This has been a week for stirring up memories. Last Monday, March 25, was the 40th anniversary of the death of my brother. 40 years. That’s hard to get my head around. It’s inevitable that I remember the day of his death in too sharp of detail on the anniversary. The minutes and hours of that day are etched into my brain. But, usually, I try to focus on remembering the good times I had with my brother during my 13 years with him (he was 16 at the time of his death). I have been able to share funny stories and events with my husband and daughters this week. But, coincidentally, my parents have been going through old boxes and cleaning out clutter and unwanted items recently. I went to their house, and looked through some boxes that had my name on them. There were old school books, awards, and photos. Ah, the photos. There were photos of me with my brother, with friends, with my pets, and with my parents and other family members. It was good to remember that young girl with hopes and dreams, who was also grieving and trying to find her way again.
I have read my girls’ posts on here, and realize that they have each struggled with social awkwardness, shyness, and even depression. While my husband talks for a living as a professor, he is really a bit of an introvert. He’s happy at home with just the family, watching a movie, or just hanging out. I’m the same. We’ve always called ourselves “homebodies”, but in reality we’re probably introverts or maybe ambiverts (I think that’s the term for someone who shows tendencies of both an introvert and an extrovert). So, our girls come by it honestly. But, I first realized how much of a “homebody” I was after the death of my brother. He was an extrovert, popular with peers and teachers alike. He was smart, funny, handsome, athletic, and cool. He had a lot of friends, and could do anything he set his mind to. I adored him. Don’t get me wrong, we had a normal brother-sister relationship. We fought, I embarrassed him, he picked on me, I irritated him. But, I adored him. When he died, I realized just how happy I had been in his shadow. Then, suddenly, I was exposed. I had to grow up. And I wasn’t happy about it.
Suddenly, everything around me was colored differently. High school was ridiculous to me. I did well in my classes, made some very good friends, was even fairly popular among my peers. But the whole dating/partying scene seemed silly to me. I had been to the gates of Hell and back, and people around me were worried about if their crush was going to be at the party Friday night. I couldn’t wait to go off to college. This is not a reflection on any of those friends, many of whom I’m still in touch with today. They were being normal, happy teenagers. I was grieving, and seeing the world from a different perspective.
It would have been easy at this point to go off the rails. It’s so easy and common for those families who have lost a child to simply fall apart. Divorce rates are high in this group. It would have been easy for me to curl up in a ball, or to go down a dark hole. I give great credit to my parents for weathering the storm. They stayed together, and even through their grief, didn’t let me disappear. We continued with things like family vacations and holiday gatherings. We had extended family around us that held us up as well. We were part of a community of believers, friends and pastors, that were strong for us when we couldn’t be strong. I love the old African proverb of “It takes a village to raise a child”. We all have a “village”, and ours was strong. Things could have turned out so differently. I know the big thing, along with that village, that held us together was our Christian faith. My parents are life-long believers, and raised my brother and me in that Christian faith. My brother had had a salvation experience (in the Baptist vernacular, “he was saved”) just 9 months before his death. We believe that because of his acceptance of Jesus Christ as his personal savior, he is in Heaven with Him today. Because of my shyness and independent nature (some would call it stubbornness), I had held God at arm’s length. After the loss of my brother, I reexamined everything I had been taught, and realized that I also truly believed. I quit fighting God, and accepted Him as well. That faith that continues today has held me up ever since. It guided my choice in a mate, in the way we raised our children, and decisions we make still today. It gives me hope for the future, and shapes the way I treat others.
While those few years following the death of my brother were dark and hard, and are a bit of a blur to this day, I feel like the person who emerged is strong and resilient. I know that by relying on my faith and the people around me, and my own inner strength, I can get through anything. While that “homebody” streak is alive and well in me, I also know that I can be out there in society and survive. I’ve come so far, that I’ve had people tell me that I’m intimidating. Little 4’11 me. One of my best friends told me that the first time she met me, I scared her a bit with my self-confidence and assurance. I even ran for public office a few years back, in an unsuccessful bid for school board. In 1979, I never thought I would be that person. Life has taught me that most people don’t want to be the person at the front of the room, speaking. So, they’re probably not going to throw rotten tomatoes at you. I’m still that shy, socially awkward teenager inside. I’ve just learned through experience, through my faith, and through a loving marriage that it’s going to be OK. I know that no matter how long the night, joy indeed comes in the morning.