I’ve written a lot about losing my brother. It’s been over four and a half years that he’s been gone, and still the wound feels fresh. I think about him most days, especially when I’m spending time with my children and thinking how much they would have loved their uncle. Every once in a while I hear a song or have a conversation that reminds me of him and it’s like he’s there all over again, leaving that feeling of loss moments later when I remember the truth.
But in November, I was able to find some small measure of peace. The tears have stopped coming so frequently, the pain has become familiar enough to carry, and the anxiety over what comes next has mellowed.
In November, four and a half years after losing my brother, his murderer was finally declared guilty.
My brother’s killer has spent a lot of time running circles around the criminal justice system, spending years in a county jail despite multiple eyewitnesses, overwhelming evidence, and the police catching him in the location after he had murdered my brother. Every two or three months, we’d get a new date from the DA. This time, we were promised, was the pre-trial. This time it was going to happen. The judge would hear his plea, our family would get a chance to accept or deny it, and a date for trial would be set, if necessary.
Each time, there was a new reason it couldn’t happen. Each time, we had to call the courthouse to find out. We were never notified.
For over four years, my family lived in a constant state of uncertainty. The first few times the date came around, the murderer had changed lawyers. Later, he’d promise insider information on other inmates. Every time, he needed just a little more time to arrange his plea deal.
So four or five times a year, we road this rollercoaster. After the first year or two, we stopped believing that any given time would be “the one,” but it’s hard to stop yourself from having at least a little hope in a dire situation. We never knew when we’d be called upon to decide the fate of the man who took my brother from us. We took PTO, we hunkered down, and every time, I felt a wash of sadness, grief, and rage as I was told, again, he’d found a way to avoid prison. While the hope dulled, the rage always seemed to be just a little stronger. Toward the end, it wasn’t uncommon to throw something or punch something, to the point that I started keeping safe items like pillows or tissue boxes nearby when it was time to make the call.
Four years is a long time to have that on you. We had to continue our lives, despite this. I couldn’t miss deadlines at work. I couldn’t miss a new hire’s first day, I couldn’t skip important meetings all the time. I’m lucky, my work will flex with me, and I could set meetings and dates around these non-trials. My mom was less lucky, and retired early about a year in, finding the stress too much to deal with. She moved in with her mom, both of them helping each other live without my brother.
It wasn’t the court system that eventually prevailed. We went two steps over the head of the DA, pleading our case, begging for this to be put to bed. They put a hard deadline on the pre-trial, and within just a couple weeks we had a guilty plea we could live with. It would occupy the rest of his useful life, and my parents wouldn’t be around to see him released, if he lived that long. It was as good as we could ask for to grant us some peace.
I felt like I was floating when I heard the news. You hear cliches about a weight being lifted from you, but sometimes you actively feel it. It doesn’t feel like dropping a heavy box or heaving your backpack into a corner after a long day. It’s mostly in the lungs. I don’t know that I’ve ever taken that deep a breath in my life. It felt like everything would be okay for the first time in ages.
Of course, that was short lived. Healing is a process, and one with no end in sight. It was later that day when I found myself bawling, remembering what I’d lost, remembering what my kids would never have. And of course, it’s come back since. It’s a bit more dull. It’s a little lighter. Some is time, some is therapy, and some of it is not having to think about my family’s role in putting this to bed.
So closure isn’t really the right word. We’ve certainly lightened the load, but that gaping, open wound, and the void underneath it, will never really be filled. It’s changed us, irrevocably, for the rest of our lives. I don’t trust like I did. I find myself panicking on my way into work when someone I don’t recognize is walking behind me. I don’t give benefit of the doubt as much as I used to, and I don’t like to lean on people to help me live my life.
But I’ve remembered the lessons my brother taught me. To give of yourself, to love hard, and to find joy where you can. The person I am isn’t the same, but it doesn’t have to be less than the person I was. Now that a small bit of that weight is gone for a long, long time, I can focus a bit more on rebuilding what I am now.
I’m lucky to have friends who have borne out the storm with me. I’m lucky to have family who still loves the person I am. I’m lucky to still be able to find passion, even if it’s buried under the scabs I built up to allow myself the time to heal.
Life will never be what it was, but it does get better.