Thursday, August 15, 2019

15 years...

This isn't one of the counts I ever thought about keeping, the number of years since we last saw Michael. This year has been a rough one. As most people know, my wedding was moved to January so that my big brother would be there. I'll never regret that change because I don't want to imagine the other scenario. I have to admit, though, it's tough when your wedding day is also the last day you were with your big brother. I think I've been in a bit of a funk since January 3rd.

I don't know why this year has been so hard. Maybe it's just because this is one of those "mile marker" type years...15. I've found myself being moody and contemplative and even a bit weepy at times, and I don't dare tell people what the heck is wrong with me...because then come the awkward silences and looks of pity that make me crazy.

I saw this post one time, and it is a great picture of grief. It seems like the world thinks that after some set amount of time has passed, loss shouldn't hurt any more. You should be able to "move on" and put the pain behind you.

But here's the truth of the matter: when you love hard, loss hurts hard. When someone has been a part of your identity, the loss of that person turns your whole life inside out...and that's not something time heals.

I hated that there were people who called me "Little Mike" when I started high school. A 9th grade girl doesn't really live that down, even after her brother graduates. Now, though, a big part of my life is spent with people who never knew my brother. They don't see me as Little Mike, and I didn't know that would hurt. I've never been good at conversation with new people, but I didn't know that I would come to dread it because of one simple question: "How many brothers and sisters do you have?"

Don't get me wrong--I love this life I live. I'm blessed in so many amazing ways, and I'm thankful (though not nearly as much or as often as I should be).

There are days, though, when the pain suddenly hits me in the stomach. Days when I want to just ignore the world because I don't want to deal with the petty things people get upset about. Days when I can't really swallow the lump in my throat completely. Days, like this morning, when nothing more than a song brings tears to my eyes.

15 years. It seems like such a long time, doesn't it? Our little sister was 14 when Michael was killed, so this year marks her officially living more of her life without her big brother than with him. I've still got another 5 years before those categories become equal for me, and I can't put words to how it feels even to think about that. It hurts my heart to think that there are some amazing kids who don't get the chance to be picked on and doted on by their uncle.

I see glimpses of Michael in my kids, though. I see Raiden's interest in dragons--to the point where she can draw and describe every possible classification of them--and it reminds me of Michael's obsession with the Civil War when he was growing up. I look at Conan and see a gentle giant who would rather be picked on than stand up for himself, but who will fiercely defend other people. I'm thankful for the glimpses.

I've posted this before, but I'll leave you with words I wrote 3 years ago:

What's it like to lose your brother?
It's like having a piece of your soul cut out,
     only to have people say, "That's alright--you'll live without it."
Sometimes it's like your lungs forget how to breathe,
     or maybe it's just that they don't want to remember.
It's having people ask, "How are your parents?
     This must be really hard on them," and wanting to scream,
     "They aren't alone--I lost someone, too!
Someone who was part of the definition of what it meant to be me:
     Oldest daughter, but middle child; 'Little Mike' at school.
Someone who taught me to throw a punch--and take one,
     but who gave his little sister a valentine with the words
     'Sometimes I may pick on you (just a little)
But you should know I still love you.'"

What's it like to lose your brother?
It's being thrust into the role of oldest child
     with no earthly idea of how you're supposed to fill those shoes.
It's constantly living in a shadow others can't see,
     but one that's so real you can feel it in your bones.
It's trying to decide if introductions are worth it
     because people always ask, "How many siblings do you have?"
     and the debate on how to answer isn't worth the effort:
"Do I say two? Because then they'll ask what they do
     and the pity that follows 'He was killed in Iraq' is too much.
Or do I say one, and lie to make things easier?
     Not easier on myself, because I'll be racked with guilt,
     but easier on the person who didn't know where that question leads.
And nobody bargains for the painful silence."

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