Life, in sums

I’m a bit stuck, again. I’m wondering what the hell the point is, in writing anything here. Since my brother died suddenly, it feels as though it is pointless writing anything at all. It doesn’t matter what I write, he will still be dead.

Apparently. He will still be dead.

For a while there, I think I was holding out a secret hope that it wasn’t as final as what you hear.

And what can I say that I haven’t already said? I’ve already written about how I feel: the shock, the grief, the distress, the shock, all over again. The heightened awareness of time passing, the fixation on remembering times and dates of anything and everything that occurred before he died, the need to do endless calculations in my head about how old he was when I was doing this or that throughout my life. It feels like necessary work that my brain must do.

It’s almost as if I mistakenly think that if I work on all these various computations, I am going to come up with some calculation that will prove him to still be alive.

It’s a compulsion, the need to translate his life into dates, times, and segments of time. The other night, after walking past my old college in the city, I had a moment of revelation about just how long ago I was there – nearly 20 years ago! Of course the thought process that immediately followed was to work out how old John was then – about 15. And it struck me that he would have been nearly half way through his life at that point.

Well, of course then I had to work out exactly when the half way point of his life was. That night, I lay in bed and did multiplication and division, and came up with: October 1994. I would have been 25. He would have been 16. I was living in a shared household in Gore Street, Fitzroy. He still lived with my parents, having only left school the year before, and was in his first job. All that time ago, eons ago, it seems, he passed the half way mark of his life.

And, just as when he died, there was no sign, no voice, nothing to tell me, no clues that I should probably spend a little bit more time with my little brother because he was already into the second half of his life. Nothing to indicate that, already, he was heading down the home straight – that he had less time ahead than he had already lived.

But why do these things matter? What use are these meaningless computations? How does it help me now, to know when the halfway point in his life was?

It doesn’t. It’s of no obvious use.

Nevertheless, I sense that it’s a way to tackle that overwhelming sense of randomness I felt after his death. I fool myself that the mental work of turning his life into a neat timeline, upon which I overlay dates, and measurable segments of time, will ultimately reveal that there was a pattern, or will impose some kind of order onto how it all panned out. His life, that is.

In my mind, grasping to make sense of a new – and harsh – reality, perhaps I fool myself that all these statistics will compensate for the lack of any reason, or meaning, or prior warning, that might have assisted me to cope with him being so suddenly….dead.

My sister, who is proving to be full of astute observations, suggested that because words and emotions have proven to be totally inadequate in providing any comfort or reason, we turn to maths.

I think she is right, and in fact, after her observation I can see why obsessing over times and dates feels as if it has some purpose: at least with maths, you always get an answer.

In-between days

As I drove to work this morning, I wondered, how can the weather have become warm and sunny overnight? Surely it has been cold, rainy, and 14 degrees, for what feels like years – suddenly, or so it seems, today it is 27 degrees! Have I been in such a haze that I missed the in-between days? It seems possible. I’ve certainly been in a haze.

I don’t want it to be hot and sunny. I want it to remain a miserable cold and grey, I want to be stuck forever in the same climate, the same time of year as it was 10 weeks ago when I was told that my brother had died.

Somehow, the sudden sunny weather seems to make it all the more incongruous that my brother should be dead. I looked up at the blue sky as I pulled away from the lights, and the same sense of bafflement hit me yet again, as though it was the sunny day that made it so perplexing – where is my brother?

How can he have just “died”? How can all this time have passed, only to discover that apparently he is still “dead”?

For a while there, I think I was holding out hope that death was not as final as what you hear.

In an email, my sister said to me, ” …I can’t believe that some of my friends still don’t know that John died. For that matter,  I can’t believe that there are strangers who don’t know it. Sometimes I want to collar a person walking past and tell them, look, this is the reality of it….”

I have felt that way too. The first time I was out in public after his funeral was really difficult. People were swarming merrily all around me at Federation Square, and I was struggling not to blubber. I was conscious also, of an urge to tell people that I was grieving. Suddenly I understood why in other cultures, people wear mourning clothes, armbands, wail, keen – why they have all those rituals to let others know that they are grieving. I almost wanted someone to notice that I was struggling, and say, with concern, “what’s wrong?” – so I could blurt out all the emotional pain I was feeling.

I wanted these strangers to know that this person, such a constant presence in my life, and the make up of my world, had been suddenly torn out of it. I wished they could know John, and what a beautiful person he was, and feel the distress that I felt, that he was gone.

To be completely honest, I wanted to make them suffer like I was suffering. I wanted everyone to feel as bad as I did. People should stop strolling and chatting and feeling carefree – people in Federation Square, Melbourne, the whole world. No-one should ever again feel happy and carefree, because my brother has died, and what’s more, one day, this will happen to each of them too.

We all know that one day, it will happen to us – someone we love deeply will die. But until it does, it’s something you hear about that happens to other people. When you hear about it, you say, “oh, that’s really sad!”

When it happens to you, really sad does not come close to covering how it is.

It is devastating. It is shock, and numbness. It is a feeling of such immense stress that you are unable to think clearly. It is all the clichés that you’ve heard, made real: you feel weighted down, you feel like you are moving in slow motion. It is a sharp stabbing pain that makes you gasp when, occasionally, reality filters through and instead of the fact that sits numbly at the surface of your mind like a lesson it is learning, “my brother is dead, my brother is dead”,  you suddenly have a deep, strong, physical memory of him – not of him doing anything in particular, just of him, the person that you knew and loved  – and, in that same moment, you understand that he is gone.

That is when you sob, but I would not call that really sad. I would call that sorrow, despair, grief, devastation.

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?

Even the lino makes me think of you

If there is one thing I’m learning about grieving, it’s that anything and everything can make you think of the person you loved, who has died.

At the moment, anywhere I go, and just about anything that anyone says to me, has the potential to make me think of my brother. Example: my friend was talking about the lino on her kitchen floor – and I suddenly tuned out, remembering a house I’d lived in a few years ago, that had lino on the floor. John was alive when I lived there.

I hear a song from the past that has no particular significance to John, but I think, when this song was around, John was alive.

It happens all the time. Anywhere I go, I find myself thinking: he was alive when I was last here. I took my daughter to the Royal Children’s Hospital on Tuesday to have her neck brace removed, (see this post from 6 weeks ago).  I thought a million times: the last time I was here, John was alive.

I suppose at the hospital that thought was all the more poignant because when I was last there, I thought I’d been through the most stressful day possible already, having accompanied my 11 year old daughter as she was rushed to emergency in an ambulance.

If only. If only that was the worst thing that had happened in the last 4 weeks. I could remember standing at the reception desk and arranging the date on which we’d come back to have the neck brace off. I never imagined that when we came back in 6 weeks time, my brother would have died.

Of course I didn’t know, and wouldn’t have imagined it! Of course you cannot know when people are going to die, particularly when they die suddenly without any known cause. It would be unbearable if you did know.

But logic doesn’t stop the irrational thoughts and feelings that swarm through the heads of those that are left behind. I repeatedly follow the same line of thought, with the same conclusion: my brother was alive then (when I lived in Fitzroy/stayed in Sydney/last had him over for dinner/was sitting in a production meeting at work, at 4pm on Friday 9 Sept)…..and I didn’t know he was going to die – 12 years later, 4 months later, 3 weeks later, the next day.

But I couldn’t have known!  And I couldn’t have done anything to prevent it.

With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had gone around to his house on Friday 9th September and kept him up all night, thereby ensuring that he didn’t go to sleep, and therefore couldn’t pass away in his sleep. But there was no way anyone, not least John himself, suspected that any such thing was going to happen when he got a drink from the fridge, said goodnight to his housemate, who was also our younger brother, and went to bed.

And what if I’d somehow had an inkling that he would not be around much longer? What would I have done differently? Say, for example, on the last night I saw him, 3 weeks before he died, when he came around for dinner?

Well, maybe I would have made an effort to leave work early, instead of getting caught up as always, and running so late that my brothers had been at my house for a while when I finally got home. Maybe I would have imprinted every moment of that evening on my brain, and remember every word we said to one another, instead of only recalling in a general way some of the topics we talked about. Maybe I would have taken some photos of us together, and asked him to write me a letter, because those things would now be so precious to find. Maybe I would have stayed up for hours talking to him, instead of being tired and therefore not sorry when they left at about 10pm. Maybe I would have hugged him for longer – for a very, very long time in fact – before he went out my front door for the last time to get in a taxi. Maybe I would have said, “don’t take a taxi, I’ll drive you home! ”

Maybe I would have told him that I loved him.

Hanging Rock

Hanging Rock – I was there with John 2 years ago

And where do we go from here?

And where do we go from here?

Which is the way that’s clear?

Rock On, David Essex.

It’s pretty hard to know how to continue writing a blog, after the death of my much-loved brother. It’s hard to feel motivated to write, but then again, it’s hard to be motivated to do most things at the moment.

And if I go on writing this blog, what do I write about? I am unable to think about anything else at the moment, except the fact that apparently my beautiful brother has died.

I was already floundering at how to continue writing, after the death of my friend Dori. Dori was a good friend, and she used to read my blog and comment. On the other hand, my brother John never read my blog, nor even probably knew what a blog was. Nevertheless, after 33 years of being in my life, his absence leaves such a significant and painful hole in it, that I can’t proceed  without stopping to ask why I would even want to continue writing a blog at the moment.

I guess that the question for me is why do I write this and what do I get out of it? Do I think that there is anyone out there regularly reading my blog, not because they know me, but because they enjoy my writing? Not really. So I guess I am mostly writing it for myself.

Like all bloggers, I just enjoy writing. Writing helps me to reflect on life and shape my thoughts, and try to make some sense out of life – or find the nonsense in it, as the case may be. I enjoy trying to craft a piece of writing into the best piece of writing that I can, even though I know that most people only read it because they were searching for “air supply pictures,” or “slimy monsters”, found my blog, and will probably spend 60 seconds, if that, scanning a post to see if it’s what they are after, before they move on.  Even though I write it for my own satisfaction, or need, I enjoy the challenge of trying to write the best piece of writing that I can, for that casual, one-time reader.

So I’d like to be able to go on with it.

I’ve never felt such a need to try and make sense out of my thoughts, which at the moment, spiral wildly around, trying to find meaning where there is none, grasping to find reasons where none exist. At the same time, I know that is a fruitless task, that there is no sense to be made out of the untimely death of someone I loved, no matter how much I may reflect on it or write about it.

After all of that, though, I’m not going to write anything about John, not  just yet anyway. I am reluctant to try and sum him up, and loathe to even begin to talk about how I feel when I remind myself yet again, that he is gone. Apparently I will never see him again – that is what I am supposed to understand.

So this is where I will leave it, for now. In some other more flippant time, I might have noted that, just like a character in a Beckett play, having thought it through and  determined that I will go on, I’m going to stop.

O brother, where art thou?

Sometimes it is hard, that’s true….but other times it is unendurable.

The last post I wrote on this blog was about a good friend who had just died, and how I’d never experienced the shock and grief of having someone close to me die before.  10 days after I wrote that post, my younger brother died in his sleep.

So in that short period I have gone from having no experience of grief, to become a person who is far too familiar with grieving. I admit, I never understood before how unbearable it feels.

I  just had to proof an image of my brother for a funeral program. Over his photo is superimposed the years of his birth and death, 1978 -2011. Seeing that, I felt almost as much shock and disbelief as when I was first told that he had died. I can’t look at it. Inside my head, I am screaming in shock. Something is not right here!!!  This must be a mistake. He must be still alive. I can’t bear the thought that I will never see him again. Bear it? I refuse to accept that it’s true.

He was only 33. He was healthy and well. His life was good – he had moved into a better rental house, he loved his work as a personal care attendant,  and he was due to start training as a Registered Nurse on Monday.

He ate dinner with our youngest brother last Friday night, had a few drinks, and went to bed. He never woke up.

We don’t know why. All we know at this stage – if you can even use the word “know” in reference to death – is that he died overnight. He looked as if he’d died peacefully in his sleep.

Sometimes there is nothing you can say that can convey how you feel. This is one of those times.

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