Iíd kind of made up my mind a little while ago to ease off on the despair and mourning around these parts. I suppose itís all well and good to pass my grief around the table in the beginning, and itís a fact that releasing it all into this forum was incredibly therapeutic during the worst of times, but Jesus, harshing your mellow isnít going to bring my brother back. Letís be realistic, right?
Still and all, two years ago right now he was here, and seven hours later he wasnít anymore and it would be dishonest of me not to admit and face that the fifth and sixth days of October will forever be noted and remembered, and every hour will be filed and catalogued. And as much as I want to prattle on about shoes and purses, and as much as Iím grateful that I still can, it wonít stop me from counting down the last hours, and re-living what we didnít realize would be the end of the world as we knew it.
The one consistent thing about grief is that itís more powerful than you think it is. It seeps into the little crevices of your brain, and wraps around your heart. It makes your bones fragile, and your gums bleed and your hair white and your language skills base and vile. You donít recognize the details for what they are, of course. You just think that your very soul hurts like a motherfucker now, and if youíre a generally positive person, itíll ease off after a while. Listen, the whole goddamn thing is a monster, and itís no wonder they say that itís worse for the ones that are left behind. No shit.
The rest of the grieving process is remarkably inconsistent. Every morning, your very first second of wakefulness is peaceful. The next moment is horrific because the truth is still the truth. The third and all the ones that follow are a gamble, a throw of a million-sided die. Sometimes, youíll get the same throw for days or weeks at a time. If youíre lucky, as time goes on, those are days of relative serenity, when youíre able to laugh and absorb information into a brain that isnít cloudy, and flirt, and be very good your job, and goggle at art and sunsets and buy pretty shoes and real estate.
And then, suddenly, someone will speak in a fake English accent, and youíll remember how Frankie very badly attempted to do that with certain phrases, and itíll flash in your brain like a picture. Your skin will be too tight, and your chest will turn into a solid, heavy bit of wood, and it will feel like youíve suddenly come down with a very swift case of the flu. Or you will have a good Thursday, until ER comes on at 10, and some intubated teen will die on the emergency room table, and his mother will be too quiet about it, but at least they got the angle of the tube right. They got the angle of tube right, but hell if youíre going to sleep that night, because, Jesus, the sight of that tube will bring back the worst hours of your life, right in living colour.
Sometimes, itís ok. Sometimes, those flashes and physical memories wonít make you bend over and clutch your stomach. If Iím driving north on Martingrove, as I cross Rathburn and the lane goes kind of wonky, I will remember the time I was busy fiddling with the radio, and sort of didnít notice that I was about to drive into the oncoming lane, until Frankie yelled, alarmed and pissed-off, ďMare!Ē in his throaty voice, and I did a little swerve to right us. Itís one of the very few times I drove and he didnít. For a while, in the beginning, that bit of road turned into the intersection of tears, and it still jerks me back in time, but at least I know its coming. If grief is a monster, I guess thatís my stab at taming the beast.
Itís twenty after eight. We were at a one-month memorial Mass right now, or possibly it was over by this time, and we were in the church hall, eating coffee cake and gossiping with rarely-seen relatives. Frankieís colour was bad, kind of ashen, kind of yellow, not at all good. We had no idea what was to follow. I took him home soon after, and we watched the sequel to Bring It On, only because we caught it on TV just as it was starting.
Look, Iím reasonable enough. I understand that I couldnít possibly have known what was going on. I didnít know; none of us knew. It is not our fault. But how, how is it that I am allowed to know what earrings go with what shirt, and what spectacles work well on what face, and why a manís shoes are indicative of his whole personality, but I canít clue into the fact that my brother was dying beside me while I watch TV? It is not my fault. It is not our fault. We all agree and understand that. So why do we all feel like we somehow let him slip between our fingers? Why do we feel like, somewhere along the line, we made a giant mistake? Why does it feel like our fault?
Two years later and my sister has been married for more than a year. I own 834 not-yet-constructed square feet of my own, and my parents are learning to laugh again. My sister has come successfully through surgery that was performed as a result of the battery of tests that were done after Frankie died. One day she and my brother-in-law will have children, and we will teach them who Zio Frankie was. My father is learning to live with rheumatism that attacked him faster than it should have. My mother is wondering if sheís ever going to sleep though the night. But both of them are thinking of taking vacations again. I care about work again, care about being a success, care about my company. Iím dancing again, badly, and out of step, but Iím dancing, pretending to be Gregory Hines and Shirley Temple, all at the same time.
Weíre not all dancing, of course. But at least weíre all hearing the music again. This is what grieving looks like, two years on.
Jesus, Frankie. Two years.
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