I woke up wide awake at three am blaming it on the very large piece of chocolate chip pie I ate after dinner. Then, after lying there for twenty minutes planning my day ahead, my workout schedule for the rest of the week, and reviewing my remaining appointments before my trip to Florida to see Herbie (who just turned 102 three days ago), I realized that today is November 20th.
November 20th, twenty four years later. The same amount of time from the time we heard Adenocarcinoma of the Lung. Rare. Highly Unusual. Usually Happens To Men in Their Fifties.
You were not fifty. You were twenty four.
And in 1994, we all began our new normal, preparing for the inevitable. There was no hope according to the doctors at the time. It had already metastasized all over your bones causing them to easily shatter just from a random toss of an apple core into a trash barrel.
Hope was in our dreams, my endless reading and nauseating quoting of Louise Hay’s positive thinking affirmations like by chanting them and thinking them I could cure you. Hope was in the endless stream of ideas from well meaning friends and co workers with their remedies and alternative solutions.
There was no chance. You were going to die before you had a chance to grow up. To find your way. To lose your hair. To get married and maybe have children some day. To turn thirty, forty, fifty next year.
We would never have the chance to grow old together, to lose Dad together, to celebrate my son together. We would not be able to mourn the twin towers or share the tragedies of the endless school shootings as concerned humans. We would not celebrate the purchase of my own home that you would have been loved and been so proud of. And if you had children of your own, shipped them off to me to hang out with me in my gardens and the space I so love.
In all of these life points, I am solo and siblingless which is not even a word. But it should be because there is no other word to describe my place as a sibling- minus you. I am not an only child because that omits your brief and poignant presence from my life.
I am without you.
And though my life goes on and there is much to celebrate and feel grateful for, I am stunned by the grief and sadness I can also feel simultaneously. This is the magic power of grief’s force — it simmers and lies in wait and allows periods of joy and happiness the further away it steps away from its beginning.
Then on these days, the birthdays, and the memorial days, the days of Michael applying for jobs and getting ready to graduate college and getting closer by the minute to twenty four, the days I hear about high school friends of yours getting married, buying homes, having children, growing up, working at companies and becoming entrepeneurs, I am reminded, with a force to be reckoned with, that you, my dear brother, as your enlightened and glorious being, are not here and will in fact never be.
I am reminded when I ask someone their age or the year they were born and they say, 49 or 1970 and I look at them and don’t see your aging face, but your youthful one because you never made it to now. I see your dread locked head and those dark brown eyes inhaling pot out of a gigantic water bong that looked like it came from a Hooka bar. And I wait for you to ask me what a hooka bar even is because hooka bars didn’t exist because smoking was still allowed inside many places in 1994. When you were alive.
Pot was the only thing that helped you, but that wasn’t legal in any states yet. Today you would have proudly carried a medical marijuana card. When I got mine during the cancer I had, it was to help me, yes, but it was to honor you too. It was my own twisted way to celebrate with you something that linked us even though it was cancer, weird I know. But I could feel you closer and whatever it takes to feel you closer, I will take. Not the cancer part, the marijuana part, I have my limits here, bro.
I am often surprised that Michael doesn’t actually know you personally, because he has so many mannerisms that are exactly like you, I sometimes I have to remind myself that he is my son, not my brother. His voice, his handwriting, his sharp mind, his laugh, his deep eyes, his expressions all remind me deeply of your existence. I like to think that you had something to do with this. Like it was your mysterious way of letting me know that you were watching. This is comforting even if to some it seems bizarre or wishful. I don’t care. I like the comfort. It feels good instead of sad and I like to feel good instead of sad.
When Michael and the Francis boys were in middle school and decided to record themselves lighting farts with a bic lighter, it didn’t horrify me as much as it should have because this was definitely something you did. Every time I hear Neil Young or Bob Marley or Peter Tosh — every time I see a VW Vanagon or a white guy with dreadlocks, or watch Michael eat chocolate chip cookies, or look at Craig Gurganus surfboard fish art you gave when Dave and I bought our first home, you are standing in front of me smiling.
When I found a tile coaster of a sun in my travels to Italy, I had to buy it because it reminded me of the sun you drew while you were dying. Your dying held on to every scrap of life you could muster. I couldn’t believe how brave and courageous you were at such a young age, but you were an old soul even at your young age. Maybe your dying young outwardly was really because you were old inwardly. Who knows. It doesn’t matter, You are not here. And this is permanent. And incredibly sad.
When Mom sees Michael, she frequently says how much he looks like his dad, almost seeming to want to wish away the parts so obvious in him that are you. I imagine it is so difficult for her to see the vestiges of your being in her grandson. The pain must be far worse than the possibility of joy in the duplication of your essence causing darts of reminders that must shake a mother’s loss. I wish I could talk about this with her and that you and I could talk about the fact that I can’t, but then if we could, none of this would be happening in the first place.
I write about you because I miss you every day. Every day for twenty four years.
It is not the type of missing that has debilitated me; I have moved through grief rather than around it, but there are times I step to its side and take my deep dive into the wallow, the mire, the quicksand of its vigor. More times I forget that that pull is grief all these years later. When a good walk and a good cry would probably be a better solution than a bottle of red and a slice of chocolate chip pie. But I have become much more forgiving of my slides into moments of pie. I have practiced grief and become better at allowing its call when necessary in whatever form it takes to just deal with the sadness at the time.
I am ok. The steps around or through are all ok. Twenty four years later, I have used this time to be more patient with these slides down the rabbit hole knowing that in some ways it is also part of my creative process and healing.
Healing. Heal-ing is a strange word because is implies that there is an end at some point after you have healed. I will never heal. There will never be an ‘e.d.’ after the ‘h.e.a.l’. This would mean that I have missed you Enough. That I am over missing you.
And this would be impossible. And I am more than OK with this. Because on November 20th every year, just like your birthday on October 20th every year, you come to life again because I get to be in the day of you with you how I want to be with you.
While I am alive, I will always do this and I will always remind Michael that today is another excuse to get to remember you. Remembering you is the closest thing I have to having you and if this is all I can have, then it will have to do.