Friday, March 17, 2017

When You Lose Someone

Grief comes with a set of expectations and I have never felt like I live up to them. I couldn’t really cry at my brother’s wake or his funeral. I couldn’t really absorb the shock of my brother’s death or be genuinely sad until about a month later when I was alone, driving away from my hometown to where I didn’t know yet. People always expect me to be really sad on the anniversaries of his death, the funeral, his birthday, but honestly I never find these anniversaries particularly riveting because I can anticipate them and prepare myself for them. If I ever share something I have written on one of these anniversaries, like this article for instance, I usually write it weeks or months in advance. Maybe it’s the anticipation that hurts more than the anniversary. It’s the realization that it will be three and then four years since he’s been gone and you never really know when this realization will hit you but it’s usually not when you expect or when others expect it will.

This next week would have been my brother's twenty-first birthday and it occurred to me recently that I’ll never be able to go to a bar with my brother. We’ll never go out for drinks. He’ll never bring home a six pack. And let me tell you that if anyone would be excited about being able to legally purchase beer and drink Scotch with his dad, it would be him. I know he’s not missing that but I am.

Ben and I never had a lot in common by way of personality, but one of our few similarities was both of us had more ambition than we felt equipped to or capable of accomplishing. High expectations are the natural consequence of being born into a family with a PhD wielding professor for a father and a music teacher/genius for a mother. Every homeschoolers' nightmare is to wake up and realize that they are actually relatively average. Mama always told us, The test scores do not accurately represent how smart you are or what you are capable of. But neither of us ever felt very smart or especially gifted. And both of us understood how important it was just to have someone there who really believed in you. Ben always believed in me. He was convinced I was the “smart one” even though the test scores always said otherwise and even though he was the one helping me with high school Algebra. (And besides we all knew Greg was really the smart one. ;) )

We would have arguments—I kid you not, arguments—over who was smarter. I swear that kid could argue about anything. They would go something like this.

Ben would be stressed out and going off on a rant about how he was going to fail in life.

This rant would usually be inspired by a recently acquired less-than-perfect score on an assignment or exam.

I then would say something reassuring like, “It’s just one assignment! You’ll be fine.”

Then he would say something like, “Dani, I don’t think you understand—you’re smart—”

I would cut him off with, “Oh, and you’re not smart?!”

“No, I mean, a different kind of smart—you’re smart and you’re really talented—”

This remark typically inspired a large incredulous snort from me. “Ben, I am not that talented. Besides, you’re really talented too. You just have to be more confident!”

At some point Ben would start belaboring his point simply because he liked to argue just to argue and that’s when I would draw the line.

The argument would usually end with me declaring, “This is so stupid! Why are we even arguing about this?!” And then Ben would reveal his hidden stash of candied orange slices in the car or crack a joke and we would consider it a mutual unspoken truce.

I have always been an independent person. I have always hated appearing less than self-sufficient to anyone. It's a prideful insecurity of mine. However, Ben was one of the rare souls in my life I never hesitated calling if I needed help with anything because while he might criticize my flighty blondness and my space cadet stunts, he never once made me feel small for them and he never missed a beat in helping me find a solution. He always loved being the hero and maybe that's why I always went to him first, because I knew that deep down he never helped people out of resigned obligation but out of a genuine love for helping others. He would show up when you needed him. And he was always on call.

When you lose someone you love you lose a part of you. You lose a version of yourself. You lose the person your loved one drew out of you, the person they inspired. This was a part of grief I did not anticipate. It’s the part of grief that inspires emotional regression—that grasping after and striving to rediscover that person you once were, that person you were with them. But you just can’t. As soon as that person is cut from your life, that version of you is gone too. You have to move on and move forward.

Be wary of deliberately cutting people from your life because when you cut someone off from you, you are cutting off a part of yourself and you may be surprised with what you lose.

The hard part of losing someone is that you do not get a replacement. There is nothing there to fill the vacuum. And nothing ever will fill it completely. But there is space for new life to grow where your old life and old self was uprooted. In many ways I am still the same person I was when my brother died. I am the brunette girl with secret blond roots. I am the flighty, distractable, indecisive dreamer. I am the girl who has brains but little common sense. I am the girl who tends to bite off more than she can chew, the one who’s a little too ambitious for her own good. I am the girl who will never give up her red wool coat. However, the last few years have taught me to take care of myself, to deliberate before taking action, to be a little less flighty and more focused, to push through even when it's hard, to make things happen on my own, to get up, show up, and keep going even on the days when the waterworks won't stop and everything seems to trigger the painful memories.

But every now and then I still miss that old version of me. I miss him. I miss us. I miss everything we never were able to experience together. I miss the people we never got to become. I miss the uncle I never got to see him be. I miss the man I never got to see him grow into. 


  1. Dani, I always love reading your posts about your brother, Ben, because I can always resonate so well with your thoughts on grief having lost a brother of my own. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Aw. *hugs* I just lost my Grandpa recently and it's been really tough. Grief is a hard thing.

    1. Victoria, I'm so sorry to hear that. I'm praying for you and your family! *sending virtual hugs*

      Dani xoxo


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