This Year of Firsts

“I know you like to remember these days, but it’s really just another day.”

My husband directs this statement entirely to the ottoman. In spite of the fact I am sitting next him on the couch, my whole body turned to face him, he doesn’t even glance toward me.

“Really. He’s going to be just as dead on Wednesday as he was last week, as he was 6 months ago. This anniversary doesn’t change that one way or the other. He’s still going to be gone.”


Of course he knew how his blunt talk would land, and decided he’d rather not watch my initial reaction full on. Were he anyone else I’d say this was cowardly, but I wouldn’t want to associate his clear blue eyes with those words for all our days to come. So, reluctantly, I’ll credit him for sparing us both.

Besides which, it happens to be truth. This may be the first anniversary of my brother’s death, but it won’t be the last. Nor will it be the end of my grieving; my sorrow is not a spigot, so easily shut off. So why bother to make note of it?

Unfortunately, I have experience, and therefore, an explanation.

What this day really is, for me, is the last of all the first times without him.

Following the birth of a child we celebrate everything in that first year of their life, right? We congratulate the parents for successfully navigating the ups and downs of sleep deprivation and parenthood, for helping their child reach each milestone. From baths to boo-boos, tasting a lemon or loving ice cream, haircuts and holding a cup, each of these firsts is #blessed.

With the dead, each first is a gut punch. It’s drowning in ice water even as hot tears sting your cheeks.

Each first reopens the wound. It might be picking at the edges of the scab; just enough to satisfy the itch and prickle the nerves, or to rip it right off entirely exposing the raw new flesh encircling the deep gaping hole in the middle.

Each new day of mourning is stepping out at midnight under a new moon onto an unexplored landscape. You’ve got a trusty Zippo in your pocket, so it will dimly light your way, and theoretically this trek might turn out fine. But you might just as easily trip and break a limb or set yourself on fire. Or you might just stand there, staring into the steady flame, wondering which of those outcomes sounds worse. Calculating if paralysis could stop time; if standing still meant you’d stop reaching milestone after milestone alone.

Grief is #bullshit.

So, yes, today marks one year of successfully (more or less) living in a world that no longer holds my big brother. A year which, if I’m being totally honest here, I wasn’t always sure I would be able to complete.

A year of blaming and forgiving myself for all the things I could have done differently which would have (at least in my mind) utterly changed the outcome. A year of bargaining with the universe to get me to the other side of this day. A year of getting up when I would much rather hide for days on end in my bed. A year of being strong and carrying on for my family.

Every holiday and birthday, every silly meme I wanted to share with him, or childhood story I wanted him to confirm to my kids.

Every time my daughter cried because she missed her uncle.

Every time my kids squabbled and I my first instinct was to reach out to my brother for advice and reassurance, which in turn triggered wanting to knock their heads together and scream at them for not recognizing how lucky they are to have each other.

From the day my daughter was born, some 8 years ago now, I’ve told my babies they are just like mommy and their uncle. I can lament with my daughter about being a little sister, and I can explain to my son how important he is as a big brother. Whenever we were all together it was clear to see the parallel, to see my kids’ symbiotic relationship mirrored in the sibling shorthand between me and him.

These first 365 days without the dude who always got the joke, who was there any time push came to shove, have felt… the only word I come up with is disjointed, though it’s not quite right.

Our mother used to tell us we didn’t have to like each other, and we often would not, but if we were lucky and she’d done her job right we’d always love each other. More over, we’d always have each other to fall back on.

It felt like a tribute to her memory and the job she had done, that as parents my brother and I both often reiterated that lesson to our own kids.

So yes, I will keep this date marked on my calendar. On this day I will honor how lucky I was to have had that relationship. I will honor the pain felt when it was halted abruptly, tragically.

And in tribute to him I’ll remind his niece and nephew that they don’t always have to like each other, but they damn well better strive to not only have the love, but have each other’s backs.

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