December 14, 2006: My Brother, My Best Friend – Alison Smith

DECEMBER 14, 2006 – ?MY BROTHER, MY BEST FRIEND?: ALISON SMITH.? In 1984, when Alison Smith was only 15 years old, her adored, older brother Roy died in a car accident.? The two were so close that they shared the nickname ?Alroy.?? Alison went on to write the memoir ?Name All the Animals? which was a New York Times Notable Book and was named one of the top ten books of 2004 by People magazine.? Alison talks with Gloria and Heidi about how she worked through her grief and continues to honor the memory of her brother, her best friend.

Alison Smith:? I definitely wrote the book because when I left Rochester, my parents stayed there and they stayed in a community where everyone knew Roy, and I went out into the world and I realized no one would ever meet my big brother so one of the reasons I wrote the book was to bring him back into the world just to show him to my friends.?

Alison Smith:? I think as so many of your listeners know when this happens, your life is split in two and there are only two things.? For me, there was before Roy died and after Roy died and that was the defining moment for every event.

Alison Smith:? I was 15 and I think the challenging thing about being a young sibling is that you have so little life experience and you really don?t understand so many of your emotions and then you?re asked to process something ? I think the most challenging thing we have to process in this world which is grief which is the fact that sometimes we are powerless to save the people we love.?

Alison Smith:? I did, but looking is so interesting when someone dies right a half mile from your house and that the world changes within the course of a few minutes and so my looking, I did look in his room every morning, of course, to see maybe if he showed up at night and I certainly wandered further and further into the woods in the gulleys and the gorges around the home where we grew up in the suburbs outside Rochester because he died on a hill that was surrounded by these beautiful woods so I searched the woods.? And I also.? I thought he would come back to me so as I was saying before the break, I started saving my food for him.? I cut everything in half and would only eat half of it and the other half was put out in the fort, it was a little hideout we made behind the garage, and left for him every night, and I was aided in my magical thinking I imagine by a stray dog because the food was eaten every night.

Alison Smith:? So and I had that experience with Santa Clause I?m sure because I was 15 I was drawing on all these childlike and childhood experiences to try to make this story work and the only way the story could work for me is if my brother came back to me.? My brother could not leave and I think for siblings, especially younger siblings, it is a physical impossibility to imagine that you can exist without this other person in the world.? I didn?t understand on any level, on a cellular level even, that my brother could die and that I could live.? And I think everything in me revolted against that and the sad thing about my magical thinking is it led to an eating disorder because the saving of the food, I became more and more desperate and I ate less and less and I saved more and more for him.

Alison Smith:? Since I was the only one to lose faith, to stop hearing Christ?s voice, I thought perhaps it was my fault that Roy had left us.? I thought I was being punished for some unknown sin.? I had learned early in my Catholic career that one could sin silently in one?s heart.? One could even sin without ever discovering what one had done or why it was wrong.? What had I done? I asked myself, to make God disappear and take Roy with him.

Alison Smith:? I had this relationship with Jesus when I was a kid that was a very sort of imaginary friend relationship, and it was a very childlike wonderful faith and I think the first time it was truly tested, it collapsed.? The great test was Roy?s death and I think probably my imagination, I couldn?t face my own rage and so in my imagination, I made Jesus walk away from me when really I didn?t know how to accept that I was so angry with God.

Alison Smith:? There were so many wasted afternoons, so many useless, listless empty hours of staring and blinking and then staring some more.? I passed entire days tracking the course of a single dust moat across the basement.

Alison Smith:? This is right after the boys have left the house, and my parents just come to life whenever the boys come to the house, but my father sits down in a chair after they leave and says, ?Those boys.? They?ll live to be a hundred.? They?ll live forever.?? So he?s also sort of devastated by their presence, and I wrote after that:? We bumped around the house for a good six months.? Stunned, hungry, longing, waiting for the runners, unable to find the door back into our lives.? I returned to school, grew two inches, and lost ten pounds.? Mother climbed Mount Marcy twice.? The new St. Jude joined us at the kitchen table but nothing really changed.? Mary Elizabeth still mooned over Jimmy, the lead guitar player.? I still sneaked out the back door every night and visited the fort.? My parents said their daily prayers and every Sunday we all dressed up and went to Mass and after awhile even God?s long silence did not seem that strange.? We remained removed.? One foot in this world, one foot in the next with Roy.? I checked his bed every morning.? Just in case.

Alison Smith:? It?s a lot of pressure and to be perfectly honest, it?s a great burden in my life.? I think because of the way he poses the question, it?s very centered on his need and how I?m going to meet his needs and so I want to find projects in life.? My lifelong project is to learn how to love my father and be with my father and set a boundary and understand that he is a well that will never be filled.? There will never be.? I will never do enough for him.

Alison Smith:? I know this is a small thing to say but people ask me who are just grieving and I?ve lost Roy about 22 years ago now and I?m still learning and I think the thing I say if you?re in the first months is your only job is to stay alive.? Stay in this world with us and you can be guaranteed that there will be changes.? Things will shift.

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