one of us

It’s always the same funeral home. Maybe they specialize in supporting the families of addicts and alcoholics. Maybe one them is one of us and understands. Maybe, maybe not, but it’s the place we meet when one of us dies.

griefstatueOne of us.

Another one of us has died. We gather together again and stumble through all the things you say when there really is nothing that would make this anything other than horrible and tragic. Prayers, Healing Light, God, Heaven,  At Peace, Better Place, people say these things when they want to provide some comfort, where there is none to be had. There is nothing that is comforting at a time like this. Honestly the only thing that makes sense to say is that This Sucks, It Sucks A Lot, and I’m sorry. We hug each other, cry, hold hands. We laugh too, just a little, sometimes.

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This will be the first memorial I’ve been to since my brother’s.  He is at the front of my thoughts today. He is most days, but more so today. I miss him. She will miss her sister. Forty and dead. Somehow this seems worse than forty eight and dead.

Not that you should qualify the degree to which some thing is tragic, but we do just that. Did they have children? How old are the kids? Was it sudden or was it drawn out? How old were they? Were they in love? What were their gifts? Somehow the answers to these questions let us decide relatively how tragic someone’s death is. Then there is the shame or a stigma that can accompany a death from addiction, alcoholism, or mental illness. Sometimes this can let us believe that we can be immune to this kind of death. We cannot. No one is. We know this. It’s why we congregate and reassure each other that we are still okay, that our demons are still in check and that, just for today, we can look at them without needing to hide from or numb  our feelings.

As to the purpose of this pain and heartbreak, I can think of just one, and that is to make you better able to be of service to another person. Ultimately, that is all we can do, service is the thing that gets us out of our own ego centered lives and broadens our vision and our reach.  John’s death has been unspeakably painful, it has been to date the most difficult thing I have experienced. It brought me to my knees, physically and spiritually. It has made me at times, angry, heartbroken, depressed, cynical, and so many more things.  It has also opened me in a way I was not before. Today’s service was excruciating, awash in all the emotions from John’s service and the months following it, but I was also able to be there for a friend and be fully present with the pain she felt.

People die from alcoholism and addiction for many physical reasons, but emotionally a very self centered fear is what takes over their thinking and leads them to their death. Fear of not getting what we desperately want, that we are unlovable, fear that we are unworthy  is often what drives us, what holds us back, what causes us to lash out, to retreat and hide. When we live in fear we don’t really live. When we live in fear we can reach for anything to numb it, to take the unbearable feelings away. Living in fear is dark and scary place. The only way out of it is to do the thing that is the most terrifying, to lean into the fear, to feel it completely, to get really, really uncomfortable, to tell someone of your shame, your fears, to be fulling present as yourself, your flawed, imperfect, messy, shameful self. It is here you realize that you can survive being uncomfortable without constant distractions, that you are worthy of love, that you can be comfortable in your own skin.

TIMG_3274his is not the easy path. Anyone who has walked it wished for an easier, softer way. If there is one, I have not found it. If there was one there would be fewer services like today.

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ghost

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I love you

I got a call from a ghost today.

The call display said Montana, and  I almost didn’t answer, I don’t know anyone from Montana. The call was from a father that I didn’t know. A father that I will never meet. He told me his son was dead, and for a moment I had to think which dead son is this, which dead child is this about.

Then I understood.

This was Kevin’s father. Kevin who was dead. Kevin, the young man who made a small party my son’s first birthday in Arizona, far away from home. Kevin, who arranged for a decorated ice cream cake and twenty candles. Kevin who ordered pizzas with everything that Graham liked on them. Kevin who took pictures of Graham blowing out the candles and sent them to me because he knew how sad I was about not being there for his birthday. That Kevin who took care of my son when I could not. That Kevin who within six months of the party had relapsed, and shortly after had died.

I had sent his phone a text after he died. More of a prayer in text form. It read something like I’m so very sorry, and thank you. I was so sorry he had died, and still so grateful to him for taking care of my son. I sent it, and like a prayer, I never thought anyone would ever know about it.

I do understand that to his father when he finally got his dead son’s phone that my message would be a mystery. I imagine how many times he must of read it before he worked up the nerve to call me and ask just what I meant texting a dead person.

Today he called and we found out about each other, although we never even exchanged names. I told him that I was so sorry, that his son had been kind to mine, and kind to me, and how much that meant to me. I told him that my son was still alive and still clean and sober. I don’t know that was comforting or painful for him. I think it could be both. Maybe I should  have said in October my brother, John, and many years ago my father, Alan died of the same disease his son did. Maybe, but that’s not the same as a child. Nothing could be that.

He seemed content enough to have his mystery solved and we said goodbye, and then I sat there and cried for all of us, for those who have died, and for those of us who loved them. I cried, because there is nothing else I can do for Kevin, for John, for Alan, for any of the dead ones.

For the families and loved ones left behind, sorry is not ever going to be enough. Sorry can’t heal the kind of pain this is, but is all we can do. We say sorry and we then hold space for someone’s pain. We say sorry and we hold space in our words, in our actions, in our lives, and in our hearts for them. We let them feel their pain without judgement. We surround them in as much love as we can. This is what we do for the living,

because there is nothing more we can do for our dead.

hey God,

IMG_7404Hey God,

How are you? I know you have a lot going on, and that in the greater scheme of things I have nothing to complain about, but here I am just the same.

Things are difficult right now. I’m a hot mess. Make that a mess, there is nothing hot about me. It’s been over five months, and I’m more messed up than ever.

I am carrying more than I can, and I’m tired. For the first time in nearly a decade, I wish I was allowed a little oblivion, just now and then. I’m not. I know this, and I’m not going to take that kind of break. I’m going to sit here with all the feelings and lean into them and go through them, just like I know I should, but really I’d rather not.

I’d also prefer that several people would behave differently, that they felt different about me. A complete waste of my time I realize, but here I am yet again. I would love to be loved, even just a little.

I would very much like someone I could lean on. I’m a little worn out taking care of other people. Just one person that I could be this mess in front of and they would be kind and make me tea or something, and not tell me what a disappointment I am, not tell me how I disgust them, that I have a mental disorder and will amount to nothing and end up alone in a little shithole apartment. I give them way too much time in my head, I hear their voices over everything else on days like today.

My girls are wonderful, but it isn’t their job to take care of me. It’s nobody’s job, I have to take of myself, and today I’m tired and just don’t feel much like it.

Anyhow, I’m going to try to put some of this down, or maybe you could take some of the load just for a little while?

thanks for listening.

too busy

20151019_152813-01screenshot_2016-03-06-22-58-25-01.jpegGoogle has been good enough to remind me that your birthday is coming up. There’s a bright red rectangle, with a little picture of birthday cake on my calendar on the top of Tuesday, an “All Day Event”, “John Day’s birthday”. Facebook too doesn’t want me to forget your 48th birthday is coming up this week.

I don’t know how to get rid of either notification. I can’t wait until about 10 am on Tuesday when my phone will send me the notice that I should wish you a Happy Birthday. There doesn’t seem a way to turn these things off.

Thanks, Google! Facebook, you’re awesome, the  absolute best, I mean I might have forgotten to call you and sing happy birthday with the kids like we always do. Except you won’t have a 48th birthday. You won’t have cake, terrible singing (that would be from me and my kids), me making fun of you, your daughters, you won’t have any of this again.

And what do I do? I sit here in wrapped up in your clothes punching the keyboard of my laptop in some vain attempt to find some meaning, some comfort, some anything in this. I’ve got nothing. Absolutely nothing. I want to write something profound and beautiful, but all I have is this huge empty place that is absolutely silent.

“Love is so short, forgetting is so long.” – Pablo Neurda

or as he orginally wrote it “Es tan corto al amor, y es tan largo el olvido”  translated “It is so short to love, and oblivion so long”

It is so short to love, and oblivion so long.

I wish I had loved you better. I wish we had had more time. There is nothing now, no more time. I rethink and replay entire years and the individual seconds that I had you as my brother and know I could have loved you better. I should have done something more to save you. I knew better than anyone what was happening to you. I can never say I didn’t fully understand what was happening. I understood. I felt many of the same things you felt.  We were the same in so many ways, I knew your demons, I shared so many of them, and I still did not save you. I stood still and watch you leave.

The truth is I was too busy saving my own life, too busy with my own demons, too busy trying to save my son. I knew you were leaving, and I watched you go. I should have done more, I should have done something. I just didn’t have anything left in me to save you too, and now it’s too late.

I’m so sorry Johnny.

the forgotten art of self love

10616274_10204420794615608_257153541342318674_nFor too many days I have not written about you. I tell your stories more quietly, to just myself. Wearing grief on the outside becomes less fashionable as time passes.

I never did unpack my car trunk completely from my last visit home, my last visit to your home, it’s not mine anymore, and so I still hear the shift of your tool bag and the occasional rattle of the metal picture frames in their basket when I turn corners. To unpack them, and store them has a finality to it I’m not quite ready for.

It’s been just over four months. One hundred and thirty eight days more precisely.

In one hundred and forty nine days it will be what should have been your 48th  birthday. I try not to think about that.

Just over four months since they found your cold dead body lying alone on your apartment floor, alone and cold. One hundred and thirty eight days of imaging you there. I hide the grief better now, but it hasn’t dulled. Its weight on my chest a nearly constant presence.

People are trying to be kind and well meaning when they say things like you’re in a better place, or that you’re happy now, or the absolute worst, these things happen for a reason. I know they mean well, but I also know that regardless, you’re not here, and we are.  That there is no good reason for any of this. The people you left behind, the ones who loved you, the ones who loved you despite your struggles, who loved you even when it was the most painful thing in the world to do. We loved you. We still love you. We are still here trying to make sense of a world without you. You’re not in pain anymore, and perhaps one day that will be comforting. It’s not right now. It’s selfish, but when you were alive and in so much pain, we could at least hope. We could hope that you would find your way back.

20151019_143920-01When you were just a little boy mom had to rush you to hospital in the middle of the night. You were very sick, and I remember being so jealous that you got presents, new pajamas, and all the attention. You recovered completely and the dramatic midnight hospital trip became a family antidote that we would pull out and laugh about.

Last night I ended up in hospital in tremendous pain. It was a different time, different place, but the same aliment. But mine was brought on by my own indifference to myself, that and some ambitious and opportunistic bacteria. I did not get presents or new pajamas, but I did finally see how poorly I’ve been taking care of myself. I’m like the character in the video below, a cartoon version of me.

20151019_144255-01Johnny, I think about you every single day, every hour of every day that I’m awake, and often in my sleep. My heart hurts every day. I wear some of your clothes, your art work hangs in my office, your tools rattle in my trunk every time I drive. You are with me every moment, so much so that I forgot that I needed to take care of myself. I have been so wrapped in grief and heartbreak, and keeping that pain inside that I made myself physically ill.

For the first time in a very long time, I cooked a meal just for myself. We were such foodies you and I, and I lost that. Tonight, after a quiet day of post hospital rest, I made myself a wonderful meal and ate it while I read. It was an act of self love that I’d almost forgotten about.

I miss you. I keep waiting for this to be a story I’ve made up, but it never ever is. You’re gone, and I’m still  here.

IMG_5568I love you Johnny,  that was the last thing I ever said to you, last summer, a couple of months before you died, standing in the pouring rain by the lake in Chicago from my cell phone. I had called you on whim, we had barely spoken since your time in ICU, the time we thoug
ht you were going to die, but you pulled through.  I didn’t realize I would never speak to you again.  I still want to say more to you. Maybe that’s why I write these letters to you. Maybe it’s me pretending that you can hear me still. Or maybe I just need to get the words out to keep myself sane.

I love you Johnny, and I miss you so terribly much.305888_1912109127175_7470649_n

 

 

year of the monkey

buddha-grief-quoteDear Johnny,

It’s funny the things that make me think of you, like today, on a Year of Monkey card someone gave me, your year.

This was suppose to be your year, and then again tonight, while I was bowling for the first time since we took our kids years ago, I thought of you and how we scored our game, the jokes we told, and how you won. I’m pretty sure you won, I’ve never been much good at bowling, and you could always pick up anything you put your mind to. That used to  make me crazy you know. I had to work hard to be good at anything, and all you had to do was incline your mind in whatever direction you wanted and then master whatever it was.

It was a staff party, tonight, with bowling, arcade games,  bocce ball and all sorts of great food. I even wore a dress, a short one, with my tall boots. I put a bit of effort into the whole outfit, hair and makeup thing, Lizz gave it a resounding ‘meh’ when asked what she thought, still, I thought I looked nice, maybe even slightly better than my average (which is no makeup, no boots, no dress, and yoga clothes).  And then I got stood up, dress, boots, makeup, hair and all. Stood up, without even an insincere “sorry, I’m not going to make it” text, an ‘all my messages completely ignored’ kind of stood up. Party full of people who have someone to share  their nachos with, someone to ask them what they wanted to drink, someone to sit with, but hey, I manage. I even put away my phone so I wouldn’t make a pathetic show of constantly checking it (not that there were any messages). I managed, put on my party face, and mingled. You were always better at that sort of thing than me, and you would have made fun of my little pity party tonight. You were the life of the party kind of guy. We would all bask in your wit, charm and banter and laugh and be thoroughly entertained. It’s been awhile since you made anyone laugh, and now I just have a recording of your voice.

I’ve been left enough, been left, or told I wasn’t wanted enough, that I think I should be better at it, but it still stings. Maybe this is good? I don’t know. I do maintain an intact game face throughout, one must keep up appearances after all. I don’t feel surprise, or anger, or much more than resignation anymore. It’s relief really, the other shoe finally falling kind of feeling. So, tonight, being stood up, not a surprise, no anger, just resignation.

Even so, I remain ill equipped to cope with your leaving. It took so long, and was so awful for so long before, you’d think I would have been better prepared, that all that pain for all those years would have counted as credit against the pain of finally completely losing you. Maybe it is, or was.

I don’t mean this to sound morose  Johnny, but I do miss you. I miss us. I miss what we once were, at our best, the times that we could have ruled the world. I miss those times.

I still wear your pj bottoms, and your blue vest when it’s cold. Graham wears your work boots every day. And I still talk to you most days, especially today.

And I miss you Johnny.

Goodnight.

solid rock

Alex Colville, 1954 Horse and Train

Alex Colville, Horse and Train,

Whatever I thought it would be like, it wasn’t this. And I did think about it, we all did. We thought about it a lot in our own ways. Of course there were, increasingly faint, bits of hope that we would cling to, even against all logic, we would hope. Just the same, we knew this day would come, and when it did it was all the things we feared it would be, but also nothing we expected.

“Love is so short, forgetting is so long.” – Pablo Neruda

It was a good service, as these things go, nice music, a moving slideshow of photos of you, appropriate and moving readings and memories, a traditional hymn, and a choir rendition of All You Need is Love, complete with kazoos. It was very John like, right down to the fabulous food we shared afterwards. Everyone seemed pleased. It was closure, it was a send off, it was people holding each other up, it was all you could hope for really.

scribble face 3It was all you could hope for, and yet, I still find myself walking through mud, through fog, through solid rock. I forget things. I lose hours doing nothing. I stare at nothing. I stare at your things that now are in my home, but are still your things. I sleep longer, and am still tired. I stay up too late.

It’s possible I am pushing through solid rock
in flintlike layers, as the ore lies, alone;
I am such a long way in I see no way through,

and no space: everything is close to my face,
and everything close to my face is stone.

I don’t have much knowledge yet in grief
so this massive darkness makes me small.
You be the master: make yourself fierce, break in:
then your great transforming will happen to me,
and my great grief cry will happen to you.
~ Rainer Maria Rilke (Translated by Robert Bly)

This is the grief work they talk about. Pushing through solid rock, an apt enough description. I dream about you sometimes, not the comforting dream where you tell me all is well with you now and you are in a better place, just confusing dreams. Someone said that to me, a couple of people did actually, said that you ‘were in a better place’. I so wanted to punch them in the throat, to wipe the smug, sympathetic, head tilted ever so slightly to the side expression on their faces. I think that would be the anger stage of Loss.

According to Elisabeth Kübler-Ross the 5 Stages of Loss are:

  1. Denial and Isolation – buffering
  2. Anger
  3. Bargaining – the ‘if onlys’, the ‘what ifs’
  4. Depression
  5. Acceptance

I honestly believe I did everything I could. Wait, that’s not true. What if I had shown up on your doorstep, dumped out all your alcohol and physically dragged you to the hospital? Would that have worked? I don’t think so, but I still take out these thoughts and hold them awhile, feel their weight in my hands, build a fantasy around them where, in the end, I save you. After a while I put them down, but I still feel their weight. More than anyone I should have been able to save you. It was everyone else’s first experience with this disease, I was a seasoned veteran. I had done this dance before, I knew all it’s steps. I saw you leaving well before anyone else.

buddha-grief-quoteI saw you leaving, and I let you go.

I let you go. I talked to you, wrote to you, I wrote about you. I wrote about our disease. The one that killed our father, has a hold of my son, the disease that I only get a daily reprieve from.

But I didn’t save you. I know, in my head, that I didn’t cause, couldn’t control or cure you. I know this in my head. Sometimes it helps, but not always. A year ago we almost lost you, but you came back. I thought you might stay. Maybe that was the time to save you that I missed. Maybe.

I still don’t know what to do with your clothes. I don’t know what to do with our stories, the ones only you and I understood. Where do I put the parts of myself that were yours too? I don’t know. I don’t know what to do with a lot of things, things I should be doing, raking the leaves, clearing out the house so it will sell, making appointments, the business of living.

So I sit, pen scratching across paper, drinking coffee, and staring at the still green willow leaves, who will only fall after all the other leaves have been dutifully raked. Mostly I sit staring and nothing. Four of my orchids are re-blooming, did I tell you? No, of course not, what was I thinking. They’ve spent a year deciding to bloom, a year of somewhat attractive foliage, but now, now they are spectacular.

There is a metaphor in that somewhere, but I can’t quite grasp it. Anyhow, you get my meaning.

 

 

eulogy for my brother

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“He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.”
-W.H. Auden, Funeral Blues

To paraphrase Emily Brontë, my love for my brother was like the eternal rocks beneath, not always visible, not always a source of delight, and no more a source of pleasure than I am to myself, but necessary, it resides in my bones, not just in my heart, or my thoughts, it lives in every cell in my body. Whatever souls are made of, his and mine are the same.

To say John was brilliant, or merely complex would be an understatement. He was so many, many things, – to paraphrase myself – a brilliant creator and solver of puzzles, a talented player and lover of music, a gifted conceiver and expresser of visual arts – be they paint, pencil, wood, clay, or words, and an inspired and – sometimes overly – creative chef.

He created. He created games, puzzles, paintings, delicious food. He created a home for his daughters.

He made you laugh.

John would have had you in stiches by now. He was the funniest person I’ve ever known. Brilliant, witty, irreverent and always ready with a joke or amusing observation.

Everyone in this room has laughed, and not just once because of something John said or did. He was the original photo-bomber, he was always ready to drop to the conversation lowest common denominator, which generally involved loud bodily functions, burping, farting, burping and farting together, burping songs, making fart noises in his arm, in his arm pit, and then drawing everyone in.

20151019_144255-01When my son first started struggling he sent him homemade Hero cards, featuring Greek, Roman God, with points and skills assigned. Each and every one said “Kicks Butt” and Hercules “Occasionally goes BESERK” The last card he sent was the Uncle John card. The Uncle John Hero was described as “The Sharpest Spoon in the drawer, fancified dancer, can kick his own butt – plus that of Uncle Ruth’s, yep, that’s what he called me when he wasn’t calling me Big Nose. His Attack number was 42, a Douglas Adams reference I’m sure, His Thoughts were listed as “Not Often”, his Symbol was “Messy Hair and Stinky Socks” – although his stinky socks, as many of us knew could be better listed as a Weapon. His special skills were “Sarcasm and Burping” – okay, that part was pretty accurate. The card was quintessentially John, from the stinky socks to the self deprecating humour. he also sent Graham a rubber chicken, a series of original Canadian comic books, still in their protective covers (a state that did not last long), and a hand sewn teddy bear.

He was generous. With his love, with his art, food, with everything he gave openly and freely.

Picture John made for (of) me, 2003

Picture John made for (of) me, 2003

He also called me Big Nose, even made me a little drawing of Big nose. I called him No Chin. It was a special sort of endearment between us. He also called me Bruce, well my whole family calls me that, between that and the Uncle Ruth is surprising I don’t have a gender identity problem. At my wedding he gave a brilliant speech – it included Ode to a Grehian Urn, my driving skills, my applying makeup while driving skills, my applying makeup, singing to the radio, while shifting gears, driving skills – you get the idea. He was brilliant. He was also charming, and a beautiful person all the way through.

Where I have been described as feisty, stubborn, Little Miss Splendid – yes, they gave me that book, John was the sucky second child, the one who charmed his way through things. I would dig my heals in and cross my arms – metaphorically and often literally when faced with obstacles, John used charm. It made me crazy. One fateful year when I was visiting from school I came home to a little brother who was now taller than I was. It was a moment he had been waiting for his whole life. In the den he wrestled me to the rug, sat on me with his hand over my mouth and the poked and tickled me all the while yelling “mom!!! Ruth’s hurting me!!” Needless to say by the time my mother arrived he had jumped back and assumed an injured stance in the corner looking beseechingly at our mother, who may or may have believed him, but certainly played along. That is how my brother rolled. Many of the times I have laughed the hardest, the stuff coming out your nose, tears coming down your cheeks, the immanent danger of peeing your pants kind of laughter, those laughs 20151019_152813-01originated with my brother.

Which makes his ending all the more tragic.

A few months ago, a friend of mine died. He was in his 90s, had lived a full life, was productive right till the end, and then one night he died peacefully in his sleep. We took comfort in that. The rare times we think about our own deaths, this is often the one we want, the good death, the peaceful, after a long well lived life death. This is what we want for ourselves and our loved ones. No one wants to die like John did, no one. There is nothing comforting about his death. It is utterly heartbreaking and tragic. It is unfair. It was wrong for him to die as he did.

The thing about a brain disease, which is what John died from, a brain disease called alcoholism, the thing about it, is that it takes away the personality, and then it takes away the person that you knew and loved. We lost John, but before that he lost himself. That guy, the one who made us laugh till we cried, who sang to us, read to us, who made wonderful art and delicious food, that beautiful person, was lost to a disease that affected and distorted the way he thought, the way he saw the world, and mostly the way he saw himself.

John felt things very deeply, maybe too deeply. One of my first memories of us is me wrapping him in a blanket during a sand storm on a beach. I have no idea what the context of the situation was, what I remember is wanting to protect my brother above anything else.

I couldn’t protect him from this. None of us could. There was never something that one of us did that caused this, there was nothing that we didn’t do that would have cured this, and there was never a way anyone else could have controlled his disease. Cunning, baffling and powerful is how alcoholism is aptly described, and it is, it is all of those things. It took our father, and it took John, both before their 50th birthdays.

John’s behavour for the last several years was baffling, it was heartbreaking. He pushed us away. His brain, his thinking was so distorted by this disease that the only way he could cope was to continue to try and numb his thoughts and feelings. It never meant that he loved any of us less. He loved his family, his daughters and Tamara were his life. That never wavered, not for a instant. He loved us, all of us, and in the end that’s what we need to hold on to. As painful as this has been, hold on to the times he made you laugh, the times he showed his love to you, the times he was his exceptionally lovable and goofy self. It won’t happen today, or maybe not this year, but start to let go of the painful memories, and hold on instead to what you loved about him. Remember him as someone full of love, caring, stinky socks and really terrible jokes. His personal favourite was “you know the corduroy pillows, the ones that are making all the headlines?”

“I myself am made entirely of flaws, stitched together with good intentions.”
― Augusten Burroughs

“He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last ——

I was right. Love is the thing that endures. Love is what we have left of John, love and some pretty wonderful memories.

12108267_10207722033310124_8293890433605817967_nHang onto those, and hang on to each other. He loved us all, what we have to do now is continue to love each other, to create in what ever way we express ourselves, eat good food, play games, solve puzzles, and make the odd fart or burping joke.

this is what the living do

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Johnny,

I have become a person who people send sympathy cards to, someone people want to nurture with food, chocolate, flowers and kind messages. People hug me when they see me, and ask how I am. Most of the time I have no idea.

I’m wearing your pj bottoms as I write, and drinking tea from one of your cups. The pile of your newly washed, and neatly folded clothes sits on my bed and asks me what are you going to do with us now? I don’t know, that’s why I tried on the pj bottoms. I had to roll the waist because you were taller than I am. Were, I have to get used to speaking of you in the past tense.

We’ve been speaking of you in the past tense for two weeks, two weeks tomorrow, Saturday at 4pm. I’m still getting used to that.

I also wear your wedding ring, the one that dad left you after he died. It’s on my thumb. I play with it constantly, twisting it, rubbing it. I think about you and dad, and how I ended up older than either of you, and wonder if wearing this ring is a good idea or not.

I think you would like your service, it’s in two weeks, and I have spent a lot of time working on it. It has readings, poems, and we’re playing Leonard Cohen and The Beatles, actually the choir, the one you used to sing with, will be performing Hallelujah and All You Need is Love. They said they would be honoured to sing for you. Honoured, I wonder what you would think about that. We’re doing two of my favourite prayers. To be honest I don’t know what you would think of the whole thing. I finished the first draft of your eulogy, I’ve never written one of those, but I’d never written an obituary either, and I think your’s turned out alright.

When I went through your clothes that first week, the week we went through and cleaned and organized your apartment, I mainly thought of ones for Graham, so he could have something of yours. I thought about taking a box of your books for him too, but then didn’t. You two had so much in common, but he walked out of his treatment centre 3 days ago and we don’t know where he is now, so I’m back to looking at the pile of clothes, and I’m still don’t know what I will do with them.

I sit here, healthy, safe and warm, and you’re gone, you’re not even a body anymore, you’re ashes siting in a container somewhere, I don’t even know where. They gave mom your glasses and your watch. That’s what she has, your glasses and your watch. I can’t begin to know how that feels. Did they put them in a special box with gold lettering? A velvet bag? Or did they just shove them in a brown envelope? Does that help? I don’t think it would. I think it would equally excruciating to receive the items from your child’s body no matter how they were presented to you.

You broke my heart, Johnny, you broke all of our hearts, and I let you die. I let you die alone. I let my son become homeless, and I sit in my house and feel sorry. I feel sorry, and sad, and tired, really, really tired. Somehow that seems wholly inadequate. It seems there should be larger consequence for not saving you, or Graham, or even dad.

There is more, obviously. You can’t tell by looking at me, or by talking to me, most of the time anyhow. On the outside I look and sound pretty much the same. I’m not. I’m unmoored, I am no longer somebody’s sister, I no longer have a brother, and you were it, my only sibling. It’s just me now, and that feels unnatural. All our private jokes, our code words, things that only we talked about and knew, all those things are gone, and what’s left is just space.

This was not how all of this was suppose to turn out. We were going to be great. We had grand plans. Happy lives mapped out. Lives with spouses, and happy children, successful careers, and somehow bits of that got lost.

I have to stop now. I have to find a place to put your clothes, and I have to go back to the actions that make up my life now.

I found this poem for you. I think maybe you would have made fun of it, but you don’t get to speak for yourself anymore, so here it is.

What the Living Do
Marie Howe

Johnny, the kitchen sink has been clogged for days, some utensil probably fell down there.

And the Drano won’t work but smells dangerous, and the crusty dishes have piled up

waiting for the plumber I still haven’t called. This is the everyday we spoke of.
It’s winter again: the sky’s a deep, headstrong blue, and the sunlight pours through

the open living-room windows because the heat’s on too high in here and I can’t turn it off.
For weeks now, driving, or dropping a bag of groceries in the street, the bag breaking,

I’ve been thinking: This is what the living do. And yesterday, hurrying along those
wobbly bricks in the Cambridge sidewalk, spilling my coffee down my wrist and sleeve,

I thought it again, and again later, when buying a hairbrush: This is it.
Parking. Slamming the car door shut in the cold. What you called that yearning.

What you finally gave up. We want the spring to come and the winter to pass. We want
whoever to call or not call, a letter, a kiss—we want more and more and then more of it.

But there are moments, walking, when I catch a glimpse of myself in the window glass,
say, the window of the corner video store, and I’m gripped by a cherishing so deep

for my own blowing hair, chapped face, and unbuttoned coat that I’m speechless:
I am living. I remember you.

Goodnight Johnny. I love you.

“I just sit by and let you fight your secret war”

meanwhile, when you were focused on back to school, this happened

So This happened today.

The Heroin Crisis Act Unanimously Passes Through Illinois House

A friend from one of my online support groups summed it up beautifully “Today was epic! Illinois legislators passed House Bill 1, the Heroin Crisis Bill that opens up treatment options for ALL who suffer from the disease of addiction. You no longer have to be wealthy, or have “the right kind of insurance”…all you have to do is want to get into recovery, and a way will be found.”

Alex Colville,  Horse and Train,

Alex Colville, Horse and Train,

People have died. Way too many people have died, are dying now, and will die from this disease.

I don’t mean to be unkind, really I don’t, but there are days when reading about how hard it is to have your well, well and alive, well and alive, and thriving, child away at college and how much you miss them, and all the money you have to spend on their phones, books, cars, rent and so on, there are days I just can’t read your Facebook posts, or look at pictures of your kids’ dorm room, college campus, and/or sports team. Today is one of those days. Today I am missing my son, not because he is away at college and spending too much money, but because he is away in treatment half  a country away. He’s been away for over 15 months, without holiday weekends visits, or summer or Christmas  at home. I haven’t seen him since December, his sisters since last June.

And I know there are people reading this who would give anything to have their child safe and in treatment, anything just to have their child alive again.

We are very, very lucky. We had the “right” insurance, sort of. More accurately, we had insurance and the time, and the physical and mental tenacity to fight, to fight over and over and over again, for coverage that was constantly denied. I can’t even think about the money still owed.

So yeah, today was important. I am hopeful. I am precariously optimistic that things could get better, that fewer families will watch their loved ones die from lack of adequate treatment. I am also tired, and feel like my skin is way too thin, and stretched way too tight, and feel like I have no defenses left, no protection from the emotions this stirs up. Oh, and I hate this disease, I hate how it decimated my family, my son, but also my father and my brother, and all who love and who loved them.

That’s it. That’s all I’ve got tonight. No pithy wisdom, no sage acceptance or quotes about letting go and letting god. Just straight up tired, Maybe tomorrow I’ll be wise.