Guest Post by Lynn Shattuck, a writer in Portland, Maine
It was the first day of spring, despite the foot of snow most of us Mainers just got. A day of hope, when the amount of daylight is finally equal to the amount of darkness.
It was also the anniversary of my brother's death; fourteen years ago, my only sibling died of an accidental drug and alcohol overdose. Because it had been over a decade, I wasn't prepared for it to be an exceptionally hard day.
But after I dropped both kids off at daycare and sat down at my home office to work, I felt a pit of something dense and hard in my chest.
After I worked for awhile, I grumbled around the house by myself, managing to inject my cloudy mood into the most mundane household tasks: I shut the door to the laundry machine just a smidge too hard. I pouted as I wiped down the kitchen counters.
Finally, I did what I knew would at least dislodge my emotions. I sat down and wrote my brother a letter.
Dear Will. I am still mad that you died. Mad that you left me here, a suddenly only child. Mad that you won’t be here for my beautiful babies—for Max who reminds me so much of you, who loves music like you did, who has your same big blue eyes.
I was mad that the only other human in the world who understood what it was like to be raised in our particular home, with our particular parents, was gone due to his own poor choices. So I told him that. And of course, underneath the bruised thick skin of anger was a soft, fleshy sadness.
It still breaks me to think of how you left.
As I strung the words together, I had a good, body-wracking sob. Every cell of my body was droopy with grief.
Usually after that type of cry, I feel some relief and my mood will shift. But for the rest of the morning and early afternoon, I still felt very, very off.
And then my kids came home. And they were both on the grumpy side at first, too. But Max asked for a dance party to Put me in Coach, and we twirled around the living room together for a few minutes, letting the music sink into our bodies and lift us up a bit. Afterwards, Max pointed out four smudgy squares of sunlight on the kitchen wall, stenciled by the late afternoon sun streaming through the window. “I want to play hopscotch on the wall,” he announced. I stared at the squares for a long time, the literal imprint of lightness. “I wish we could,” I told Max.
My husband, knowing I’d had a hard day, fetched takeout for us, and while we finished eating, we watched the kids huddle together watching a movie. They took turns putting their arms around one another. “Bru-bru, Bru-bru,” Violet kept saying, her word for “brother.” “Can Violet have some M&M’s?” Max pleaded. “No, sweetie. She’s too little.” (Watch for future posts on how to wean your kids from candy and television.)
I watch the way that Max loves Violet, watches for her every move, shares most anything he has to give with her. And of course I loved you like that, of course I mothered you like that.
And it was bittersweet. To watch my current family of four on the anniversary of the day when my first family of four lost a member. To witness the love that blooms between siblings from simply sharing the same space in time, from sharing the same parents.
And then the day was over. I put Violet to bed as the daylight waned. I asked the universe to give my kids long and lovely lives, as I do every night.
I pray that you are somewhere warm and safe. I pray that you are somewhere.
Knowing that the next day, there would be a bit more day than night.