Last night I went looking for her, the girl I was 9 years ago, the girl who lost her brother.
I re-activated my first Facebook ever. I remembered writing messages to Damon, while he sat unconscious in the ICU, because I didn’t know how else to talk to him.
Talking directly to him was weird, because he didn’t respond. So I wrote my messages through DM, for a little while.
I think I was looking for the familiar emotional hit. The hit of “poor me, this happened to me.” The hit of “Damon is gone.”
But it doesn’t hit me like it used to.
I mean, it still comes out of nowhere, at times. Last week Jordan and I watched a movie and it cut to a scene of a taller brother with his arm around his smaller sister, hugging her, laughing while they walked through the park in the dark. And I burst into tears all of a sudden, because I still miss him. I still grieve the loss of my brother.
But I think I wanted going back to feel dramatic. I wanted to feel sorry for myself, at that age. The girl who had to rush home from university, whose life went from happy to awful in the span of one day.
I think I have romanticized the hospital stay, in my mind, to make it feel better. I even romanticized the version of myself I was then: I was the strong one, the one who took care of everyone, and I stared out the windows at the snow and listened to my songs on repeat and told myself Damon would wake up.
But last night when I went back, back into my DMs from December 3rd, 2011, I didn’t see some impressive version of myself.
Instead I saw a girl who took on the identity of being strong because she didn’t know what else to do, what other role to play. She responded to every single message in full, even on the first day of the accident. She wrote “yes, this is so hard, here are all the details I know and you don’t, thanks for praying for us, we are staying positive and I think it’s working.”
She was in hard-core denial. She took on the role of knowing everything because that was what had gotten her through her life so far. She rescued everybody, as much as she could. She messaged her brother, alternating between saying funny things and then writing “I know you will wake up and I know I have the power to make you.”
Most of all, I realized, reading through her messages, she felt important.
I’m not discrediting that version of myself. Denial can be powerful in a moment like that – I don’t know if Damon would have lived if we weren’t in denial.
But when I went back, combing through memories – the cute respiratory therapist who brought me ice cream cake on his overnight shift, me refusing to leave the floor of the ICU for over a week, showering there, sleeping amidst the beeping machines, my grandmother saying how she couldn’t hear anything, making the family laugh – I didn’t feel the familiar pang, the familiar thing that’s sucked me back for every year prior to this one.
Last year I finally grieved. I felt like I was depressed. I was finally rooted in a place, not moving around constantly like I had for 8 years prior, I had moved in with Jordan in Vancouver and by all accounts should have been the happiest I ever was.
And I wasn’t. And I recognized the emotions were out of my range to hold on my own, so I started seeing a therapist.
She was the first therapist I’d ever seen who I couldn’t outsmart, really. She noticed everything, saw everything. She pointed out that our systems can’t really grieve when we’re constantly moving ourselves all over the place, adapting to new things. I had done a lot of work, but I hadn’t really ever let it land in my body, I just kept moving.
So last winter, I grieved. I spent months doing nothing, not working, just taking a pause from other aspects of life while I cooked and set up our apartment and hung out with Jordan and went to therapy and that was all. And I spent this entire year unwinding aspects of my family system, really looking at the roles I was playing and why, joining containers with people who could actually see me.
And this year it hasn’t come back, the familiar sadness that has pulled me down since then.
I’ve had those moments – I assume I will always have moments, where something triggers me and I remember I do not get my brother back. And I miss him, still. His larger-than-life presence, his gentleness, his love, his humor, his ridiculousness. I miss rolling around on the floor with him and my sister, stealing his socks, him trying to get them back. I miss our friendship. Drinking together and him worrying that mom would find out, how bad he was at keeping secrets and not getting in trouble. I miss how strong and touchy he was – wrapping his arms around me, always laughing at me.
The part that hurts is knowing I don’t get that. I don’t get the experience of getting older with my brother, seeing what he chose to do with his life, being able to call him and talk – I won’t ever get to have an equal relationship, in that way.
Damon lived. He has a traumatic brain injury, he lives with and is dependent on my mom, and he is a different, equally loved version of himself. His story is a long one, and incredible in its own right.
The accident woke me up. I do admire that, about my 19-year-old self, that she allowed that experience to fully break her life apart. That she questioned everything and kept going. Without knowing what the outcome would be, or what she was looking for. Just that she kept moving through it all, even the intense pain of the next few years, as her life crumbled over and over again.
For a long time the accident was my identity. Every person I met, I’d tell them the story of what happened to my brother.
I filled out the questionnaire for a workshop the other day and the last question said “anything else we should know?” and I remembered how I always used to write that, as the answer to that question. I used to let them know I had been through trauma, and that was the most important thing to know about me, because it was important.
That experience will always inform my life. And it is no longer me.
It is no longer an important thing you should know about me, I no longer feel important or special because I experienced it.
That is the freedom I feel today, I think. The understanding that no matter what happens in my life, it won’t become me.
I still miss my brother.
And I also have the deep, embodied knowing that anything can be moved through, alchemized, if we are willing to open to it.
If you liked this piece, you might also enjoy:
– Grief is not a thing we need to get rid of
– Self-created grief vs true grief
– When I was younger I used to go into the ocean and ask the ocean to take me away