I took my sons for an overnight camping trip yesterday. Growing up in Phoenix, I feel like they miss out on a lot of what I think summer should be about- playing outside, having adventures in nature, spending all day on a bike. With temperatures already hitting 115 degrees, our outdoor time is limited to frequent splashes in the pool for the sake of cooling off. By driving an hour and a half, we were able to camp outside without fear of melting and spend our time climbing on rocks, collecting sticks, and building forts. It was only for a night, but I’m thankful they had a small opportunity to be outside covered in dirt and loving it.
On the drive home today, my radio lost signal. I have my feet firmly planted in the dark ages, so I switched over to my 6 disc CD changer to see what I had in the mix. An album began to play that I didn’t recognize. Heavy. Obviously metal. Was this a disc Chris had burned for me? As the vocalist kicked in, I recognized that the voice was Chris. It was the last album he ever recorded, Cleanse the Destroyers. I didn’t place it immediately because I haven’t been able to listen to it.
I have a friend that checks in on me from time to time. She lost her mother around the same time I lost Chris. We get it. We can talk to each other without boundaries. We can type a few words that speak volumes.
A few weeks ago, she asked how I was doing. It wasn’t a flippant greeting of a question. She was sincere in wondering.
The question gave me pause. How was I doing? I feel numb a lot of the time. Sometimes it is comforting to not be overwhelmed with emotion. It makes getting through my days easier. I’m sure people find me more tolerable to be around.
But I miss the compulsion to create, the absolute NEED to make things. I still draw. I still make things. But the desire is not fueled in the same way.
Of course, I am not numb all the time. Emotions are tricky. I go from enjoying a joyous excursion with my sons and feeling blessed to live a beautiful life, to being toppled by anger I can’t really explain.
A few weeks ago, I went out with a friend. I hadn’t spoke with her for a bit, so we were catching up over beers. She regaled me with the story of a party she went to, an over the top affair to celebrate a child turning four or five. The party was held in the million dollar home of the parents, and no expense was spared to show this child how much she was treasured. The parents asked for donations of diapers for a local charity rather than gifts.
I have always been bothered by the excess of the wealthy when there are many people who have so little. It sickens me to my very core to think of one child being celebrated in the highest regard while another is lucky to wear clean diapers. But this innocuous tale of attending a party sent me into an absolute rage. I completely berated my friend for the transgression of even knowing these people. I questioned her moral compass. I basically did everything in my power to make her feel worthless. This friend, mind you, is one of the kindest people I know. She is far more generous than me, and yet I bashed her and bashed her, all the while hearing a voice in my head desperately trying to get me to stop- a voice I couldn’t quite give over too.
Of course as soon as I had my wits about me, I apologized. But I understood a simple “I’m sorry” would not be enough.
She explained that over the course of a couple of months, I had been mean to her on more than one occasion. This was simply the last straw. She tolerated my anger because she knew how much pain I was in, and figured if I needed a punching bag, she would do that for me. But enough was enough. I had to figure out this rage. She suggested I try harder to find a grief counselor.
At the time, I didn’t think my anger had anything to do with Chris. Now, I’m not so sure. I find myself continually troubled by this idea of fairness. The girl with the extravagant party versus the girl who is lucky to get diapers. My brother who was young and talented and hilarious taken from us before he turned 43 years old, before his daughter even entered high school. How is this shit fair? It’s not. Of course anyone can see that its not. But how do we live with it?
When Chris’s CD started playing today, I listened to it. God, I missed him so much, I just silently cried behind my sunglasses as I drove along those winding roads. My sons paid no mind. They were in the backseat. They each had a different anthology of heroes and were excitedly pointing out pictures to one another and reading off details.
I have no idea if it will last, but right now, my sons are thick as thieves. They fight, as brothers do, but they are also best friends. The morbid wanderings of my brain wondered what would happen in the future when one lost the other.
My mind wandered to my dad who lost a brother long ago. His brother was killed in a car accident when he was in his twenties. I didn’t even know my dad had this brother for the longest time. We never talked about him. I wished I would have asked my dad about him, how he felt, how he got through it. Maybe he would have told me something that would help. But I never did ask him and now I can’t.
After putting all the camping gear away, I talked with a couple of my brothers. I told them I had listened to the CD and that it was incredible. It really is a spectacular album. Both of them said they haven’t been able to bring themselves to do it yet. I hated knowing that they were still suffering, but it was comforting to know I’m not the only one who still has trouble making sense of this.
It felt significant talking to them. Other people loved Chris. Other people miss him and hurt. But they were not his brothers. I do not say that to diminish anyone else’s grief. But there are only four other people in this world who called Chris their sibling, who know what it is like to not really recall an existence that doesn’t have him in it.
As I listened to my sons rambunctious conversation, I realized that my place among my family has often been as the audience. I’m the one who listens, not the one who performs- usually anyway, and certainly when it comes to my brothers.
Next week, I visit Colorado for my first vacation since Chris passed away. My youngest brother, Casey, and my mother as so sweet. They organized a fishing trip and picnic for my sons. Just thinking about it reminds me of so many great memories with my family.
When I told my husband about it, he reminded me of a fishing trip I took with Chris and Casey. Chris bought me this stupid fishing hat because I had to have a hat. He and Casey riffed off of each other all day. They always were a hilarious team. I joked with Ben that he and I were going to have to step it up. Casey could clearly handle being part of a comedic duo, but he needed someone to partner with. As soon as I said it, the joke fell flat. There will never be another partner like Chris.
So, I guess this is a long-winded way of saying, I’m fine. Most days. I feel like I am getting back into normal life, figuring out how to be happy again, feeling thankful for everything I have. But there are still those moments, at least once a day, where I miss him so badly and just wish he could be here. I get angry or sad, for a minute or two, and then I get back to my day. What else are you going to do? Life goes on, and as I’ve learned, we are guaranteed no tomorrow. We can live life and be worthy of it. Or we can give in to the inequality of it all and never recognize the gifts we are given.