The depression creeps up on me every December. I should recognize the signs by now; it’s been almost 12 years since it happened. Yet each year I am startled to discover the source of my sadness, and how fresh the grief feels on my brother’s
(the anniversary of a person’s death). A raw ache, a wordless, gut-clenching feeling, envelops me each year, and it’s as if no time has passed.
My brother Avi died suddenly in his sleep at age 26. I still remember the exact moment when I found out. I had a few unusual minutes of quiet as my 2-year-old twins were occupied, and I jumped on the treadmill. My husband took the early morning call and handed me the phone with a stunned look. In a single instant, my world was irrevocably changed. Life would now be divided into the before and after of this awful event. My parents, my other two brothers, and I would forever carry this deep wound, and the well of hurt, regret, and a trail of “what ifs” along with it.
We all busied ourselves with the duties of new mourners: notifying others, arranging a service, and preparing the house for
. I felt strongly that my boys should not travel with us to the funeral; I didn’t want to expose them to a sadness and devastation they couldn’t understand. And I didn’t want them to see their mother fall apart.
But I didn’t fall apart. I was full of adrenaline and the need to keep my hands busy. I wasn’t ready to absorb the magnitude of what happened, and focusing on other things kept my thoughts on-task.
Before the service began, I asked to see my brother. It was surreal, looking at his body that was him–but not him, at the same time. He was so still and quiet (which he never was during his life). I slipped a picture of my boys into the coffin and silently willed myself to move forward.
Somehow, I managed to deliver a eulogy because I knew my parents couldn’t. I held it together until someone played Avi’s favorite song, “Angel,” by Sarah McLachlan, an eerily appropriate goodbye.
Thankfully, having kids was a lifeline for me. I couldn’t fall into a deep stay-in-my-bed, fall apart depression. The kids needed me and I couldn’t let their world stop or suffer because of my grief. They deserved the best of me, and in truth, they saved me. I kept going because I had no other choice. As the years went on, we had another son, who we named after Avi. It was bittersweet because as much as I wanted to honor and remember my brother, it was still a sad reminder that he was gone and had missed out on so much.
I think I’ve healed a lot over the years, and developed a healthy respect for life and death. But there is still one thing that I haven’t been able to conquer. When people ask me how many siblings I have, I always stumble. It’s easier to answer “two,” because that is the number I have alive currently. But I feel that I am dishonoring Avi’s memory by not counting him in my answer. He was alive, he was my brother, and he mattered.
I usually end up stammering that I had three brothers, but one passed. That is typically followed by awkward silence and condolences. I’m still looking for a graceful answer that is true to Avi, but also one that doesn’t bring the conversation to a grinding halt.
Most days, I just remember my brother fondly, not focused on the well of sadness lying in wait beneath the surface. I have difficulty listening to “Angel,” and I fast-forward whenever the song comes up on my iPod. The words and melody haunt me, and the tears automatically flow after the first few notes. It’s still too much for me. However, each year, on December 28th, I allow myself to listen to the song in its entirety. In those moments, Avi is with me, patting my shoulder and telling me it’s OK.