A New Vocabulary

My world stopped spinning

Start from the beginning

And tell me this story again

The voice, instantly familiar, pours from the speakers in my car.

“This is one of your Uncle Chris’s bands,” I casually mention.

After a pause, Kellen asks “Uncle Chris that died?”  This is the first mention Kellen has made of Chris since his passing.

“Yes.  He is the guy singing.  He was a really good singer.  He could sing and play guitar and play the drums.  You know that song you guys like, The Cuckoo Song?  I sang that song and he played the drums,” I tell him.

“So when you hear his songs you think about him?” Liam asks.

My heart nearly bursts when he says this. For the first time, I feel like I have the words to talk to my sons about their Uncle.

“Yes, that’s exactly right.  I’m so lucky because whenever I miss him, I can play his music and think about him.”

“And it gets stuck in your brain?”  Whenever I can’t stop singing a song, that’s how I describe it.

“Yes, it is stuck in my brain and it’s going to stay there.”

For months, before this even happened, I have been trying to find a way to bring comfort to them with this idea of death.  It has felt impossible at times.  The intellectual in me believed in giving them the freedom to find their own interpretations.  The mom just wanted to ease their fears.  I read books talking about different religious ideas.  I allowed them to ask questions.  We even performed different rituals, like praying and setting up an alter for the Day of the Dead- all trying to find the idea that felt right for them.

Today, through music, for the first time, I had the vocabulary to truly offer something of comfort that I believe in.  It was natural and easy and actually seemed to be an idea they could understand.  I can listen to this song, and hear his voice, and know he is with me.

A few weeks ago, I heard a story on NPR about how children with a rich spiritual life grow a thicker brain cortex that protects against depression.  Being diagnosed with chronic depression, I thought Great. Now I really can’t just avoid the subject or I’m ruining their brains.  As someone firmly planted in the agnostic camp, how do I handle this subject?

We went camping a few days after hearing this story.  Ben had to work, so he was not with us.  The other families had packed up to return home.  I decided before heading out to take the boys on a hike.  I decided to jump in and lead with what feels right to me.

We were walking along hand in hand.  The boys like to form chains.  I said it made me really happy when I got to hold their hands because it made me feel connected to them. I said I think God is in everyone and everything, and that when we are in nature, we get to see how we are part of that system.

Right then, a coyote crossed the path about twenty feet from us.  The boys got really excited.  I said maybe if there was a God, he or she liked what we were saying, and gave us the coyote as a gift to let us know.  Liam really seemed to love that.  Over the next week, he told many people about the gift of the coyote.

Over the last week, against any sort of intelligent judgment, I have been looking for a sign from my brother.  If I took a shower, I closed the door so the steam would fog the mirror and perhaps he could scribble something to let me know he was alright.  I felt ridiculous doing it.  I knew the mirror would be untouched, but I couldn’t help myself.

The morning after his memorial, I stopped at a gas station to buy a coffee.  The gentleman in front of me was taking a long time sorting through his lottery tickets, and didn’t realize I was behind him.  When he noticed me standing there, he apologized and bought my coffee for me.  I have never had a stranger at a store buy something for me.  I chalked it up to good juju from the magic of Chris’s memorial.

Later that afternoon, we went to the arcade in Manitou.  I thought of my brother and what a huge kid he was.  He loved going there.  He would load up his pockets with quarters and play games for hours.  As we were leaving, some teenage boys handed us a stack of tickets they had won.  “Do your kids want these?  We just wanted to play the games.”  More good juju.  Or was it more than that?  I usually do not get approached by strangers in any way, good, bad, or otherwise.  I have a “don’t talk to me” vibe.

Today, I hopped on my bike and headed out to the trail.  I have been waiting all week to ride.  Next to writing, biking is the thing that offers me the most release, the most peace in difficult times.  I put on a mix of songs Chris loved and went to pedal.

Within a minute of being on the trail, a coyote crossed my path.  I thought of the conversation with the boys from our hike.  I see coyotes on the trail from time to time, but usually in the evening.  I told myself that the weather was getting cooler, animals are coming out earlier in the day.  But as I pedaled along, I couldn’t stop wondering.  What if this is a sign?

I laughed in my head a bit.  I could see Chris smirking and shaking his head.  I could almost hear him saying “Are you fucking serious?”  The idea of Chris being a coyote is preposterous and then some.  He would have completely shut me down making fun of me if he was alive.

The ride was perfect.  I actually headbanged a bit as I rode, oblivious to the rider behind me who I’m sure thought I was hysterical.  I came to one of my favorite spots right by the mountain.  If you get there at just the right time of day, the sun reflects all of these pieces of broken glass, and it looks like something from another world.

At the very end of the trail, I found a quarter with the heads side up.  Again, my longing for Chris turned it into a sign.  But this time, I gave in. I thought just what if he is trying to tell me something, and I am ignoring it?

So I just started talking to him.  Not sad stuff.  Not telling him I loved him or missed him or wished he was here, although all of those things are true.  I just talked to him like any other conversation.  The people working on their lawns and collecting their mail probably thought I was insane as I pedaled along, talking out loud to my dead brother.

I told him about people I ran in to at his memorial.  I described my boys listening to his music.  I rehashed songs I had listened to on the ride.  I let him know how everyone was doing.

It felt good.  A friend of mine who has lost a sister wrote something on my Facebook page about how every once in awhile, she’ll laugh at something and feel her sister laughing with her.  At the time, I just thought it was something she was saying to be nice, to ease my pain a bit.  But today, I could see what she was saying.  It felt like I was talking to him.

I don’t know what the right things are.  I have no idea what really happens.  But there is nothing to say that what happened today is any less real or less right than any other belief out there.  So I guess I choose to give in, to feel he is around me and lives on in some way.  There are worse ideas, and we all just have to do the best we can to get by.

I finished the ride, put my bike away and told him I would talk to him another day.  I sure hope I do.

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