Two years ago, in March, my younger brother died, quite unexpectedly. He'd been my only sibling and, both of our parents being gone, the only other person in my original family. His daughter had asked my daughter to tell me the news.
Jim's tragedy seemed insulting to my already-injured family. Jim died on Sept. 5; my mom died on Sept. 7. She was 46 and I was 15. Jim was 47 and his oldest child was 15. History, cruel beast, had repeated herself in a mocking chorus of eerie parallels.
I begged him to stop and kept him on the line until he promised he wouldn't do it. "I'll call you back. I love you," he said, hanging up. I believed him. When I learned that he had died, the call haunted me.
What did it mean that there were no handbooks for me? That people asked me to be strong in the face of the biggest loss I'd ever experienced or imagined? At times I felt like I didn't deserve to feel so shattered, especially in the shadow of my parents' immense loss.
There is no easy way to deal with death. There is no phrase which by its mere utterance will cure a bereaved person. I have learned this. This experience has allowed me to garner a motto for life: "Every day you're alive, there's a reason to smile."