The Nature of Loss

This past weekend has been pretty hard for me. Friday was the anniversary of my brother’s birth. He passed away at 22 years of age from cancer. For some reason this year his birthday has been a hard one as I remember him. I feel compelled to post the letter that I read to him at his funeral.

Dear Daniel,

I don’t know if you knew this, because I never told you (so how could you?), but when I was growing up my worst nightmares always involved you. I remember having one where we had been raised in seperate homes for a while and I saw you in a grocery store and you were smoking cigarettes. It hurt me so much to see my brother doing something to harm himself like smoking that I woke up in tears and couldn’t get back to sleep for hours afterwards just thinking of how awful it would be if anything bad, like cigerettes, would ever happen to you.

I don’t know if you would remember this. But in my room in our house on Berrendo road I had a big stuffed lion in my room that I just loved. One day I remember asking you to come in for a second. Your unsuspecting five year old curiousity obliged. You came in and sat down on the lion next to me and I asked you to give me your arm. You did, so willingly. And then I bit you. I didn’t really have a reason for asking you to come in, and so once you sat down the only choice I had was to bite you. I think about this day a lot. And I know you were only 5 and probably don’t remember me doing it, but I’ve meant to tell you for a long time that I’m sorry that I did this. So Daniel, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have bit you.

We went on a lot of car rides together. Now a lot of these car trips were consumed by questions that you seemed to always have in your mind. “Which has more smog, Los Angeles or New York City?” “Which do you think has more trees, San Diego or Chicago?” But my favorite moments in these car rides were when we would sit in the backseat of a car together and sing silly songs. You were the perfect partner for our duet of “There’s a hole in the bucket dear Liza, dear Liza.” We even had a routine that involved a newspaper and an actual bucket that we liked to perform at our grandparents house after school. In fact, we sang that one so often that I remember one instance that we sang it together in the hospital. But, just between you and me Daniel, I could never understand why they were fixing this whole in the bucket with a straw. Why didn’t they just buy a plastic bucket?

They say that the highest form of flattery is imitation. When I was a kid it sometimes bothered me that you were constantly trying to do everything that I did. I took piano lessons, so you took them. I joined the band, so you did.  I ran cross country, so you wanted to run cross county. I joined Science Olympiad, so you joined as well. I was a lifeguard at the Lakes, so the next year you did the same. And honestly, while it was tough leaving home for me to go to college, in terms of you I’m so glad that I did. After I left you really started to discover who you were and what you liked to do. And as a result you became the best trombonist that I’ve ever met. Instead of trying to compete with me, you started to stand on your own and do things that I never did and excel at all of it. When you made All-State I was so proud of you that I told everyone I knew. There wasn’t a single person that I knew who didn’t know that I had a brother who could play trombone — and play it well.

Now I don’t want you to get a big head about the trombone playing thing Daniel, I do have a bone to pick with you. It’s just really not fair that you wouldn’t give me your recipe for your egg plant parmesian. It was so delicious and you knew I loved it (you must have, you were always offering to make it for me). But why? WHY? couldn’t you write down the recipe for me?

I enjoyed living with you so much. I liked sitting around watching movies together. Playing tennis at the apartment. Going to the beach. Hiking at Torrey Pines. Torturing my kittens by trapping them in boxes. Being with you as your broke the Red Lobster all you can eat shrimp record by pounding down 80 shrimp for dinner. Watching Texas Tech play at Trophy’s Sports Bar. Oh, and by the way Daniel, I’m sorry to be the one to tell you this, but Texas Tech lost Saturday night to the Lobos — I think they could feel that their biggest fan was missing. We had so much fun riding jet skiis together in Mission Bay Park last year. And there was always the time when you and Matt bought panda and koala masks at the Wild Animal Park and walked around growling at all the people who walked by. You scared some little kids but you made the entire trip so much better.

Daniel, you were a man of few words with the exceptions of: “Texas Tech” “Hooters” or “I want some ribs/crab legs/chocolate pudding.” But probably the thing I will always and forever remember you saying was in the hospital when a nurse was trying to take your temperature and you were messing with a blood pressure cuff that was falling from your arm. The nurse kept telling you to keep still, to which you replied: “It’s hard to keep still when you’re moving.”

But, probably one of the most vivid memories I have of you, Daniel, is when mom was dying. We all stood around her. You were on her right side, and I on her left. And after we knew that she had passed away you sat down on Mark’s bed, put your hands over your face and just started weeping. You kept saying “No… no… no…” and shaking your head. I remember going over to you and putting my arm around you to try and give you some comfort. And now, I feel at such a loss. Because now it is me shaking my head, weeping and saying “No…no…no…” because honestly Daniel, I can’t believe you are gone. You were too young and there was and is so much more in life that you didn’t get to experience.

You were a wonderful brother. I loved living with you. I loved sharing my life with you. I loved your kindness, your generosity, your tenacity, your humor, your love, your passion to persevere, your will to live, you desire to go on no matter the cost, and the big hugs you would give me whenever I would tell you good news. I couldn’t have asked for a better brother… only to have had more time with you.

I love you so much Daniel. You were… amazing.
Forever your sister,

Neither my brother nor my mother thought they were going to die. They refused to believe that death would take them because they knew that God would save them. Both of them at some point realized that this might not be the case. My mom got too sick and for months was mentally and physically incapable to do anything. My brother didn’t have enough time to realize he was as close as he was to dying. Earlier the day he passed he was breathing into the oxygen machine, let out a burp and said “Ahh… that was a good one!” Most people who are going to die a few short hours later would not make such a joke. It all happened within a matter of minutes.

I wish beyond anything in the entire world that I had something from my mom or from my brother that they wrote to me knowing that they were going to die. I wish I had a letter from my mother that said, in her handwriting, “I love you. You filled my life with so much joy. I know you are going to become a beautiful person as you grow old, I’m just so sorry I won’t be there to see it.” And while I would never expect such a thing from my brother I would love just a note from him that said “I love you. Thanks for being such a great sister.”

And this is where my point comes in. We’re all going to die. Some of us have years of preparing for it and some of us have only seconds. But please, please, please, leave something personal for the ones you are leaving behind. Even if you write it today and it just sits in a box in your room for 30 years, it’s the sweetest gesture I think you could ever do for those you loved.

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13 Responses to The Nature of Loss

  1. Ella says:

    Your post brought tears to my eyes. We run behind so many things in our lives without realizing what is most important!

    Your brother sounds like an incredible person and I am so sorry that he was taken away from the world so young. I hope he is playing a trombone right now and eating all the shrimp he wants.

  2. ndchic says:

    You’ve had to deal with so much loss for somebody so young. I never thought about writing a letter to anybody but I think that I’m going to write a letter to my daughter and put it in her baby book.

    Your post was very moving.

  3. Such a beautiful and heartfelt letter – thank you for sharing and reminding us how important it is to say “I love you” to those special ones in our life.

    I started writing monthly letters to my unborn daughter recently and plan to continue to write to her as she grows. I hope to give it to her when she turns 18 but if I’m not around by that age, she’ll never have to wonder how much I loved her.

  4. Serendipity says:

    This made me cry. My mother died when I was fairly young so I understand on that part. I also agree with life being short. You may be as healthy as a horse but could get in a terrible car accident. I always make sure to tell people I love them. But, I’m thinking that I need to write letters too.
    Touching post.

  5. Sheila says:

    Such wise advise to us all. Thank you for sharing your thoughts about your brother, it was very touching.

  6. scn says:

    Thanks for sharing. I’m so sorry you lost your loved ones so soon. I, too, got teary-eyed. The closest person I lost was a grandparent. I can’t imagine losing a parent or sibling. That’s some good advice to write a letter to your loved ones.

  7. Beautiful post, thank you for sharing. It was truly touching and inspiring.

  8. eemusings says:

    SS, that was such an amazing letter. I don’t think I am ready to write any such letters right now, but I promise I will.

  9. So beautiful and some great advice. Your letter brought tears to my eyes! You’ve gone through so much, and way too young. Thank you for sharing 🙂

  10. I’m definitely crying at work. That was such a beautiful and very touching post. I think the idea of leaving something behind is a great one. Will try to do so as soon as I find time.

    Stay strong today, SS4BC!

  11. I’m so sorry to hear about your brother. It was a very beautiful letter and very touching. *hugs*

  12. This is so beautiful and I am so sorry to hear about your brother. Your letter was beautifully written and so touching.

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