Photo by Rosie Chuong | Taken on February 15, 2015 at The Huntington Library
I’LL REMEMBER AUGUST 27 by the amount of social media posts I came across sharing sentiments for those that were being terribly affected by Hurricane Harvey. While the world was watching as Hurricane Harvey brought devastation to Texas and other communities on that particular day, my family and I were experiencing an entirely different hurricane in our own worlds. We learned that one of my brother’s passed away.
I spent half of this year afraid that I would lose one of my sisters to suicide – a fear that formed many years ago when I was in high school. It was built upon a very traumatic series of playing detective when I noticed unexplainable cuts on her arm and found bloody razors in the bathroom. Just when I felt like I finally settled on suicide not happening to her, my youngest sister, I then lost my brother, the eldest of the sons and who somehow miraculously shares a birthday with that same sister (not twins), to an incredibly tragic motorcycle accident.
You would think that living in constant fear for death of one particular sibling would prepare you for when the time comes to face it for anybody else, but that’s just not how it works. Not when it suddenly happens.
My family and I immediately flew out to Georgia to reunite and host a funeral for my brother in the state he grew up in. It was decided that I would lead it which included writing the script, supporting my sisters in writing his eulogy and maintaining a public face throughout the day. Determined to deliver a beautiful service for my brother, his partner and son, I was somehow able to keep myself composed while speaking in front of the crowd, but there was one moment when I just couldn’t do it.
Here’s the thing about the dynamics of my family: my mother had three children from her first marriage and was only able to have custody over one of them; my eldest sister. The other two children stayed with their father in Georgia. My mother eventually remarried and had three more children during her second marriage. Essentially, we are two groups of half siblings who were raised by different parents on the other side of the country from each other. Most of the siblings didn’t have the privilege of growing up with this particular brother. It was only in these last two years, as adults, that we had the opportunity to spend more time with each other and create a stronger family.
During the family expressions at the funeral, quite a few people who grew up with him came up to speak and shared their beloved memories of my brother. There were particular keywords repeatedly used to describe him. Those words perfectly colored the man he was and it felt reassuring to hear that my siblings and I were able to know and love the same exact person that these other people confidently knew.
It reminded me that no quantity of time could ever make up for the quality bonding. I realized how lucky we were to have had the chance, though seemingly short and small, to form wonderful memories with him before we had to lose him. This clarified revelation during the service is what brought me to tears over the mic.
THAT WAS 100 DAYS AGO. This past weekend, my family reunited again to host a ‘100 days’ Buddhist ceremony for my brother in our home. It’s ultimately a final prayer to send a person who has passed to their final resting place, whether it be rebirth or Nirvana. While I felt a certain joy to be with my family as a whole, it was painful to be reminded of why we were together then and there in the first place.
I’m reminded that my eldest nephew is a living product of my brother. And the only.
I’m reminded of his devoted partner and a very specific conversation we had where he declared that he would ask her to marry him when they were in the “right” place in their lives. They were just on the verge of that “right” path before his life was taken.
I’m reminded of how my mother may never be at peace knowing she couldn’t gain custody over her eldest son while trying to escape death from domestic violence. The question of “what if” will always burn her.
I’m reminded of how torturous it was to use skills I’ve crafted, skills I’m paid to perform, skills I personally enjoy utilizing, to execute a well-organized funeral for a sibling I so lovingly admired.
And most painfully, I’m reminded of his twin birthday sister, who’ll never be able to celebrate her birthday the same ever again.
There are hard truths and unsolved mysteries regarding the loss of my brother. Through love for this same person, my family managed to pull each other closer together. Through resentment for what could have been, we succeeded in tearing each other apart trying to do the same thing, but in different ways. 100 days later, we ultimately had to ask ourselves, “What has changed in us?”
How I’ve personally transformed over these last 100 days is for another time, but for now, let’s allow finding silence and stillness in the eye of the storm be the end goal for those of us who’ve experienced the loss of a loved one.
And to my beloved brother: for you, a thousand times over will your stories and legacy be shared and remembered. Losing an individual as admirable as you comes with utter sadness and sheer pain that makes everything immensely difficult to fathom.