10 years. Somehow it seems like it just happened yesterday
, yet a lifetime ago at the same time. 10 years where life has gone on all around me while a part of me has been forever frozen in time. A decade in which I have slowly learned to grieve and live at the same time.
My hometown will be dedicating a street to Michael at 10 tomorrow morning on the 10th anniversary of his death. The rest of my family will be there, hearts heavy with the pain of both the day's memories and the death of my grandpa
in the quiet hours between last night and this morning.
This will be one of many memorials I've missed. You see, for years I couldn't --and
wouldn't-- deal with my brother's death, so I didn't go to all the services to honor his sacrifice. My logic was simple: if I didn't have to face it, I didn't have to hurt.
The thing is, a heart doesn't work that way. Oh, it can for a while. But by avoiding the pain, never letting it show, all I managed to do was trap it inside. The pain simmered there, under the surface, and I lied to myself by saying I had things under control.
There's that word that pops up so often when I'm being honest with myself, the thing I'm so often reminded that I don't actually have. Oh, but I sure tried to control it.
Early on, I was given the impression that this wasn't really my loss. When people would talk to me, they would ask about my parents and Michael's widow. I heard over and over again how hard this must be on them and how strong I needed to be, so it was easy to use that as a cop-out. My loss must somehow be less important, easier to deal with. If I was struggling, that must mean I just wasn't being strong enough.
So I was strong, and I barely cried. When Michael would come to mind--in the early months it was because I would think of something I wanted to tell him before suddenly remembering that he wasn't there to tell--I would blink back the tears, swallow the lump in my throat, and shake the thoughts away.
I was strong.
It took a long time for me to finally realize what I probably should have known from the beginning. My pain wasn't the same as what my parents were dealing with or what his widow was going through. That didn't make it any less real, any less searing, any less world changing.
I lost my brother, and with him I lost a part of me that will never come back.
You see, siblings get under your skin. They are as much a part of you as your heart is, part of your body and your soul. They know your history, your jokes, your corny sense of humor. They hurt when you hurt and rejoice when you rejoice. They may laugh when you fall but are the first to pull you back up to your feet. You take it for granted that you will grow old together, watching each other's kids grow up and poking fun at the first sight of gray hairs. Siblings occupy a part of your soul that no one else can access, and when one of them is ripped away it changes you forever.
10 years ago, part of me was suddenly empty.
And no one understood...except my baby sister, but it was my responsibility to be strong for her the way I knew Michael would have been for me. I didn't want her to see me hurting because I wanted her to know I could be there to support her if she needed me.
That empty part of me still aches, and most of the time I still blink the tears away and swallow the lump in my throat. There are some days, though, when that doesn't work.
Those days are filled with a roller coaster of emotions and memories, with pictures flashing through my mind
~laughing as Michael tried to saddle Red Cloud
~driving him home after a basketball game because he was pretty sure he had a concussion but didn't want Mom to worry about him in front of all the guys
~putting on a Garth Brooks lip-syncing concert in his tiny bedroom
~breaking down next to his casket at the graveside
~wiping my fingerprints off of the chrome in his old truck when we pulled into the high school parking lot before school
~my babies who never got to be teased by their uncle
~sweaty hugs after football games
~watching him and John walk down the hall as people moved out of the way, only to have them stop to tell me hi--seniors talking to a lowly freshman
~a black bracelet with his name on it worn to Sarah's wedding
Tomorrow is bound to be one of those days, a day I sometimes wish I could simply sleep through and wake up on the 16th. For every stab of pain, though, there are 20 years of happy memories, and I wouldn't trade those for anything.
This year I won't be with the rest of my family at the street dedication because I'll be here in Ohio getting my kids ready to start school next week. I know, though, that the morning will be filled with people who loved Michael and people who love my family, and for that I am thankful. I'll be there in spirit, but I'm forever grateful to those of you who will be there in the flesh, strong arms there to hold up my family when I can't.
10 years. It's a milestone I never could have imagined reaching.