What do you do when somebody dies? Wallow, wail, wait, wonder? Puke? Scream? Throw things?
Where is the handbook for this shit?
He was my brother, a son, a friend, an uncle, an adventurer, truly one-of-a-kind.
So now what the fuck do we do?
The second-to-last time I saw E, he was across the street, messing with his truck in the middle of the night (because of course he was.) I had this intense urge to holler, "I love you!"
What if you never get a chance to say it again? You never know, I thought.
Foreshadowing is great in fiction and bullshit in real life.
I yelled it, and he yelled it back, and damn, I'm glad I did.
It's been three weeks and two days, just long enough for the shock to wear off, according to the books. I see him everywhere. The long street that was our childhood route home from elementary school. Standing in my doorway with his arms crossed, surveying the insanity of my life. Sitting on the couch with all my munchkins clustered around him as they eagerly wait for a spider to crawl out of his dreadlocks.
And there's the memories, a lifetime. They swirl in a painful eddy when I'm trying to sleep, eat, drive, walk, live. He's always there, sometimes in the background, sometimes taking center stage, but present.
Except, now he's not. I feel like I've fallen into some sort of hideous parallel universe. Surely this can't be happening to my brother, my family.
But it can, and it did. I think I'm going to be trying to swallow that bitter pill for the rest of my life.
Once, E and I decided to hike to a lake upriver. It was my idea, but afraid to venture forth into the forest because #bears, I asked my savvy survivalist brother to come along. It's a long, steep and difficult hike, and we left later than we should have. We had made it about halfway when afternoon storms started to roll in, so instead of continuing on, we decided to eat lunch and turn around. We found a cliff overlooking the White River Valley, and comfortable in trash bag ponchos, we ate uncooked Ramen noodles and talked about philosophy. The only other thing I remember is the brilliant rainbow that appeared as we started to head back down the mountain.
We never made it to our intended destination, but the experience was perfect anyway.
I feel somewhat the same way now. I never expected to be instantly bereft of the comfortable knowledge that somewhere, my brother was living and breathing and adventuring.
"This is not the intended destination!" I want to scream.
I have to find meaning in it, though, if I want to survive.
I'm waiting for a rainbow.
Sibling loss is classified as a "disenfranchised loss" because society expects you to expect it. It doesn't go against the laws of nature nearly so much as losing a child. It's not supposed to break you, and you should move on relatively quickly.
Of course, you're not "supposed to" lose a sibling when you're in your 20s, but still.
What even is this concept of supposed to, though? I'm supposed to be able to tell people I have three brothers without a stab in the gut. I'm supposed to have an excuse to make nine pies at Thanksgiving because they're E's favorite. I'm supposed to have a lot more years of yelling "I love you!" across the street in the middle of the night. I'm supposed to be able to enjoy my childhood memories without collapsing.
I'm NOT supposed to be giving a goddamn mother-fucking eulogy for my little brother.
Supposed to is bullshit.
Of course, Ethan knew that already. He had the art of giving no fucks down to a science. Supposed to was the opposite of everything he did.
Maybe my rainbow is learning how to give less fucks. Maybe it's learning how to live more like he did.
I Googled how to write a decent eulogy because being Type A is fun. My favorite piece of advice was, "if you can't think of anything interesting about the person, try to at least remember a funny story."
If you can't think of anything interesting ... well, that's not going to be a problem, oh dreadlocked, pierced, tattooed, sword-swallowing, fire-breathing, adventure-addicted brother of mine.
The premise of my speech ends up going back to the idea of living more like he did, of keeping his spirit alive even after he's gone. WWED: What Would Ethan Do?
(Also, I called him an asshole. Because he is one.)
I only remember bits and pieces of the rest of the memorial service. The heat of the sun on my back. My shaking hands. Trying not to fall over my black velvet cape (cue The Incredible's Edna: NO CAPES!) A kid asking for water every thirty seconds.
Hugs, so many hugs.
It's supposed to bring closure, but I mostly just feel trapped in a bubble of numbness.
"Not BubbleYum, BubbleNumb!" I sob to my husband while taking pulls straight from a bottle of whiskey after the service.
My husband is kind of a saint.
I still don't know, other than that I need to ignore society's stupid ideas about death and grieving.
What does that mean? Well, talking about it. Writing about it. Going to work and the grocery store and the playground even if it means I'll be crying ugly tears in public. Honoring the process. Feeling it, the "BubbleNumb," the uncontrollable urge to scream and punch things, the suffocating squeeze of grief, the jagged edges of my childhood memories.
And if all that makes people uncomfortable? Good.
We should all be forced to face the ridiculous fragility of our existence. We should all give less fucks (and redistribute the remainder towards things that actually matter.)
Because what else can you do in the face of death, really, but live?
(to be continued)