It took me 33 years to be able to speak the words.
The first couple times I spoke them I could barely get them out of my mouth: I’m the oldest of 4 children… not 3.
And though I was only a year and a half old when he left, I know that I felt him go.
Because humans are sensitive creatures.
I felt my cat go last year. I’d had Fivel for 8 years, and though in the past he’d gone on gallivants where I didn’t see him for for weeks on end, I never worried about him.
But the night he truly left he visited my dreams. I dreamed he came back to our home for one last visit, walking into the bedroom and approaching our bedside.
The next day I knew he was gone. I told my girlfriend about my dream and she said that she’d had the very same one. We never saw him again, not in waking life at least.
I now know that I felt my brother leave too. I wish that I could have said goodbye, and it’s strange to realize that maybe I didn’t even have the language for that yet. I was only a year and a half old. He was 10 weeks.
I cried yesterday on the phone talking about Jim. It was a deep, fierce cry, the kind where my whole body heats up and I can tell that something very deep inside is being released.
In my family’s photo album there’s a picture of me holding him in my arms. Yesterday, for the first time since he left I went back and felt what it was like to hold him. I felt, for the first time in 33 years what it was like to love my brother. We shared a deep bond. He was my brother.
I cried and felt the gaping hole in my chest that got created when he left with no warning, no chance to say goodbye or come to completion.
I cried and felt what it was like to hold him close to me.
I cried even harder when the person I was talking to on the phone said “You know, he felt that same love for you too.”
And though I’ve never ever done this before, last night as I fell asleep I clutched a pillow to my chest just as I might have held my baby brother in my arms.
It took me 33 years to realize that I suppressed the heartbreak of his death.
It was simply too much for me to feel back then. Too much for a heart as young and tender as mine. I wasn’t able to let myself feel such a painful loss, so my body did the only thing it could. It turned off. I numbed everything out. I dissociated from the experience.
And maybe I needed to. Maybe I would have died too, of a broken heart, if I hadn’t done so. This happens to people.
For years I had no awareness of the impact his death had on me. I could not, hard as I tried (and I DID try), figure out how a privileged middle class young man who’s parents were still together and who always supported him in his endeavors ended up so numb and disconnected.
At 34 years old, in the moment I realized that I shut down to the pain of his death, I saw my entire life flash before my eyes. In an instant it all made sense.
Of course I spent so many years in a deep, deep depression, thinking suicidal thoughts, and very nearly killing myself.
Of course I lived but didn’t live, existing as a hollow shell of a man.
Of course I responded the way I did when those kids in 5th and 6th grade bullied me… By numbing out, making it mean something about me, and giving up on myself.
Of course I cling onto romantic relationships way past the point that it’s healthy to do so.
Of course I have such a deep need to come to completion after even a slight break of connection in any of my relationships.
And now that I’ve gotten to a certain point in my healing process there are many other things that make sense too.
Of course I am so deeply called to support men and create more brotherhood in the world.
Of course I have such a deep need to feel ALL of my feelings, to not suppress ANYTHING.
Of course I have such a strong drive to maintain connection with my family, friends, and community.
I know now that Jim has been with me every step of my life.
I’ve found myself through twists and turns that nobody in my life – me especially – could have EVER anticipated.
I’ve come very, very close to dying a handful of times in my life so far and now I know that he was with me through each one. Letting me journey where I needed to go, to learn the lessons I needed to learn, but guiding me just gently enough to keep me from slipping over the edge and falling over to the other side.
It feels really vulnerable to say that I love my brother. Admitting this means that I also need to feel the pain of his loss. It’s true though. I love my brother.
And despite all of the pain I’m also tremendously grateful that the relationship that got put on pause 33 years ago gets to become a part of my life again. I can feel him with me still. He feels not like a baby boy, but like a man. Strong, solid, trustworthy, loving, playful.
I’m grateful that I get to feel him with me again. I’m grateful I get to feel ME in my life again.
What you never learned in elementary school
about a caterpillar’s transformation into a butterfly is that after the it has encased itself in its chrysalis the caterpillar literally digests itself. It releases enzymes that dissolve almost all of its former body into nothingness.
But a few select groups of cells survive. They’re called imaginal discs.
The caterpillar was born with imaginal discs – one for each of the adult body parts it will need as a mature butterfly – eyes, wings, legs, and so on. Once the caterpillar’s former self has been dissolved, the imaginal discs use the nutrient rich liquid to fuel the exponential division of cells that create the butterfly.
We all know what happens from there… the butterfly breaks out of its chrysalis, stretches its colorful wings out for the first time, and begins its new life.
Our universe operates in cycles, and us humans are no different than the caterpillars. Our most painful wounds can be healed to become our greatest strengths. Our deepest shame can be brought into the light and transformed into our most powerful assets.
From dark comes light, and the two could not exist without each other.
It simply (although it doesn’t feel so simple sometimes) requires that we submit to the forces that govern our world. It’s inevitable that at some point in our lives we build walls around our hearts. For very good reasons too – they kept us safe at the time they were constructed.
But the story continues unfolding as we submit to nature’s process and allow those walls to dissolve. As they do, our own versions of the imaginal discs become activated and come to life, and THEN is when we can create the kind of impact and legacy our hearts yearn for, the quality and depth of relationships we’ve been craving, and the fulfillment and joy our souls have been calling us toward.
Then is when our richest experience of this life can begin.
On Joy and Sorrow
Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.
And how else can it be?
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.
Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven?
And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives?
When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.
When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.
– By Khalil Gibran