Friday, September 2, 2011

“Brother, today I sit on the brick bench of the house, where you make a bottomless emptiness.” ~ Cesar Vallejo

I woke up this morning with my brother on my mind. I had intended to write something about him back in July, as that was the second anniversary of his passing, but I wasn’t ready to articulate. I feel today what I have felt on and off with fluctuating intensity during the past two years—a heaviness that surrounds his passing. And while it is, of course, one of a certain amount of grief, for me, it is more defined by regret.

I am fortunate to say that I don’t have many regrets in my life. I’m not a “what if…” or “wish I hadn’t….” kind of person. Good and bad things happen, maybe for a reason, and I am more inclined to look at what I’m supposed to learn from these happenings rather than wish they didn’t happen. You can’t unring the bell. But this particular situation holds regret for me.

My brother and I never really had a typical sibling relationship. I’m sorry to say we had barely a relationship at all beyond holiday/family gatherings, and the occasional sibling outing once we were all old enough to drink. There were 13 years between us, and for most of the first 13 of my life, we were estranged. Then all of a sudden, at 13 years old, I had an older brother.

We couldn’t have been more opposite. I was your typical straight-A nerd, regularly appearing on honor rolls. Never getting in any kind of trouble, following the rules, etc. He wasn’t that kind of kid. So, a 13-year age gap, and virtually nothing but genes in common, even as adults, makes it difficult to formulate a relationship.

I have a handful of memories of my brother and I outside the holiday/family schematic. And I have only one real “moment” between us. After I had taken my niece out for the day, my brother pulled me aside and confessed to me with desperation and pure panic in his face that my sister-in-law was expecting their third child. Their second child was only a couple of months old. He followed this up with, “Don’t tell anybody.”

I was more taken aback by the fact that he told me this secret. I often wondered if he told me simply because I happened to be there, because he needed to tell someone, and I was standing in front of him.

As I got older, got married, and started really being a grown-up, there was a bit more substance between us. He would occasionally make a comment that implied a bit of pride in me and what I’d accomplished, a bit of nostalgia from when I was a baby and he was a young teenager. He would make indirect comments here and there. We still never really “clicked,” so to speak, but when my (now ex-) husband starting working with my brother, I saw him more often. Several times a week he was at my house both before and after the work day, and on a day that I had secured a new job, he brought a celebratory pizza back to the house.

It seemed as though there might’ve been a relationship forming, or at the very least, that we were both well-aware of the gap, the disconnect, even the occasional awkwardness between us, and maybe now that we were seeing more of each other, maybe there would be an opportunity to connect in some way. But then he was gone.

After all of the formalities, the funeral, etc., I broke down in the presence of my cousin and my best friend. I wasn’t questioning why he was gone, why this happened, but angry at the fact that I would never have the opportunity to not only connect, but to also get some long-held internal conflict out, to ask certain questions, or to even just speak my mind to my brother about certain things that I didn’t like, didn’t agree with, wanted answers to, and so on. I would never get the chance to clear the air of that awkwardness, find out what it was made of and resolve it. The finality of this situation was devastating to me. The concept of GAME OVER was never so real as that. I could not change it. AT ALL. I kept crying to them, “I’ll never get to say any of it.”

Closure is something that is critical to me. I struggle with the fact that, if I am to have closure on this, it has to come from within. I have to take that finality, and resolve this with the fact that it’s unresolvable. Its lack of closure is its closure. Logically it makes sense. Emotionally, sometimes it’s not good enough.

A few weeks after he passed, my sister-in-law called me, saying she had something to tell me. She said that my brother had told her that he was really happy that he was working with my husband because he got to see me and spend more time with me. She said he seemed really excited and happy that we were spending more time together. On one hand, it was nice to know that he felt that way, that maybe we both recognized the gap and wanted to close it. On the other, it makes the situation that much more regrettable, as if we almost made it happen. As the saying goes, “almost only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.” I’m pretty sure he’s the one who told me that.

 One of my brother's favorite pictures and a favorite family story: My brother and sister dressing me up like a karate baby. My brother called this "Lil Kung-Poo."



  1. Awwww, Nikki... Great big *HUGS* to you. I'm sorry you didn't have a longer time in this world with your brother but I think that the fact that your relationship was at least mending in those later years says a lot about how far you've come since your childhood/youth. It may not have reached the level of friendship you may have liked to establish with him, but at least you can say you didn't harbor a single ill thought or regret about a fight you once had at the time of his passing. You were still working things out and then, sadly, he was taken from you.

    I think it's nice that your sister-in-law made it a point to tell you that. I'm sure your brother was proud of you in more ways than he could ever verbalize...and I hope you are able to find comfort in the fact that you were loved more than you will ever know.


    Also I just love that photograph :)

  2. I have a very similar relationship with my brother, so I read this with great interest and compassion. My brother is still with us, though he lives on the other side of the country - I think I use the physical distance as an excuse to ignore the emotional distance, but your story has inspired me to make an effort to connect, if only by email. Thank you for that.

    1. Wow, Robyn, thank you. I hope you're able to do that. :-)

  3. I am very sorry for your loss...and not just of your brother, but of the relationship that you both so obviously wanted and had not yet managed to achieve. If it's any consolation, it's obvious to me that, eventually, you would have, and that ought to count for something.

    1. Thanks, Jonah. With time, that definitely did become a comfort.