How do I live with loss?
I don’t. I live beyond it.
By my perspective, I’ve always believed in never undermining another person’s trauma, grief, or issues–ever. Sometimes, that’s easier said than done, especially in the high school environment. I fluctuated a lot between absolute resentment and genuine sympathy, hearing people complain about losing their car for a month or not being allowed to go to Homecoming. Sometimes I would justify with myself that, in their world, that was pain. Other times, I would find cause to curse their happy little lives.
In an ideal world, I would always, always choose the former. But sometimes, despite popular belief, I cannot always be that perfect.
It takes more strength than I ever thought it would to admit that something terrible happened to me, and sometimes I can’t understand why. Maybe a part of me still aches to be normal, to understand if these roller-coaster of emotions I step onto are just part of being a teenager or part of being in mourning. Then again I realize I gave up wanting to be normal a long time ago.
So few people can process what it means to lose your older brother. So few people can process what it means to watch him die over the span of three and a half years.
Even fewer people can process what it’s like to have loved your brother, body and soul, since day one.
In fact, to many of them, it just doesn’t seem all that likely.
And perhaps it isn’t “likely,” but I’ll be struck dead if I didn’t love my brother; because I did, and I do. I loved him more than anyone else in the world, and I thought I would always have him. And it only took fourteen years of my life to learn the awful truth; life, as it has been and always will be, isn’t fair.
I think there’s a lot of confusion that surrounds death. I don’t really think our minds are developed to process it. Three years later, it still strikes me that my brother isn’t at college, or a phone call away, or in the room next to mine. My mind doesn’t just process things like this. I’m not sure if it ever will.
But one thing I have learned about death is that it isn’t in the funeral or the grave. It’s in the given that was taken away. It was a given that my brother would go to college, offer me dating advice, dance with me at my wedding, play with my kids, and look out for me until we could barely look out for ourselves. And I lost all of that at the drop of a mirror. I lost what I had once assumed would be the rest of my life.
Needless to say, that’s not the easiest thing to live with. I’d much rather live beyond it.
But how? I ask myself everyday. This is a feat easier said than done. How do I live beyond the truth that my brother’s never coming home? How do I smile, laugh, and love, when there will forever be an extra seat at the kitchen table? How does one move on, or even have the will to want to move on?
But that’s life. We just do.
It took me so long to accept that, how the pain was inevitable, but so was moving on. Especially when I, all of a sudden, felt even more of an outcast amongst my peers, like there was a glass painted over my eyes that nobody else was seeing. Everyone’s perception of the world was colored different, but with having watched someone die under my belt at the age of fourteen, I felt like the world I was wading through was worlds away from wherever my peers lived. People don’t lose brothers. They lose grandparents and pets and maybe a great uncle now and then. But they don’t lose brothers.
It is considered by many that losing a child is the worst pain anyone can ever go through. I would be one of the last to disagree. I’m not a mother, so I can’t imagine – I can only infer from what I see in the eyes of my parents. But rarely is my perspective considered by the mourners that have left condolences on our doorstep. I used to wonder if it was just because it’s hard to ask someone directly if they’re alright, but now I know that is rarely the case.
Recently, I had to spend several hours in Urgent Care because of an appendicitis scare. Luckily, I did not have appendicitis, but I had to endure hours of painful treatment to get to that conclusion. It was only painful because of my rising realization that what I was going through was not even the tip of the iceberg my brother had to deal with. I dealt with it for five hours. He dealt with it for three and a half years.
And for what? I thought to myself, my eyes watering as I laid back in the hospital bed, an IV stuck in my arm, my mouth tasting of pennies after swallowing the gallons of contrast they made me drink. To die? He went through all of that, just to die?
I couldn’t imagine feeling the way I did for one more second, and I found myself facing a question I never thought I’d ask myself – whether or not I was strong enough to handle cancer the way my beautiful Matthew did.
I knew the answer was no.
That was when the doctor came in, and told us the news about my condition – that I was alright. Relieved, we began discussing what was wrong with me, then – because if it wasn’t appendicitis, then what explained the stabbing pain in my side? – and it was brought up that my brother’s three year anniversary of his death was that coming Saturday and perhaps I had been struggling with stress that had made me ill.
It didn’t take long for that doctor to debunk such a ridiculous theory, though, because he immediately put his hand on my elevated foot and told me reassuringly, “Well, it’s not like it’s as bad as the grief your mother has.”
Oh, I had thought to myself, tears threatening to spring over, Oh.
Let’s face it – in that moment, I was hurt. In that moment, every idea I had about not undermining my problems or anyone else’s came crashing down on me, and I felt, for the first time in a very long time, like a child. Like I didn’t know what grief was. Like everything I had ever felt was wrong.
In a way, he was right. My grief isn’t like the grief my mother has. But hers isn’t like my grief, either. There’s really no comparing the two.
So how do I, a seventeen-year-old girl at the age her brother was when he died, live beyond grief?
It’s not in the way people would guess, like publishing a book. Slipping Reality, the book I penned during and after his death, was what I wrote to keep myself alive, to keep myself going. To me, that is not living beyond grief, that, is living in it, which at the time – and still today – was what I needed to do. But I cannot do that every moment. I cannot be a perfectly stable and an adjusted person every moment, either. I come with baggage, apparently, and perhaps one day I won’t be sorry for that.
Living beyond grief is finding a life outside my bubble. Living outside of the swivel chair and the keyboard, and in the throes of people that love me and people I love to be with. Living beyond grief is allowing myself to be happy, even when something like winning an award for acting occurs and I wonder why my brother isn’t there to see it. Just because he isn’t, doesn’t mean I can’t be happy. It doesn’t mean I can’t move on.
And it doesn’t mean that my grief is less than anybody else’s.
I matter. Siblings matter. Everyone who has ever lost someone they love matters. But that doesn’t mean the more fortunate people don’t. It doesn’t mean the more fortunate people can’t be pitied when they meet hardship. They lost their texting for a week; I lost my brother for the rest of my life. In words, it sounds unbelievably harsh, but the truth is it’s not comparing tragedies which makes the other person stronger. It’s just being good people beyond that, and living beyond the memories of whom we once loved.
That’s what I do. I pass it on to you, too.
Emily wrote her first book at 14 years old as a tribute to her older brother and only sibling, Matthew, who passed away from cancer. A dedicated writer since the age of 8, she dreamed of publishing a novel in her teenage years, and it was her brother who gave her the courage and passion to do so. Slipping Reality released July 2011 and is a thinly veiled fictional story based on Emily’s own experience dealing with the pain of her brother’s battle with Ewing’s Sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer.
Emily is an AP Scholar and enjoying her senior year of high school. Her writing can be seen in Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Cancer Book, various magazines, and thisibelieve.org. She is also a regular contributor on SparkNotes.com, where a piece on her brother received an award for “Most Inspiring.”
In addition to writing, Emily loves acting and singing – she recently led school productions of Fiddler on the Roof and Noises Off, and is in the audition-only Women’s Ensemble as a section leader. She also enjoys public speaking, taking voice lessons, playing the piano and volunteering as a teacher of Hebrew and Judaica to third graders at Temple Adat Shalom. Emily is based in San Diego, but is happiest roaming Disneyland as often as possible.
Facebook: Slipping Reality
Memorial Video for Emily’s brother, Matthew Beaver.