I’ve gone a little quiet on this blog lately. I’ve been struggling with what to write about. For a while I thought it was because I didn’t have anything of substance to write about. Turns out it was the exact opposite.
I love autumn, I really do. The crisp air, the show the trees put on; there’s quite a lot to recommend it. But I seem to hit a rough patch as we head into fall each year, and each year it surprises me a little, though it shouldn’t. Such is the depth of my denial.
I always feel, as the end of October nears, that I’m trying to creep past myself. I invariably fail at this ridiculous endeavor, but I’m not certain I’ll ever stop trying. I’m sure I won’t ever succeed. Such is the impossibility of hiding from yourself.
I never was anyone’s big brother. I was the youngest of a brood of five siblings. I can’t imagine that my family—or any halfway decent psychologist, were they to take a peek—could possibly be surprised that the baby of the family now plays out his need for attention on the radio every day.
I never was anyone’s big brother. I did, however, at the age of eight have the somewhat unique blessing of becoming an uncle. Early on, Lila lived just a few blocks away from my parents’ house, and if she wasn’t at home, she probably was at my parents’ house. I got to spend a ton of quality time with her. She was rarely physically far away, and never spiritually so as I grew up.
I never was anyone’s big brother. I was only ever anyone’s little brother, so I can’t really say with authority that I for sure felt like a big brother to Lila. I don’t know what being a big brother is supposed to feel like. But I got to experience her in a very special way, one that, had my sister been a little older, or perhaps had I been a little older, or had they not been so near and included me so often, I would never have had the opportunity for.
Life is full of challenges. One challenge I face this time of year—or rather, one I try to stealthily creep past facing—is how to cope with the loss of a person who, while not my little sister, was the person who made me feel like a big brother.
I went to bed on Halloween night in 2002 having probably achieved a 50/50 split on candy distribution versus consumption. One-for-you-one-for-me always seemed like a fair trade, what with all the up and down stairs I had to do to hand out candy in a split-level home. I couldn’t if I tried forget being woken up a couple of hours into my slumber, in the small digits of November 1st by a phone call from my parents. I couldn’t if I tried forget the words my mother spoke: “Gregory, Lila’s dead.”
I would give just about anything if, instead of having been forced to wake me up by uttering those words, my mother would have been somehow compelled to drive the 200+ miles to my house and wake me up by smacking me in the face with a two-by-four. I would have long since gotten over that. There isn’t any getting over this. There is just getting on.
I never was anyone’s big brother. But for a time all too short—24 years that went by in the blink of an eye—I got to pretend to be one, kind of, sort of. It’s an experience that helped shape me. It opened me up to a way of looking at the world that I would not have had otherwise. It shapes me yet today by reminding me that family relationships are rooted not by what branch of the family tree you rest on, but by the fact that each branch is a part of the whole, and they will sway in the gusts of the greatest storms together.