Anniversaries are an odd thing. They remind us to remember something or someone. Sometimes it is something good: a wedding, a birth, a day we fell in love. Other times they are a reminder of a tragic event: a death, an accident, or a crisis. Do you remember the day you got married with sweet fondness? Or perhaps, if you are divorced, that date sticks in your head as a more important one (for me it does!) Does the date September eleventh cause you to pause and think of the day our country was thrust into a turmoil that it has yet to recover from? Or do you have a date that is special only to you and a handful of others, like the date that a loved one passed?
For me, today is one such day. It has been a year since the death of my beloved brother. He died suddenly and unexpectedly. No time to say goodbye, no time to listen to one more of his dumb jokes and pretend to find it funny, or watch a movie with him for the umpteenth time and watch tears leak out of his sentimental eyes.
We never know when it is the last time we will see someone we love (or for that matter, someone we don’t, but I think that counts less.) It’s difficult to understand that, to be fully in the moment with every person we connect with. But since Eric’s death, I have tried.
The anniversary of his death is a visceral thing to me. I can relive everything about it. I was in Boulder at a yoga festival, blissed out from my head to my toes after an hour of chanting. I had practiced with my favorite teacher three times in three days. I was alight with love and peace and a deep serenity. Then the cell phone in my yoga bag vibrated; I got a phone call from my daughter, who was with my brother and found him dead that morning. It was like falling down an elevator shaft. I left the festival, blinking in the sunshine. How could it be sunny? How could people be roaming about in their cute yoga clothes, laughing, doing handstands? Dark grey clouds had closed in on my soul; it seemed incongruous that the world could still function, that there were birds, flowers, trees, and smiles all around me. I don’t know how I drove to my sister-in-law’s house; I’m not sure how I told her. And my parents. And my younger sister. All I know is that we all got through it somehow. We had no choice.
Grief is a funny thing. It’s different for each person. It’s personal, and it can be both anguishing and cathartic. Death is an essential part of life and we are all headed there eventually.
Marking a death with an anniversary is honoring the spirit of the loved one we lost. But is there a lesson to be learned, beyond the initial impact of the life and death of Eric’s treasured spirit? Death has been referred to as a veil, a thin curtain that separates the living in this concrete world from the spirits in the ethereal world. But do those spirits ever really leave us? I think not. I can still benefit from my brother’s presence, his belief in me, his love, his strength, tenacity, and humor. That didn’t go away.
So on this, the first anniversary of my brother’s death, I will help the rest of my family celebrate his life. Joy and sorrow are two sides of the same coin, for if he had not been so loved, we would not miss him so.