On becoming an only

After my brother died someone thoughtlessly expressed that I was now an only child. At the time, I didn’t have the presence of mind to explain how very wrong or insensitive this comment felt to me. Losing my only sibling didn’t make me an only .. it made me a one less. After all, who I am was shaped by a childhood of our shared experience.

We were opposites, my brother and I. So much so that I sometimes thought one of us must have been adopted or switched at birth. It didn’t seem possible that two people born from the same parents could have such contrasting interests or character traits.

Yet we were joined by the commonality of our upbringing. A lifetime of intertwined existence. Our love for each other not reduced by our innate differences.

I envied cultures in which people wail and keen openly, falling apoplectic .. their anguish on full display .. howled out to the world. Their grief no more real or painful, yet the acceptance to display the raw emotion of losing a loved one diminishing the bulk of heartache residing within. My own practice was one brought about by a lifetime of bearing witness to what, for me and mine, is an acceptable form of grieving. The expectation to put on a brave face so that others are not embarrassed by our sorrow.

The swallowing of these emotions takes up residence within us. The sheer volume leaving little room for anything else. Anguish is released privately, in small bursts .. yet never fully. It feeds on itself when left to it’s own devices .. becomes a part of who we are .. attaching to bone, muscle and sinew .. as much a part of our physical being as skin, hair and teeth.

We like to say we are a generation of enlightenment. Buzzwords such as mindfulness are cast about like confetti. It’s true that as a society we’ve grown in acceptance and inclusion .. but it’s minimal, these steps we’ve taken. We’re still products of our ancestry, of societal reality.

There ought to be a better way to express our condolences to those that have lost a loved one. The typical “I’m sorry for your loss” leaves no path for response or reflection. It simply enhances and exemplifies the aloneness of being left without.

My future burden is greater in becoming a one less. The care of my parents left solely to me. This in itself small, in comparison of the need to rely on my own judgement on how best to carry out this task.

I’m still angry at having been left. Angry at the injustice of a life taken too soon. Saddened by the loss of someone whose presence made so many lives brighter and whose lack of being leaves an unfillable void. Saddened too that the echo of my childhood has been extinguished .. my memories no longer reflected in the mirror of our siblinghood.

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