Tick tock. Tick tock. The hands on the clock twitch, reminding me of time, passing time, fleeting time. It’s been five months since my last post. It wasn’t a conscious choice. The days stretched into weeks, weeks into months. So I thought I’d let my readers know what has reeled me in and sucked me under. Seven months after my brother passed, I woke up in the early morning, the sky still drenched in ink, whispering, Mining for Joy in the Deep River of Grief. It’s meaning illusive, living somewhere in the future. Months later, I’d awaken again at that same thinly veiled hour, repeating, Mining for Joy in the Deep River of Grief. A title. A book title. A book title about sibling loss.
A week after I had this flash of inspiration, it was my turn to submit a piece of work to my writing group, but I had nothing but a title and a loose idea about this book. As a fiction writer, I sat down and wrote an introduction about people I interviewed, who at the time only existed in my imagination. When I sent the intro to my writing group and arrived for my critique, they asked me, “So how did you get all these people for the interview?”
I laughed and said, “I haven’t interviewed anyone. I don’t even have anyone to interview. I just made it up to give you an idea of where I’d like to go with this project.”
“Where are you going to find these people?” They asked.
Answer: I. Have. No. Idea. I left the writing group, thinking, How am I going to do this? On my drive home, I thought about what I’ve always believed: Bubbles of magic float around us all the time, invisible yet there, waiting for us to reach out and pop them. Just waiting to sprinkle our lives with whatever it is that we need, what we’ve asked for as long as our intentions are clear, and we understand the motiving and driving force behind them.
Yes, I understand that clarity is key to calling into our lives what we hope for, wish for, strive for. If we want to manifest the grandest vision of our dreams, we have to remove the white noise we send out into the universe in order to create a clean, clear, crisp line of communication. This was a problem for me, because the only piece of information I had was nothing more than a desire, a soul-need to write a book about sibling loss in the hopes of tossing a lifeline to those who were surviving the loss of their sibling. I imagined the improbability of rounding up at least 25 people who would be eager and willing to entrust their painfully intimate, raw, and true stories with a stranger who claimed to be a writer, but had ZERO published books. Crazy, stupid idea. I took these inspiring thoughts to bed with me that night, deciding the project was too big, too hard, and too overwhelming.
In the morning, as most mornings, I talked to my brother, always feeling his spirit around me since he passed two years ago on February 14th.
I heard, call Mini, my brother’s college friend, who had become my friend as a result of Rocky’s death. I punched her number into my phone and shared my vision for the book with her. The bubbles began to pop. She knew 7 or 8 people who had lost a sibling. “I’ll reach out to all of them and ask them if they’ll do it,” she said. I felt a shiver of excitement ripple up the fragile spine of grief. I sat with myself in the silence, waiting for answers to these questions: What if interviewing people will reawaken, reignite that tragic moment when their lives blew apart? What if I cause more harm than good?
My questions were answered forty-eight hours later when I had 17 people who not only agreed to be interviewed, but were grateful to have the opportunity to talk about their siblings. Two weeks later, I had a total of 25, and emails flooded my inbox of people who knew people who had lost a sibling. I now had a wait list.
Throughout the past seven months, I interviewed people from all over the world. The interviews ran anywhere from 1.5 to 3 hours. When the bubbles pop, what sprinkles into our lives often becomes something other than what we anticipated, and we’re given something far more than what we believed we wanted, what we thought we needed. I thought I’d facilitate these interviews, transcribe them, and use excerpts in my book to offer that lifeline of hope to others, but they are the ones who offered it to me.
As I listened to tragic story after tragic story, I’d weep with this stranger on the other end of the line. When their voice cracked, I felt my own break. With each call, I knew I was standing on Holy Ground. I had not anticipated how honored I’d feel to bear witness to their pain, the joy they’ve allowed back into their lives, and feel the love they had and have for the brothers and sisters they lost to murder, suicide, cancer, overdoses and accidents. I listened with a whole heart and whole-heartedly as they shared their own sacred thousand-mile swim through their agony and sorrow.
Interview excerpts of the moment they learned their sibling had died:
Yvon: Because we had such a good conversation and laughed back and forth and got quick responses, all of my worries were gone. I was very much relieved that he (brother) wasn’t in a very bad place or so I thought. I was relieved and I said, “We’ll hang out soon. I said, “Just one more hug and I’m off to do the dishes.” He said, “Luv ya” and I said, “Back atcha.” That night at 4am, I was woken up by Hans (husband), who said, “Matt had jumped in front of a train.” (32 year old brother died by suicide)
Emily: My phone rang and I saw that it was my brother and I thought, “Oh, he’s so sweet. He’s calling to wish me a Happy Mother’s Day” and I could tell he’d been crying and he said, “Sit down, I have some really awful news.” I just said, “No , no , no,” because I knew what he was going to tell me, because I knew there was nothing that could possibly break our hearts more than losing our older brother. And he told me and I just kept saying, “No, no, no.” (56 year old brother died of a heart attack on a 13 mile run)
Kim: She (sister) was packing boxes so he (husband) knew there wasn’t a chance and he begged her and pleaded and promised to change. It didn’t matter, she was still going to leave that’s when he shot her 3 times in the head. (Sister was murdered by her husband. She was 50 years old)
Julie: I was 13 years old, a freshman in high school when Keith was diagnosed with cancer. I was in a fog. I don’t think I really understood what was happening. He was 26 years old and was told he had advanced testicular cancer. (30 year old brother died from testicular cancer)
I carry their stories around with me, knowing regardless of how challenging this project becomes, or how frightened I am that I won’t be able to pull it off, this book is no longer about me and my journey; it’s about us. It belongs to each sibling, the living and dead, who have a message of heartache, love, courage and hope to pass on to others.
A woman I interviewed from Israel who lost her brother in a bombing, said, “I don’t like to talk about my brother and what happened. I’m doing it because if you’re brave enough to write this book, then I have to be brave enough to tell you my story.”
Brave? No. This is not a work of bravery; it’s necessary. The brave ones are those I interviewed who dove boldly into the gaping hole of their loss, and kissed the bottom of that black river of grief and emerged a different and stronger version of their former selves.
Note to my readers: Always thank you for hanging with me even when I don’t post for months on end. I do plan on starting a podcast on Grief and Loss and will let you know when that goes live so you can pass it on to people you know who may benefit from a little dose of hope when they are deep in their over river of grief. Blessings, light and love to each and every one of you.