This is a picture of my family. It was taken December 2014. At the time none of us would ever have guessed it would be our last family picture with every one present.
Just a month later, on January 28th, 2015, my brother passed away. He was only 35. He had a congenital heart condition but it never really affected him and he was extremely healthy.
That January he had open heart surgery to fix the problem with his heart. The surgery seemed to have been successful. He was recovering really well. He had gone home from the hospital and we thought he was going to be fine, better than fine actually. He was doing great and in no time he would probably feel better than he ever had. Or so we thought.
A few nights after being home from the hospital he suddenly and unexpectedly passed away. That last day he had felt so good and even said, “I am just so happy.” He had a life and family he loved.
The pain and grief at such a loss has been deep and indescribable. I always looked up to his strength not only of body but of will. He was strong and I couldn’t believe he was gone.
I was also cut down to the deepest part of myself at what he left behind. For a couple years prior to his passing I had feared, deeply feared, that I would die and leave behind my little children that might never remember me. I kept telling myself it was an illogical fear but it was what I feared most. It kept me up at night and tortured me. And now here is my dear brother fulfilling my deepest fears. And the pain of it crushed me.
He left behind three little girls, the youngest was 10 months old. I couldn’t accept that his little girls might not remember their truly wonderful father, the fear I still held in my heart for myself. It brought shame, guilt, and sadness beyond description.
As a family we sought out to gather memories so that through them, his girls could know their father. We started off by having everyone email their memories but some would go to my sister-in-law, some to my mom, and some to other family members. We discovered that these memories brought comfort to us as well and a way to mourn his passing.
Upon hearing stories of him I’d never heard before I felt closer to him like we were back together again sharing stories of times past. It brought it’s own pain and comfort and only later did I realize it also brought healing.
We naturally each wanted to hear them all and usually hearing them once wasn’t enough. It became laborous just to hear the memories and keep track of who had which ones. That’s when we knew we needed something better. So in a process that was grief stricken and love filled, I created a website where our friends and family could share their memories.
Those memories became the thing I held on to when I felt like I had nothing to keep me afloat. I yearned for more and more of them to be shared and when they were, I would read them over and over. Only later did I discover that others in my family felt the same way, checking back almost hourly to see if anyone had shared a new memory.
Sometimes the memories brought tears, other times laughter, and always they brought my brother back into my heart where I needed him to be.
I didn’t ever want to forget him or any of his time on this earth. The memories helped ease a fear I didn’t even realize I held: the fear that he would slowly fade away. These memories from dear friends and family were a safety boat in the storm that is grief.
The greatest gift someone could have given us was not flowers or anything of that nature. It was their memories of my brother. Something only they could give. It was beautiful and healing and uniquely theirs to give - no one else could share them in the way they could. Sometimes the memory was only between them and my brother. It made me want to reach out and hug them and tell them from the depths of my heart thank you, thank you.
I don’t know when I knew I had to give this to others who have also lost their loved ones. It took me time and when I came to the realization that it was what I felt called to do, I knew I had to do it right. I couldn’t cut any corners and I had to do the best work I had ever done. I wouldn’t settle for anything less. Through this work I have been able to find comfort through my grief.
The process has been an act of love and loss and hope and, ultimately, in memory of my brother. I love and miss you so much, Brig.