There is nothing worse in the world than Alex being dead.
Intellectually I know this to not be true.* I am a human rights advocate, after all. There is war and rape and famine and torture. Oddly, as I realized on Yom Kippur during the litany of prayers for a world without these crimes, even in the absence of these scourges of humanity my world would still be rent. Alex would still be dead, even in a violence-free utopia. It is a disquieting thought.
Personally I also know this not to be true. One of my best friends lost her baby last year, another his mother. But while my heart ached and continues to ache for them, I know now that even the deepest empathy is incapable of mimicking the gruesome realness of more personal grief. Friends, I am sorry I have not been able to understand your pain until now.
* * * * *
There is something both so urgently real about this pain and yet still so completely unbelievable. Today marks 3 months on the Julian calendar, yesterday 13 weeks. The calendar month mark feels largely constructed to me; every Friday still feels like an anniversary, every morning, and in fact usually every 15 minutes or so. Despite the constancy of the internal memorials, I still feel like an actor trying to get into the character of someone whose only sibling died at age 29. It feels awkward; I’ve never been a good actor. I’m still waiting to go off stage and change back into my usual persona, the one who loves but is irritated with their hot-tempered and restless little brother, who is waiting for him to calm down, mellow out a little, grow old enough to have a longer view.
It is still amazing to me that, as smart as I am, I cannot understand this. We recently got the final autopsy: arrhythmia. Which means basically that we don’t know; my healthy little brother had an irregular heartbeat and/or a heart attack that killed him. My mom said, “It doesn’t make sense.” But the truth is that even if the mechanism of his death was perfectly understandable — even if he had been hit by a bus — the reality of his being dead would still be incomprehensible.
Yesterday I went for probably the longest period of time I have yet gone without thinking about Alex. It was about two hours. Not thinking about him or his death is maybe a slight inaccuracy, since I was still vaguely unhappy and out of sorts. But regardless, not thinking with any sort of focus or clarity. At the end of it, as I realized that I had not thought about him, I had to try harder than before to remember, to convince myself, that my brother is buried in a suburban cemetery and not out on a Friday night.
I fear that time, that fabled healer of all wounds, will only enable me to go for longer periods without thinking about Alex being dead. I fear that, instead of gradually coming to understand and accept this, I will only be able to carry on more normally and more uninterruptedly, until I come crashing back down to the alien reality. This would be terrible. I know now that this will never stop hurting. But I would rather carry the constant knowledge that I had a brother and he is dead than be able to forget for any period of time and confront anew this pain.
*I know that I split infinitives. I like them better that way. Alex would have called me on this.