Totems

In the days after my brother died, my concept of what was sacred radically changed.

I know I’m not alone in this.  There’s a phenomenon that happens when someone close to you has been lost.  The things that Luke liked, the things that Luke loved, the places he went, became special to me.  I ritually went to Taco Tuesday because he did.  I listened to the music he listened to.  I adopted hot pink as a favorite color because, perhaps only satirically, it was his.  In the weeks after he died, I looked for any way to honor him, to experience his life for just a few moments.

Eventually I realized what I was doing.  I was creating what I eventually called totems.  I was making the things Luke liked HUGE in my own life, like the beautiful giant wooden totems.  Maybe I was trying in some way to feel close to him again.  Maybe I was trying to get to know him better post-humorously.  Or maybe I just didn’t know how else to cope with this huge hole in my life.

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It didn’t last, however.  I used to cling to things like Taco Tuesday and Taylor Swift music with an almost religious fervor.  I didn’t know what else to do, I didn’t know what else I could really hang on to.  But the thing is, and no offense to any fans, that I don’t really enjoy Taylor Swift music.  Luke loved her and I tried to ( seriously, I downloaded all of her music ), but I just didn’t.

I love Luke and I still appreciate the things that he loved, but I don’t cling to them the way I did at first.  I can’t make myself like the same things he did, and to do so would be unhealthy.  But I can think back on him stuffing his face with carnitas tacos or singing Taylor Swift at the top of his lungs with a smile on my face.

I was in the totem stage for a while, and I think that’s pretty normal.  Some of his things are still a little sacred: I have a jacket of his that I will probably keep for the rest of my life, just to remind myself how big he was.  I don’t want to forget those bear hugs.  But for the most part, my insistence on making anything Luke associated with a part of my own life is now behind me.

Be patient, be patient, be patient.  That’s what I’m learning about grief.  To be patient with yourself and to recognize that sometimes you need little totems to comfort you, and sometimes you can let go of those totems and that’s okay too.  Being patient with your emotions as you traverse through grief is the best thing you can do for yourself.

Thinking About Grief

I am, and let’s just start by saying this because it should be said from the beginning, absolutely terrible at keeping blogs.  Absolutely terrible.  There, forewarned is forearmed.

My brother died almost two and a half years ago.  The event has completely reshaped my life.  Luke is on my mind now all the time; he is the first thought when I wake up, the last thought before I sleep.  I feel constantly compelled to tell people around me that I haven’t forgotten him.  It’s like I’m afraid of their judgement: if I don’t remind them that Luke’s loss is still prevalent, they will think I’m selfish and wrapped completely in the progression of my own life.  But I can’t talk about him too much, because the flip side of that coin is that people might then think I’m not dealing with my grief, that my mental health might not be what it should.

The truth is that these are silly things to think, to be afraid of.  The only person that’s worried about it is me, and I suspect that it’s yet another facet of the grieving process.  I’m doing as well as I can with it.  They tell you that every person grieves differently, but you’ll never know how true that is until you yourself are grieving.  It is, unfortunately, the worst time to find out, and the only time you can.

I still cry a lot.  So do my parents.  My father will talk to me about it for hours in the middle of the night, but hardly talks to my mum about it at all.  I don’t say much when he opens up.  Dad just needs to say it out loud.  On the other hand, my mother and I have very powerful but very brief conversations about Luke, both of us taking turns listening.  The problem is that it is still shockingly, achingly painful.  When I talk to my mum or listen to my dad, it is like an ice-cold fist closing around my heart.  It is just as painful as those first few days.  My chest doesn’t work right, and my heart aches.  They don’t tell you that after two years, it will still feel this way.

But then again, after a year has passed, a lot of people don’t talk about grief.  It’s awkward — the friends who are not grieving do not want to inadvertantly cause pain or bring up solemn memories.  And the grievers, the people like me, don’t know if they want to tell all the stories they can remember or just muscle on silently, hording their memories.  Or at least, that’s how I feel.  I’m not sure how much, how often, or if I should share Luke with anyone.

The years don’t make telling people who don’t know any easier, either.  In fact, in my case, getting the words out is almost harder.  And how do you say it?  Quickly, a burst of the truth, not to be dwelt upon?  Solemnly?  With the immediate assurance that you are glad you had the time that you did?  I always immediately want to tell people it’s okay when they apologize for not knowing.  But the thing is, it’s not okay.  It will never be okay again.  He was 22 years old.  There is nothing okay about death.  It might be natural, and of course none of us will get out alive, but it’s not okay.

I have, and am eternally grateful for, found a man that understands what I’m going through.  My boyfriend Mike lost his mother as a boy, and knows that sometimes if I get quiet, or if I silently insist on a hug, that I am missing my baby brother.  How could I not miss him?  Luke loved life and people like no one else I ever met, and his loss is still a giant hole in my chest.

Mike knows.  He doesn’t try to talk about how Luke is still with us, somehow, or that he’s watching over me.  Instead, Mike carefully pulls me to his chest, and tells me it’s okay to still be grieving.

And if someone is reading this and is also grieving, I don’t care how long it’s been: a day, a month, or fifteen years.  It’s okay to still be grieving.  It’s something I’m still trying to learn myself, but it needs to be said and said again.