A few months ago, I took a trip with my boyfriend to his hometown for a wedding. His hometown is the kind of place with a church on every corner – quite literally. I think there are 36 churches or some crazy number like that around the area. On our way to his dad’s church for a Sunday morning service, we passed another church with a graveyard nearby. The graveyard had the neatest little marquee that poked out behind the trees. The marquee said “Don’t put a question mark where God already placed a period.”
I wish someone would have put that on a marquee for me to see years ago.
My brother would have been 34 years old today. He was born on November 5, 1979.
Ever since I was born, I’ve always known I had a brother. In my family’s old trailer house, a long, narrow hallway separated the living room from my bedroom. The hallway walls were smattered with pictures of the past. One picture in particular always caught my eye. It was a photo of my mom, dad, sister, and a young, blonde boy with a half-hearted smile and a sweater vest. Somehow I knew – and I don’t ever remember being told – that the blonde boy was my brother.
My brother’s death is not something my family talked about. In fact, it took me years to piece together the details of the day of his death. To this day, I don’t know everything. I know it was a snowmobile accident. I know it was a life-ending head injury. And I know that his organs were given to other little boys and girls so they could live. Asking about his death was so hard. I could see the pain in my parents’ and my older sister’s eyes whenever they would see a picture of him or when we would go to place flowers on his grave. When I was born, they were still fresh to that pain. He had passed in 1984 and I was born in 1987.
I figured out very early in life that one of the only reasons that my younger sister, Jacy, and I were even born is because of his death. See, my parents had my older sister, Gina, in 1977. Then my brother, Jeff, was born in 1979. They were done having kids. They already had two cute, blonde, ornery little kids, to complete their family.
But tragedy struck the family in December of 1984 and three years later, I was born. Two years after I was born, then Jacy was born. Jacy and I were not in the plan. I’ve been told that Jacy and I saved the family. I’ve been told that most couples who experience the death of a child get divorced, but my parents didn’t – because of us. I’ve been told that we gave the family hope again. I’m not sure if that’s true or not. Part of me thinks that people say that so I don’t feel so guilty about his death. Guilt? Yes, guilt. I feel guilty that I wasn’t there. I feel guilty that I wasn’t born yet to experience the pain that the rest of my family had to go through. My mother, my father, and my older sister have a pain in their hearts that Jacy and I could never, ever experience.
I think that’s why Jacy and I are so close – we can relate to the pain, but we weren’t there. We have a whole other take to the situation. We are the A.D. (after death). We weren’t supposed to be here, but yet we are. If Jeff wouldn’t have died, we might not be on this earth. Do you know what that feels like? It’s almost a feeling of hopelessness, like we’ll never be able to do his memory justice. Jacy actually texted me last night and told me how she feels this need to do crazy important things after she graduates because we are meant for something. We’re here for a purpose. WE SHOULDN’T HAVE BEEN HERE. She gets a fire lit under her ass – like a “travel” bug. Jeff didn’t get to see the world, but she sure can travel the world for him. And me? Well, I feel this constant pressure to be perfect. That my every move is calculated. That if I disappoint someone or something, I’m disappointing his memory. The older I get, the more prevalent his death has become in my life. The more tears I shed on the day of his birth and the day of his death.
Also, the older I get, the angrier I get about Jeff’s death. Why MY family of all families? Why did they have to go through such horrific pain? Couldn’t it have been some other family? My parents were no older than I am now. My sister was just a child and she lost her best friend. WHY THEM? WHY US?! Jeff would have been 34 years old today. What would he look like? Would he be married? Kids? WHY?
I haven’t really read much or found a lot of people to relate to our situation. I find plenty on grieving or death of a child. But where’s the stuff out there for kids who were born (who shouldn’t really even be here) after their sibling died?
Thank GOD for the person who put up that marquee in Stilwell, Oklahoma. It changed my life. It changed my way of thinking. While I’m not a “Good Christian,” (i.e. meaning I don’t go to church all that often) I have a very, very strong faith. And my faith helped me finally come to terms that God put a period at the end of Jeff’s life. God put semi-colons next to mom, dad, and Gina’s lives. And then, a few years later, he added some ellipses when Jacy and I came along. Sure, every day I’d like to put a question mark next to Jeff’s death, but I can’t think like that. I’m here for a reason. Jacy is here for a reason. We are all here for a reason. Do I still feel that pressure to be perfect? Yes, but it’s getting better. Does Jacy still have that need to do great, unimaginable things? Sure she does. But we’re learning. We’re growing. We’re slowly finding our own purposes. Question mark? Nope. Exclamation point!
My brother’s beautiful gravestone…