There’s a distinct before and after in my life. Before my brother, David, died and after. I’ve now lived more years in the “after”, which has a sadness that looms with it. But with the distance that comes with those years passing, at least for me, there’s now a sense of peace that walks alongside the sadness.
It was 23 years ago, five days before Christmas, 1995, when my brother died in a plane crash. When that call came in the early morning hours of December 21st (which coincidentally was also my parents 21st wedding anniversary), it was all the feelings you would expect times 100.
BEFORE MY EYES
I woke up to loud noises, yelling. My strongest memories of that night are of my Mom and Dad. I remember running downstairs and seeing my Mom, wearing my brother’s down jacket running, hysterical, out the front door onto our lawn in the dead of a Nebraska winter. At one point, I noticed her pajama pants were wet – she could no longer control any part of her body and what was happening to it. It was devastating to see. I don’t recall if I knew yet what had happened or not.
The second memory is that of my Dad. After hanging up the phone with the Ohio State Patrol who was on the scene of the crash, he walked through our kitchen to the dining room and collapsed to the floor. I now wonder if he waited to fall until he reached the soft carpet, or if that’s simply where his legs stopped working. My parents fell apart before my eyes.
The mind is a funny thing. Sometimes I feel as though I have very few strong memories from my early childhood, and I wonder why that is. Just my genetic makeup and the fact that my family is prone to late onset Alzheimer’s and Dementia? Or a coping mechanism of sorts … something your brain does automatically after a trauma. Regardless, sometimes it surprises me how much I treasure these two memories. I believe someone needed to bear witness to their shock and grief, and while my 12-year-old sister was still asleep upstairs, that someone was me.
I truly believe I got the best of end of this shitty hand that was dealt to our family that day. I was 16, after all, the quintessential social butterfly. I had my friends and social life to throw myself into. So I did just that. Dated guys I shouldn’t have dated (I shudder at the thought), bad decision after bad decision. Eighteen months later, I left for college. It “worked” because my parents, rightfully so, had their own path to walk … that they’re still walking actually. I did not get out unscathed, though. To this day, one of my biggest regrets is the fact that I was not there for my younger sister through the dark days, weeks, and even years that followed – the “after”. His funeral was held two days after Christmas. The family traditionally follows the casket out of the church to the waiting hearse while the mourners look on empathetically. My parents walked together, my Dad holding my Mother up, and Sara and I followed, one behind the other, both of us walking alone. I never even realized it until I watched the video of the funeral years later. It broke my heart, and still does, thinking about those two young girls. But over time, I’ve granted my 16-year-old self some grace and forgiveness, and luckily, I think she has, too.
I want to be clear, this is not a story solely about sadness and grief. While what happened to my brother – to our family – was awful and sad, and my parents continue to grieve his loss as any parent who has lost a child would, my life has been and continues to be so much more than that.
A day doesn’t go by that I don’t recognize I live an immensely blessed life. Luckily I moved past those bad decisions and married a wonderful man who continues to prove to me everyday that I am a fabulous judge of character. We have three healthy, beautiful and wonderfully complex children. I am blessed.
MY FAITH ISN’T PERFECT
Sometimes I worry about the bottom falling out again, thinking about what tragedy could strike my family and me at any given moment. Sometimes I bargain with God to keep us Safe. Happy. Healthy. I’ve had my fair share of sadness and tragedy. But I know perfectly well it doesn’t work like that. God doesn’t make bargains. I still ask. My Faith isn’t perfect, but it’s something I’m working on, little by little. I try and seek out those who can help elevate my beliefs in a more profound way, because I believe it is Faith that has gotten me where I am today. Not angry for what I don’t have or what I missed out on, but mostly just grateful. I know that everyone has a burden to bear, and this just happens to be mine. My brother was an amazing human, an old soul to be certain. One of those people who knew his passion and purpose early in life. And just because that life only lasted 19 years doesn’t make it any more or any less beautiful. It just was.
My parents have been married for almost 44 years, despite the odds not being in their favor. I’m so proud of them because I know there were many times they just wanted to give up, but they didn’t. My sister and I are much closer than we ever were growing up. My family is present and active in my children’s lives which I am so thankful for because at the end of the day, it’s all about family. I am blessed.
Melissa is a full-time Mom of 3, part-time photographer, and coffee lover. She exercises to feel sane, and has never seen a musical she didn’t love.
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