“Grief is the last act of love we have to give to those we loved. Where there is deep grief, there was great love.” ~Unknown
It’s been almost six months now. Half of a year without my brother and the grief still visits. I’m pretty sure grief doesn’t actually go away; its visits just get further and further apart.
People continue to ask me how I am so “strong” through all of this, mistaking my happy moments as the full picture.
I continue to tell them strength comes because I feel it all.
The story in itself is my therapy, my chance to relive the amazing memories, my chance to show you the waves of grief I ride.
The last thing I told my conscious brother was “But I believe in miracles, I really do.”
To be fair, the last thing I really told him was a travel story about me using a Squatty Potty in Thailand, in hopes that humor would bring him back to responsiveness.
The thing is, I really did believe a miracle was possible, or at least I wanted to believe. Surely it wasn’t his time to go. The all-divine higher power wouldn’t take away my big brother, my role model, my mom’s baby boy. It simply wasn’t time.
The tumor on his spine seemed to disagree with me, though.
My brother is gone now, and there is a human-sized hole in the universe that I am living in, and yet I survive; in fact, I am thriving in this life that I have now.
But let’s back up a little, because I can’t just tell you about how I move through this season of grief without totally and completely honoring the human my brother was. He called me his little buddy, and though my oldest brother was the babysitter, Kirk always whispered into my ear that he was the real one in charge.
He liked Dungeon and Dragons, donuts, finishing a great book, and writing and doodling in a brown journal probably made of suede or something cool like that. He loved to flip me upside-down or hold me down and tickle me until I was completely sure I would pee my pants. He would say things that didn’t make any sense to me until later when I would sit and contemplate in stillness.
Something about Kirk’s soul was so playful but inspired me to be still and live in the presence that I have. He did things like build houses out of mud for sustainability and turn medians into produce farms. He took killer photos and made clay statues that I used to think would move in the night and haunt me.
Kirk told me to “try everything once, unless that one thing will kill you, then skip that one.” Which is why you can catch me building a business that makes zero sense to who I am, traveling to foreign countries when I should probably be building a 401K or something else adults do. But when there’s a human-size hole in your universe, you do things for joy. Maybe it’s to honor them; maybe it’s because you live life to the fullest possible amount there can ever be. Either way, I’ll keep moving only for things that light my soul on fire.
And then there was the cancer.
You know how if you endure something just the right amount, it kind of becomes your normal? Repetitive chaos in your life has a way of doing that. And after watching my grandma battle cancer and win, my mom battle cancer and win, and Kirk beating it over and over again, it felt like the norm. Like it was just a thing that plagued my family, but we always move out of it.
Everyone handles something like this differently; personally, I’m that “ray of sunshine, glass half full and hey, I’ll help you with your glass too” kind of girl. Sunshine and cancer don’t blend well together. I got really good at smiling, cheering people up, and ignoring the invader in our lives.
When I opened my phone and received the text that read, “He took a turn for the worse,” my soul didn’t believe it. I hopped on a plane, believing my sunshine would be enough to stop this spiral.
My sunshine was not enough to bring him back to life.
My sunshine was dimmed to its darkest.
My glass was tipped over.
Grief overwhelmed my soul. Gut wrenching, unexplainable, dynamic grief.
It has been almost six months now since this hole was created in my universe, and every day someone asks me how I am so “strong” or “positive.” I will tell you exactly how.
When I’m mad, I get mad. I allow myself to hear why I am mad because I know answers are on the other side of that. I don’t place my anger on anyone or anything. I just let it out as it is, even if it doesn’t make any sense.
When I’m sad, I get sad. Even if that means I cry in my car because I walked past someone eating a flavor of ice cream that he enjoyed. Even if that means crying on my birthday because I realized it was the first year I wouldn’t hear from him. Even if that means I cry for no other reason besides missing my brother. I let it flow because I am alive and I can feel.
And when I’m happy, you best believe I’m happier than a three-year-old in between meltdowns. Because of all the human emotions that I get to endure, the one he would want me to amplify the most is wild, epic, unleashed happiness.
They say grief is like waves, and I honestly couldn’t explain it any more eloquently than that. As a professional beachgoer, the thing I can tell you about waves is that they have two extremes: If you work with the waves, they are flowing and forgiving; if you fight against them, they will pull you under to the depths.
This is how you move with grace through grief. The fight creates a deep abyss of suffering; the flow creates a space for forgiveness. I’m not saying there won’t be pain; there will be deafening pain to endure on this ride. And on the other side of that pain is forgiving and wild happiness that I like to think our lost pieces are sending to us. This is how I am strong through my grief.
I am mad, sad, and happy sometimes all in one day. I feel pain and yet I live so passionately, exactly the way my brother would want me to. I am not strong because I am positive; I am strong because I feel it all. Strength hides in the depth of every emotion. Tap into each flow.