Having a Dead Sibling Is Full of Contradictions

It’s been a decade since my brother died. His death has shaped me and it has confounded me — with its curses and blessings, too.

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Anne and her brother, David, c. 2006. (Courtesy of Anne Pinkerton)

10 paradoxes of having a dead brother, 10 years on: 

• You are grateful he never set up a Facebook page so that memories of him don’t pop up unexpectedly in your feed and emotionally slap you upside the head. You wish he had set up a Facebook page so that you would have an excuse when you suddenly start crying in your cubicle at work.

• You appreciate that your brother’s friends are now your friends. You appreciate that they will probably be your friends forever because of the tragic tie that binds you. You appreciate that good things come from all kinds of surprising places. You acknowledge that this doesn’t make up for your brother not being here.

• You realize that you are lucky because you are still here. You realize he might have been a better person than you, and you feel guilty about being alive when he isn’t.

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• You decide it’s not crazy to see signs. You decide you might be a little bit spiritual after all. You decide that your brother is the cardinal that visits, the planet shining in the night sky, the orange Subaru that drives by. You decide not to tell anyone that you feel this way, just in case.

Anne and David, c. 1977. (Courtesy of Anne Pinkerton)

• You know you are stronger for all you’ve been through, even though it sometimes makes you feel weak. You know you have scars instead of wounds, but the scars hurt; they always will.

• Because now you know it will always hurt, you start mourning everyone else you love ahead of time. You start seeing that everyone will die, and probably not in the right order. You start preparing yourself for pain.

• You are annoyed that everyone thinks maybe it’s finally time to get rid of that shrine you’ve built — replete with photos, mementos, and souvenirs. You are exasperated that, despite witnessing your non-linear journey, everyone thinks there is a straightforward timeline for this.

• You wonder when you will stop observing every birthday, counting up the years to determine the age he would have been, lighting a candle, and imagining how his hair would have grayed and his laugh lines would have deepened. You finally realize the answer is never.

READ: A Day in the Life of My Grief — Illustrated

• You consider yourself something of an expert on a topic you never wanted to study. You consider that you have an obligation to others who lose someone, especially a sibling, especially a brother. You consider your knowledge, your pain, your survival a potential gift, a helpful tool, something people might want. You remind yourself you still have a lot to learn.

• You make friends with someone whose brother just died, and because you are still grieving, you worry he will think you are a cautionary tale. You are. You tell him it gets better anyway. It does.

Anne Pinkerton studied poetry as an undergrad at Hampshire College and received an MFA in creative nonfiction from Bay Path University. Her writing has since appeared in Hippocampus Magazine, Write Angles Journal, riverSedge Literary Journal, and Modern Loss, among others. She blogs at truescrawl.com.

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