen when alone. I grieve the support. The comfortable silence. The conversations we can’t have and the priceless insight and laughs that would have come with them. Tears pour out of my eyes like a violent Texas storm after too much humidity. I ebb and flow with grief, constantly. I am always with grief, in varying degrees.
Speaking to others who have experienced grief in their own way, it is both heartbreaking and warming to know that people who loved and lost someone decades ago still love and miss their people to the same fervor. Yes, the pain will stick around. But so will the love. The appreciation. The wondering. The longing.
The books seem to call where I am now ‘acceptance’. This is the final chapter in the grief books where the writing gets flowery, and they compete over how to most poignantly say “you know you will be okay. It will hurt forever but the love remains.” Yeah, no shit, Sherlock. Sure, there are some fantastic books on the topic. A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis changed me. Whatever that pamphlet was the pastor sent the family was an insightful read. But none hit me where I needed it. They all ended and left me to my own devices.
Give me more than that. I want to know what it’s like in a decade when I still love someone so much who I haven’t seen or been able to hug in a third of my life. What happens in the future when I’m surrounded by people who never got to meet Ike? What will it be like when I’m a parent figure in some beings’ life and they ask me about my family? Can the love remain as strong when you can’t recall the exact shade of their eyes or the octave of their laugh? With the advances in medical care and all the holistic bullshit I follow like a bible, I expect to live close to 100. How do you keep the dead alive when you only knew them for 22 years?
Grief is without expiration date. Without where, when, how, why, grief arrives. Sometimes, welcomed. Often, ever so rudely, uninvited. And while many times I can mourn on a second’s notice, I’m learning that to escape my own labyrinth of suffering, I must learn to live with grief. I must grieve to move past all things. I must grieve the people who are no longer around, living or dead. I must grieve the person I used to be, the person they used to be. All the chances not taken and the ones I took but can’t relive. I must grieve my own past life; mourn for the person I will never be again. I must understand the pain, welcome it in, give it some tea and sit a while, to let it go. To heal, if only to get broken again by new grief or an old grief in a new outfit. Any kind of change requires loss. So no, grief cannot be summed up into 7 chapters confined within the parameters of language. Grief is ubiquitous, like air. Grief is intrinsically linked to life.