My brother Jeff died 26 years ago today. Six days before Christmas. Nineteen days before I turned three. I remember him a little bit, but they’re probably memories of memories at this point, clung to and worn into soft fuzziness over the years.
I sat on his teenage shoulders to pick oranges, and then I stood on a chair in the kitchen while he let me ‘help’ him squeeze them into juice.
He let me pluck the strings on his guitar.
I stood at the baby gate during naptime and cried for him. I didn’t need no stinkin’ nap.
A car hit him. It was a random accident that caused a head injury that took his life. I remember this part; it’s been cauterized into my brain, made even more poignant now that I have my own children. I didn’t witness it, but I heard my mother screaming.
If you’ve never heard a mother screaming as she’s realized tragedy has struck her child, I don’t recommend it. The movies got nothin’ on real life, man.
I don’t know how my parents bore the loss of their eldest child. Growing up, having a dead sibling in the family was ‘normal’ to me, because I barely knew any different. But my parents knew. And they survived.
They put on genuine happy faces the days each of their other three children turned fifteen, the age Jeff never reached. They gave us great Christmases every year full of friends and family, even though this season marks the anniversary of his death. We went on vacations booked for five instead of six.
I never fully appreciated it until I became a mama myself. I know my kids drive me bonkers sometimes, but I don’t know how I could go on living if something were to happen to one of them. My parents didn’t just live. They thrived.
Mom and Dad, thanks for being such rockin’ parents in the face of tragedy. You guys could’ve shut down, you could’ve split, you could’ve become lost, but you never did. You taught me how to be a parent, and how to take a deep breath when life gets rough, because no matter how bad things may seem, my children didn’t die today. How can I not pull myself together over spilt milk, when you did it over death?
I love you guys. I’ll go hug your grandbabies now, and tell them funny stories about their Uncle Jeff.
He will always be missed.