I will love the light for it shows me the way, yet I will endure the darkness because it shows me the stars. – Og Mandino
September 15 is the anniversary of the death of my brother, Michael. It has been 8 years since we lost him. 8 years is a long time and so much happens in 8 years. Little boys grow into men and then head off to begin their own lives in new cities, new countries, with others, with careers, with vision and passion. We ourselves grow older, change lives, change jobs, change cities, begin anew with adventure, dreams, aplomb. We take on new tasks, new challenges that we would never have imagined 8 years ago that we could master. But we do.
And 8 years is a long time to mourn someone, miss them. Each year they slip a little bit further into the hazy distance and we realize that we do have moments when we don’t think of them. Not many, but they are there. And it is frightening. We are terrified of losing them completely and we strive harder and harder to hold on, our responsibility. If we are very lucky, we receive the gift of old super-8 films taken many moons ago and we watch them, now magically transformed for the computer, and we see them, watch them move, hear their voices, own them for a few fleeting moments. They are back. And if we are very lucky, we have a child who somehow mirrors the lost loved one, and we hear his voice and see his movements in our child and get to keep the lost one close to us for another generation.
Scrolling back through my old blog, old blog posts, I came upon this one that I wrote in 2011 and have decided to repost it because the feelings, the sentiments are the same.
For some, life is divided into pre-9/11 and post-9/11. For others, pre-Katrina and post-Katrina defines their world and dots their conversation. In my own private world, everything changed the day my brother died.
10 years since 9/11, 6 years since Katrina, just 2 years since ALS, Lou Gehrig’s Disease, took my brother from me and tipped my world askew. Tragedy and disaster come to each of us in ways both large and small and split our life in two. Before and after are the only words we find to give expression to the pain, articulate how the sadness and loss fill our days and nights, communicate our incomprehension. As I sat and watched images of the families of those who died on 9/11 collapse into tears even ten years later, all that I felt bubbled up uncontrollably to the surface and I understood how they felt. The wound remains fresh and bleeding, a gaping hole filled with hurt and memories.
And we hold on even as we counsel ourselves and each other that time will heal the pain and we will move on. We revisit the memories, coax up the answers to Where were you when? and What were you doing when? We may feel guilty for letting go, feel a responsibility to those whom we lost. We analyze over and over, relive the moments before, during and after again and again, wondering if we could have, should have done things differently, helped more, been aware of the signs, taken precautions or been there to hold someone’s hand. And maybe we are simply afraid to let go, fear the forgetting. We dread the moment we forget the sound of their voice, the touch of their hand, as their laughter fades into wind and we mourn the loss of childhood memories one by one. And so we turn back and hold on in as tight a grip as possible.
August melts into September and autumn appears on the distant horizon. I wait for the magic of leaves turning to gold and ruby, the gentle kiss of the breeze cool against my skin and the dipping of the sun leaving a burning pink smear of illumination across the late afternoon sky as it does this time of year. Images of Katrina splash across my television screen for days, weeks then quickly metamorphose into billowing puffs of smoke framing streaks of silver against pale blue, searing heat orange and black to a soundtrack of fear. Leaving, now, as quickly as it arrived, reliving the past, honoring the heroes and wondering how these tragedies changed our lives. Are we stronger, more confident in our purpose, more determined to live each day to the fullest? Or are we wary of the world, feeling betrayed and confused, angry that something or someone, that our dream was taken away from us? We deplore the loss of our own wide-eyed innocence, that magical part of our life, the end of childhood.
I often think about what purpose serves a food blog and what is “permissible” to write about. Am I limited to talking only about food and restricted to discussing why I baked this dish or that cake? Pretty photos of farmer’s markets and mouthwatering images of rich desserts framed by a flawless life, laid out to perfection on a picnic table strewn with rose petals and cheer are certainly what we aim for, titillating the tastebuds and teasing the imagination, inviting each and every reader into an always-warm, cozy kitchen or out for a exciting voyage. But what do we do with the sadness and hurt, the destruction and the failure? How do we share the unsavory events of a life while passing out plates of sweets? Do we treat our readers as friends or as simply clients come to have a good time?
Should my life be an open book with all the ups and downs, the successes and failures, the dilemmas, tragedies and loss nestled in a cozy embrace with the sweet memories and happy times? Or should I portray a perfect, fairytale life where my sons are always delightful, my husband always loving, my kitchen always clean, and my world always utopian? Shall we stand at the door of each and every 9/11 or those last few days of a dark and watery August and only talk of hopes and dreams, the blessings that we count every day or do we ponder the destruction, commemorate the heroic and cry over the dead? I find it incomprehensible that some can smile and look on the bright side without understanding the dark events of a lifetime. Contentment is often born of anger, happiness delivered on a bed of misery and loss. That perfect romantic dream, that ideal home and family is illusory. We are all just a little broken somewhere, and I love my friends who don’t try and hide their faults or their scars, who, like me, laugh at their own foibles and live their honesty on their sleeves.
Joy and love fill my life, touch it every day, yet that life is truly incomplete without the sadness that allows me to appreciate how wonderful the happiness is. And that sadness, the deep, dark hurt, is a necessary part of life in order to hold onto those we love long after they have passed away from us.
As I stood over my brother’s grave, brushed wisps of dead grass off the headstone, as I measured the footsteps between him and our father lying under a similar square of bronze, I thought about what I owe him, not only my responsibility to keep his memory alive but all that he had done for me in my life, his never-ending support and encouragement, his laughter and his jokes, his wisdom and guidance. I weep in sadness and clench my fists in anger at the injustice of it all, and know that before and after shape my every day, pepper my thoughts and color my world in shades of soothing pink to steely gray. September 15 comes but once a year yet I mourn his passing, my loss, every single day. We remember so we never forget.
The walls we build around us to keep the sadness out also keep out the joy.
– Jim Rohn