It’s not like I want to post a picture of a grave. It’s not like I’m looking for attention twice a year, when I say something about it on facebook. So I started thinking about why I do it.
When my baby brother, Adam, was born on August 4, 1996, his doctors found that he had a heart defect, which resulted in him having three open-heart surgeries before her turned two. On January 26, 1999, he went back into the hospital for a routine procedure, and to this day no one understands why this brave little boy, who was just as comfortable in “his hospital” as anywhere else, simply didn’t wake up.
I was eight at the time. He died ten days after my birthday, as if that’s significant at all. There’s no meaning to the fact that my life gained another year right before his stopped short forever. It just is.
They say grief comes in waves, and when you’re eight and your brother passes away, or in my particular case, one of your four brothers, the littlest, the waves are spaced out years apart. I’m sure this is true whenever a child is lost, whether it was your sibling, child, or another loved one. When this happens when you yourself are a kid, at first you just give yourself over to whatever your initial reaction is. It doesn’t have to make sense.
The night Adam died, all the grown ups were acting like I had never seen them act before. Though he had undergone three major surgeries, I don’t remember anyone having The Talk with me or my brothers – the one where they explained that Adam could die. I might have happened, but I put it out of my mind. I remember being grateful that Adam was alive, but I was never actually worried that he was not going to live. I had a brother seriously close to death, but Death was not a thing that touched my mind. I was eight. I didn’t notice it touch the minds of my parents, or the other adults around me, until Death had happened, and my dad was crying. The other adults were looking at me strangely, probably bracing themselves to be prepared for any kind of reaction from the little siblings who had just lost a brother.
I’ve always been one to tease other peoples’ expectations. I don’t like to be figured out. I could tell that everyone was expecting me to be sad. I moreover knew that they didn’t want me to be sad. I think I knew that being sad was okay, but I wanted to go above people’s expectations. There were purple polka dots on the floor of Children’s Hospital, and my brothers and I had taken to skipping from one to the next when we went to visit Adam during his hospital stays. The night we walked out of that room – the one you know is for bad news – I still skipped from one purple dot to another. To act happy, to make the adults think that I wasn’t sad, I had to not think about Adam being gone. I might have cried, but did I sob, like everyone knew I was capable of doing? No. Not once (that I remember).
I don’t remember what life was like immediately after that, except that people brought us food, and my uncle took us to see A Bug’s Life in theaters and we sat in the front row, but the whole time I knew we were there because my parents were picking out a tombstone for Adam. I remember when we stood on the land that would be his gravesite.
I remember the funeral – that Adam looked nothing like Adam, and he was bright pink. Everyone had to wait in line to see him, but because he was my brother I could go up and see him whenever I wanted. I could even touch him (no one was watching me, probably, to tell me that this was inappropriate). My dad’s southern gospel quartet sang, except not with my dad. My best friend’s dad sand his part instead.
As I grew up, I knew that I was special because I had a brother who died, but there was only one time that I remember when I used that to get attention. Or as an excuse for bad behavior. Nothing makes me understand kids as much as remembering my thoughts and actions after Adam died. It sounds so ridiculous now that I thought we were special – which sounds like a good thing – because a bad thing had happened. Maybe it’s kind of true, but no adult would want to think that. But kids will take what they can get.
From those few years after it happened until I was a full grown adult, I remembered Adam on two days – his birthday and his death day. I mean, I thought of him often, probably a little bit every day, but I didn’t try to bring up memories or think, What if he was here? I didn’t bury memories of him or suppress grief, but I was just kind of okay with having those two days to dedicate to him. That was enough. When we were still all pretty young, we would release balloons at his grave site on his death day, and we would go to McDonalds on his birthday. We would throw around memories, like how much he loved the vacuum cleaner, and that one time he cried all night long until Eric got out of bed and held him. And that was grief, the remembering.
In adulthood, a new wave of grief is cresting and crashing. I see my parents as other people, with actual feelings, and it’s a whole new thing. When my husband proposed to me at midnight after January 26, 2012, and my parents gained another son on that day, it was such a beautiful thing. And the memories are different now. His voice in my head has always been clear, but it wasn’t until this week, on the sixteenth anniversary of his death, that I had this vivid memory of what it felt like to hold him. And it’s the strangest thing… I’ve always loved when people’s ears stick out, and the other day when I looked at the picture of him that’s set into his tombstone, I noticed that his ears do that. How did I not know that before?
My other brothers graduated high school, and I miss him. They have birthdays, and I miss him. They get engaged and married, and I miss him. They stand in a line as groomsmen at my wedding, and I miss him. Through their lives, I see what his life could have been, and it just won’t stop. In adulthood, I value my three other brothers’ precious lives more than anything else.
On his anniversary this year, I took him the flowers that had been a birthday gift because they still looked beautiful. I wouldn’t even have gone if those flowers didn’t remind me. Maybe he died so close to my birthday so that I would have something to bring him.
So it’s not that I want to post a picture of a grave, but I have a little brother whose name is Adam. And he has brought people to Christ through his testimony, and through my mother’s. He has taught us to be tender and compassionate toward everyone, because we don’t know what they’re going through. He has taught me to love and cherish my brothers, more than anything, and celebrate every milestone. He’s shown me what bravery and joy look like, and how to charm strangers by having a good attitude. He’s taught me how to cry in public, and how to honor someone in memories. He’s taught me so much about heaven, and what a welcoming place it must be for little children.
And I’m just so proud of him. So yeah, I want you to know that. Here’s a picture.