When I was 14, my brother gave me the best gift he could have possibly given me.
Of course, I did not think of it as a gift right then, right at that moment.
The most searing memory I had of that terrible afternoon was standing atop the wooden cattle yards, calling out wildly for my Dad between the avalanche of sobbing. I looked out over the long fields searching for him, out to the burrowed mountains. He was not there.
And as I stood there, looking out over the land I loved so much, I had a fierce, sad, sodden realization that my life had just been taken from me. That I would and could never be happy again.
Of course I wouldn’t call it a realization now. I’d say it was just a feeling, a thing that passed.
But then? There in that moment?
It was as real as a realization can be.
I was angry. Yes. Fierce and stricken. And recklessly, awfully sad.
My Dad arrived home not long after. He sank to the floor and cried.
My brother was gone. At 25, he died in an accident at the farm he was working on.
And not for a long time afterwards either did I see it as a gift.
I blew snot bubbles at his funeral. I returned to school. I walked through the rest of Year 9 like a gun blast had ricocheted through my world. A refugee, forced to leave behind my beloved country of Life Before He Died. I cut my hair short. I spent a lot of time crying in outside, between hay bales, nestled up to my dog. We played Bohemian Rhapsody a lot. My sister and I continued to drive in cars with boys to eat fresh bread and giggle in paddocks. Days passed days.
Gradually, the searing, fierce pain softly, almost imperceptibly softened.
This is the path of grief. This is what it has taught me:
It hurts a lot. It continues to hurt. It gets lesser.
Than it gets replaced by deeper. Softer. Rounder. Easier. Wiser.
Occasionally waves rise up to take over again, but for the most part, grief is linear.
But I am here to tell you about the joy of it. The gift of it.
I haven’t gotten to that yet, have I?
In time, sweet time.
A few months after He Died, there was an ordinary kind of afternoon. I needed to drive his little blue car to the shed for the night. It was sunset. As I opened the door and got in the driver’s seat, there he was. Sitting in the passenger seat, smelling of cigarette smoke and sweet lollies and umber deodorant.
I miss you.
I know Boney,
I am here.
That was all. That was all we said. All we needed to say, right then, right there.
And I put the car into drive, and we slowly drove down the long gravel driveway together.
More time, more days passed.
I began talking to my brother.
I’m just here,
he would say.
I know. I just want to hug you,
I would say.
I grew my hair again. Decided to go to boarding school. Studied a lot. Had a boyfriend. Rode horses. Lost my dog. Made art. Kept writing.
I would turn to him for advice.
What should I do?
You know what to do.
Yup. Don’t give me the shits, Boney. You know what to do.
When things got hard, I would write him letters.
And I’d hear his answer inside me.
I know things are hard, Boney. It’s okay. I’ll take care of it. I’ll take care of you.
I believed him.
I left boarding school. Got a job. Found a new boyfriend, fell in love.
I wish you could meet him,
I have, Boney.
I left town. Moved towns. Moved again. Moved across the countryside. Grew up.
One night, I made art with my love as we listened to the radio. There was a clairvoyant on the radio.
Call. Call now.
A voice told me.
And so I did.
I was the next caller through.
Your big brother wants to talk to you,
she tells me.
What are you calling me to talk to him for – when you can just talk to him yourself?
He says to speak to him through the stars. And that he’ll always be your brother.
I tell my sisters and brother the message. They take my baby niece and nephew to visit his grave. As they leave, the children burst into song:
Twinkle twinkle little star
How I wonder what you are
Up above the world so high
Like a diamond in the sky…
My sister and brother cry. He has spoken through the stars.
I grow my hair longer. I keep talking to my brother – the one that lives in the stars now. One night, my belly aches. I am newly pregnant. I worry that I will miscarriage.
My brother appears at my window.
Don’t worry, Boney,
I helped bring her here. You will give birth. She is here to stay.
The moon waxes and wanes, nine times over. And on a day in March, a little girl is led from the stars by my brother and into my arms.
And so the days tumble. They cleave and they open.
They bloom new shoots, they wean old ones.
They shift and grow.
And the grief?
It turns from an all-encompassing sadness into something else entirely. An iridescent depth, a rich and faithful love of life, wider arms and an open heart to accept all of it.
For the last fifteen years, I have loved and been loved by my brother deeply. Truly. Delightfully. Joyously.
Our relationship hasn’t ended – it has continued and shifted and grown and blossomed in all of the very best ways. My brother showed me how to love through all the doors and windows. How life & soul & love stops not at beginning and end.
My brother gave me a gift.
I thought he was lost. I thought I would never be happy again. I thought it was all a mistake.
But he showed me the truth:
I was wrong.
There is nothing we can ever truly lose.
Where love once was, love truly remains.