Saturday, September 3, 2011

These are the words I would say....

Ah, Labor Day weekend. A respite for most from the work-, school-, full-of-duties typical week. A promise of (hopefully) cooler weather on the way and favorite hoodies making their return. But for me, it brings back a rush of memories and things I sometimes try to forget. 16 years ago today, my brother took his own life. It's better to just go ahead and get that awkwardness out of the way. "Passed away" really doesn't ring true in these types of circumstances. Now, don't put on your obligatory sympathetic face. In 16 years, it's amazing how much you process and accept. That being said, there are certain aspects of his death that get more difficult for me as I grow older. I am not sure why that is or exactly which part of my recessed brain has been activated with the passing of time. Definitely not the practical short-term memory part. Nevertheless, this time of year creeps up on me and then blasts me with its reality each first weekend in September. My mom said the other day that you can feel it in the air. It's true. If you have ever gone through a tragedy or loss, you well know that grief cycles yet has no solid formula for each individual. Yes, there is a similar pattern of feelings, but grief seems to show itself differently according to our dispositions, thought patterns, and circumstances. Tricky little bugger, grief.

So here I am this year, noticing the more melancholy feelings in myself, searching for the trigger until...aha! Labor Day. Picnics, road trips, a lengthy funeral procession escorted by dozens of our city's finest policemen. That is my most vivid Labor Day memory. My brother was a police officer for the city of Nashville. He was also a soldier in the Navy who bravely served in Desert Storm. It was after this experience that he returned....a bit more broken. His real battle wasn't against a physical enemy or threat, though. He fought well. Just not quite long enough. He left behind a wife and 3 children. He also left behind the rest of us who loved him and held him dear.

Suicide is not something we generally bring into our daily dinner conversations or party icebreakers. It is, in general, a taboo and unfortunate topic. Death itself makes us feel discomfort, but add anything 'out of the ordinary' and we quickly move past the point of social acceptance. At times, it has been uncomfortable to mention. My mother still says she has 4 children: 3 here and 1 with Jesus. I still say I have 3 older brothers, which is great until anyone asks further questions or are curious about how he died. Then it gets a bit...special.

My favorite incident was the time we had extras for the annual Easter dinner. The one poor innocent soul asked, "So, is that your sister?" "No, that is my sister-in-law." "Oh, so that guy is your brother?" --awkward pause-- "No. That's her boyfriend." ~sigh~ And (giggle) ...cue story. Ironically, people seem even more uncomfortable when you are able to pleasantly explain. It's more entertaining now that said sister-in-law is re-married to a fantastic fellow (previously mentioned boyfriend). The book that my family could write if anyone would believe it were true....

There are days when I miss him more than others. Jeff could fix anything, build anything, and figure out just how anything worked.....he was really quite convenient to have around the house. He never called me by my name. Instead, he called me "Peanut." Don't ask. I have no idea. But I loved hearing the sound of it ring up the stairs when he came through the door. We have friends who call their little girl "Peanut." The first time I heard it, my heart initially sank but then lifted with a feeling of joy. I hope that daddy never stops calling her by that nickname--even when she is 16 and rolls her eyes at him. She will love it more than words can say one day as she looks back.

I missed him greatly on my wedding day, and I felt a pang of loss when my babies were born. They have no knowledge of him other than the stories I can offer, and as I was 18 and he 33 when he was gone my memories are sadly too few for them to understand. I want to paint a full picture for them, but the mind tends to get filled with many other things as the years come and go. However, certain things remain clear and bright. These are the things I want to hold onto--to take with me as I continue to surpass him in years. Things I would say if he were still here to hear them.

And so I have decided to share a few of those things. Not as some sort of bizarre connection with the other world, but simply as a way to connect my heart with my thoughts. I have never been one to spend time at his gravesite as I found it too cold and distant for me there. I don't converse with him or write him letters. Those things are wonderful outlets for some; for me, they offered no healing. Instead, I believe that my brother is waiting for the rest of us to arrive in heaven where we will have plenty of time to catch up on everything we missed. I'm sure you have your own thoughts about that topic, but I am ok with it. (Really. Don't share them.)

Until then, these bits of one-sided conversation will have to do:

"I have 501 things for you to make or fix. When can you start on that?"

"Please stop playing that wretched rendition of 'Born in the USA' on the piano. We can hear you all over the house. Feel free to continue that Carpenter's tune, though.....or use your crazy Bon Jovi voice."

"Mom made fried chicken. Meet me tomorrow at our usual kitchen spot, and we will eat it straight from the fridge. If I save you any..."

"Your children are beautiful, smart, thoughtful, amazing people. You should be so proud of them."

"Your granddaughter is precious and full of life. She also has your gift of good bit. I think her Daddy did, too, when he was little. I hope you can keep up."

"Can you say just a little while longer today? I'm sure the kids would love to see you."

"Please keep waiting. I'll see you soon."


  1. Well this certainly made me cry! You are a terrific writer and have a beautiful heart! I am blessed to call you a friend.

  2. ditto what Kim said! I heart you Tiller!

  3. My heart hurts for you and your entire family as I read this...Love you!