Loss and Redefintion

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.

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4 comments on “Loss and Redefintion

  1. MamaZuzi says:

    I am so sorry for this and your other losses. I have lost a few people luckily not my own only sibling. I feel your pain as much as one who hasn’t lived through it can and I wish I could help. I have my own lifelong issues with depression and I wish we mothers could find more time to spend together being women friends… hang in and know I’m thinking of you.

    • lasoeurmoi says:

      Ah, my dear. Thank you for your support. I’m trying forever to work through this and really am so happy for my children and good friends who understand and make me laugh. And, yes, depression amongst women seems so pervasive. We all have pain and the words to describe it and we should share our resilience.

  2. Lande Ajose says:

    Hello my dear friend…

    How beautiful and brave of you to reveal so much of your interior life with the world. This is the Liza I have know since I was 16, since we both struggled with loss and abandonment of different sorts and in different ways. As you embrace your self definitions, please dont forget all the other things that make you you: your reflectiveness, your deeply held sense of justice, your desire to see the good in the world, your love of gutteral laughter and soulful song, and your abiding commitment to friendship.

    Sending you love my friend. Sending you love!

  3. Frances G. says:

    Liza, your openness and way with words are both lovely. I’m sorry for your losses and wish you a less heavy heart as time goes on. Virtual hugs are on the way!

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