It has been nine months, seven days and 18 hours since my brother Pete killed himself. My smart type still wants to put his full name. It just popped up. Pete Batchelder. Over time, that will stop happening.
They say it gets easier, and that's a lie. It's just not true. I cry less often, but it's as wrenching when I do. I have been a ghost since his death. I used to be a much bubblier person, an enthusiastic type that would light up a room. I used to laugh more. Now when I do, it's a bit forced. There's just a part of me that's a bit invisible, a bit muffled, as if I'm living underwater. I am still mulling this awful truth over. And I drink more now than I used to. And I stay up later. And I know it's not good, but I'm coping from the depths. Everything is so heavy now.
A line has been drawn in my life. Everything now is before Pete died or since his death.
Since his death, my own mortality is more real to me than ever. I can see that I have more yesterdays than tomorrows. The past seems like a sluggish river. I remember being 16 and counting each hour, each sluggish, awful, forever hour until I would be 18 and suddenly my world would change. I remember lying in bed sick wishing the same thing. If only tomorrow would come. If only tomorrow would come. And now all I see is tomorrows -- and I have no idea how many are left and that both terrifies and frees me.
Since his death I feel more connected to every single thing on this earth, and I mean every single thing. I feel as if I float up over everything and have a preternatural perspective as I look down upon our lives moving like little tiny ants, with all the fits and fury of a ridiculous little Shakespearean play played out on a Lilliputian stage. Like some kind of Imax film, I can see the mountains, deserts and seas as if from overhead, in living color. For me the Middle East is as close as Nevada and the sweep of human history collapses into a tiny board book, a very short story indeed. Even people I disliked before, I feel compassion for now. I see their tiny machinations and I feel their pain. Things seem terribly important to people and here's the real inconvenient truth -- they just aren't.
People worry about me, I know that. But don't people need to be alone? Don't we need to cry? And sometimes, sometimes when you're grieving, you just don't want to talk about it because it's impossible to articulate this pain. This finality. What a sudden death does to you. What it does to a family. There are no words. How am I? I am a ghost.
And always, my brother is with me. I can see him standing in my parent's doorway with food tucked under his arm and a huge smile. I can feel his hug, see his hands, his hair, his blue eyes. And I can hear his voice perfectly clearly. My brother loved to laugh. He was the funniest person I ever met or will meet again. But I feel mad at him that now I am The Girl Whose Brother Died. That his death will mark a crossroads in my life forever. I think I love him more now than when he was alive and I feel odd and guilty thinking it much less writing that down. You never know what you have til it's gone and all that. I suppose this is all normal.
I think of other people who have lost loved ones. I see it in the paper every day. People who lose two loved ones in one fell swoop. People who lose loved ones in accidents, murders and to terrible diseases. And then I feel ashamed that my grief is so terribly self-centered and absorptive. I have no right to claim this as my own. It's part of being human. But if that's true, why do people ask me why I am being quiet one evening? How can they ask? Is it not obvious?
The thing with grief is that you grieve alone.
Another thing I didn't realize about grief is that it actually gets worse in the first few months because the awful permanence of it sinks in. It wasn't just this last holiday season Pete wasn't there. It will be the next. And the next. And forever. Never again. He won't be at my daughter's high school graduation. He doesn't know she's going to college in New York. He's gone, he's really truly gone and I can't stop hating that fact. I hate it. Some days it elevates my spirit, like some awful, painful, beautiful lesson that lifts me to an excruciating grace and I feel nothing but love for everyone and everything. Other days it grinds me under its heel and I don't remember that I should eat in the morning, go to bed before 2:30 a.m. or quit smoking -- the future seems completely arbitrary.
A truth stares at me in both terrifying and completely sublime ways -- nothing really matters. It's a beautiful and awful realization, it's exhilarating, like surfing a huge wave or free falling. Nothing matters except being right here right now and living and crying and loving and being human. It's a lesson you can't really know until you've lost someone in a senseless, sudden and shocking way. More people know this truth than I could have imagined. And now I am one of them. And I didn't want my membership in the Grief Club.
Perhaps I should be grateful to my brother for giving me this view, this knowledge that I wouldn't otherwise have. Perhaps I am at angry at him for causing this much pain for me and for my family. Perhaps it doesn't matter in any event because it's unavoidably real and it's happening and it can't be reversed. Like lying down in the snow, I let the truth of it wash over, soothe and numb me. He's not coming back and I can't turn back the clock to that day and make him not put a rifle to his head. It's done.
I know this exquisite pain and loss has imbued me with something I lacked before and something that many never ever have their entire, puny little ridiculous human lives -- perspective. Real, all the way to the bone perspective about the sound and the fury. And I'm not really okay right now. I will never be whole again. But it strikes me that this is the point of life. Nobody ever promised me a rose garden and the rose wouldn't smell as sweet without the thorns and every other cliché you can think of. I never have enough time in each day to get everything done that needs to be accomplished but I don't really care anyway. I'm not sure what I'm doing here anymore. But I am more sure than ever that I love my family and my family of friends. I love every laugh and every glass of wine and every splat in the kitchen. I love that my home is full of people gesticulating and laughing and being ridiculous. I am rarely alone, I've made sure of that. My home is where people gather and in the hubbub it's okay for me to watch silently and to smile to myself because in this, I see something that does matter. It's the laughter, the spilling of things, the exclamations and the long hugs. These are the things that matter. The yawns and the bedhead and the first cup of coffee. The quiet smiles and silent understandings. The song I love on the radio. And the laughter, the laughter, the laughter.
These are the things, finally, that remain. Like a babe in the woods, I have learned life's most painful and most precious lesson. Would life be the raucous, laughable, painful, unspeakably beautiful ride that it is without knowing that it can end with one nightmarish phone call?
I'll be okay someday.
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