For several days now I’ve had this stomach ache. You know the kind that sits in the center of your belly like a tight knot of worry and dread? After Phil, my big brother, died, I had that stomach ache nearly every weekend for a year. Our family saw him for the last time on a Sunday morning and he died that afternoon. So each weekend afterwards I would relive that day over and over. I would take walks alone so I wouldn’t cry in front of my husband and son. I would stand a quarter of a mile away from my house and sob on the side of the road. It happened so many times that I still tear up occasionally when I walk that hill because my body expects to cry.
And now it’s that day once again. July 23rd. I hate this day. A good friend has a birthday today and I don’t think I’ll ever be able to celebrate with her on this date. My life and my family’s lives were so torn apart that day. And no matter how much I work through the grief and keep putting one foot in front of the other, my life will never, ever be the same. As much love and kindness as I get from my friends and family, there will always be this gap in my life and this bit of unreachable joy because Phil isn’t here to make us laugh or to tell stories or to just be here. To just be.
There’s also this little bit of guilt that I’ve been hanging on to and I don’t know what to do with it. While my brother was in the hospital, his partner and I went to talk to him to basically convince him that it was ok to die. It was ok to say he had enough. Once he made that decision, the bravest thing I’ve ever seen by the way, he couldn’t look me in the face. I held his hand and cried on his bed, then I left. We went back to the room where my sister, mother and doctors were sitting and told him that he was ready to “go.” Then everyone went back to Phil’s bed to say goodbye.
But I didn’t. I told my sister I had said goodbye and had already told him I loved him and it was their turn to have time with him. But why didn’t I go back? Why didn’t I take one more look at him and touch him and say “I love you” one more time?
I remember telling my sister to tell Phil that Dad loved him because our dad didn’t come. He just couldn’t. And I didn’t want to be too selfish and take more time with Phil than the others….but I also think I was afraid he wouldn’t be able to look at me again. I *was* being selfish. I should have gone back into that room one more time, no matter if he could look at me or not. I should have spent every imaginable second I could with him.
But I didn’t.
And I deeply, deeply regret that.
So now I go on. I try to remember the great times we had, the laughs, the stories, the hugs and the so many “I love you”s. I will talk out loud to Phil when I need him and imagine him talking back. Tonight my sister and I will toast our favorite brother and tell those stories and laugh and hug and say “I love you”.
And we will keep putting one foot in front of the other.