16 Months

This is my favorite time of year. My tree is already up, the interior of my house is decorated with a mixture of fall leaves and turkeys and snowmen, and tomorrow I’ll put a few lights up outside. I listened to Christmas carols this evening and have already started watching holiday films. Typically, this is how I am from November 1st through January 1st. I love all of this stuff. But this year, I may be forcing it just a bit. I’m trying like hell to get into the spirit of the season.

This is Holiday Season number two without my brother. On Black Friday it will be 16 months since Phil died.  As I decorated my home last week, I didn’t cry as much as I did last year. This year I laughed as I put up the X-rated Christmas ornament he gave me years ago (two reindeer getting down and dirty) and just sighed as I put his picture on the front of the tree. But today as I shopped a bit for the holiday, I kept finding things I would buy my brother. I would pick something up then just shake my head and put it down again. But I held it together and all was ok.

Then I went to the grocery store. I was feeling good,  humming the new Panic! At the Disco song (High Hopes–a very fun, jump up and down song). I had my cart nearly full with food for Thanksgiving dinner, when I passed by the snack aisle. I wish I knew what I saw or heard or thought, but the realization that my brother was no longer on this planet immediately overwhelmed me. I lost my breath, hunched over my cart, and pulled to the side of the canned vegetable aisle.  I refused to sob in the middle of the store, so I left my cart for a moment and started to wander down the aisle, taking in deep breaths.

And then I saw it.

FREE WINE TASTING.

I am not a person who believes in signs or religion or the afterlife. BUT, if any of that shit is real, then I was confident my brother sent me a sign to go and drink whatever free wine I could. “Drink up, you lush,” I can imagine him saying. Especially when I saw the label:

freakshow

That’s right, people. Freakshow wine! If you knew my brother, you knew how much he loved a good freak show. Weird? Yes. But that was Phil. He was so fucking weird and funny and loveable. And I still wish like hell he was here.

The wine was not fabulous, although the one with elephants on it was pretty good, but I didn’t buy any. It was enough to get a little buzz (especially since I had an empty stomach). I finished the rest of my shopping feeling a bit more relaxed and no tears were shed. I thought about Phil off and on for the rest of the day–as I visited with Mom at the home where she has photos of all of our family around her room, and when I went to the Feztival of Trees where I saw someone dressed as Super Grover. (He was one of Phil’s favorite Sesame Street characters.)

supergrover

I’ve come to realize that everything I do for the rest of my life will always have this little twinge of sadness in it. And sometimes I’ll be able to handle it just fine. Like today. And other times I know the grief will be too much and I’ll need to shut down for a bit, even for just a minute. Also like today. Time does NOT heal all wounds, but maybe time will allow me to know when to put a bandage on that bleeding festering gash in my heart and keep going, and when to let the blood (and tears) run dry.

Let your freak flag fly high, my friends. Cheers to you. ❤

 

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Adulting

My 11-year-old son has recently asked for cooking lessons from my husband and I. We’ve tried to get him to cook or bake for his entire childhood, but he’s had little interest until now. We’ve done pasta and scrambled eggs and even a basic frozen pizza so he can conquer his fear of the oven. We had a little lesson on laundry, too, or at least how to work the washer and dryer, but that will take some more time.

All of this got me thinking about the term “adulting.” I will tell you right now that I despise the word.  It’s just some cute, irritating word someone thought up that just means basic life skills that someone should have taught you years ago. (And yes, I realize it can mean more than that, like buying your first appliance, but since I have been a responsible adult since the age of 7, the word just bites my ass.)

adultingSo…if creating a budget or balancing your checkbook (am I the only one who still does that?) is “adulting,” then what have I been doing these past few years? If that crap is adulting, what is taking care of your son and working full-time and attempting to navigate the healthcare system for your dementia and diabetes-ridden mother and now taking turns with your family to be with your father who can no longer be left alone?  And what about trying to maintain healthy and fulfilling relationships, including one with yourself?

Is this “Middle-ageing”? Being a member of the Sandwich Generation Club? Or maybe just Life?

I had a little meltdown a few weeks ago, just feeling tremendously overwhelmed with these responsibilities that I did not and still do not feel prepared for. I might have even stomped my foot. But with tears in my eyes, both my husband and I just started to laugh. I mean, what else can you friggin’ do? I can cry you and every other human being on the planet a river, but laughing is something I don’t do enough of these days. My brother was the one who made me laugh the most.  I need and want him here more than ever. But I guess that’s one reason why I can cry you a river, right? Maybe I wouldn’t feel so overwhelmed if he were here. Or maybe I’d just feel like ME again.

And that’s what I’m really trying to do. I’m trying to figure out who I am without my brother. I can’t be whole again, that I know for a fact. But I should be able to piece me together somewhat. There are facets of me that still exist–a runner (even though I’m currently sidelined with an injury), a librarian, a reader, a writer, a mom, a wife, a friend, a daughter and a sister. I am a FBG (Former Big Girl) on the outside but a Forever Big Girl on the inside. I’m mostly kind and generous but fiercely protective of my family. I am often brutally honest but sometimes not honest enough, especially to myself.

Maybe adulting is just another term for growing up. Maturing. Finding your way in the world. And many of us, even at age 45, are still trying to figure that out.

 

 

It’s Just a Car

For a year now, my brother’s car has been sitting in the driveway of the home he shared with his partner of 24 years. Their house is 3 miles from mine. I used to think how weird it was that Phil’s car was sitting there, but Phil wouldn’t be sitting in his house. Why did we have the car but not him?

But now, the car is gone. It was time. I understand that. I know it was hard for my brother-in-law to keep the car as long as he did, and also how hard it was for him to have the car removed. Yet as odd as it was to have Phil’s car sitting there, reminding us all of what was missing, not seeing his car today broke me.

I knew the car wouldn’t be there, my brother-in-law told me. I drove to his house to drop off some veggies and to pick up a possible replacement hammock for our stand and I parked beside the empty spot where the car used to be. I couldn’t park in the same spot, that would be wrong. Larry and I chatted for a few minutes, then he put the rolled up hammock, my brother’s hammock, in the back seat of my car. As I drove home, I started to cry. I was sobbing by the time I reached my house, so I sat in my car in my driveway and let it all out. I think I missed my brother more in that moment than I have in over a year.

It’s silly, I know. It’s just a damn car. A car that didn’t even run anymore. But it was Phil’s car and he sat in it and drove it and drove me around and drove my son around. We laughed in that car and he forced me to listen to whatever music he liked at the time in that car. And although I didn’t want the car and am glad that it gave my brother-in-law some peace, it made me feel like I lost Phil all over again. And as I sobbed in my car, I just wanted to feel close to my brother again.

You hear people say that they would do just about anything to talk to their loved one again. I thought I understood what people meant.

But I really didn’t. Until now.

So through my sobs and sniffling, I talked to my brother out loud and told him that I missed him and that I loved him and how I wished he was still here. Then I scrounged through my glove box and found a napkin to blow my nose on (always classy, right Phil?).

When I was finally ready to go inside, I dragged the hammock from my back seat. I placed it on my porch, where it still is, waiting for a little clean up. I am hoping it will fit our stand so I can lay in it and read and enjoy a few good moments.

Just like my big brother once did.

hammock

525,600 minutes

For the past few weeks, the song “Seasons of Love” from the Broadway play Rent, has been going through my head. My brother introduced me to the soundtrack in the mid-1990s. I don’t know where he originally heard it, but he told me the basic story and I fell in love with the music. This song, in particular, gets me very emotional. It always has, but today even more so. “How do you measure a year? In daylights, in sunsets, in midnights, in cups of coffee, in inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife.”

Tomorrow is the one-year anniversary of my brother’s death. It will be the end of our year of “firsts.” Our first Thanksgiving and Christmas without him. Seeing the latest Star Wars and Marvel movies without him and wondering what he would have thought. Our first set of all the kids’ birthday parties without him.  Viewing the Oscars and crying so much my eyes nearly swelled shut. Watching Phil’s 50th birthday come and go and not know what to do.

It’s been a rough year. A really shitty one, in fact. I still don’t know how to navigate the world with the knowledge that my brother isn’t somewhere on this planet. I tried counseling briefly, but the person was really bad at grief counseling. She was good at helping me with stress, but I need to find someone who just deals with grief if I’m ever going to go back to counseling. And to be completely honest? I’m afraid to do that. In my crazy-ass mind, I think if I go to grief counseling and they help me function better, it means that my brother is really gone. That’s why I still have some of my brother’s ashes in a pill bottle because I can’t bring myself to scatter them or even to put them in something more permanent. Because then he’s really gone.

Can that really be?

Can he really be gone forever? But forever is so damned long. Am I really supposed to go through the rest of my life without Phil around? Without his teasing or his funny stories or his love?

“How do you measure the life of a woman or a man? In truths that she learned or in times that he cried, in bridges he burned or the way that she died?”

Each and every person in our family will tell you that they have changed since last July 23rd.  How can we not? When a person you love makes your life better, when they’re gone it can only make it emptier. Since I last saw my brother, there is a dead spot inside of me.  There’s this emptiness, this pit I can physically feel deep inside of my chest. Not enough food, alcohol or drugs could possibly fill this hole. It cannot be filled. I know that now.  So what to do?
I guess we just keep talking about Phil, don’t we? We keep telling stories about him, share his writing, show photos of him and laugh about the funny things he would say. Some folks probably didn’t think that Phil had a censor in his brain since he typically said whatever the hell he wanted. In fact, he knew EXACTLY what he was saying and looked forward to the reaction. He was an asshole that way, and I absolutely loved it. But he was also a super sweet man who loved fiercely.  After the birth of each of his nieces and nephews, he was at the hospital to be one of the first to hold them. He helped bury my son’s kitty cat and held my boy as he grieved.  And Phil was always there to listen whenever I needed him to. He was the best brother I could have ever had.

 

And I miss him. I miss him terribly. That is one thing that will never change.

“It’s time now to sing out tho’ the story never ends…..Remember the love, measure in love. Measure, measure your life in love. Seasons of love

 

 

To Smile or Not to Smile

Tonight, at a library function, I met someone that knew my brother. After we were introduced, she tilted her head slightly and with a big-ass smile on her face she said, “Your brother passed away last year, right?” She was still smiling. WHY THE FUCK WAS SHE SMILING?!?  I wanted to rip her throat out. If I had the strength, I would have taken my bare hands and ripped her mouth from her face. But I think I was too shocked to completely register my anger.  Why…what…why was she smiling? Really. Please tell me. Instead of scarring her for life, I quietly answered, without a smile on my face, “Yes. Yes he did.” She proceeded to tell me how she knew him and talked about the little dog that lived in my brother’s house but I could still only think about murdering her.

gold-mask-smiling

Has enough time passed that I’m supposed to be ok with someone asking about my brother’s death with a goddamned smile on their face?!? Am I EVER supposed to be ok with this? Because I can assure you that I am not nor ever will be ok with a fucking smile on your face when you ask about my brother or his death.  Losing him was the worst thing to ever happen to me and it has changed who I am. I miss him every damned day. I no longer have that person in my life who will recommend books, movies, and music to me and knows what I’ll like or hate, and will recommend shit I hate anyway. He’d do it just to push my limits but in a way that ended up opening my world just a little bit more. He was that person that made me laugh about things that you probably shouldn’t, but you know you can because it’s ok with him. He was the fucking life and laughter of our family and now he’s gone.

Forever.

So if someone asks you, “Do you smile when you ask about the large black hole in someone’s chest or that limb that they’re missing?”

The correct answer is NO.

Birthdays

Tomorrow is my birthday. My first without my brother. One week from today should have been his 50th. This weekend we would have had a family party to celebrate our birthdays along with our dad’s birthday and Father’s Day, just like we’ve done for over 10 years. Phil and I have been celebrating our birthdays together for most of our lives. That’s what siblings do when their birthdays are 6 days apart.

So this year? No family party. I have no desire to celebrate and neither does my family. We’ll get together later in the month so we can hang and eat and play games outside. We’ll celebrate summer but not birthdays.

Typically, I’m pretty excited about my birthday and I think I’m still a little excited this year. I like gifts, good food and kind words. But I’m thinking more about Phil’s birthday this year. I want to celebrate him somehow that day. I know I’ll be thinking of him, probably post about him, but what else? If he was here, I’m sure I would give him black balloons or something with the grim reaper and bring him sushi or something else he loved to eat. But….what do I do now? Maybe buy his book that I haven’t purchased yet? Read something he would have, eat foods he liked?

Maybe just talk about him. Cry. A lot. Maybe try talking *to* him again? I did that the first week after he died. I didn’t know how to live without talking to Phil nearly every day, so when I was in the car or went for walks, I’d start talking to him. But I stopped. I think I was angry, still am. Angry at the world, at fate, at Phil’s stupid fucking heart. But I miss him so damn much. Still. I miss talking to him about books and movies and my kid. I miss his laugh, his view on the world, his very loud opinions about people and their stupidity. You know, with all the drama that surrounded my mom and her situation these past few months, my sister and I both often think, “Phil, you asshole, we can’t believe you missed out on all this shit!” I can still hear that mischievous laugh he had when he knew he got away with something. It was priceless.

I guess I’m celebrating Phil right now. That is if you can “celebrate” someone with tears staining your face and snot threatening to stain your shirt. And I guess if you’re reading this, then maybe you’re celebrating my big brother, too.

phil&ismilingIf you have a glass of dry red wine or Coke Zero or even a joint, then raise it to that handsome guy you see in the background there.

The world misses you, Phil. It will never be the same without you. You were one of the greatest. ❤

The Oscars

My brother and I started watching the Oscars together when I was in junior high. The first one I remember watching was when Out of Africa destroyed The Color Purple with their wins. Phil and I were shocked and really disgusted.  We were both like, “Wait…what just happened?”  A boring white film just defeated an amazing black film? Yup. That’s what happened. We both love Meryl Streep, but come on. Whoopi should have that and we all know it.

And that’s how some of our conversations would go. (Or we would talk about some of the outfits. Remember Bjork and her swan dress? We had our mouths open for that one then just kept repeating, “What the fuck?”) But mostly the Oscars was a way for Phil and I to eat yummy food, make fun of and drool over many of the Hollywood folks, and just talk.

Originally we tried to have Oscar parties. We would invite a few friends, usually his friends, and our partners. But that died off pretty quickly and it became just my brother and myself. And I loved it. I looked forward to this every single year. There were a few years, of course, when I lived in other states or Phil lived in southern Maine, and we didn’t even attempt to get together. But for the past 15 years, it’s been a pretty consistent event for us.  One year, Phil drove home from my place, only 3 miles away, and the snowstorm was so bad it took him 30 minutes to get home. A few years back neither one of us could get ABC on our tv, so we called each other and watched some of the Live Backstage stuff so we could find out who won and see what they were wearing.

Last year, we watched the Oscars from Phil’s hospital room. We got permission from the nurses to let me stay late and since Phil had his own room, they closed the door so we could be as loud as we wanted to be. I mentioned it in one of my blogs last year, how it was one thing that made me so happy last spring. We may have watched the Oscars from the hospital, but he made me laugh hysterically, as usual.

My brother was the one who typically watched every movie (or close to it) that was nominated. He’d keep me up on what was happening. We would have our ballots ready and whoever had the most right at the end of the night had bragging rights. It didn’t really mean anything, just something fun to do.

But this year?  How can they even show the Oscars when Phil can’t be here to watch it?

I didn’t realize how much I had been dreading the Oscars. I’ve been thinking about the food Phil and I usually made for it–homemade pizza or guacamole or veggie chili–and would I bother? And then Phil’s partner came over yesterday with a jar of homemade salsa that my brother had made. The grief hit me so hard that I dropped to my knees. Sobs wracked my body for about two minutes, then I was able to get up and move again.

And that’s when I decided that I would, in fact, still watch the Oscars, ballot in hand, while eating salsa that my brother made with his two large and lovely hands. I have no doubt that I will cry throughout much of the broadcast, just like I’m crying as I type this. I will think about the funny comments he’d probably be saying about the dresses and the people. And when the Academy shows the montage of all the people that have died last year, I will think of my brother and how his picture should be there, too.

codpiece