After losing a sibling, searching for the sinkhole

A few days ago, a friend passed along a link to an article on the Huffington Post called “When a Brother Dies,” by Judith Newton.

Ms. Newton says: “Even siblings we don’t see, who live differently from us, who move in their own world, may be shoring up our lives, our sense of family, our feeling of being at home in the world without our knowing it.”

Although my brother and I had a closer relationship than what she describes of her relationship with her brother, much of that quote rings true to me because of the nearly 2000 miles between my home and my brother’s. That physical distance necessitated that we moved in our own worlds and lived differently. It resulted in our not seeing each other more than once or twice a year.

As a matter of fact, when he died, I had not seen in him in eleven months. Although we had planned to get together at my parents over the December holidays, a combination of illness and blizzard conditions resulted in their not being able to make their way north. We thought to travel to Texas for Easter that following spring but Frank and his wife were going to be away the whole holiday weekend for a wedding, so we figured it wouldn’t make sense to come all that way and then not see them.

We were speaking and e-mailing frequently about my parents’ upcoming anniversary party and move to an apartment, work stuff, kid news, and so on, and for that I am grateful. But over the four years he lived in Texas, with the demands on both families of jobs and parenting and life in general, in-person visits were few and far between.

With this reality in mind, I had been perplexed for months about how I feel his absence constantly, in every location, at every event, at every moment. The pain made sense on holidays and special family days, or at events and places we have shared over the years. But why did I miss Frank at places where I never saw him? Why did I feel his loss at events that we never shared together? He wasn’t at my house more than three or four days a year since he moved – why did every room seem so empty?

Then I read Judith Newton’s piece and how her brother gave her a “feeling of being at home in the world” in a way she had not realized was happening. Suddenly I knew why I felt the sinkhole of his absence everywhere and all the time, even though he was not physically here everywhere and all the time. The sinkhole is in me. The sinkhole is everywhere I go, because my home in the world had Frank in it, and now it doesn’t.

I see now that this is one particular burden of a person who loses a sibling, especially a sibling close in age as we were, and especially when the loss comes in adulthood. Something that has been there since the beginning of your consciousness, that you expected to remain throughout your life, is suddenly pulled away. You are left trying not to fall into the sinkhole that is inside your own self, trying to find a way to trust anything anymore. It makes sense to me now, the fact that I took my brother for granted as I do trees, or the sun rising in the morning, or the changing of the seasons. His existence was a daily fact of my life in the exact same way.

I never conceived of a world without Frank in it. As a matter of fact, to me it makes as much sense for him to be gone as it would for the sun to stop coming up.

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