One mid-afternoon, I took myself on another walk over crunchy snow, along crooked trails. My shadow followed me until I turned and waved goodbye to the person I used to be before I had to say goodbye to my brother. Before I knelt, bare knees on hard rocks and watched his ashes blow from a sack and float atop the Indian Ocean, drifting away from me under the heat and brightness of the Balinese sun.
My shadow waved back as I turned away from her and wondered how much was left of me now? Who would take her place? Who will emerge as Grief sinks into cells and bone, seeping into the muscles of my beating heart. I tried to outrun the HERE and NOW, the place we’re supposed to be, because it’s the only space and time that’s real. Don’t look ahead, don’t look behind. Keep the past where it belongs.
On this day, I kicked the moment, and Grief aside as I stepped with intention and will into the past. That place where my brother still lived and laughed and cried with me.
That place where his smile could light up a midnight sky and his hug could melt a glacier.
That place where I watched him soar across the soccer field, the checkered ball an extension of his foot. That place when he was nineteen, sitting upright in a salon chair, inhaling a fat breath as I laid a hand on his shoulder, and said, “It will be okay.”
The hairdresser opened the two silver blades of the scissors, snipped his dreadlocks as he leaned into me and sobbed, while they piled into a gnarly heap on the floor. A sacrifice he’d made as a birthday gift to our mother.
That place where he shared his passion for Spas and travels to Egypt, Hong Kong, and Thailand. A time when his voice would rise as he expressed his love for his wife, and told me stories about my niece, his 3-1/2-year-old daughter, Sara, who loved her pink guitar.
There, in the past, I could thank him for expanding my life in the most unexpected ways. “Without you,” I’d say, “I never would have felt the Indian ocean on my skin or run breathless into those waves. I never would have eaten sticky rice and grilled fresh fish under a smoke-filled sky on the Balinese beach. I never would have squinted at the blinking lights and neon signs during the Night Market in Hong Kong. And I never would have known how one small child, her arms around my neck, could bring sparks of joy after you left.”
Back there in those places that were so far behind me, I could read his email messages and smile at how he measured time before we’d see each other again through “sleeps.” Three days before his last trip back in June, he wrote, “3 more sleeps, sis.” The next day, “Two more sleeps, sis,” until there was only one more “sleep” before I’d see him again.
I asked him on this day when I slipped back into places far from the present moment, “How many more sleeps do I have now before I’ll see you again?”
“No more sleeps, sis,” I heard him say. “I’m with you now.”
“You taught me so much,” I said, feeling blisters rise on my heart as if it had been burned. I continued to walk through my memories until the sun inched its way below the tree line and thought about what I’ve learned from my brother and am learning still.
Grief runs as deep as love. We must grow down to grow up. We can’t know one without the other. We cannot feel one without the other. They are intertwined like the reeds at the bottom of the Indian Ocean where my brother floated away. If we do not open our hearts to love, true, real, intimate love, how can we know the depth of loss? How can we celebrate life if we do not have the courage to live it fully—to dance in the flames rather than skip around the fire where it’s safe? No chance of getting burned, and no chance to feel the heat of passion for life.
If we’ve lived long enough, we know what it means to fear love, to fear loss, to fear life itself, and ultimately to fear the bone-crumbling ache of death. We know what it feels like to get burned. We make a choice to either jump back into the fire or protect ourselves from the flames.
My brother chose to dance in the flames until he became one, lighting up this world with the spark and heat of his passionate heart. Everything he did, he did with his whole being, whether it was giving his love and compassion to others, mourning over a loss or regret, or celebrating the blessings in his life.
He wrapped his arms around LIFE and squeezed the eeek out of it, wrung it out dry and soaked it all over again. He taught me that money was meant to be spent. Life was meant to be lived, and we all deserve a second chance. Make every day matter…even if that means shutting your phone off, getting on the floor and having a tea party with your daughter, massaging gum out of your son’s hair, or making love when you have a deadline.
My brother wrote, “For anything new to begin, something has to end……this is the journey of life….and I love every minute of it!”
What “new” will begin, my brother, now that your life has ended? What miracles will occur in the space you’ve left behind? I will watch for them. I will wait for them. I will shine my light on the countless blessing you’ve left behind, not on the dark grief of your absence. I will accept the lessons you’ve taught me. I will dance with you in the flames. And I will invite others to join us there, too.