Just 3 weeks ago

Today it’s three weeks ago that my little brother was last alive.

It’s only 3 weeks.

Sometimes it seems like I’ve known this for ever, this awful, heavy fact, that my brother has died.  It’s a huge and awful shock all over again when I realise that only 3 Fridays ago, at this very time, he was probably sitting around after dinner, having a drink, perhaps watching tv or listening to music, and expecting to be alive for another 50 years or so – as you do when you are only 33.

To anyone casually reading this, who has never experienced the sudden death of a beloved sibling, you can’t imagine what an impact that thought has. If I allow myself to think about it, it causes me pain. To think that just 3 weeks ago he was happy and excitedly looking forward to taking up study, and didn’t know that when he went to bed that night he would never wake up again.

So when I say the words, “my brother died”, I am saying that he was alive, as he had always been, and then suddenly he wasn’t, and the shock of trying to come to terms with that is something I never imagined.

When someone dies, it seems that you start measuring time in a new way. For me, everything occurred either before John died, and reminds me of where he was and what he was doing then, or it has occurred since John died, and I’m saddened that time is taking me further and further away from the last moment when he was alive.

Who said that Time heals all wounds? If that is true – and I am cynical –  I think that Time doesn’t necessarily deserve a whole lot of thanks for that, because it’s Time that is to blame for the depth of the wounds in the first place. It’s Time that deepens the pain initially, by marching relentlessly on from the second that someone dies, so that even when you first hear those incomprehensible words, “John died,” and try to make sense of them, his death is already an event that occurred in the past. You are confused, trying to understand that this has already happened. And I didn’t know.

But even as you struggle to understand, Time marches on. It doesn’t compassionately stop to let you catch up. After that awful news, time becomes a blur, and your feelings are numb. At first you are not even upset, because you know that there must be some awful confusion between what has really happened and what  you understand people to be telling you. You lie awake all through the night, but next morning you hope that heavy, leaden feeling is the result of a bad dream. Apparently it’s not, though, because suddenly cards and flowers are arriving. In another moment, or so it seems, you are surrounded by people in black, watching a coffin being lowered into the ground – supposedly with your brother in it – and then before you know it, you are back at work, asking clients for technical specs, and crying when you leave the office to walk to the toilet.

And despite all of that, you are not yet able to think of your younger brother moseying towards you in that easy going way he had, cigarette in hand, cheeky grin on his face, beanie on his head, wearing his favourite brown Bonds jacket with the ripped sleeves that he wore everywhere, and reconcile that person – so alive, so real, and always there through the last 33 years of your life – with the person that everyone is saying has died.

I can’t comprehend that the John who has been a constant presence in my life, and who still exists in my mind (and heart) as strongly as ever, and the John that has supposedly died, are the same person. When, at sudden intervals, something cuts through my mind and, for a moment, I understand that fact , it is too painful to bear.

It can’t be you who died, can it, John?

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