Early this morning, I woke up at precisely the moment that marks six years since my brother was killed by a drunk driver. And I do mean precisely – even adjusting for the time zone difference between where I live and where he used to live. What it means, I don’t know. I didn’t even realize it at first. Frankly, I was annoyed at being awake so early. I prefer to be asleep for a little more of June 21 than that, because sleep is the most effective way to pass the time without thinking about what the day means. It took about an hour before the connection between my wake time and Frank occurred to me.
What can be said about this day, this loss, and my coping with it, six years later? Does it get easier? No, not really. But I’m more functional than I was during the first couple of years following Frank’s death. How can that be explained? Perhaps I have become more skilled at coping with it. Maybe I’ve gotten overloaded with other problems and priorities that have crowded my brain and decreased my ability to fixate on it. Could be some of both. If I try to get down to observable reality, what I come up with is the fact that I do handle it, one way or another.
Loss itself is, 99.9% of the time, out of our control. With or without warning, we are thrown into an alternative universe. There is no opting out. But then comes a barrage of choices. What to say and do as you move through those first days, weeks, months, and then years. How to manage your relationships. Whether to get help, and what kind, and when. How to remember and honor the person who died. And many, many more.
Amidst all these choices, one more factor remains out of our control – the date that marks the death of the person we love. Under certain circumstances we can avoid places, people, or activities that trigger us. I can choose not to drive past my brother’s former house, for example, or I can leave the photo albums on the shelf if I am not up for looking at what's inside them. However, no living person can avoid a date on the calendar. It comes up once every 365 days, and it lasts 24 hours like every other day, and to get to the next day requires a choice to travel through it somehow.
I choose to handle this day, although I’m not sure yet exactly how I am going to manage its hours and minutes and moments. I’ll figure that out as they pass, all the while keeping in mind that June 22 is right around the corner.