“I wish you were dead!” I yelled at my brother, Brett, as I slammed down the phone. It was a few days later my brother died. The things ten years old say. The things we wish we hadn’t said.
Brett was supposed to come trick-or-treating with my friends and me. He had promised, and I relished my time with him. He had an air that drew people in. He was true to himself—his music, his style, his soul—in a way that most older people had lost.
He had called and said he couldn’t make it. I’m sure he had somewhere he wanted to be with his friends. He was finishing up college, and giving up a Halloween night to hang out with his littlest sister was asking a lot. Though, he did. He ended up coming and going trick-or-treating with me.
It was the last time I ever saw him. The last time I ever got to hug him.
A few days later, on November 3rd, we got a call from the Boulder Emergency Room. They wouldn’t tell us what was happening but something was wrong, we had to get there right away. By the time we got to the hospital, he was gone. He had died of a heroine overdose. His roommates found him, his body, in his room the morning after a party.
No one ever actually told me he was dead—I saw the look on his dad’s face (we are half-siblings) as we walked into the emergency room and I knew. The look was pure agony.
Sometimes the world seems cruel. What kind of world would let a ten year old say that and then have it happen? Why? On a human level, it doesn’t make sense to me.
On a human level, the most heartbreaking experiences almost never make sense to me. Same goes for the most beautiful moments. And, often the heartbreaking experiences end up creating the most beautiful moments.
Brett died over 20 years ago, and I think about him every day. I wonder where he would be now. I grieve the absence of his laugh and smell. My grief is my relationship with him now. And, we have a very active relationship. He’s taught me so much, still teaches me so much: How to be with what feels intolerable. How to speak to people, beings, and things unseen. How to love myself even when I make a mistake, say something I don’t mean.
Do I wish he were here? Yes. Would I give up any “accomplishment” I’ve made for five more minutes with him—to get a bear-hug from him or play “trash truck” together? Absolutely. Do I also hold that everything is unfolding exactly the way it should? Yes. Do I know that his death has deepened me in a way that I will be forever grateful for? Absolutely. Do I feel him here with me? Constantly.
Still, nothing will fill that gap. Nothing should fill that gap. And, today, Brett, I am wishing you were here.
“Nothing can fill the gap when we are away from those we love, and it would be wrong to try to find anything. Since leaving the gap unfilled preserves the bond between us, it is nonsense to say that God fills the gap. He does not fill it but keeps it empty, so that our communion with another may be kept alive even at the cost of pain.” —Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Letters and Papers from Prison)