Dear Rocky, my brother, my friend,
Today is Valentine’s Day. For some, this holiday means sinking teeth into truffles
and chocolate-covered strawberries,
inhaling the scent of red roses,
and popping corks on fine champagne.
For others, it’s an arrow through the heart that bleeds and aches from past hurts under a cloud of “aloneness.” While still there are those who chalk the day up to another useless Hallmark Holiday.
For me, it is a marked “hall”iday. It marks one year, 365 days, 8,760 hours, 525,600 minutes, 31,536,000 seconds since I received a call from Kowloon, Hong Kong. A call from the hallway in Queen Elizabeth Hospital. A call from your spouse, my sister-in-law, Dewi. Over the 7,760 miles, spanning across the North Pacific Ocean and South China Sea, the line cracked like Dewi’s voice when she said, “Sue, you have to be brave. You have to be brave. Brian is gone, Sue.”
A year ago, I stood in that Valentine bubble of shock and imagined your sweet soul floating away from your body, away from a faulty heart that gave out on a day when they’re given out in abundance. Big ones. Small ones. Miniature ones.
I closed my eyes and imagined this, too: you hovered over Dewi, whispering in a spirit-whisper voice, “Be strong, my love. Be strong my Valentine.” But she couldn’t hear you through the crumbling of her own heart. Like those towers that collapsed in a thunderous rumble when planes ripped through the heart of those buildings, your death ripped through our hearts it that same way.
Since that day, I’ve read story after story from people who’ve lost children, and spouses, and parents, and siblings, and debate over whose loss is more painful.
I feel fortunate that I can’t cast a vote on which loss makes the heart ache more, or which one makes the knees sink deeper into the earth, and hands clasped more tightly in prayer to survive it.
I only know that you were a part of my life, our family, for 43 years. I only know when I’ve been asked how many siblings I have, I’ve always said four, two younger brothers and two older.
Now, four catches in my throat like a balled fist. I only know that for the past 365 days, I’ve awakened each morning and think, It can’t really be true that I’m never going to hug you, and Dewi, and Sara after your long flight back to the states from Bali.
I’m writing this letter on the anniversary of your death to thank you for being my brother. For expanding the way I see the world. For entrusting me with both your dreams and your fears. For holding me together during our trip though Walmart when mom was in a coma from her stroke. For the million and one times you’ve made me laugh, and for the times you’ve made me cry. For fathering two beautiful children who carry your spirit around in their eyes. For a sister-in law who loves you in the way you deserve to be loved. For being a mentor to so many. For being an inspiration, and showing me what it means to live a courageous life.
I’ve waited for four seasons to pass as I was told to. And I did it, brother. I was numb through winter. Clawed my way through Spring. Dragged myself through Summer. Said goodbye to the person I used to be in the Fall. Now, a year later, I stand barefoot in the snow, awake, alive, and changed for good and for the good because of you.
Because of you, I take more chances. I live more fearlessly, love more deeply, and say “YES” to joy, to life. On this day I embrace our memories, feel your spirit fill the room because now after four seasons, I realize you carried Joy into—not out of—our lives. I honor and celebrate the miracles you brought into this world and continue to in the space you’ve left behind.
Happy Valentine’s Day, Rocky. I hope you’re sinking teeth into truffles and chocolate-covered strawberries, inhaling the scent of red roses, and popping the cork on the finest champagne.
I love you brother on this day and always,
Love your sister,