My Older Brother’s Birthday

Most don’t know about my older brother, Ian. I don’t often talk about him, and not even until recently did I think I had the right. Though I think of him from time to time and though I know he will always be a part of me, I am timid when it comes to saying his name. It has taken me the better part of my 25 years to claim the grief of losing someone I have never met.

Today would have been his 27th birthday. I didn’t expect this, but tears crawled up to strangle my throat when I wrote this. Each June 13th does not get easier, it gets harder as I catch up after years spent thinking his death was not a shadow that fell on me.

It becomes clearer that his ghost has informed so many parts of me. Losing their first, at 4 weeks, changed the way my parents held me as a baby. I think that grief, too, is carried tenderly like something so small and delicate and breakable even though it is what crushes us.

This year will be the first I spend without my parents on Ian’s birthday. My younger brother has already done this. For years I’ve watched my family plant trees and flowers in his remembrance, and I’ve carried small handfuls of soil and patted them down. This year I’m in Michigan, and all day I will be gazing at the ground looking for a place to plant a seed. Perhaps I’ll find a grassy patch by a house I do not know, opened to me by borrowed family, people I’ve never met who may be welcoming or may be cold — I’m never quite sure what Katelyn’s extended family thinks of me, thinks of us, thinks of what we represent, though so far they have said nothing. Perhaps I will sneak away to the shade of some tree and call my living brother.

I am motivated to write this because friends of mine are carrying their own griefs. I think I ought to say that mourning follows me just as it might follow them. Each grief is as different as the person or people who inspire it; I cannot measure the shape of my grief and hold it to anyone else’s and expect to pass along the same condolences that work for me. Yet I will nod at yours if you will nod at mine as we walk by each other in these familiar long corridors of pining, back and forth, back and forth, every year marked, every year counted, and remembered.

R.I.P. Ian

6-13-88 — 7-13-88

 

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