State of the Mess – One Year In

I’m a little over two weeks since the one year anniversary of my brother’s murder. I’ve tried to write this a few times, but I hadn’t had time to slow down and really reflect. With family in town that weekend was more active than reflective, and that might be a blessing. We had a small get together with some of my brother’s oldest friends and had a chance to remember the good times and ignore the elephant in the room. A couple of weeks later, I’ve had time to look back. I’ve dealt with a few sleepless nights, a good cry or two, and come out with a feel for where I’m at.

If you want to see what grief looks like a year in, come on in.

I’ve said this before, but the stages of grief are misleading. You don’t progress down the row, you jump back and forth with reckless abandon, and sometimes disengage from the process entirely only to come back harder than ever months down the line. Lately though, what I’ve been gripped by isn’t any of the listed stages of grief- it’s fear.

I’ve accepted my brother’s loss as best I can, but not a day goes by where I can accept how I lost him. It was sudden and violent, and I have entirely too much knowledge of how terrifying and awful his final moments must have been. On top of the sheer pain I feel every time I think of his last moments, there’s the doubled terror that comes with how sudden it all was. There were no warning signs, he wasn’t involved in anything nefarious, nor was he in a bad part of town. The loss came from nowhere, and now I regularly see the same possibilities with everyone else in my life.

In some ways, it’s gotten easier. I’m no longer up late every night rechecking all of the locks, and I can spend entire days in public or at my desk at work. There are still triggers, however. If I hear something outside my house, I still go into full home defense mode. As such, the fourth of July was an absolute mess as every sound shot me bolt upright. I don’t have nightmares that wake me up every night either, but once a week or so I still find myself unable to sleep all night as my mind decided to show me what would happen if I lost my wife, or my daughter, or in one weirdly painful case, my dog.

I’m less concerned about myself in general, however. I have to force myself to care about my own health or wellbeing, instead being overcome by an overwhelming sense of mortality that robs me of some day-to-day concern. It is mostly at the urging of family and friends that I continue working at watching my diet and exercise and attempt to fix physical ailments. I’ve taken to a few daily and weekly rituals to refocus, primarily based around relaxation or reflection time. You know, meditation for those that hate to say they meditate.

The loss has been harder on my family. I see my dad’s struggle every time I talk with him, working through both anger and the needlessness of the loss. I see him nearing the end of his working life, as this experience has aged him a good few years, but he has another family there to support him. My mom is on her own, as my brother was her main source of comfort every day. She decided to retire early and come live closer to my family, needing that connection far more than she needs the paycheck. Still at the beginning of my career, I’m supporting my wife and daughter- and in November, a son as well. As such, I have to keep soldiering on, even if I often feel as if I’m just going through the motions.

A year in, I thought life would be back to normal- and in some ways, it is. I do many of the same things I did before, my schedule looks more or less the same. But the world has lost some color. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about my brother, and the horror of how we lost him only gets sharper. The only way I avoid regular breakdowns is by simply pushing it aside, waiting to stare at my grief until I have the time to properly deal with it. Perhaps it was foolish to think time heals all wounds- certainly, it was foolish to think a year was enough time. As we look for names for my son, my brother’s name keeps coming up. The pressure seems too much, though- both the pressure placed on him by giving him that name, and the pressure on us of being reminded every day. I already find myself feeling a twinge at previously innocuous things: movies with strong sibling themes, joking mentions of “I’ll kill you”, books that remind me of my brother, even certain songs. Hell, when Jurassic World gets you teary-eyed, it’s easy to tell something’s not normal- saddling my son with all that pressure and more is not fair.

So here I stand, the same but different. Life carries on- I go to my job, I laugh with my family and friends, I get excited over some new RPG and I get back to writing. But every day I feel the impact: permanent scar tissue, harmless but for when I pick at it. All things considered, it’s gotten easier to deal with. Except when it’s not. I know that’s a non-answer, a confusing mix of positive and negative, but such is life.

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