Welp, it’s April 6. Seems to come every year this time.
It’s early morning on Wednesday April 6, 2011 and my brain is kind of stuck in the memory a different April 6.
I can’t help thinking about Thursday April 6 2000–the last day I got to see, touch, talk to, laugh with, smell (all those wonderful things humans get to do to and with the people they love)–that was the last day I ever got to do any of those things with my little brother.
For a long time after that day, Thursdays were hard and it was weird because prior to that, Thursdays were rather delightful. I was in college, working on the weekly entertainment magazine at Arizona State. It came out on Thursdays, which meant, for the space of a day or so I could lay my hands on that tangible product, enjoy for a moment the hard work of the week before (a.k.a freak out over editing mistakes or bad color correction) and take a breath before becoming completely frantic over assigning, writing, editing, coming up with story ideas, etc. for the next issue, on top of a full-time school schedule and two part time jobs. (In truth, I would not trade those frenetic years for anything…perhaps some of you reading this were part of them and can understand why).
Anyway, college time…Thursdays also kind of signaled the beginning of the weekend. Something was always happening on a Thursday. Thursdays were good days for the most part.
Not that one.
I remember walking out of the hospital on that particular Thursday, it was a fucking perfect day…one of those Arizona spring days in which the relentless sun is just making everything look so shiny and alive rather than wilted, brown or sunburnt like the oh-holy-hell-i-live-in-Dante’s-Inferno days that summer in Phoenix brings.
But that Thursday’s perfect sunshine was just so out of place, so disconcerting. I remember walking to the car from the hospital slightly dazed, seeing people and cars and feeling the sunshine and thinking “oh yeah that’s right, all this is still going on, how odd, how odd that all of this is still happening out here, when my brother is up there in that room not breathing anymore.”
And he wasn’t. I knew he wasn’t. I was there. We were all there. We watched him stop breathing. No hope of a mistake, no moment of denial on being told the news that your brother is dead. Nope. Just pure saw-it-with-my-own-eyes confirmation.
He just stopped breathing.
On a Thursday. A bright, sunny April Thursday in Phoenix. And the world kept on going without him.
We’ll all stop breathing someday, and the world will just keep on going, the sun will just keep on shining without us. It’s a humbling and daunting thought.
I’m not trying to be maudlin just for its own sake. I’m getting to a point.
Anyone who knows me probably knows just how random my brain can be. Imagine actually living in it. The internal Jessica I know so well (who doesn’t much look like what I actually see in the mirror or photographs btw), well that poor girl gets the brunt of all the shit I’ve seen and read over three decades, all of it cropping up in my brain at inopportune and opportune times.
Floating to the top of that litany of grey matter of late was this John Donne poem. Even if you’re not a poetry lover (or Hemingway lover for that matter) you probably know of or have had some kind of connection/frame of reference to this poem.
No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thine own
Or of thine friend’s were.
Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.
I started thinking of this poem after I read an article in LA Magazine this month about this blog. I sat up way too late and read practically the whole damn thing Monday night and cried my eyes out. The way this guy tells his story really got me you know? His wife died a day after giving birth to their preemie daughter. He chronicles his heartache and the love for his baby that kept him going in this blog. (It’s a book now too).
For a long time, in his blog and in his mind Matt Logelin was marking Tuesdays the way I did Thursdays. Every Monday he would celebrate the week-birthday of his daughter, then every Tuesday, was the same-week anniversary of his wife’s sudden death, which he witnessed because he was in the room helping her into a wheelchair to see their baby for the first time when a blood clot burst in her lung and she died.
So sad and so uplifting at the same time. This guy, through his blog, discovered he was very much not alone, not an island. Even though the person he wanted, the person who should have been beside him charting a course through parenthood, was missing, he was not alone. A wealth of family, friends and strangers are part of his story of dealing with loss and going on with his life.
It’s marvelous and devastating to discover how un-alone we are in loss. It’s the oddest kind of catharsis in the world, but I remember feeling it a lot after my brother died and people would tell me stories of losing their own loved ones.
It’s like, something about that kind of a loss just makes us fucking remember that ultimately, we all really do belong to each other more than we don’t and we should probably behave like it more often and with more earnestness than we usually do.
So that Donne poem, in its beatific ubiquity has become a cliche….and while that one proves itself to me to be true over and over again, there’s another cliche that I’ve discovered isn’t quite as true.
Time doesn’t heal all wounds.
In fact, in a way, time opens these particular ones up a little bit more. I mean, 11 years have passed and I still miss Jared every day, still think of him, still wish he were here. Sure, the pain is less, but it’s stabby in a different kind of way because now I have to really grasp to remember what his voice sounds like, what his laugh sounded like, what he smelled like. All those little things that went when he went.
But here’s what I do think is true.
Time plus love. That’s what makes some of the healing happen. Time has stripped me of many of the strongest sensations of my brother, but the love keeps me yearning, keeps me aching for them, and hanging on to that kind of pain is OK with me. That kind of pain is healing, at least for me.
I love him just as much as I did the day he died. Just. As. Much. Even though I haven’t heard his voice in more than a decade and never will again.
And I know… am not an island. (each man’s death diminishes me… for I am involved in mankind).
He’s in here, he’s out there, he’s in all those spaces where the people who have lost someone they love live and work and write and mark the passage of time. We’re not islands, none of us. We’re not floating aimlessly. Shit sucks sometimes. But we have each other. And that’s pretty OK.