The sun streams through the window, and I stir from a dark, dreamless sleep. I feel the warmth of my dogs by my side, hear the low whistle of the distant train. For a small moment, the day feels normal; a warm summer morning.
Then I remember and my heart shatters anew.
I lost my brother Eric Sunday morning. My life will never be the same. He’s always been in my life. He was there, singing funny songs on my voicemail, being the generous uncle to my daughters, scratching a dog behind the ears, playing his classic rock way too loud. And now he is gone.
I won’t be able to call him when I’m in need; when he was always there for me to fix a broken house, a broken promise, a broken heart. “Do you need me to come out there, Katie?” he would ask.
My brother was a true character. He bartended at the Green Parrot, a favorite local’s bar in Key West. His dog ran for mayor of Key West one year, and he had t-shirts made up: Jeremiah – Integrity. He fired a starter’s cannon off the balcony of his house during an annual festival, and they came and arrested him. The next year he was officially invited to start the festival by firing that same cannon. He was that kind of guy. He could piss you off and then disarm you. Even when he was exasperating, people loved him.
He was the first person I smoked pot with. I had crushes on all his friends in high school. (I later married – and divorced- one of Eric’s friends.) He was my cool big brother who played trombone, was on the wrestling team, and drove the red Roadrunner with the horn that said “Beep! Beep!” in the cartoon voice. He let me drive it once and showed me how to accelerate around a corner. I almost put us in the ditch.
He took in my troubled 17 year old daughter, who had experienced trauma and needed to complete high school in a different town. Who does that? Only a brother.
He loved his family. He loved his wife, who he would playfully summon from across the room by calling out: “Wench!” He opened up a general store in his community so that people had a place to get the things they needed without driving into town, half an hour away, although he barely made a living wage at it. He had the biggest heart on the planet. He would do anything for those he loved. He wanted to take care of everyone in need, all the time.
But he didn’t take enough care of himself.
He had been addicted to alcohol for a long time. His physical health was deteriorating; in his youth he was strong, fearless, and unstoppable. These days, walking around saying “My head hurts”, a result of his upper spine injury combined with years of rough living. He was suffering. He needed help. Doctors hadn’t found a way to do it yet. Our family was helping him get settled here close to us so we could all work on healing him together; finding better resources and medical care here.
We never got that chance.
The day he died I was at a yoga event, and we were chanting. We recited in Sanskrit: Lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu – may all beings be happy and free from suffering. We chanted the words from a song by Trevor Hall:
You can’t rush your healing
Darkness has its teachings
Love is never leaving
You can’t rush your healing
I had never heard it before; I felt moved but not touched by it. After all, everything in my life was fine. I was practicing with my most treasured teacher, and the next day I was leaving for another yoga event to start a ten-day vacation. Everything in my life was grooving along.
But then I got the phone call. And my world forever changed.
I miss you, my brother. I am besieged with regrets; could I have done more, done it sooner? Might I have stepped in and saved your precious beautiful life, cut too short at the age of 54? I can’t believe I will never hear your crazy messages on my voice mail again. I’ll never feel your bear hugs. I’ll never go to your house and find you watching “Second Hand Lions” or “The Kid” for the 100th time. You were going to teach me to make pizza. You were going to help me refinish my wood floors. I was going to finally talk you into doing some yoga with me. How can all that be gone?
I don’t know how to walk through this world that Eric is not a part of. How does someone live without a big brother? The task is insurmountable. How do people move on in life after a loss like this? Yet I know that they do, every day. I am not alone in this process. It’s a universal pain; we all must learn to deal with death and grief and pain. My brother isn’t suffering any more. He will get to throw a Frisbee for Jeremiah, the almost-mayor dog, at long last. My brother Eric is gone and the rest of us must keep going, although the world will never be the same without him. My grief will remain within me forever; a raw testament to how much we loved each other. Like an oyster forming a pearl around the irritation of loss, I will create a pearl inside my heat, a shining memory of one I loved so much and lost too soon.