Not Alone.

photo (8)Ian’s birthday came and went.

It had to, of course, like all days do, but the night before I had my doubts. There was just something crushing about twenty two candles that Ian would never get to blow out—something that I hadn’t expected. The grief of missing my little brother loomed large, and stole my breath away. Twenty one years. I only got twenty one years. I’d known that it would be hard, but Thursday night found me curled up in our guest room with tears streaming down my face, dreading a first birthday without my little brother. Dreading it, and feeling very much alone.

I was angry. I was angry that Ian would never blow out those candles. I was angry that he was gone. I was angry that July 12th will forever be a painful day for my family instead of the celebration that it once was. That in twenty two more years, I would be blowing out forty four candles for a brother that had been gone longer than I’d gotten to keep him. Those are the moments when words like fair dance across your exhausted mind, and ideas like hope seem so distant that you can no longer make them out.

I gave myself the gift of permission that night—I told myself that anything I did on Ian’s birthday was fine. I could get out of bed, or not. I could continue the maddening job search and be productive, or not. I could pick up my phone, or not. There was no “wrong” that day—and it was a gift I’d highly recommend that you encourage broken people towards on their hardest days. I finally fell asleep with a quiet dread enveloping the room.

The morning of July 12th dawned, and felt strangely like my birthday. I slowly, hesitatingly opened my eyes, and immediately noticed my phone lighting up with the first of what would prove to be many “I remember Ian today” text messages. It was the sweetest gift that I could have received—texts, emails, phone calls [that I didn’t pick up, but nevertheless was deeply grateful for], and facebook posts all reminding me that I am not alone. That Ian is remembered, and that on the impossible days so am I. There were many things that I felt that day, but “alone” was not one of them. It was the only thing that people could have done, and it was the perfect thing.

Kellan surprised me by coming home early from work, which all by itself said LOVE. [Work is just busy these days, and sneaking away does not come easily or cheaply.] I was in the kitchen mixing a chocolate torte with THREE CUPS of chocolate chips in it [permission, friends. I’m not sorry.], when the love of my whole life walked through the door holding a caramel latte. I knew today would be hard—I just want to be with you. He pulled me onto the couch and held me for a while, before announcing that I was to throw on a dress because he was taking me out.

Well. That’s probably a better idea than sitting here being sad.

We went to a beautiful restaurant [the first real winner that we’ve found in Albany!] and ate crab cakes on an outdoor patio with twinkle lights happily strewn about, and wandered the city on a walk before he left for half an hour to go play basketball. It was then, alone in my apartment, that I lit twenty two candles, and shakily sang the same song I’ve sung every year since that first July 12th that I visited my new baby brother in the hospital. It’s something that I’ll do every year until I die—something that I picture Kellan and I doing together with our kids one day, but this first fragile year, I needed to do it alone. I miss you every day, Ian. See? I made you this cake. I remembered. I love you, baby brother.

To those of you that refused to let me hurt alone on July 12th: I am indescribably grateful. Thank you for remembering.

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