My lifelong relationship with loss began when I was almost 10 with my elder brother, Chris’, cancer diagnosis. He battled non-Hodgkins lymphoma for a year with a grace and courage I admired from afar, as he was frequently many miles away at Stanford Hospital. It was a fearful, lonely time as my parents were rightfully consumed with the care and comfort of my brother. Intellectually I understood their absences, but my emotional confusion was ever-present and horrifying. I floundered in the dark. I longed for my family, my parents, my brother. My normal life. And answers to unutterable questions.
I spent my days, engrossed in school grasping at things that made sense: spelling, grammar, history, French, science. At the same time at home I tried – against my younger sister, Katherine’s will – to mother her and be solace to our mom who fell apart. My friends, their parents, my teachers, and our relatives on some level knew what was happening within our family, but no one brought it up. I lived two lives: one of denial and hope for normalcy, and the other witness to the disintegration of my brother coupled with the frailty of healthy individuals and a bereft, disengaged family.
Chris’ death brought new pain and a deeper sense of loneliness. Grief is intimate, defining, and isolating. I’ve embraced self-definition as a sister of my dead brother, a daughter adrift, an inconstant sister to my sister, a soul forever wandering in internal chaos. Wondering what my life would have been if Chris had lived. If we hadn’t suffered.
The many deaths since then of: my favorite aunt and best friend; my wonderful Irish caretaker and surrogate grandmother/mother during my brother’s illness; my maternal grandparents who I was blessed to know will into my late 20s; and my father- and brother-in-law, have at times exacerbated my sense of isolation and sadness.
Yet, I am fortunate. My family stuck together despite my brother’s illness and death. I am able, more or less, to manage my lifelong depression. I am loved and love deeply. I have a second chance at the happy childhood I longed for. I laugh to my core with my children, embrace them daily, hold them close, and acknowledge the gifts they are to me. And try to counter my loneliness with the fullness of their love and sparkle.