It's been a month.
Though we didn't know it for several days, it was a month ago that my youngest brother, the one I was closest to, was killed in an accident.
Thirty one days.
I've mentioned before in past posts that death in itself has never really bothered me. I grew up in a culture that didn't hide death away from children. My earliest memory of death is sunshine and green grass and playing among the headstones - the only memory I have in connection with my grandfather.
We went to funerals as a family. We grieved the loss of our loved ones while celebrating their lives and feeling gratitude for having them with us in the time we had. Funerals would be filled with laughter as well as tears, my brother's being no exception. As a child, I even remember posing with family members beside the open casket for photos, which would be sent back to family in the Old Country who couldn't be there. We received similar photos in return.
This time, however, is different and so much harder. Not just because this is the closest person to me that has died. Even the tragedy of his death, as horrific as it was, is not fully what's made this death more difficult. My greatest solace was learning he was killed instantly; my mind had been recoiling in horror at the thought of what his last moments would have been like otherwise, whenever the idea skittered through my consciousness until the police report came in. In the past, I've seen death due to age and illness, accident and suicide, and even murder, though that, at least, was not someone I'd known directly. As horrible as his death was, it wasn't the worst I'd encountered.
I've discussed my own death with my family. They know what I want, should I be unable to make decisions for myself. They know I want to be buried in the tiny cemetery of my home town. Mine is a small family, but the number of us represented in that cemetery has increased rather steadily over the last few years.
One of the reasons I've discussed this with them is because of the one type of death that concerns me. It's the bolt out of the blue. The sudden and unexpected. Picture one of those old cartoons, where someone is jauntily strolling down the sidewalk, whistling a merry tune, when suddenly WHAM!! an anvil drops out of the sky. No warning. No preparation. No chance to say good bye. No chance to make arrangements. One minute you're there, the next you're gone.
My brother's death was just such a bolt out of the blue. What has made it all so much more difficult is that ... well, he wasn't there. There was no casket, open or otherwise. I understand why he was cremated as soon as the coroner released his body. I understand why no one was allowed to see him (and my heart goes out to the friend who found him and identified him for the police). Still, we had a service for my brother, and he wasn't there. That wasn't my brother in that black box I at first mistook for a car battery (which seemed entirely appropriated to me, among the other mementos, and an error my brother would have found hilarious). How could that little container be my brother?
Of course, no casket meant no hearse and no funeral procession. One of my other brothers drove to the cemetery with the urn in his car. During the internment, the urn was dwarfed by the bouquets provided by the funeral home. That tiny hole in the ground was no grave. That couldn't be my brother, who loomed so large in my life, reduced to a spot so small, it was completely covered by a small wreath.
All the usual trappings that made saying good bye easier weren't there. He wasn't there. Just a small box and a photo. There was nothing tangible to grasp. There was no him.
Getting out to the funeral at all was a hurried affair, and I am eternally grateful to my in-laws for helping us make the trip. Missing my own brother's funeral would have been a heartbreak I don't know how I could have handled. We did have an overnight stop on the way out, but drove straight through on the way back. Once home, we were immediately busy preparing for an event, squeezing a week's worth of work into a few days. Then there was the event itself. Then there was something else... and something else... and something else.
Being so far from the rest of my family meant that for us, nothing changed. There was no missing presence, because he wasn't there to begin with, any more than the rest of my family is. Then suddenly I'd remember - usually while in a public place, of all things - and the wall of busyness buffering me would tremble and shudder. I'd find myself choking inside, but the tears, the grief, couldn't break through. It wasn't real.
Now, finally, the busyness is slowing down. At the same time, it's allowing the walls to finally crumble. The tears are finally flowing. The grief is finally showing.
One month later.