My husband and I had to put our dog of 12 years down last month. Just 5 days after the 6th anniversary of Bob’s passing. Our dog, Mason, was the world to us. He was our son. He died of cancer and hung on for a month after surgery. I slept next to him every night and was with him almost every day, thankfully being able to work from home. He declined rapidly, going blind, then not wanting to eat, ultimately not being able to walk. My husband and I were next to him, holding him, as he had a stroke Sunday night, shaking in his plush dog bed surrounded by his stuffed animals. We rushed him to the ER, I snuggled up with him in the back of the Jeep, wrapping 2 blankets and my arms around him and talking to him softly, letting him know everything will be okay.

The loss of my brother has helped me understand the grieving process. I will grieve differently for Mason, but it’s still the same amount of pain. Mason was my loyal companion for 12 years. I cry every day, mostly mornings and evenings, when I miss him the most. Missing the person or pet is the worst part of loss. There is  nothing you can do about it. They’re gone. It’s helpful to keep talking to them, to realize they are still with us, but it’s obviously different. One major thing grieving over the loss of my brother has taught me is that it’s okay to cry, to let it out, to feel that emotion, any time it wants to present itself. Allow it to overcome you, do not fight it. It will subside. And, of course, as with any loss of a loved one, the ONLY thing that will help us heal is time. Drugs, therapy, meditation, new hobbies, none of that helps as much as time.

The Tree

A few days ago I was walking Mason down our neighborhood street like I do every evening after work. I always take my keys, some plastic bags, and my phone. After about 20 minutes, we were walking back towards the house and I just stopped and noticed a tree. I pass by it everyday but for some reason I just wanted to stand there a moment, look up, see the texture and its colors and silhouette against the sky. I took my phone out and took a photo as Mason patiently waited, sniffing the ground. I kept looking up. Then as I was in the action of taking another photo I saw something in the corner of my left eye in the sky. A HERON! A huge blue heron flew right above the tree! Unfortunately, I didn't get him in the photo because of the camera delay. But oh my god a heron. It was amazing. I understood. I was in shock. I felt like fainting. I felt like screaming of joy. It was my bro saying hi. It's happened before. There is no explanation for this but of him saying hi, him telling me everything is fine, and him telling me he is with me. HE IS WITH ME, ALWAYS. I am so glad I got that photo of the tree. It doesn't show the heron, but it shows nature's beauty and the awe-inspiring wonder of the universe and how there are things we cannot explain but we can certainly believe.

Favorite Photo

My dad, mom, Bob, me, and close family friend, Larry. Lititz, PA, circa 1977-78.

Bob is Always with Me

Approaching the 5th year anniversary of Bob's passing, I wanted to take a visual inventory of just how much he is still in my life. Every morning, afternoon, and evening, he is with me. Saturdays sitting at my computer, evenings relaxing on the couch, I am surrounded by his things, gifts he's given to me, and even gifts I gave to him that I now own. Every piece of pottery he created, unique gifts from Hawaii, his guitar he adored, the clothing he once wore. It's not that I need to be reminded of my loss; having all of these things fills the air with his spirit, and I know he is with me, and that's comforting.

Below is a slideshow of the photos I took of the things I see everyday around my house...

If you don't have Flash, copy and paste this link into your browser to see the album.

Since October 2006

It's June of 2011. It's been almost five years since Bob died. Unbelievable. In fact, I haven't really thought about that until right now. FIVE YEARS this October. It's so hard to believe, I cannot put my feelings into words at the moment. It's excruciating not having him in my life. Every day, there are things I want to tell him, to talk to him about.
Since he's been gone, the world seems to have progressed rapidly. In my personal life, a lot has happened. With every event and new family situation, I miss Bob. My dad had bypass surgery a couple of years ago. Bob and I would've talked a lot about that. I got married last June. Bob, obviously, would've been there. The officiant talked about Bob, which brought my parents and I to tears. Just a few months ago, dad had knee replacement surgery. Soon, mom will have a hip replacement. I want to talk to him about OUR parents. I want him to be here now and be there in the future, when our parents grow old and need assistance. Bob and I could help each other. But he's not here. I feel alone.
Another family tragedy happened recently. My uncle, mom's brother, died suddenly. Bob would have been equally shocked and saddened as I. We would've gone to Paul's memorial as a family. Paul spent many holidays and vacations with us. Bob probably had memories of Paul I never knew.
But, as my blog has mentioned before, life goes on. Families continue to deal with the little things and the big things in life. That's just what life is. We don't know what's around the corner and can't genuinely prepare for anything. We live, day to day, and try to enjoy it as best as possible and just cherish family and friends and health. That's all we can do.

A Note

This evening I started craving soup for dinner. My brain started buzzing. It's raining and snowing, I've got lots of vegetables in the fridge to use, I could make a lot of it and freeze the rest, I've got some soup base seasoning to boost the flavor, should I use a recipe from a book or should I throw stuff together, on and on ran my thoughts. Among my rows of cookbooks is one called Thai. It was a Christmas gift to my brother from me many years ago. I was flipping through it, looking for soup recipes, when I came upon this piece of paper with his handwriting. Ingredients needed for egg rolls. I was overcome with emotion. My hunger turned to nausea. Here he was. My beloved brother that was once alive on this earth, scribbling a list of things to buy at the food store. It was a shock to my system. It was one of those moments I found myself caught between my daily reality and my life reality, if that makes sense. I'm living, I'm going on about my days, I'm looking through cookbooks, and then the heavy reality presents itself. It's a quiet, empty feeling.

One of the most tragic, difficult aspects of losing a loved one is just not being able to talk to them. I just want to talk to him. I want to have a conversation with him, it doesn't matter what about. I do talk to him in my mind, but, obviously, it's not the same. I want to ask him if he made those egg rolls. And if he made them for himself or a friend or if he took them to a party. How'd they turn out? Then we'd talk about his delicious marinated chicken kabobs he used to make for our 4th of July parties. But I can't call him. I'm left with a note, written one day, years ago, when he was looking through a cookbook.

The House

The top photo is of the Ocean Bowl Skate Park in Ocean City, Maryland. The house, above, is a block away from the skate park. This is the location where I last saw my brother. He had been in OC with his long-time friend, Dave. I stopped by the skate park to watch them skate, as they've done for years. It was May of 2006. Specifically, the final vision I have of my brother is him kicking and coasting along on his skateboard on the street, in front of this house—which, if I'm not mistaken, was/is owned by a friend of his— while I drove away, waving good-bye. I swear to God (which I truly do not say lightly), I remember thinking it might be the last time I see my brother. I actually had that thought. I don't know why. I didn't know why at the time. I remember having that thought and skeptically dismissing it because it was such a crazy thing to think, ...right? 

The snapshot I have of him skating by is so vivid and I will forever cherish it. I will never forget how he looked: smiling, optimistic, excited to go to the bowl and make more videos of Dave and the other guys skating the ramps; his hair was blowing away from his face as he kicked. He had such a great time in OC. It was a beautiful moment, really. If I had to choose one vision to be the last of my brother, it would either be of him throwing clay, fishing, or skating. Luckily, I have photos of him doing all of those things he loved, and a final, wonderful memory of him enjoying life and having a good time. Amen, bruddah, amen.

Another December

Even if you don't usually spend time praying, giving yourself a moment to sit in silence will help get you through the holiday season. It's difficult to see all the commercials of happy families sharing Christmas morning together or watching people in stores smiling with their Santa hats as they shop, but just remember— you are not alone. There are millions of people worldwide experiencing the holiday season—be it for the first time or the fiftieth— without a loved one. You are not alone.

Here's an excerpt from Healing After Loss by Martha Whitmore Hickman:

Dec 8
In the flurry of the coming weeks I will try to spend a few minutes each day in prayerful silence—my own particular stay against the emotional and physical tumult of these days.

October Rituals

Tomorrow is the four year anniversary of Bob's passing. I can't believe it's been four years already. Even more surprising is the fact my parents and I have been able to survive and continue living without my brother, without their son. I don't know how we've done it. Holidays pass, birthdays pass, significant anniversaries pass... The world keeps moving at rapid speed.

Today my mom drives up from North Carolina. We'll be going to the beach tomorrow which is what we've done since October of 2007. I have leis coming in from Hawaii which we'll throw into the waves and say a blessing for Bob. My dad will go to the beach in North Carolina with Kona, take a fishing pole, maybe throw a line out. 

I've learned the importance of rituals honoring a loved one. Whether it's on their birthday, anniversary of some kind, or just a special day during the year you set aside, designating a time to be with your loved one helps in so many ways. You feel more at peace, gain strength, you're allowed to laugh and to cry. It's a special, quiet time when the world does seem to stop...just for a moment. 

A poem from ELEGY by Mary Jo Bang


After the beloved is dead.
After the personal history ends
With a glassy-eyed over, it's been,
Says a polar presence. Cold

Juxtaposes with the waning warmth
Of the human. Cold, and its polar
Opposite. There was once
An earlier epoch

Of four-wheeled skates, a Philadelphia
Sidewalk, when imagination corresponded
To a future. Here is the tormented
Arithmetic of one minus one. The zero

In one now hides the other. This is
What it looks like. A domino sequence
Of nothing becoming a spectacle
Watched for a while

(The gate latch sticks and then clicks)
While eating a cone of cotton candy.

A poem from Mary Jo Bang's National Book Critics Circle Award Winning book, Elegy.
By Graywolf Press