“Siblings are the only relatives, and perhaps the only people you’ll ever know, who are with you through the entire arc of your life…Your parents leave you too soon and your kids and spouse come along late, but your siblings know you when you are in your most inchoate form.” – writer Jeffrey Kluger observed to Salon in 2011, the year his book “The Sibling Effect” was published.
My brother Andy was more than a sibling, he was my twin. We weren’t really twins, we were just close in age and physically favored each other including, despite the 2.5 year age difference, being the same height. We always played together and were constantly told stories of how we immediately bonded from the moment I was born. Being younger than him, I never knew life without him. He was my first friend and best friend. We were affectionately called “the matching pair” by our family.
Although we had two other siblings (I’m one of four), my entire identity was a reflection of my life with him. Our world was rich with creativity in every way. As children, we spent most of our time playing with toys; coming up with different scenarios and personalities for each (which changed frequently.) As we got older, this world of “make believe” manifested in the form of music, theater, print and digital media, etc. Andy was publicly seen as quiet but behind closed doors he could put on quite a show and is still the funniest person I have ever met. He was sensitive and had respect for all things, living and inanimate. If one us were to toss aside a stuffed animal, he’d immediately run over, cradle it, and say we had hurt its feelings. This kind of behavior really made our toys come to life.
I was 24 when my brother passed away instantly in a car accident. This is an untouchable age where nothing bad could possibly happen. The world exists to serve you and you’ll worry about responsibility “later.” I was unbreakable; we were unbreakable. When Andy died, I shattered. From that moment on, nothing would ever be the same. The word no longer served me. It was against me and it took from me. I was immediately broken and couldn’t see myself; I had lost the pieces of me.
For those of us who have lost a loved one, attempting to put together the shattered glass of our lives is beyond tedious; it’s nearly impossible. It is such a struggle that many people get tired after a few initial attempts and give up. This is because here is no easy way around it. The only way to get it done is to work through it piece by piece. First, you have to locate all the pieces and get them organized into one pile. Then you start with one piece and sift through the entire pile until you find its adjacent piece; and repeat. As you continue this process, it starts to take less time to sift through the remaining pieces and find where it fits. Eventually, there are only a few left and you’re putting them together quickly and with ease.
It took over three years for me to collect all my pieces into a pile and remember who I used to be. The first year after a loss is particularly emotional because you are experiencing everything, such as holidays and gatherings, for the first time without that person. The following year serves as reminder of this new reality. Then, even though it’s hard and you don’t always want to, you accept it. During this time, I thought about what I used to like to do and had to make myself try them again. Activities that used to feel second-nature like exercise (running, biking, rowing) and playing piano now felt awkward and forced. It’s really hard to not be good at something that you used excel in. This is where the hard work comes in and you have to make a commitment to yourself that you won’t quit; you must rejoin the living. At this point, it is more about your mental state than whatever task or activity you are performing.
They say that when a mirror breaks, the penalty is to endure seven years of bad luck. This June will mark seven years since Andy’s death. The process of working through collecting the pieces gave me strength to start living again. My pieces have been found and I am swiftly completing the mirror that once was shared by my brother. The new face has cracks but it is fixed and I am whole in it. The reflection shows a happy person who participates in many activities and loves living life again.