Building a Better Bloke

O brother where art thou?

Posted in Death, Philosophy by Sam de Brito on November 18, 2009

By The Ginger

Those of you who read my previous post on this matter may have picked up on a line about my brother’s death earlier this year.

He was 19 years old and killed in a car crash in January, and since then my family and I have spent a lot of time wondering how exactly you adapt to something so fundamentally life-changing.

My own tactic has been to downplay it, joke about it, act tough, because a lot of the time I don’t feel anything – there’s a sense of loss, sure, but it’s distant enough that I can examine it fairly dispassionately (either that or I’m just kidding myself and I’ll be in therapy with rope burns around my neck in 10 years time) …

Scarily, it wasn’t always an act; there were times that I was a little disgusted at how easily I seemed to be dealing with it all, when everybody around me was going to pieces.

I mentioned this in one of my drunker moments to a mate, comparing it to the situation of a mutual acquaintance of ours who lost her fiance not long ago to leukemia. I wondered why her emotion always seemed so raw and fresh, so real, whereas half the time I felt like I was just going through the motions.

He inhaled the last of his beer, shrugged and said “There’s a pretty big difference – you lost your past, she lost her future.”

I can’t remember truer words ever being spoken to me at the bar without the phrase “not if you were the last guy on earth” being included.

It sounds harsh to think of it in these terms, but many of us move on from our birth families – we get out and test our arm in the world, decide we like being out on our own, and then find somebody else and decide we like being with them even better.

My brother’s girlfriend was and is far more shaken about his demise than I was, because she could envision a future with him, and when he was gone, all those plans were sucked into the blank emptiness he left behind.

One day, I hope, he will become part of her past as well, instead of a horrible half-sized present and a future that will never be, and she’ll be able to remember him with love and move on.

This, I believe, is also part of the reason the hardest thing in the world for a parent to do is to bury their child. When they do, they’re burying their best and most cherished work, their gift to the years to come.

The obvious issues of love and affection aside, a child’s death (and we’re all children to somebody) must be gut-wrenching beyond a sense of loss. In a sense, parents become a part of their own past when they have children, and begin living for their kids, laying away the person they were forever.

To lose somebody who is that much the focus of your life – a child, a lover, a spouse – must leave you with, as much as anything else, a terrible sense of futility.

Will I love again? Will I forget them? Will I recover? Do I want to?

The last question is particularly pertinent for me. Both my parents have expressed a desire to “never stop hurting” because the more immediate the pain, the closer their lost son is to them.

And who knows? That might be the right answer.

I think people kid themselves when they believe time heals all wounds. Time can build scabs, maybe, or scar tissue. But for those people who have lost their future, time is a curse, not a healer.

They drown in the hours of their life half-lived, the long, empty moments without somebody laughing beside them, the endless nights alone in bed, those months that should have you planning your daughter’s wedding, or the cramped, nervous minutes writing a speech for the 21st your son will never get to have.

So many things. So much time.

How can they go on?

The Ginger is a guy who can’t list any accomplishments of note, but that doesn’t stop him trying, particularly after six beers.

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15 Responses

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  1. The General said, on November 18, 2009 at 9:56 pm

    I don’t know if I can say I feel similar but I think I have.

    My Nanna died on Christmas eve in 2002. We were going up to her in Brisbane from a long way away on Boxing Day. I read a passage at her funeral. She was the only grandparent I’d ever known well.

    Cutting to the point – her son, my Dad, didn’t cry. I barely did and even though I loved her and loved talking to her I don’t think about the loss too often.

    Like Sam’s post on AMAL today, maybe I’m being pragmatic. I know I can’t dwell on it forever.

  2. rokiroo said, on November 18, 2009 at 11:57 pm

    thank you ‘the ginger’. i think youve helped me work out why i wasnt nearly so devasted by my fathers death as my mother was.

    the words “a lot of the time I don’t feel anything – [but] there’s a sense of loss”, really resonated with me. my dads death definitely had an effect on me, but it didnt devaste me as it did (and still does) to my mum. your article really has given me an answer as to why.

    thanks again.

  3. Girl_Reader said, on November 19, 2009 at 12:23 pm

    Ginger, a beautiful post. When my dad died, I felt hugely responsible for my mother who felt guilty about the idea of a life for herself. I think this is what your parents are going through now. It took a couple of years for this idea to pass (and was frustrating to my sister and I) but now 5 years on, she has found herself again and is making plans for travel, a new man and a new house. It takes time, but they’ll get there (as will you). It’s a cliche, but time heals all wounds.

  4. Jurgen Halle said, on November 19, 2009 at 1:01 pm

    Thought-provoking.

  5. MEN said, on November 19, 2009 at 6:22 pm

    Your post has hit a raw nerve by putting into words what I have been feeling since mid 2007, when my wife and I lost our first baby. She was perfect to us, and as you put it, our best work and future. Unfortunately she was not long for this world, which left us broken hearted. We mourned not only the loss of our child but also the loss of the future we had dreamed of with her.

    We have since had another little girl who turns 1 this week and she has brought us so much joy and happiness. Ironically, if our first daughter didn’t die, we wouldn’t have our second daughter now. However all the happiness she brings still does not take away the pain and sense of loss that still remains and gets uncovered on occassions like today. But that’s OK, I’m a big boy and can handle it!

    All you can do to stop yourself getting tied up in knots and depressed about it is to count your blessings, accept the hand which has been dealt to you and get on with making life as good as it can be!

  6. Another Girl Reader said, on November 19, 2009 at 7:30 pm

    In my experience, whenever someone I love has died, the grief I’ve felt has been different each time. That’s because each relationship was unique.

    Ginger, years after my dad died, my mum told me “You never get over it, but over time you learn to live with it”. I hope this is the case for everyone who loved your brother.

    Also, there is no set rule about how people “should” grieve, it’s a deeply personal thing to experience and work through. It’s important to keep an eye on those sufferering, though, in case they clearly aren’t coping with the basics of living, and get them proffessional help.

  7. Stuart said, on November 23, 2009 at 8:44 am

    Wow. What an amazing post.

    Reminds my of a quote from Gregory Peck (I think) who unfortunately lost one of his sons though suicide. Asked years later if he still thought about his son every day, he replied, “not every day, every hour of every day”

  8. IndMike said, on November 23, 2009 at 2:34 pm

    “This too shall pass”

  9. Fel said, on November 25, 2009 at 6:20 pm

    Fantastic post.

  10. Mikey said, on December 2, 2009 at 12:29 am

    Nice one Ginger,

    Sunday would have been my youngest child’s 21st birthday. She was a beautiful baby, born ten weeks early and then cruelly dying of SIDS at seven and a half months. This followed the earlier death of my second child a boy. Is this the cruelest thing that can happen to a parent? Don’t know, but I don’t want to find out. Unfortunately her death cost me my wife, my home the ‘best years of my life’, the daily pleasure of watching my two other children grow up and the happy, fulfilling future I had imagined and was well on the way to achieving. I’ve been lost in the guilt, anger and the apparent futility of life ever since.

    I have recently turned fifty and being the Bogan I am (earlier topic) I have spent countless hours attending self improvement seminars (including Sams) and learning NLP, Power of Positive thinking etc. Guess what? My life has turned around. I have regained my Mojo and now fully believe the best is in front of me. I now consider myself a lucky man as I have two fantastic adult children who I have a great relationship with and most importantly a future. Pity it took me twenty years but I couldn’t allow myself untill recently.

    Wherever your grief takes you or whatever you feel, accept it for what it is. Don’t be embarrassed by your feelings or lack their of. If it gets to hard seek help.

    I love your optimism MEN and wish you all the best for the future.

  11. Mekay said, on December 5, 2009 at 1:14 am

    I follow with the words I wrote drunkenly at the death of my beloved family cat who stirred my thoughts of my grandmother who died a few years ago:

    On Loss

    The sorriest element of the human condition is our subjectivity to loss and it’s effects upon us. No emotion is less understood nor less encouraged that that which we feel with the loss of that which we hold dear. It is our place to fall into despair and yet also to rise as before and live on in memory though without that which we desire to return. We pine and muse and fall to our knees on grief yet we shall once again stand steady and continue on as before ignoring the absence of that which we are previously accustomed. Despite this we shall always remember and yearn for our loss.

  12. sunny said, on December 9, 2009 at 12:28 am

    What an amazing post.
    I lost my mum a couple of years ago and there is a big unfillable hole in my life.
    I had a baby girl this year… and if something happened to her, I wouldn’t want to even live anymore.
    And I’m having another next year… and it scares the crap out of me… because if something happens to either one, the existence of the other one means I can’t even take ‘the easy way out’.
    I have never been so terrified of the world and it’s horrors as I have been since having kids.

  13. Mike said, on December 12, 2009 at 1:04 am

    Sunny,

    Relax, take a deep breath and enjoy what you have. The world is a beautiful place, even more so with your daughter in it.

    Enjoy.

  14. LivingAlone said, on January 27, 2010 at 3:33 pm

    Beautifully articulated

  15. cjmarley said, on February 9, 2010 at 3:29 am

    You are so dead on. Time does NOT heal all wounds. They scab over and we pick at them incessantly. They eventually become scars that we learn to live with. I lost my future when my husband died. All the plans, dreams and hopes we had were gone in the blink of an eye. When everything you plan for is suddenly gone you are left twisting and turning in a churning ocean of grief and despair trying to just barely keep your head above water. And even when down the road you find someone else to share your life with…the pain is still there. I’ve lost loved ones before but none of them could compare to the grief I felt at losing the man I had planned on growing old with.


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